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


The Israeli propaganda machine is in full swing this time of the year. Israel’s image as the ‘only liberal democracy in the Middle East’ continues to be tarnished as Israeli Apartheid Week (IAW) and BDS (Boycotts, Divestments, Sanctions) grow as a grass roots movements on campuses across the globe. Israel’s positive image in the North American psyche is the one thing which has allowed it to continue its brutality against the Palestinians without any backlash from the general public. The fact that its image is slowly undergoing a seismic shift shakes Israel to the core.

Israel’s nervousness and isolation is best indicated by the attempts to counter this movement. It has organized massive public relation campaigns, initiated events such as Israel Peace Week and has sent out delegations on speaking tours all over the world. Condemnation of IAW pour in from right-wing politicians and media outlets continue to brand the event as a hate fest which is rooted in misinformation and anti-Semitism.

All this comes at a time when informed commentators agree that Israel implements a system of apartheid. A recent report by the United Nations concluded that Israeli policies in the Palestinian territories ‘exhibit features of colonialism and apartheid’. B’Tasleem, Israel’s leading human rights organization, published in its report Land Grab that Israel ‘has created a system of legally sanctioned separation based on discrimination that has, perhaps, no parallel any where in the world since the apartheid regime of South Africa’. The Human Sciences Research Council of South Africa also concluded in its legal study that Israel is guilty of apartheid crimes.

Why use ‘apartheid’ ?

The Israeli-Palestinian conflict is a multi-faceted one. At the core of it lies an illegal occupation coupled with innumerable human rights violations, war crimes, terrorism, ethnic cleansing, colonialism and apartheid. Solidarity activists of the past largely focused their struggle around ending the occupation, human rights violations and state-sponsored terrorism.

Focusing on the apartheid nature of the occupation represents a newer strategy in the movement, and perhaps the most effective one to date. This is a dimension of the conflict which was ignored largely in the past; partially because it is something which has developed overtime. It is the aspect of the conflict which affects Palestinians everyday.  Apartheid is a term which stirs strong emotions in the Western psyche; by exposing Israel as a perpetrator of this crime one has a much higher chance of changing public opinion towards the Zionist state. This has also allowed activists to structure their strategies in a similar fashion to the anti-apartheid movement of the 1980’s. The apartheid policies of South Africa ended shortly after US withdrew its support for the regime. By forcing our governments to change their unequivocal support of Israel, we have the greatest chance of aiding an end to the conflict.

Israeli Apartheid Week is a unique (and proud!) Canadian contribution to the Palestinian solidarity movement. It started off in 2005 at the University of Toronto by a group of dedicated student activists. It was shortly followed by the BDS Call (Boycotts, Divestments, Sanctions) made by 170 Palestinian civil societies. Through lectures, protests, concerts and film screenings, this week is dedicated to raising awareness about the atrocities being committed against the Palestinian people. It also focuses on measures that can be employed by average citizens to help end Israeli apartheid. The event is now organized on university campuses in over a 100 cities across the globe.

Success of the anti-apartheid movement for South Africa was rooted in educating the public about this inhumane system. Given the lack of knowledge about this issue amongst the masses and to emulate former movement, this series will seek to inform people about what apartheid is, why it applies to Israel and how we can help fight it.

Next Post: What is Apartheid?

First published on March 30th, 2012 


Edited version first published in The Silhouette on March 15th 2012

The Israeli propaganda machine is in full swing as Israeli Apartheid Week rolls onto campuses across the globe. It has organized massive public relation campaigns, initiated events such as Israel Peace Week and has sent out delegations on speaking tours all over the world. Condemnations of IAW pour in from right-wing politicians and media outlets continue to brand IAW as a hate fest which is rooted in misinformation and anti-Semitism.

So, in the spirit of education, let’s get some facts straight here. A recent report by the United Nations concluded that Israeli policies in the Palestinian territories ‘exhibit features of colonialism and apartheid’. B’Tasleem, Israel’s leading human rights organization, published in its report Land Grab that Israel ‘has created a system of legally sanctioned separation based on discrimination that has, perhaps, no parallel any where in the world since the apartheid regime of South Africa’.

Furthermore, the Human Sciences Research Council of South Africa conducted a study examining the legal applicability of apartheid crimes to Israel. It found that ‘Israel has introduced a system of apartheid in the Occupied Palestinian Territories’. New York based Human Rights Watch documents Israel’s racist policies in its latest report Separate and Unequal. The Russell Tribunals on Palestine, which were held in Cape Town, South Africa, also found Israel guilty of apartheid crimes.

The greatest support for Palestinians has come from birthplace of apartheid itself. The earliest critics of Israel’s policies were anti-apartheid activists from South Africa who actually felt the Palestinian situation was far worse. This list includes Nobel Laureate Desmond Tutu, Fareed Esack and John Dugard.

Israel has maintained its belligerent occupation of Palestinian lands since 1967, which is in clear violation of the Fourth Geneva Convention and international law. It continues to confiscate land from Palestinians in the West Bank and East Jerusalem, and bulldozes their homes to make room for illegal Jewish-only settlements. It subjects settlers to Israeli civilian law while indigenous Palestinians in the same area are accountable to brutal military ones. It has effectively created cantons like the Bantustans of South Africa; Palestinian Arabs living in one area and Israeli Jews on the other – first world standards on one side and subhuman living conditions on the other.

Israel has connected Jewish settlements through a network of super highways on Palestinian land, yet these roads are off limits to the average Palestinian. It has taken control of water reserves and deprives Palestinians of the minimum requirements set by international standards. Check points have been setup throughout the West Bank severely restricting the freedom of movement; young IDF soldiers humiliate and debase Palestinians at these check points on a daily basis. All this is guised under the false pretext of ‘security’ – any resistance to the occupation is deemed as ‘terrorist activity’.

Condemnations from misinformed Zionist supporters is proof for the continual need for having Israeli Apartheid Week on campus; most people reading this article will also be shocked to read the facts mentioned here. As Israel, with unequivocal support from Canada and the US, continues to sugar coat its oppressive policies, the responsibility of raising awareness rests on activists, academics and human rights organization.

The charge of anti-Semitism against the organizers of IAW is preposterous. It represents nothing but a sleazy attempt to stifle the voice of those that dare to speak out against Israel. It is as absurd as a labeling the movement against South African apartheid ‘anti-white’ or ‘anti-Protestant’; or dismissing criticism of Saudi Arabia and Iran as ‘anti-Muslim’. This charge also ignores the reality that IAW has backing of prominent Jewish organizations such as Independent Jewish Voices and Jewish Voices for Peace. As an organizer of IAW, I know with certainty that anti-semitism has no tolerance amongst the IAW leadership, especially considering some are Jewish themselves.

I will, however, acknowledge that there is a small faction of people who mistakenly assume that Israel represents all Jews and its oppressive policies are sanctioned by the Jewish faith. Thus, these people wrongly direct their anger towards the Jewish people, as opposed to the State of Israel. This logic is unacceptable and part of IAW’s goal is to educate people so they can dissociate Judaism from the actions of the Zionist state. IAW organizers actually work to suppress anti-Semetic rhetoric on campus, instead of propagating it.

Apartheid is not an analogy; it is a crime against humanity as defined under international law. More and more legal scholars are issuing the guilty verdict against the State of Israel. These apartheid policies are a reality, not rhetoric and it’s about time people start calling it what it is. If you are offended by the term; then I encourage you to reconsider your stance on this issue. You don’t want to look back in history and realize you took the side of the oppressor.

Israeli Apartheid Week will continue to be commemorated on campuses across the globe as long as the Palestinians are not given the freedom, dignity and rights that all humans deserve.