Israeli Apartheid: Calling It Like It Is
WALTER L. HIXSON WAGING PEACE
Israeli forces arrest a Palestinian for confronting Jewish settlers attempting to seize agricultural lands in the occupied West Bank city of Salfit, on Nov. 30, 2020. (ISSAM RIMAWI/ANADOLU AGENCY VIA GETTY IMAGES)
Washington Report on Middle East Affairs, March/April 2021, p. 52
Israel rightfully should be labeled an apartheid state—not simply for the purpose of applying an epithet, but rather to grasp more fully the scope of oppression that prevails between the Jordan River and the Mediterranean Sea, panelists in a recent webinar argued.
The recent decision by B’Tselem, the leading Israeli human rights organization, to apply the term “apartheid” to Israel prompted the Jan. 21 webinar, sponsored by the Foundation for Middle East Peace. “Calling the Thing by Its Proper Name: ‘Apartheid’ Between the Jordan River and the Mediterranean Sea” emphasized the need to conceptualize the entire area between the river and the sea as one entity, rather than separating out “democratic Israel” from the “occupied territories.”
Three panelists agreed that Israel is a repressive apartheid regime and cannot be considered a democratic state. The 14 million or so people living in the area from the river to the sea are about evenly split between Jewish and Palestinian residents, but ethnic Jews have rights and privileges that Palestinians do not share. Therefore, as Hagai El-Ad of B’Tselem explained, “The state is neither Jewish nor democratic” and is best understood as an apartheid regime.
Sawsan Zaher of the Adalah Legal Center for Minority Rights in Israel pointed out that although Palestinians living within Israel’s borders might vote, serve in the legislature or as judges, the 2018 Jewish nation-state law mandates “ethnic supremacy” by defining Israel as a “Jewish state” in which Hebrew is the official language. “Discrimination and segregation and ethnic supremacy” have thus been enshrined in the constitution. Ironically, Zaher added, the basic law “helped us a lot” because it “elevated reality to the constitutional level.”
The third panelist, Jerusalem-based journalist and author Nathan Thrall, emphasized the many intimate linkages between Israel and the occupied territories, citing highways, businesses, access to Ben Gurion Airport, national parks, municipal buildings, courthouses, shopping centers, schools and more. However, it is only Jewish settlers—and not Palestinians— living in the occupied territories who have access to this infrastructure. “The [Jewish-only] settlements are integrally connected to the State of Israel,” he noted. The settlements in the occupied territories, though illegitimate under international law, are part of the “national project of the State of Israel.”
Considering Israeli control over Area C, which comprises 62 percent of the West Bank, Thrall estimates that Israel fully dominates 90 percent of the land between the river and the sea. While “the degree of subjugation varies” inside Israeli boundaries and in Areas A, B and C, overall, “There is one regime” and it is an apartheid regime of ethnic Jewish supremacy.
“Let’s not play this game,” Thrall declared, “of there is apartheid in the West Bank and there is good green line democratic Israel and apartheid will be resolved through the two-state solution that J Street is going to urge [President Joe] Biden to fulfill in the next four years.” This long-standing but fictional narrative is promoted by the “peace process industry eager to whitewash apartheid,” Thrall added. It is “an inexcusable effort to justify present policies.”
The “Big Lie” of Israel being a democracy rather than an apartheid state is “not just factually wrong but morally bankrupt,” El-Ad declared. Israeli ethnic supremacists will not change of their own accord, he added, making it “incumbent on international actors” to compel the deconstruction of Israeli apartheid.
—Walter L. Hixson