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Israeli Apartheid: Fact or Fiction?

A close look at the meaning of apartheid and whether it applies to Israel.
By: Avi Zer-Aviv
Published: February 14th, 2010 in News » Israel
Avi Zer-AvivPic: Avi Zer-Aviv

It can be argued that Israeli Apartheid is a myth because the system of separation that exists in Israel and the Occupied Territories today is based on security concerns and not racial segregation. In this way, the comparison to South African style apartheid is inaccurate, as that reality was truly based on the belief that one racial group was superior to the other, and therefore had a right to oppress and dominate.

Israel’s dilemma revolves around its relationship to lands it captured in 1967 which house over three million Palestinian people in the West Bank and Gaza, amidst 300,000 Israeli settlers who live there as well. Israel refuses to annex these lands because that would mean each Palestinian living there would become an Israeli citizen with voting rights, effectively toppling the concept of a Jewish State. Leaving the West Bank completely is also not in Israel’s interest, as there is military advantage to remaining on this land in case of future wars and security conflicts. Instead, Israel has decided to hold onto the West Bank tenaciously, building Jewish settlements in strategic locations, most often high up on hills and posts that give aerial, tactical and military advantage.

Indeed, this does not sound like apartheid at all. It sounds like military strategy.

In the course of creating this reality, though, Israel has created two realities in the West Bank. One is the reality of the settlements, with efficient Jewish-only roads, full access to scarce water resources, abundant electricity supply, access to fertile agricultural lands, military protection, employment and business opportunities, affordable real estate, and massive subsidies to encourage ordinary Israeli citizens to move there. 

The other reality of the West Bank centers around Palestinian life, with limited freedom of movement, an elaborate series of stifling and humiliating checkpoints and security barriers, limited access to water resources, control and restriction of electricity, seizure of fertile agricultural lands and property, collective curfews, military invasions, dire poverty and unemployment, illegal house demolitions, and a large number of Palestinians living in shanty refugee camps after their displacement in 1967.

While it is easy to argue that Israel’s intention and ideology is non-apartheid, the facts on the ground speak of an enormous and very deliberate divide between the Jewish and Palestinian populations living in the West Bank, with the Jewish group receiving highly preferential treatment and rights, and the Palestinian group not having a fraction of the opportunities, rights, and advantages, and actually being restricted from accessing these fundamental human rights. Justifying this reality by blaming Palestinian leadership or the Palestinian people for their plight does not hold any weight so long as Israel does not give a chance for Palestinians to control their own affairs, and have self-determination. And so long as Israel continues its military regime in the West Bank, the opportunity for Palestinians to start on an equal footing remains impossible.

Despite its best intentions, Israel has created a system of separation in the West Bank which fits the textbook definition of apartheid.  According to Michael Ben-Yair, Attorney General of Israel throughout the nineties, “In effect, we established an apartheid regime in the Occupied Territories immediately following their capture. That oppressive regime exists to this day.” He is not alone in asserting this perspective. Many notable Israelis like Meron Benvenisti, Akiva Elder, and Shulamit Aloni, to mention a few, agree that Israeli style apartheid is a reality.

The argument that Israeli apartheid does not exist holds weight only from an ideological and theoretical framework. The good news is that Israel has an opportunity to close the loop between its intentions and actions by withdrawing from the West Bank, and effectively ending its apartheid regime.

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