Fueling the Flames
Labor and greens must join forces to stop Bushs assault on the planet.
More African-Americans are running for governor than ever before.
Rigged elections are widespread throughout Africa, and not just in Zimbabwe.
A New Detente?
The Bush administration cozies up to China.
No evidence, but a Missouri inmate is facing execution.
Britain passes measures to elect more women.
Seeds of Destruction
Genetic contamination raises stakes on GMOs.
Pennsylvania debates are calculated to exclude Greens.
HMOs aim to stop even modest reform in its tracks.
BOOKS: Israel, the occupation and "apartheid."
Disasters in Waiting
BOOKS: Ahmed Rashid on more impending Jihad.
Play It Again, Sam
MUSIC: How multiple reissues keep record labels flush.
FILM: The moral dilemmas of Storytelling.
An interview with ®mark's Frank Guerrero.
March 1, 2002
Land and Freedom
Israel, the occupation and apartheid.
hose of us who witnessed the old South African system of white supremacy
first-hand wince when we hear the word apartheid applied too casually
elsewhere. Apartheid was defined by the United Nations as a crime against humanity,
and it is not a term to be used carelessly. So when a new book appears subtitled
Resisting Israels Apartheid, a respectful caution is in order.
This up-to-date survey is an impressive collection of 20 articles, edited with
skill by The Nations Roane Carey, with contributions by Palestinians,
Israelis and others, ranging from eyewitness accounts of the latest phase of
the conflict to original political and economic analysis. The tone throughout
is calm, sober and understanding. The book contains facts and perspectives that
are largely ignored by the mainstream American press, which has been astonishing
in its one-sidedness. But, in the end, does the book substantiate its subtitlethat
Israeli rule over the Palestinian people is a kind of apartheid?
ne good place to start is with simple geography. Edward Said, the renowned
Palestinian intellectual and activist who has two contributions in The New Intifada,
points out that misrepresentation has made it almost impossible for the
American public to understand the geographical basis of the events, in this,
the most geographical of contests.
First, there is Israel, a single nation that covers 78 percent
of the original British mandate territory. Then there is Palestine,
a nation-in-waiting in two parts, Gaza and the West Bank, that constitutes the
remaining 22 percent. Israeli troops have occupied Palestine since the 1967
Six Day War. Even though hundreds of thousands of Palestinians are refugees
or the descendants of refugees from Israel, most Palestinians recognize
Israel and will settle for their own state in that 22 percent.
But now it gets more complicated. Over the past 20 years or so, about 200,000
Israelis, with the military and political support of the Israeli government,
have moved into Palestine, confiscated land and made permanent homes there.
Several contributors point out that these big enclaves are violations of the
Fourth Geneva Convention, which prohibits the occupying power from making
permanent changes to the occupied territory or from settling part of its population
there. No country in the world, not even the United States, recognizes
the legitimacy of this mass movement of Israelis.
Here is where the language of euphemism gets interesting. The mainstream U.S.
press uniformly locates these Israeli enclaves in the neutral-sounding West
Bank and Gaza. The courageous Israeli human rights organization
Btselem insists on a more accurate name: the Occupied Territories of Palestine.
Whats more, the illegal enclaves are always called settlements,
a word that conjures up an image of small, beleaguered outposts, huddling in
the stony biblical landscape, peopled by simple pioneers.
It comes as quite a shock, therefore, when you travel just southeast of Jerusalem
on the road to Bethlehem and run into Har Homa, a 10-story fortified complex
under construction that will house 32,500 Israelis. Har Homa is not alone; since
Yasser Arafat, Yitzak Rabin and Bill Clinton came together on the White House
lawn in September 1993 to approve the Oslo accords that were supposed to bring
a lasting peace, the number of Israeli settlers has risen from 116,000 to 200,000.
The Palestinian people heard about a peace process, but what they actually saw
was more and more colonists taking over their land.
One look at the useful maps in this book makes it clear why the Israeli offer
at Camp David in July 2000 was not the generous concession that has been portrayed
in the United States. Israel still planned to annex most of the enclaves outright,
and also maintain control over Palestinian border areas and corridors. The state
of Palestine, already split into two parts, would lose even more territory and
be fragmented into a patchwork quilt of multiple chunks, pieces and strips.
nyone who knew apartheid South Africa would look at these speckled maps with
recognition. The most photogenic features of the South African system were called
petty apartheid: the segregated restaurants, railway carriages,
beaches and public toilets, with their ugly signs. But grand apartheid
was actually much more important: the territorial segregation of the country
into white areas, 87 percent of the country that included the big
cities and the best farmland, and black areasfragmented chunks
called Bantustans. This horseshoe-shaped archipelago of misery around the nations
rim constituted just 13 percent of the land area, and was the only place where
blacks had the permanent right to live and own land.
But you did see plenty of black people, millions of them, working and living,
often under terrible conditions, in white South Africa. They were
there as temporary sojourners, migrant workers who built the South
African economy into the most powerful in Africa but could be ejected to the
impoverished, overcrowded Bantustans at any time.
This is where the comparison with Israel and Palestine becomes more arguable.
One of the most important contributions to The New Intifada is the survey of
the Palestinian economy by a tireless researcher at Harvards Center for
Middle Eastern Studies named Sara Roy. You wonder why someone like this remarkable
woman, who has spent years studying Palestine, is not a regular guest on Meet
the Press, instead of the same talking heads, most of whom sound like they have
never set foot in a Palestinian refugee camp.
Until 1967, Palestinians from the West Bank and Gaza were not allowed into
Israel. (About one-fifth of the citizens of Israel proper are Palestinian; their
experience as second-class citizens since Israel was founded in 1948 is another
part of the story, which is also well covered in this book.) But after Israel
occupied the West Bank and Gaza, as much as 40 percent of the total Palestinian
work force started crossing into Israel as migrant workers. They, like their
counterparts in South Africa, worked mainly in relatively low-paid and dirty
jobs that Israelis themselves were increasingly hesitant to take.
Palestine became dependent on the earnings of these migrant workers. Then,
starting in the early 90s, Israel started to apply its closure
policy, sharply restricting the movement of Palestinian working people into
Israel (and within Palestine itself). Roy points out that Palestinian unemployment
rose from 3 percent in 1992 to 28 percent in 1996; per capita income fell 37
percent; and poverty, especially among children, is now visible in a manner
not seen for at least twenty-five years.
Israel justifies closure as a security measure, although Roy points out that
the Israeli security establishment itself has stated that closure is of
limited value against extremist attacks. She, along with most Palestinians,
contends that its main function is really as a form of collective punishment
against the Palestinian people.
We do occasionally read mainstream press accounts of how Israeli military checkpoints
inside the Occupied Territories are a delay and inconvenience to people there,
although the impact is greater when you see for yourself teen-age Israeli soldiers
deciding whether Palestinian grandfathers can pass though to visit the 1,400-year-old
Dome of the Rock mosque in Jerusalemwhile Israelis whiz along nearby on
special Israeli-only bypass roads.
But closure is more than the indignity of having soldiers speaking another
language deciding where you can go in your own country. It is economic warfare,
and Roy reports that hunger is now a fact of life for the majority of
people, as is the despair and rage that attend it. This harsh economic
reality, based on territorial segregation, migrant labor and by far the longest
military occupation in the world today, is nearly ignored by the mainstream
o is this apartheid? One danger is that the word will alienate
people who sympathize with Israel but will listen to criticism provided they
do not perceive it as inflammatory. The U.N. General Assemblys vote back
in 1975 that Zionism is a form of racism may have made a settlement
even harder to reach, by weakening the peace camp within Israel and among its
Yet certain Israelis themselves are not so squeamish. Edward Said points out
one of the facts that surprises first-time visitors to Israel: You find a much
broader range of opinion in some of the big Israeli newspapers than you will
ever see in the United States. Meron Benvenisti, an impassioned critic of Israeli
policy who appears regularly in Haaretz (the local equivalent of the New
York Times, available in an English-language edition), regularly uses the word
apartheid to describe Israels policy in the Occupied Territories.
In the end, describing Israel and Palestine accurately probably matters more
than the particular word you choose to sum up the situation. The New Intifada
demonstrates calmly and convincingly that the harsh Israeli occupationpolitical,
military and economicis the cause of the present uprising, not something
irrational or hateful in the Arab or Muslim character. So if the word apartheid
shocks open-minded people into taking a closer look, it may be justified.
James North lived in southern Africa from 1978 to 1983, reporting for In These Times and other publications. He visited Israel and Palestine for the first time last year. His e-mail address is [email protected]
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