Monday, September 21, 2009

Israeli Apartheid: The Jury's In

Nick Dyrenfurth, an associate editor of the journal Labor History, and Philip Mendes, a senior lecturer in the department of social work, faculty of medicine, at Monash University, are so adamant that Israel is not an apartheid state they've asserted it twice in the last 5 months (in The Australian of course):

"[I]f there is one recent furphy progressives should vocally object to it is the quite disgraceful slur on Israel doing the rounds of the hard-left and parts of academe. Apparently Israel is an apartheid state founded on the principles of colonialism and racism, if not a genocidal impulse to exterminate the Palestinian people... As the signatories to a recent Stanford University Scholars for Middle East Peace open letter suggest: 'To equate Israel with apartheid displays a profound ignorance of the horror that was South Africa as well as contempt for democracy in Israel'." (Left behind on building bridges in Middle East: Being on the Left doesn't always, and should not mean, being anti-Israel, observe Nick Dyrenfurth & Philip Mendes, 13/5/09)

"[I]t is simply arrant nonsense to call Israel an apartheid state. While the Israeli presence in the West Bank and Gaza Strip has some superficial similarities with apartheid in South Africa, the analogy cannot reasonably be applied to Green Line Israel given the civil and political rights enjoyed by its Arab citizens*. Moreover, Israel does not involve a small white population exploiting a much larger black majority: the Israeli-Palestinian conflict is not a race-based conflict." (Racism risk in calls for Israeli boycott: Philip Mendes & Nick Dyrenfurth oppose the efforts of anti-Zionist campaigners here, 19/9/09)

Inconveniently for Nick and Philip, I'm afraid the jury's in. Here's part of the introduction to South Africa's Human Sciences Research Council's recent academic study Occupation, Colonialism, Apartheid?: A re-assessment of Israel's practices in the occupied Palestinian territories under international law:

"Regarding apartheid, the [research] team found that Israel's laws and policies in the OPT fit the definition of apartheid in the International Convention on the Suppression & Punishment of the Crime of Apartheid. Israeli law conveys privileges to Jewish settlers and disadvantages Palestinians in the same territory on the basis of their respective identities, which function in this case as racialised identities in the sense provided by international law. Israel's practices are corollary to 5 of the 6 'inhuman acts' listed by the Convention. A policy of apartheid is especially indicated by Israel's demarcation of geographic 'reserves' in the West Bank, to which Palestinian residence is confined and which Palestinians cannot leave without a permit. The system is very similar to the policy of 'Grand Apartheid' in apartheid South Africa, in which black South Africans were confined to black homelands delineated by the South African government, while white South Africans enjoyed freedom of movement and full civil rights in the rest of the country.

"The Executive Summary of the report says that the three pillars of apartheid in South Africa are all practiced by Israel in the OPT. In South Africa, the first pillar was to demarcate the population of South Africa into racial groups, and to accord superior rights, privileges and services to the white racial group. The second pillar was to segregate the population into different geographic areas, which were allocated by law to different racial groups, and restrict passage by members of any group into the area allocated to other groups. And the third pillar was 'a matrix of draconian 'security' laws and policies that were employed to suppress any opposition to the regime and to reinforce the system of racial domination, by providing for administrative detention, torture, censorship, banning and assassination'.

"The Report finds that Israeli practices in the OPT exhibit the same three pillars of apartheid: The first pillar 'derives from Israeli laws and policies that establish Jewish identity for purposes of law and afford a preferential legal status and material benefits to Jews over non-Jews'. The second pillar is reflected in 'Israel's 'grand' policy to fragment the OPT [and] ensure that Palestinians remain confined to the reserves designated for them while Israeli Jews are prohibited from entering those reserves but enjoy freedom of movement throughout the rest of the Palestinian territory. This policy is evidenced by Israel's extensive appropriation of Palestinian land, which continues to shrink the territorial space available to Palestinians; the hermetic closure and isolation of the Gaza Strip from the rest of the OPT; the deliberate severing of East Jerusalem from the rest of the West Bank, and the appropriation and construction policies serving to carve up the West Bank into an intricate and well-serviced network of connected settlements for Jewish-Israelis and an archipelago of besieged and non-contiguous enclaves for Palestinians'. The third pillar is 'Israel's invocation of 'security' to validate sweeping restrictions on Palestinian freedom of opinion, expression, assembly, association and movement [to] mask a true underlying intent to suppress dissent to its system of domination and thereby maintain control over Palestinians as a group'." [* See my 14/6/08 post A Certain Jewish Tree-Planting Group]

Sorry to tell you this, Nick 'n Phil, Israel not only qualifies as an apartheid state, but appears worse than the defunct South African variety:

"I suppose you're going to ask me the question, which regime was worse? I find it difficult to answer this question as a white South African because, although I lived in South Africa throughout the apartheid period, I was obviously not subjected to the discriminatory laws that were leveled and aimed at blacks. But what is interesting is that every black South African that I've spoken to who has visited the Palestinian territory has been horrified and has said without hesitation that the system that applies in Palestine is worse. And there are a number of reasons for this.

"I think, first of all, one can say there are features of the Israeli regime in the occupied territory that were unknown to South Africans. We never had a wall separating black and white. I know it's called the apartheid Wall, but that's really a misnomer because there was no wall of that kind in South Africa. And as I've said, there were no separate roads. These are novel features of Israel's apartheid regime.

"Secondly, the enforcement of the regime is much stricter. We have repeated military incursions into the West Bank, let alone Gaza... and arrests are made and Palestinians are shot and killed. And what is interesting is that in South Africa, political activists were tried by the regular criminal courts of the land in open proceedings. Whereas in Israel, Palestinians are tried by military courts which have emergency rules and regulations inherited from the British, but they are not proper courts.

"I think perhaps the most important distinguishing feature is that there are no positive features about Israel's apartheid. The South African apartheid regime did attempt to pacify the black majority by providing it with material benefits. And so schools were built; universities were built; hospitals and clinics were built by the apartheid regime. Special factories were built in the black areas in order to encourage workers to work in the African areas... Whereas in the case of Israel's apartheid, Israel makes virtually no contribution to the welfare of the Palestinian people. It leaves it all to the donor community." (Hisham B Sharabi Memorial Lecture: Apartheid & Occupation under International Law, John Dugard*,, 30/3/09) [*former UN special rapporteur on human rights in the OPT and visiting distinguished professor of law at Duke University]

[Related posts of mine: Yes, Virginia, Israel is an Apartheid State (1/11/08); Conscripting Gandhi (18/7/08) - where Alan Gold takes the sjambok to Mandela the terrorist!]


philip mendes said...

Well that's one view. And equally there are opinions all over the net from people who know both societies that say the opposite. What makes you personally think that you know best? And do you make your judgements as a journalist or academic?

MERC said...

My judgments? Who am I to judge? You're an academic and you cannet tell I'm quoting the judgments of others?

Re their credentials (in case you're interested), I quote from the study: "The research team includes scholars and international lawyers based at the HSRC, the School for Oriental & African Studies (London), the British Institute for International & Comparative Law, the University of Kwa-Zulu Natal (Durban), the Adalah/Legal Centre for Arab Minority Rights in Israel and al-Haq/West Bank Affiliate of the International Commission of Jurists. Consultation on the study's theory and method was provided by eminent jurists from South Africa, Israel and Europe." Pretty authoritative I would have thought.

Anonymous said...

when it comes to israel, mendes is NOT an academic. he's just another hack who can't think in a straight line for more than 2 seconds.

Anonymous said...

Mendes is an academic in Social Work ... Social Work Against Palestinians, that is.