Up For Debate: Yes, there is apartheid in Israel today

The term apartheid is mostly identified with the 1948-1994 apartheid system in South Africa, where the white minority subjugated the black majority to a brutal system of oppression, stealing their land and depriving them of their basic human rights. It was a system that was condemned by the whole world. Apartheid, as defined by the 1973 International Convention on the Suppression and Punishment of the Crime and Apartheid, is “inhuman acts committed for the purpose of establishing and maintaining domination by one racial group of persons over any other racial group of persons and systematically oppressing them.”

As history repeats itself, the term apartheid has once again, unfortunately, emerged, but this time in regards to the Zionist entity of Israel and its treatment of the Palestinian people. Some have argued that labeling Israel as an apartheid regime and comparing it to what happened in South Africa is unfair and inaccurate. After all, Israel is supposedly the “only democracy in the Middle East” and Arab citizens are allowed to have seats in the parliament (Knesset) and vote. They argue that there is no intent by Israel to maintain a systematic and institutionalized regime of oppression dominated by one racial group.

It may be true that in the law, Arabs living within the border of the so-called state of Israel can run for seats in the Knesset and vote, but that does not mean that Palestinians are not victims of oppression and apartheid policies within Israel, in the Occupied Territories of the West Bank, and in Gaza. Since Israel’s establishment in 1948, millions of Palestinians have been forced off their land, made to live in small refugee camps with sub-human living conditions, to make room for the new state. The UN Partition Plan gave more than 50 percent of the land to less than 30 percent of the population, while leaving the rest of the land to the majority Palestinian population. And till today, Palestinian land is continuously stolen and annexed by Israel. Israel continues to demolish Palestinian homes to make room for Jewish-only settlements within the occupied territories, currently numbering at about 124 authorized settlements and over 24,000 demolished Palestinian homes. The construction of a wall, four times the length and twice the height of the Berlin Wall, cuts through the West Bank, dividing the area in a manner similar to the Bantustans of apartheid South Africa. Just last week, Israel changed the route of the wall to annex approximately 400 acres of land northeast of Jordan Valley to give to Kibbutz Merav, a Religious Kibbutz Movement in Israel.

Thousands of check points are also located around the West Bank, and require Palestinians to carry special passes in order to cross from one city to another, or to get to school, work or even hospitals. The delays at checkpoints, along with humiliating searches and at times strip searches, have denied the Palestinians their basic human right to free movement, and have also caused the death of numerous people, such as woman in labor, who were not allowed to get to hospitals in time. The settlements, checkpoints, and the apartheid wall has caused the West Bank, which was once about 22 percent of historic Palestine, to become only about 10-12 percent of living space for its inhabitants. The primary reasoning, and argument why these policies are not apartheid, is “security,” Israel needs to secure its borders. However, even if security is needed, logically these restrictions should be on the UN-recognized border, or the 1967 Green Line, not cutting straight through and dividing the Palestinian territories.

Israel has also established Jewish-only roads (the only ones that are paved) and Jewish-only buses, which were recently challenged last week by a group of Palestinians known as the Freedom Riders, who rode the buses and refused to get off until they were forced to and arrested (sound familiar?). Arabs living under Israeli government are also treated as second-class citizens, living in the worst areas in the cities and discriminated against in employment and on a daily basis. Furthermore, Israel has placed the Gaza Strip under a continuous land, air and sea blockade, hindering the passage of food, medical aid and other materials needed for the basic necessities of life. It is clear that Israel aims to separate and isolate the Palestinians from each other and the rest of humanity. Jeff Halper, the founder of the Israeli Committee Against House Demolitions, states that “apartheid is the only term that accurately defines the system that Israel is trying to develop.”

It is true, apartheid South Africa and Israel’s version of apartheid are not identical, they can not be because it is a different people and a different context, if anything Israel is one of the only internationally recognized apartheid regimes. However, it is impossible to not recognize that Israel is indeed practicing a form of apartheid, implementing apartheid policies and subjugating the indigenous population of Palestinians to over 63 years of oppression and segregation. Nelson Mandela said himself in 1997, “We know too well that our freedom is incomplete without the freedom of the Palestinians.”

Aminah Galal is a fourth-year history major. She can be reached at agalal@uci.edu.