South Africa used to distinguish between two types of apartheid. The first, called “petty” apartheid, included the separation of public amenities like public benches, bathrooms and public transportation. The second, called “grand” apartheid, included the division of territory and political rights, under which separate areas were allocated in which blacks were forced to live. Residents of these areas were deprived of South African citizenship, with the government claiming that these territories, known as Bantustans, were essentially independent states. While it was easy to photograph petty apartheid, which had blatant expression in signs saying “For Whites Only,” the impact of grand apartheid was no less harsh.
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The attempt to make the Palestinians in the territories travel on segregated buses drew such fire that the plan was criticized by the right as well as the left. Segregated buses have great symbolic power, as they remind everyone of the fight put up by Rosa Parks, the American black woman who refused to sit at the back of the bus in 1955. It’s an aspect of apartheid that photographs clearly, even though it is merely one aspect of petty apartheid; the most conspicuous aspect of the segregation that is the basis of the Israeli regime in the territories.
This regime contains components of grand apartheid as well; a regime which determines that Jews are allowed to live here, and Arabs are allowed to live there – and not on an equal footing. It’s a regime based on separation and dispossession of land and water resources, as well as the resources of the rule of law. The law is not enforced equitably in the territories; not only are there separate legal and judicial systems for the Jewish and Arab populations, but law enforcement breaks down when it comes to attacks by Israelis on Palestinians.
Thus, by objecting to petty apartheid, right-wing politicians are persuading themselves, and some of us as well, that they are “enlightened,” while grand apartheid carries on. Israelis and Palestinians are segregated in the territories not just in terms of residential areas and housing, but also in the realms of education, health care and welfare. Israeli law applies there to Israeli citizens and Jewish foreign nationals across the board, including a number of laws meant to apply only to residents of the state. For the purpose of the National Health Insurance Law, for example, a Jew who lives in the territories is considered a state resident eligible for the rights that the law confers, but the same law does not apply to his Palestinian neighbor, who is dependent on a different, weaker health system.
On top of all this, just as blacks were deprived of political rights in South Africa by grand apartheid, a section hidden at the end of the Knesset Elections Law titled “Special Instructions” gives Israeli residents of the territories the right to vote for Knesset, an option that in principle is not available to those living outside the country’s recognized borders. This right is not given to the local Palestinians.Thus, under the cover of the supposedly temporary character of the occupation, the segregation regime gains legitimacy. What in a different situation would be considered apartheid is tolerated by many because it is ostensibly temporary. But the occupation has long stopped being temporary; it is indefinite in time, as the settlements themselves demonstrate.
Even after the apartheid bus plan was dropped, this fact hasn’t changed. That’s why we cannot let the debate over the buses hide the fact that grand apartheid, characterized by inherent inequality between Jews and Arabs in all areas of life in the territories, is no less serious in its dimensions, and in many ways more serious, than segregated buses.