Tales Of Apartheid

The UN Security Council resolution of April 2002, calling on Israel to withdraw from Palestinian towns, was redundant. Israel never intended to stay in Palestinian towns and run their daily Palestinian affairs. It has said so on more than one occasion. What Israel wanted was vengeance, to wreak havoc on the Palestinians and destroy the human and material infrastructure of their resistance. It also wanted to tighten its security grip on Palestinian areas and gather intelligence by interrogating detainees. More important, Israel wants to set down new rules for unilateral separation between itself and the Palestinians, a system that has all the hallmarks of apartheid.

Israel’s new system of apartheid transcends political initiatives and negotiated arrangements. It goes beyond Haim Ramon’s proposals for an apartheid system combined with the dismantling of minor settlements. Israel has established a modus operandi for operating an apartheid system that can answer its continually changing needs. It is besieging and locking off Palestinian areas at will. It keeps its troops ready to deploy in Palestinian towns at short notice. And it has acquired tacit international approval of its new tactics. A joint statement issued by Presidents Bush and Putin on 26 May notes Israel’s right to defend itself against terror. To Israeli politicians, this sounds like an endorsement of the Israeli army’s right to enter and exit Palestinian towns at will, to kill and detain Palestinians wantonly, as long as this is done in small doses. Only full-scale incursions seem to ruffle the international conscience. Smaller scale ones have not so far generated the kind of international pressure that might force Israel to rethink its methods.

Israel’s new rules of engagements are unwritten, coded, embedded in a racist ideology, and in full swing. The new system lacks any legal framework. Attempts to pass laws in the Knesset to codify these rules have so far failed, but only because of minor differences between the government and the lawmakers over matters of procedure. What we have is a new apartheid system that is reshaping Israel’s entire political culture, and is spilling over from the ghettos and cantons of the West Bank and the Gaza Strip into Israel’s own fabric. Once the doctrine of establishing unilateral barriers between the Jews and the Arabs is accepted, it requires no stretch of imagination to apply the same rules to Arabs inside Israel.

One of the leading proponents of this Israeli apartheid is former Prime Minister Ehud Barak, who was recently interviewed by the New York Review of Books (May 2002). Barak spewed racist hatred not only at Palestinian negotiators, but also at Israel’s Arabs. The Arabs, he informed us, were all liars, because deception for them does not hold the same “cognitive dissonance” it does in Judeo-Christian culture. To back his arguments, Barak cites a former FBI director as saying that lie detectors are useless in certain communities, because liars are apparently unfazed by their own lies.

The image Barak and other like-minded Israelis wish to project of the Arabs is that the latter clamour for peace but don’t really want it, demand a state of their own but actually reject a two-state solution in Palestine. The only solution, therefore, is one state, in which the Arabs must be closely monitored and checked regularly by the Israelis. Following Camp David Yasser Arafat was cast in the role of the perfidious Arab. He spoke of peace but did not really mean it. The Israelis made him a good offer but he rejected it. The Palestinians are therefore responsible for the failure of the peace talks.

According to Barak, Israel has only one way to proceed, which is to limit internal Israeli democracy and deny parliamentary legitimacy to the Arabs. (Zionism has never had much patience with multi-culturalism). According to this line of argument, the number of Israel’s Arab citizens must be reduced, perhaps through giving back some Arab towns. And, as long as the 1948 generation is still alive, Israel must perforce rely on force and the physical separation of Jew and Arab.

These notions are reshaping Israel’s public mood, its attitude towards Palestinian areas, and its treatment of its own Arab citizens. The result is a policy of strangulation that, if it continues, may undermine the Palestinian economy and institutions. It is also likely to encourage mutual reprisals (which may give Israel a further opportunity to wage another military campaign, enforce tighter apartheid rules, and perhaps expel more Palestinians).

Meanwhile, Israel keeps insisting that the Palestinians must put their house in order. What this means, in actual terms, is that the Palestinians should accept Israel’s dictates first, and then negotiate on small matters that can improve their lives. The Palestinians may have to put their house in order, but what they cannot do is accept Israeli dictates. Apartheid is indefensible. It places Israel in direct confrontation with ordinary Palestinians, the men and women who need to move about freely, run their shops and farms, and sell their products without bumping into Israel’s military and administrative hindrances.

Apartheid is internationally unacceptable, and the Palestinians will have to fight it. To do so, they need to agree on a cohesive political strategy and find a democratic tone for their national liberation endeavours. The Palestinians, both inside Israel and in the Palestinian areas, have to come together to defend continuous incursions on their freedom and future. The Palestinians need peace and equality, but first they have to remain steadfast and focused. This is the only way in which they will defeat Israel’s apartheid.

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