Only International Pressure Will End Israeli Apartheid

The growing delegitimization of Israel is this country's own handiwork. Should Israel decide to end apartheid, it will return to being legitimate in every respect.

Amos Schocken
Amos Schocken
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Israeli border police check Palestinians' identification cards at a checkpoint as they exit the Arab neighborhood of Issawiyeh in Jerusalem, October 22, 2015.
Israeli border police check Palestinians' identification cards at a checkpoint as they exit the Arab neighborhood of Issawiyeh in Jerusalem, October 22, 2015.Credit: AP
Amos Schocken
Amos Schocken

There are many differences between conditions in South Africa during the apartheid era and those current in the land from the Jordan River to the sea, especially in the territories that Israel controls beyond its internationally recognized borders. However, there is one important feature they share: two peoples living on one piece of land.

One people has all the rights and protections, while the other is deprived of numerous rights and lives under the former's control. Israel determines the fate and day-to-day life of millions of people who have no influence over its decisions. The government of Israel is the party that will debate whether or not to accept the Israel Defense Forces’ recommendation to ease policies toward the Palestinian Authority and its people. In South Africa, there were similar discussions about easing apartheid for blacks.

Israel as an apartheid state is not a viable situation, not only because of the corruption of values but also because this predicament is liable to lead Israel, like South Africa in its time, to banishment from the family of nations. It is not for nothing that Israel insists on defining itself as the only democracy in the Middle East, although in fact it is only a democracy for part of its residents, and therefore is not a democracy. (South Africa was a democracy for white people only, and therefore not a democracy). It is not for nothing that Israel insists on stressing the “common values” it shares with democratic countries, firstly the United States. Indeed, there are such common values, and they certainly speak well of Israel relative to other countries in the Middle East. However, the most basic democratic values of equality before the law for all people under Israel control, and equal rights to vote and be elected, do not exist.

The nearly 50 years of Israeli apartheid are not based on security considerations. Zionism, which was always prepared to divide the land of Israel with its Arab inhabitants, was replaced by the godly promise of the Land of Israel for the Jewish people. This promise is being fulfilled by constant, methodical settlement in the West Bank (including East Jerusalem) along with the pushing of Palestinians into defined enclaves and small, crowded population areas.

This is the reason for the abuse of Palestinians, for the expulsion, exclusion, construction bans, lack of freedom of movement and prevention of development in Area C, which makes up roughly 60% of the West Bank. This settlers' ideology drives the state, and it is also the ideology of the prime minister (either that or, sadly, he realized he had to commit himself to it to get reelected). In any event, by the tenets of settlement ideology, Israeli apartheid is only temporary. In the end, according to this political program, which has gained a foothold among the Israeli public, there is no place for Palestinians except perhaps as a small minority. The murders in Duma, which caused widespread shock, are just the most extreme means to fulfill the goal of getting rid of the Palestinians.

Palestinian vehicles wait on the Ramallah side of Israel's separation barrier, at the Qalandia checkpoint. y March 26, 2006.Credit: AP

Israel has several options to end the apartheid regime and the control of people who are deprived of rights. The two-state solution is the Zionist way to go, but Israel does not show any interest in finding a solution. The decades-long reality, whose sole variable is the constant growth of settlements, is what will continue to be in the future.

Such was the position of the South African regime for many years, but the world decided that this position is illegitimate. The Israeli apartheid regime is also illegitimate, and it is no surprise that the complete identification which the government is creating between Israeli policy and apartheid is causing the world to question not only Israel’s control of Palestinians without rights, but also the legitimacy of the state itself and the whole Zionist idea. If, as in the government's policy, apartheid is a necessary condition for the fulfillment of Zionism and the existence of Israel, then Zionism and the state are illegitimate.

Was there a way to eliminate South Africa's apartheid regime from within, without South Africans investing years in spreading the word internationally? It seems not. Ruling classes tend not to concede their advantages willingly. In Israel, as noted, the ideological goal goes even further, and doesn’t end only with the control of people lacking rights.

Many South Africans who worked against apartheid, and in practice against the policy of the white regime, were denounced as traitors, imprisoned or forced into exile. However, as a result of their determined, widespread activity in the world, South African apartheid was recognized as an illegitimate system, international sanctions were levied against it, and the system came to an end. Non-whites won equal rights, and anti-apartheid activists won respect and admiration.

The growing delegitimization of Israel is this country's own handiwork. Should Israel decide to end apartheid, it will return to being legitimate in every respect. Anyone who acts against Israeli apartheid is essentially acting on behalf of the renewal and strengthening of Israel's legitimacy as the national home of the Jewish people in the land of Israel, a secure refuge that enable self-determination for Jews in a Jewish and democratic state.

Whoever fears Israel’s insistence on maintaining its apartheid regime and understands that there is no chance of eliminating it from within, should view the EU labeling of settlement products, the pressure FIFA has placed on Israel and Brazil’s refusal to accept Dani Dayan as ambassador as encouraging signs. This is a crucial beginning of global action against an illegitimate situation that Israel insists on maintaining, but will be forced to give up. The government will predictably take “appropriate Zionist responses” to this pressure and pass anti-democratic initiatives to suppress and silence Israelis who, understanding that only external pressure will bring change, draw world attention to displays of Israeli apartheid.

It is no surprise that students at the privileged, mainstream Interdisciplinary Center rushed to sign a petition to oust Alon Liel from his job as lecturer at the center because of his work against Dayan's ambassadorial appointment, and his support for Breaking the Silence. When opposition parties Zionist Union and Yesh Atid ignore Israel’s core problem and fail to act against apartheid, while condemning moves like the labeling of settlement products or Brazil's refusal to accept Dayan, they signal Israeli society and the entire world that apartheid is not a controversial topic in Israel, but a matter of national consensus.

Such political, institutional and popular moral corruption has characterized other societies in other times. In Israel’s case, in addition to its moral failure, this corruption contributes to the state’s creeping delegitimization in the world. When Israel shakes off the anti-Zionism and apartheid that it has adopted and returns to the Zionist, democratic path, the IDC students and anyone encouraging the persecution of apartheid's active opponents will hurry to hide their activities of today.

The government's responses to anti-apartheid activism are pitiable. Anti-Semitism? It probably exists, but Israeli apartheid gives it legitimacy to raise its head and provides it an easy target. In any event, anti-Semitism in the world cannot justify the disinheritance and oppression of Palestinians. Undermining the policy of democratically elected government? Any government whose policy is apartheid, which is patently anti-democratic, forfeits the right to make claims in democracy's name. There's no boycott against states worse than Israel? Israel, which aspires to and can become one of the world's most enlightened countries, a light unto the nations, is not allowed to make such an argument.

It is hard to believe that what is written here escapes the understanding of those holding the reins of power, but the fact is they fail to draw the necessary, practical conclusion from the vision the prime minister said he believes in, the two-state vision. They will object and protest, but it may be that international pressure is precisely the force that will drive them to do the right thing.

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