In Israel they don’t like to talk about apartheid. That’s a harsh word. It recalls shameful memories of contemptible cooperation with an unjust regime, and other memories from the times when we were the ones who were not allowed to be part of institutions because of inferior status.
We have a hard time with apartheid – the word, not the policy. It has what they call connotations. But apartheid is the precise word for the annexation that Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu is planning, and if it’s hard for us to look in the mirror, maybe the problem is not the mirror.
In Israel very little is taught about apartheid-era South Africa and our close ties with it. High school graduates can say something about Nelson Mandela, but not about the African National Congress; they know something about the ban on interracial marriage, about separate beaches, schools and public rest rooms. Maybe they’ve heard the term “Bantustans,” but they probably don’t know that South Africa established those protectorates so it could claim that the blacks were the citizens of those entities, and that’s where they should demand their rights. Our high school graduates don’t know about travel permits, the shantytowns where blacks were forced to live as a cheap labor force, the lack of rights. They know about the international boycott, but not about South African PR, what we call “hasbara.”
We know just enough about South Africa to point out the differences between us and them, and we are ignorant enough to ignore the similarities.
South Africa contributed a new crime to international law. We’re not South Africa, but we’ve been flirting with the crime of apartheid for a long time. The reality of 53 years of occupation recalls apartheid enough as it is, but enshrining it in law, as Netanyahu plans to do, will turn our system into apartheid officially.
I know the arguments. One might have claimed, barely, that the occupation was a “security need,” if we weren’t spending billions to establish settlements; if we weren’t ignoring the illegal settlements while destroying thousands of Palestinian structures. What did you think all this was for? Don’t protest the word so much when you didn’t protest the policy.
And now Netanyahu, in an attempt to create a legacy for himself, is trying to adopt the legal trick that the South Africans used: Look, the Palestinians have sovereignty. On their islands, surrounded by us. We’ll even give them their own sovereign roads to drive between their sovereignties. They’ll have their Transkei and their KwaZulu. Separate development, the white government in Pretoria called it.
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Netanyahu is not the first to have fallen in love with the survival strategy of the apartheid regime. Before him, right-wing MKs Naftali Bennett and Ayelet Shaked did so, and long before them, former Prime Minister Ariel Sharon. Netanyahu wasn’t the first to dream of apartheid, but he is the first who intends to apply it. With no excuses, no masks, no “security requirement,” no “natural increase.” Apartheid. Proudly – almost: They call this by the whitewashed word “extending sovereignty.”
“Cry, the Beloved Country” is the title of Alan Paton’s classic novel about apartheid. It was also the title of an article by Azriel Carlebach, one of the first editors of the Hebrew daily Ma’ariv, in 1953. Carlebach described to his daughter the ways the Arabs were robbed in this country. “You, perhaps – those eyes of yours, may they never know. You are a sabra, and you are used to things like this. And for you it’s natural, that the world is divided into two – the victors and the vanquished, the superior and the inferior. While I – I am a Jew.” It wasn’t the word apartheid that appalled Carlebach, it was the policy. It should appall us as well.