Palestine, I am sorry. I am sorry on behalf our thick headed Harper government that opposed your bid to become an Observer State at the UN. I am sorry that Harper is oblivious to the suffering you’ve endured over the past 45 years. I am sorry, that our Foreign Minister, John Baird, is a dogmatic ideologue who defends Israel – your occupier- in the same way overzealous clerics preach from the pulpit.

I know, I know. Baird flew all the way to the UN to scold everyone about how silly it is for you to proceed unilaterally without Israel’s consent. It’s regrettable that he made a laughing stock of himself in front of the whole world. If only he, like the rest of us, could see the foolishness of his argument: Baird doesn’t want you to advance unilaterally for statehood. Yet, he doesn’t have a problem with Israel’s 45 year-old unilateral occupation and the continued unilateral colonization of your land. Shame on him.

See, the thing is, we weren’t always this idiotic. Our country has generally played an even hand in conflicts around the globe. You might find it hard to believe, but we were actually one of the founders of modern-day peacekeeping. Lester Pearson, our former PM, actually won the Nobel Peace Prize for tackling the Suez Crises. This episode is probably the second time he turned over in his grave. The first one was when they gave Obama the Peace Prize.

So, casting the ‘No’ vote now makes us a part of the Notorious Nine; the nine disgraceful governments who refused to acknowledge your Statehood – while they hypocritically carry the banner of the two-state solution. Well, at least, the rest of the world is smart enough to recognize that Israel has constantly jeopardized the two-state solution by continuing the settlement enterprise.

Everyone knows that negations have taken you nowhere over the past 20 years; you’ve only lost more land – its understandable you had to take such drastic measures. We applaud you for overcoming threats from bullies like our own government, and for being bold enough to march ahead.

Now, I want you to forget about the Notorious Nine for a while. I know they’ve threatened to cut your funding, but the money will come. It always does. Look at the bright side: you can now negotiate with Israel on higher diplomatic terms. You can take them to the International Criminal Court for perpetrating heinous crimes against you. You can actually hold your oppressor legally accountable. We all know that’s the main thing they were afraid of: you gaining more power and winning popular support of the public.

You might be wondering what has caused Canada, the peace loving nation of maple syrup and hockey, to delve into the realm of diplomatic absurdity. Well, it’s mainly the Harper government. They tricked us into voting for them – I know, it’s silly. We promise never to do it again. But we’ve also become complacent because of our glorious past as a bastion of human rights. For example, when the UN tried to warn us about our shortcomings in fulfilling food requirements for the needy, we told them to go ‘f*** off’ and lecture some third-world country. Know what I am sayin?

So, in conclusion, I want to apologize again for the lunacy and shortsightedness of our government. Canadians are a good people; we’ve always stood by the side of the oppressed. It is unfortunate that our country voted to be on the wrong side of history; we will regret that in the centuries to come. However, as history has also indicated, justice will triumph and you will eventually have your freedom. And when that happens, I hope our government will smarten up and issue you an official apology. Good luck in the fight ahead!

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Barack Obama, when commenting about the recent warfare in Gaza, stated that he supports Israel’s right to defend itself from Gazan rocket attacks. He declared, almost chided, ‘Israel has every right to expect that it does not have missiles fired into its territory’. Canadian Foreign Minister, John Baird, also sang the same tune and reiterated the identical position.

This has been the standard position of our governments; it is no different than what it was during Israel’s Operation Cast Lead in 2008, which claimed the lives of over 1,400 Palestinians and 13 Israelis. It seems like a reasonable position too; which explains our blind acceptance of it. If someone was launching rockets at our country, would we not fight back?

What has been conveniently omitted by our politicians and our media is one crucial piece of information: the Gaza Strip has been subject to a brutal military occupation by Israel for 45 years now. The international community, including US and Canada, recognize this occupation to be illegal. In addition, since 2006, Gaza has been under a severe economic siege which has made the dignified existence of Palestinians impossible.

Although Israel evacuated the Gaza Strip in 2005, it now maintains and controls the occupation from the outside; entering whenever it feels appropriate. On his recent visit to the area, Noam Chomsky described Gaza as the “world’s largest open-air prison”. The idea of the Gazan siege, in the words of Israeli official Dov Weisglass, “is to put the Palestinians on a diet, but not to make them die of hunger.”

Israel strictly controls air, land and sea access to Gaza. It has defined ‘buffer zones’ along Gaza’s agriculturally rich border where Palestinians are prohibited to enter; they are shot at if they try to walk on their own land. Fishermen too are fired at by mighty Israeli ships if they dare go 3 miles pass the shoreline. Israel strictly controls all imports into Gaza and exports are almost non-existent. Construction projects to rebuild vital infrastructure can’t be carried out, forcing the UN to declare the Strip ‘unlivable’ by 2020. Drones and F-16s whiz through the sky so often that their constant thundering has become background noise.

Israel regularly conducts military operations inside Gaza; frequently targeting civilians. Western media started reporting about Operation Pillar of Cloud as a response to Hamas’ rocket fire on November 14; as if the occupation forces had been patiently standing by the border since January 2009. What is unknown to us is the recent escalation started on November 5th when a Palestinian man was killed for simply being in the ‘buffer zone’. Then again, on November 8th, a 13-year old boy was killed while playing soccer by machine gunfire. Each death resulted in retaliation from Palestinian fighters and loss of more Palestinians lives; finally leading up the November 14th episode.

Subject to never ending humiliation, degradation and impoverishment, some Gazans end up joining Hamas’ military ranks or groups like Islamic Jihad. This small percentage of the population is driven to desperation and decides to resist the occupation violently.

Even though Hamas was elected by Gazans in 2006 to administer their internal affairs, it has been shunned as a terrorist organization. Hamas’ terrorism is akin to the terrorism of Nelson Mandela’s African National Congress (ANC), which employed violence to resist the Western-backed South African apartheid regime. Mandela and the ANC were also officially declared to be notorious terrorists at the time. When Hamas directly targets Israeli citizens, it is no doubt condemnable. However, this needs to be met by equal condemnation of Israel for attacking civilians; something our governments refuse to do.

Gilad Sharon, son of former PM Sharon, bluntly describes the pretext under which the military operation and siege on Gaza is justified in Israeli circles: “The residents of Gaza are not innocent, they elected Hamas. The Gazans aren’t hostages; they chose this freely, and must live with the consequences”. Even if one were to assume Hamas’ militant activities serve no purpose but to provoke Israel, is it still justified to collectively punish 1.6 million Gazans for voting the ‘wrong way’?

Instead of shelling Gaza, Israel can employ peaceful means to end the rocket fire into its own territory. Hamas’ leader, Khaled Meshal, describes it quite simply, “If occupation ends, resistance ends. If Israel stops firing, we stop firing”. While Hamas has accepted a two-state solution, the Israeli leadership under Netanyahu has demonstrated no interest in pursuing it; jeopardizing any attempt for it to be executed and pinning the blame on the opposing party. However, if Hamas really was the problem, why then was no deal reached before 2006, when they weren’t even a part of the equation?

Although a cease-fire has been brokered, it is likely to be broken again. Talk of Israel ‘defending itself’ will resume in the next round of escalation. And when that happens, I want you to consider this: Is it really possible for a regime guilty of occupation to be defending itself from those it oppresses?  To Obama and governments that unequivocally support Israel: Don’t the Palestinians have every right to not be occupied by Israel? Do they not have the right to defend themselves against an illegal occupation and an unjust siege?


Introduction  |  Part 1 |  Part 2 |  Part 3

As discussed previously, apartheid refers to a system of discriminatory polices which divide a population along racial lines and give superior treatment to one race over another. The objective of these inhumane laws is to maintain the domination of one race. The system of apartheid implemented by Israel in the Palestinian territories is designed to oppress Palestinian Arabs and give preferential treatment to Israeli Jews. We will now explore the different apartheid policies enforced by Israel (Note: Occupied Palestinian Territories (OPT) refers to East Jerusalem, West Bank and the Gaza Strip which have been under Israeli occupation since 1967)

Citizenship and Immigration

Israel’s institutionalized system of discrimination is rooted on being able to classify population along racial lines. It first legally defines who is Jewish and then extends special privileges to Jews over non-Jews. Israel views itself as the state of the ‘Jewish nation’, not an ‘Israeli nation’. It thus distinguishes between citizenship and nationality [1].

Citizenship is granted to those qualifying its requirements; about 1.3 million Palestinians living in Israel proper have citizenship. Jewish nationals (i.e. anyone falling under the legal definition of a Jew) enjoy special privileges which aren’t accessible to ordinary Israeli citizens [2]. These special privileges will be discussed in this article. Israeli Jews are a group unified by law while Palestinian Arabs are sub-divided into citizens, occupied residents and refugees based on their territory[3].

The 1950 Law of Return extends to Jews all over the world an absolute ‘right of return’. Jews from anywhere with no prior ties to Israel can immigrate to it and the Occupied Palestinian Territories (OPT)  [4]. This law is rooted in the idea that Jews were expelled from this land 2000 years ago and should now be able to return home – the cornerstone of the Zionist movement.

On the other hand, the hundreds of thousands of Palestinian refugees who were either expelled or fled during the 1948 and 1967 wars are not allowed to return to their homes. They are granted entry in neither Israel nor the OPT simply because they aren’t Jews [5,a] . This restriction has created the one of the largest refugee crises in the history; today these refugees and their descendants number around 5 million. It is also in clear violation of UN resolutions, international law and the Geneva Conventions which state that everyone has the right to leave and return to one’s country [6].

While Jews are automatically granted Israeli citizenship, Palestinians are not afforded the same privilege and face insurmountable obstacles [7]. Palestinians within Israel proper have to prove they resided in Israel between 1948 to 1952 (i.e. during the worst of fighting) to be eligible [8]. Palestinians in East Jerusalem have to prove their ‘center of life’ is Jerusalem in order to simply retain their so-called permanent residency status [9]. Palestinian refugees living in the OPT have no rights to citizenship while Jewish settlers in the same area do [10].

In addition, in an attempt to close doors to the ‘creeping right of return’, Palestinians in OPT are restricted from reuniting with their spouses and families in Israel; Jewish settlers face no such restrictions [11][12].

Palestinian Enclaves, Jewish Colonies and Land Confiscation 

As discussed in the previous post, land distribution based on race is one of the defining features of apartheid. This is most evident in the West Bank which has been fragmented into numerous ethnic cantons or Bantustans. The Palestinian enclaves (Areas A and B) are currently split up into some 131 disconnected Bantustans; these are surrounded by a contiguous region (Area C) under complete Israeli control [13a]. Jewish colonies are currently made up of over 220 settlements; 121 official ones and the remainder being unofficial ‘outposts’ which are built without Israeli approval. Residence and entry in each ethnic enclave is determined by one’s racial identity; Jewish colonists in one area and Palestinians in the other[13]. Settlers have access to all the amenities of a developed nation while most Palestinians live under substandard conditions.

Though they are illegal by international consensus, these colonies have been constantly expanding on land confiscated from Palestinians for four decades now. At present, 43% of the West Bank is taken up by these settlement blocks which are for exclusive Jewish use [14]. Housing, schools, hospitals and recreational facilities in the settlements are inaccessible to non-Jews.  While a Jewish person from any part of the world can move to and lease land in these cantons, Palestinians are barred from the use of their very own land. Continued expansion of the colonist enterprise means little is left of ‘Palestine’; effectively rendering the two-state solution meaningless. In fact, the official map of Israel doesn’t even demarcate the Palestinian territories from its own boundaries; clearly indicating its de facto annexation of the territory.

Creation of the monstrous Separation Wall has further annexed 10% of the West Bank into Israel [15]. The Wall is justified as a ‘security fence’; however, Israel has conveniently planted it on the neighbour’s territory – 85%  of it runs through the West Bank.  As a result, the International Court of Justice (ICJ) deemed the barrier illegal. Although it hasn’t segregated the population entirely, the Wall has further divided it – 85% of the the Jewish settlers live on the western side of this Wall [15a]. In addition to all this, Israel also restricts land usage within its own territory. 13% of the land within Israel’s borders is reserved for Jewish use and is thus even off-limits to Palestinians with Israeli citizenship* [15b].

Given Israel’s constant claim to democracy, some might falsely argue that the settlements are not Jewish-only; rather they are Israeli-only.  One of Israel’s traditional methods to direct national resources exclusively to the state’s Jewish population, without being accused of discrimination, is delegating responsibilities to the non-governmental organizations such as the Jewish Agency (JA), World Zionist Organization (WZO) and the Jewish National Fund (JNF) [16]. The JA, WZO and other parastatal institutions are currently responsible for the planning and establishment of the settlement enterprise [17]. These institutions act as ‘authorized agents’ of the state and solely work to serve interests of the world Jewry; effectively barring even non-Jewish Israeli citizens from their services.

Dual Legal Systems

Israel has implemented two systems of law in the Palestinian territories. It applies Israeli civilian law to Jews while indigenous Palestinians are subject to military law. It treats the settlements as de facto extensions of Israel and grants settlers the rights of citizens with democratic protections, despite them living outside Israel on occupied Palestinian land [18] [19].

Being subject to the Israeli judicial system, Jewish settlers enjoy liberties and legal guarantees that are denied to Palestinian defendants in the Occupied Territories charged with the same offense. The authority to arrest an individual, detention period before hearing, the right to an attorney, the protection for defendants, the maximum punishment period, and the release of prisoners before completion of their sentence – all of these differ greatly in the two systems of law, with the Israeli civilian system providing the suspect and defendant with many more protections [20].

Thus, different legal systems are applied to two populations residing in the same area, and the nationality of the individual determines the system and court in which he or she is tried. This situation violates the principle of equality before the law, especially given the disparity between the two systems. It also violates the principle of territoriality, conventional in modern legal approaches, according to which a single system of law must apply to all persons living in the same territory [21].

Next Post: More Apartheid Policies 

The more commonly quoted figure is that 93% of Israeli land is inaccessible to Palestinian citizens. 13% of this is owned by the Jewish National Fund (JNF) which leases to Jews-only. However, the remaining 80% is under the Israeli Lands Authority (ILA). I haven’t been able to find credible documentation to indicate that ILA only services Jews; I have thus only quoted 13%. If you have access to it, please refer me to legal documentation which could clarify this . 

References 


 [1] Occupation, Colonialism and Apartheid? Human Sciences Research Council,South Africa, 2009 – pg 161

[2] Ibid, pg 216

 [3]  Russell Tribunals on Palestine – Capetown Session, 2009 . pg 14

 [4]  Acquisition of Israeli Nationality – Israeli Ministry of Foreign Affairs

 [5]  United Nations Human Rights, Report of the Special Rapporteur,  Richard Falk.  ID A/65/331, August 2010 – pg 6

[5a]  Occupation, Colonialism and Apartheid? Human Sciences Research Council,South Africa, 2009 – pg 213

 [6]  Palestinian Right of Return – Wikipedia

 [7] Occupation, Colonialism and Apartheid? Human Sciences Research Council,South Africa, 2009 – pg 21

 [8]   Immigration and Refugee Board of Canada, Israel: Citizenship Law, 6 March 2008, ISR102749.E

 [9] Occupation, Colonialism and Apartheid? Human Sciences Research Council,South Africa, 2009 – pg 206

 [10] Ibid, pg 217

 [11]  Forbidden Families: Family Unification and Child Registration inEast Jerusalem. January 2004. B’Tsaleem, Jerusalem.

 [12]  Occupation, Colonialism and Apartheid? Human Sciences Research Council,South Africa, 2009 – pg 211

 [13]  Ibid. – pg 19

[13a]  Forbidden Roads: Israel’s Discriminatory Road Regime in the West Bank, B’Tselem. August 2004- pg 4

 [14]   Separate and Unequal: Israel’s Discriminatory Treatment of Palestinians in the Occupied Palestinian Territories. Human Rights Watch, New York 2010 – pg 9

[15] The Humanitarian Impact on Palestinians of Israeli Settlements and other infrastructure in the West Bank.  UN Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs, 2007

[15b]  Israel and the Occupied Territories – International Religious Freedom Report 2005  U.S Department of Sate

[15a] Arrested Development: Long Term Impact of the Barrier, B’Tselem. -pg 13. October 2012

 [16]  Land Grab: Israel’s Settlment Policy in the West Bank, B’Tselem, Jerusalem 2002 – pg 21

 [17]  Ibid.

 [18]  United Nations Human Rights, Report of the Special Rapporteur,  Richard Falk.  ID A/67/379 , September 2012 – pg 5

 [20]  Ibid 

 [21]  Ibid


Pamella Geller and her fellow Islamophobes made headlines a few weeks ago with their vitriolic anti-Muslim advertisements in NYC subway stations and else where. Their message equated  Muslims to “savages” and “jihad” to terrorism. To respond to this bigotry , a remarkable group of Christians and Jews have started a counter campaign which encourages tolerance and love for Muslims.

Exemplifying the motto of ‘Love Thy Neighbor’, campaign organizers have leased out advertising space in subway stations to put up posters which counter the message of the anti-Muslim ads. One of them reads: “In the choice between love and hate, CHOOSE LOVE. Help stop bigotry against our Muslim neighbors.”  Another one says: “Hate Speech is not civilized. Support peace in word and deed”. The last one states quite simply,  “Love your Muslim neighbors”.

This outstanding initiative was headed by Rabbi’s For Human RightsSojourners – a Christian social justice group and United Methodist Women. Each of the three groups ran separate advertisements urging tolerance and denouncing the bigoted message of Gellar’s ads. The groups said their campaigns were coincidental. At some locations, their ads were placed immediately adjacent to the anti-Muslim posters. This juxtaposition is reflective the unique experiment that is America; the very good of its people and the very ugly, existing side by side.

Rabbi Jill Jacobs explained the purpose of his campaign, “I want to spread the message that 1800 rabbis– along with the majority of the American Jewish community–believes in partnership with our Muslim neighbors. We, of course, oppose all acts of terrorism. We will not, however, allow the actions of a small minority to be an excuse for dehumanizing an entire people.” Following the spirit of the of the Golden Rule, he further explained, “We know what it’s like to be a minority and we know what it’s like to be the target of discrimination, and that’s why, as Jews, because of that history, we have more of a responsibility to speak out when anyone is being discriminated against.”

The past several weeks have been challenging for American Muslims. The anti-American riots across the Muslim world and the killing of the American Ambassador to Libya  has lead to a great degree of apprehension in the community. From suspicious glances to clandestine conversations; Muslims were the talk of the town. Being inundated with stories like that of the Joplin Mosque which was burned down, one naturally begins to feel alienated and questions their standing in the public’s eye.

This campaign is enough reason to throw away those apprehensive feelings. Its a testament to the good of the American people, the vast majority of whom stand by their Muslim neighbors and will speak up to defend them. Stories like these need to be broadcast across to the Muslim world; this is what America is made of- not the pervert who produced the shameful movie debasing the Prophet.

Lastly, this campaign demonstrates the importance of exercising the power that rests in the moderate silent majority. These people could have very well decided to shrug their shoulders apathetically or perhaps just nod with disappointment like most of us. Why bother explaining that extremists like Geller don’t represent Jews? They could have complained about finances associated with leasing ad space and a million other things.

But No! They decided to speak up, to make their voices heard. They realized that the cost of remaining silent was not worth it. For them, making fellow citizens feel welcome in their own land was something important enough to invest time and money in  – and it should be for the remainder of us. This campaign is an important lesson for the Muslim community on the impact raising our voices can have. Faced too frequently with the negative externalities of religion, this episode reaffirms the generosity, goodness and goodwill that rests at the root of religious teaching and is urgently in need of revival.

 Actions Items: Call/Write to the campaign organizers thanking them for their efforts 

Rabbis for Human Rights-North America
212-845-5201
Email: office@rhr-na.org

United Methodist Women
Harriett Jane Olson – Deputy General Secretary
212-870-3752
Email” HOlson@unitedmethodistwomen.org

Sojourners
Phone: 202-328-8842 or 1-800-714-7474
E-mail: sojourners@sojo.net

 


‘They’re a bunch of whiners’, a friend remarked as we had a discussion about the student protesters in Quebec. ‘Their tuition is less than a third of what everyone else pays – what are they complaining about?’ he continued. The sentiments he expressed echo the general opinion held my most people I’ve spoken to outside Quebec.

I too viewed these protesters as privileged ingrates who are complaining about a tuition hike which is peanuts compared to what everyone else pays. However, after visiting Quebec and witnessing these protests, I’ve been forced to reconsider my opinions; I strongly believe that other Canadians should too, and here’s why.

Imagine the following. Due to financial constraints our government has had to take some desperate measures. Starting next week, every Canadian will now have to pay a flat fee of $10 for every consultation with a doctor and about $ 200 for surgeries. It’s a small affordable fee that would help offset the financial strain on the government. Yes, our much cherished healthcare system is no longer free.

As one can imagine, there will be uproar in our society at the announcement of such news. How dare the government charge us for healthcare?! We will go out into the streets and will protest all night long. We will not stop until our demands our met. No way am I paying 10 bucks to visit a doctor! And as we lead mass rallies to protest these unjust measures, the Americans will look to us and say, ‘What a bunch of whiners! What are they complaining about? They pay nothing compared to what we have to pay’.

That analogy might have a few shortcomings, but it’s the same idea. You see, it’s not just the small fee and potential future hikes that we would be protesting. It’s the principle. We expect our government to provide universal healthcare; much like secondary education, library services and access to highways. Failure to do so results in uproar. We’ve worked hard to get our society to a point where we can enjoy these benefits; any attempt to jeopardize our access to these services is unacceptable.

Quebeckers view post-secondary education in the same light as the services I mentioned earlier. Yes, it’s not free but it was pretty close to it. The student movement has been working towards achieving universal access to post-secondary education; Quebec was perhaps the only hope of that dream being realized. A tuition hike of any sort, let alone one that increases tuition almost two fold, is a step backwards and squashes any chances of ever achieving full publicly funded universities.

As Rick Salutin pointed out, when society has a whole recognizes a service as fundamental priority, the excuses go out the door and the money gets found. This was the case for secondary education and universal healthcare. It’s not always feasible, but in order to get there, we as a society first need to collectively voice our expectations. We need to make it clear to our governments that higher education should be made accessible to all and not just the privileged few; that tuition hikes are not an acceptable of way dealing with budgetary restraints.

That is the message Quebecois students are sending to our government. We need to stand along with them and join hands in giving our support to this message. Our collective silence is a tacit approval to tuition hikes; we are saying that we are okay with such measures. Our indifference to the issue serves as precedence for tuition rises in other provinces and gives politicians the impression that they can simply get away with it.

In addition, the demonstrations are not just about a tuition increase. The students are protesting corruption, financial mismanagement and the lack of transparency on the government’s part. The newly introduced Bill 78, which puts many restrictions on the freedom of assembly, has given more reason to support the protests. However, support of the movement should not be blind and uncritical. Striking part way into the school year is an example of an imprudent move which resulted hundreds of students being unable to graduate.

Protesting every single night for weeks on end demonstrates a level of commitment unheard of in recent Canadian history. As I walked through the streets of Quebec City, I realized these protests were much more than just some students complaining. I saw old women in their 70’s cheering on the sidewalks, I saw a five year old girl marching with her mother; I saw people in their balconies clanging their pots and pans to express support.

While apathy and heedlessness are often used to describe young people, these students defy any such categorization. Their dedication to the cause, conviction in their beliefs and commitment to making a difference is inspirational by all accounts. That alone is enough merit to extend these students our support.

Also published in The Silhouette 


On May 26th, the world woke to the horrors of the Houla Massacre committed in Syria by pro-Assad militias. This barbaric crime was harsh reminder to the terrors of this now 15- month conflict. Between 10,000 to 13,000 lives have been lost since the conflict started; the numbers are only going to increase the country slowly propels towards civil war.

The UN reports that 108 people were killed in the massacre. In particular, it was the brutal murder of 49 children and 34 women that outraged the world. One could not have expected the barbarism and savagery to reach levels this ruthless. Gunmen attacked the most vulnerable people to terrorize the population, attacking them at close range and sparing no one.

11-year old Ali El-Sayed’s family was exterminated before him. He survived to tell the story by pretending to be dead, being soaked in the blood of his six year old brother, while gunmen went on their murderous rampage. His is just one of thousands of unimaginable horror stories; most of which we will never get to hear. Some media outlets went as far as publishing images of corpses of the dead children, with hopes of ‘shocking us’ as one editor explained. With the world falling deaf to the screams of Syrian victims, perhaps such measures are necessary to wake us all up.

It is perhaps to the credit of these journalists that international reaction to the massacre was swift and loud. Syrian diplomats have since been expelled from numerous Western nations including the US, UK and Canada. The UN Security Council unanimously condemned the Syrian government; China and Russia agreeing on a resolution to the conflict for the first time. Even Syria’s long time supporters felt embarrassed standing by the tyrannical regime for once. Though, both nations continue to oppose tougher sanctions against Syria.

The world has expressed its disgust with the atrocious crime that took place. But will Bahar al-Assad face any repercussions? Robert Fisk thinks he will get away. Assad got away with Deraa and Homs; and he will get away with Houla too. Fisk argues that the Middle-East is littered with a hundred Houlas with ‘their dead children piled among the statistics, with knives and ropes as well as guns among the murder weapons’. It was Bashar’s Uncle Rafat’s Special Forces that carried out the massacre of insurgents in Hama in 1982. Today, the he lives between London and Paris – what is to say Assad would be in any different a position?

The Future of Syria

Everyone agrees that something needs to be done about the worsening situation in Syria; what exactly, no body’s sure. The UN special convoy’s peace plan brokered by Kofi Annan in March has ended in catastrophic failure with none of its conditions being met. It echoes the failure of similar plans in Bosnia and Rwanda; it has actually given political cover to a regime that continues its brutality without fail. As Philip Gourevitch explains, Annan’s plan ‘is another soap bubble, and the U.N. military observers who are supposed to monitor it are useless—or worse: when the butchery began in Houla, the regime told the U.N. monitors to stay away, which they did, bringing back bad memories, from the mid-nineties, of the false promises of protection that were extended, under the U.N. flag, to the people of Bosnia and Rwanda before they were abandoned to their killers’.

Congressman Keith Ellison too feels the UN peace plan has failed. He called for the international community to establish a ‘safe zone’ in Turkey that would protect fleeing Syrians; even if it means having to proceed without support from China and Russia. This safe zone will be protected by military forces, including those of the US, and would strike back if faced with regression from Syrian forces. The UN Security Council can play a much stronger role but its arms are paralyzed by Russian and China. Vladimir Putin’s minster stated that there would be no mingling with Syria’s internal affairs and that any military intervention would be premature.

Washington Post called for a stronger US leadership in mitigating the conflict. They too called for establishment of safe zones along or inside Syria’s border – which are to be guarded with the help of Turkish forces. So far the States has acted like a helpless player and has continued to pin the blame on Russia and China. With two on going conflicts in the Middle-East and an upcoming presidential election, a US led military intervention is unlikely. Nor is there any reason to assume they would be welcomed by the Arabs or hailed as liberators if any positive outcome ensues. A situation like that in Afghanistan is more likely to immerge in the case of such an intervention.

Turkey, along with Arab allies, who have a more favourable position in the region need to step up and play a more active role in stabilizing the conflict. Instead of waiting for the West to play its political and bureaucratic games, it is time for them take on leadership of that region and answer the call of the Syrian people. These initiatives need to be backed by Western powers and supported by any means possible. It is unlikely that such an initiative will take place, but it is one that would be likely welcomed.

The savagery demonstrated in Houla Massacre sends the message that nothing is off limits, nothing is sacred and nothing remains inviolable. It is this type of ruthlessness and disregard for divinely ordained sanctity that every tyrant has an eventual downfall. It will not be long before Bashar Assad will be humiliated and ousted – the question is how and when. Let us hope that those in power can learn from history and prevent catastrophes of the past from reoccurring. For the rest of us, dua is our main weapon. Please keep the people of Syria in your prayers.

First published June 1st 


Introduction | Part 1  | Part 2 | Part 3

“ If I were to change the names, a description of what is happening in Gaza and the West Bank could describe events in South Africa.” — Nobel Laureate, Archbishop Desmond Tutu 1989 

What is Apartheid?

Apartheid is the Afrikaans word for ‘separateness’ or ‘separate development’. Historically, it was used to refer to the set of discriminatory policies implemented in South Africa from 1948 to 1994. The South African regime had instituted a legal and social system which was designed to maintain domination of whites over people of colour. This racist system was eventually abolished after an anti-apartheid struggle which finally led to the election of Nelson Mandela as South Africa’s first black president in 1994.

Since South Africa, apartheid has come to be defined as a crime against humanity under international law. The Rome Statute of the International Criminal Court defines apartheid as inhumane acts which are committed by an institutionalized regime to systematically oppress and maintain domination of one racial group over another[1]. The Apartheid Convention (UN Convention on the Suppression and Punishment of the Crime of Apartheid, 1973 ) defines it similarly and included in its definition ‘similar policies and practices of racial segregation and discrimination as practiced in southern Africa’[2].

In addition, Article II of the Apartheid Convention has a list of features which further illustrate what a system of apartheid looks like. Some of these include subjecting a collective group of people to the following: murder, arbitrary arrest, bodily or mental harm, restriction of movement, restriction of peaceful assembly and division along lines of race. Both pieces of legislation focus on the systematic, institutionalized, and oppressive character of the discrimination and the purpose of domination it entails.[3]

It is thus important to recognize that apartheid is not a mere analogy. Rather, it is crime against humanity under international law and has severe penal repercussions. Its applicability is independent of a regime’s resemblance to South African practices and policies. South African apartheid had its unique features and Israeli apartheid has its own, though both regimes share some of the same core features.

Central to the discussion apartheid is the question of race. Unlike South Africa, traditional conceptions of race don’t apply in this case. United Nation’s committee on Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination understands racial groups as socially constructed ones which can be distinguished by shared ancestry, colour, ethnicity, nationality and religion.[4] In addition, the jurisprudence of the International Criminal Tribunals for Rwanada and the former Yugoslavia also understood race in this manner. [5]

Palestinians identify themselves as a group of people who share a common origin, history and culture that has ensured a continuing bond despite forced displacement and fragmentation[6]. The entire Palestinian people are considered a uniform group; much like Bosniaks or the Tutsis. Thus, Israeli Jews and Palestinian Arabs are the two distinct racial groups concerned in this case of apartheid and for the purposes of international law. [7] [8].

The Bantustans of South Africa

It is important to discuss ‘Bantustanization’ as it is one of the defining features of apartheid. During the apartheid era, the South African government had concentrated the black population into ‘Homelands’ or ‘Bantustans’. These fragmented enclaves served as pseudo-national homelands for the country’s black African population. The Bantustans were a major administrative device for the exclusion of blacks from the South African political system and prevented any sort of social or economic development in these areas.[9] These homelands were presented as a promise of complete independence to black South Africans, thus satisfying their right to self-determination. Neither the African National Congress nor the international community accepted this deceitful explanation. [10]

Looking at a map of the West Bank, the Bantustan model is easily recognizable. Bantustanization is a control strategy in its essence. The Zionist movement was faced with a dilemma in Palestine: How to create a Jewish state in an area which was largely Arab? Israeli historian Benny Morris observes that Zionists could choose from only two options: “the way of South Africa” — i.e., “the establishment of an apartheid state, with a settler minority lording it over a large, exploited native majority” — or “the way of transfer” — i.e., “you could create a homogeneous Jewish state or at least a state with an overwhelming Jewish majority by moving or transferring all or most of the Arabs out.” [11]

During Israel’s independence in 1948, this dilemma was solved through ethnic cleansing by driving the Arabs out in what is today called the Nakba or Great Catastrophe. Israel faced the same dilemma in 1967 when the Palestinian territories came under Israeli occupation. This time, foundations for an apartheid system were laid out in the Palestinian territories and they have been developed over the past four decades. Former deputy mayor of Jerusalem, Meron Benvenisti, observed that, “It goes without saying that ‘cooperation’ based on the current power relationship is no more than permanent Israeli domination in disguise, and that Palestinian self-rule is merely a euphemism for Bantustanization.” [12]

After analyzing legal definitions and the practices in South Africa, apartheid can be defined to be resting on three important pillars. The first pillar is demarking the population along lines of race. The second pillar involves segregating the population based on their racial identity and geographically separating them. Lastly, a matrix of draconian laws are enacted to ensure the domination of one race over another and to suppress any dissent. [13]

 Next Post: How Israeli policies in the Palestinian territories amount to Apartheid  

References 


[1] Rome Statute of the International Criminal Court, Article 7, paragraph 2( h)

[2] International Convention on the Suppression and Punishment of the Crime of Apartheid – General Assembly resolution 3068 (XXVIII) of 30 November 1973

 [3] Occupation, Colonialism and Apartheid? Human Science Research Council, South Africa 2009 pg 17

 [4] UN International Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Racial Discrimination, General Assembly resolution 2106 (XX),  21 December 1965

 [5] Occupation, Colonialism and Apartheid? Human Sciences Research Council,South Africa, 2009, pg 17

 [6] Russell Tribunals on Palestine – Capetown Session, 2009 . pg 15

 [7] Occupation, Colonialism and Apartheid? Human Sciences Research Council,South Africa, 2009, pg 17

 [8] Russell Tribunals on Palestine – Capetown Session, 2009 . pg 15

 [9]  Encylopedia Britannica. Bantustans

 [10] Occupation, Colonialism and Apartheid? Human Sciences Research Council,South Africa, 2009, pg 21

 [11] Norman Finkelstein, Apartheid Analogy.

 [12] Norman Finkelstein, Apartheid Analogy.

 [13] Occupation, Colonialism and Apartheid? Human Sciences Research Council,South Africa, 2009, pg 21