Connecting the Dots: Apartheid in Palestine

At a bakery near my office in the commercial area of Amman, a conversation with two of my co-workers left me disturbed and almost unable to finish my breakfast. As I sat there in the morning sun, something else began to chill my bones that had nothing to do with the crisp, spring wind. I was in the midst of a conversation with two intelligent people who were asking, no, arguing with me about how I could possibly compare Israel with the Apartheid regime in South Africa. Every muscle, fiber and tissue in my body tensed up instantaneously. I was mad. No, fuming.

As quickly as it took my blood to boil, it was over. We were walking back to the office and my co-workers were laughing and chatting about the upcoming workday. My blood was still simmering. How could you one minute be talking about the reality on the ground of a people’s lifelong fight for freedom, dignity and self-determination, and then the next laughingly bemoan the upcoming workday?

Apartheid is an Afrikaans term meaning separation or apartness and is a method used by one part of a population to institutionalize and legalize the segregation of the rest. Apartheid is thriving in Israel and the Occupied Palestinian Territories (OPT). It is a fact that many are not aware of, and which few grasp in its entirety. Israeli Apartheid is enforced using an invasive closure regime that has broken up the West Bank and Gaza Strip into enclaves, or Bantustans, the process of which has been called by academics as the Bantustanization of the OPT. The network of checkpoints, the Separation Wall, house demolitions, arbitrary and illegal land annexations, uprooting of trees, Israeli-only highways, curfews, separate license plates and IDs, and many more, has made the possibility of a contiguous Palestinian state an impossible fantasy at best.

For the Palestinian citizens of Israel, Israeli Apartheid is even more apparent. As an article on muftah.org detailed, Adalah: The Legal Center for Arab Minority Rights in Israel has documented over 20 laws in Israel that discriminate against its Palestinian citizens. Just as the Apartheid regime in South Africa had its population registration act, Israel has its Population Registry Law that obligates every citizen to register his or her nationality. This is because rights in the Jewish “democracy” are dealt with on the basis of your nationality, mainly if you are either Jewish or Arab. No one is legally allowed to register “Israeli” as his or her nationality. No, Israel’s Supreme Court would never allow this because then how would the state be able to segregate and discriminate accordingly? One of the many laws that privilege the Jewish population of Israel over its Arab counterparts is the Law of Return, which allows any Jew from anywhere to immigrate to Israel and claim citizenship. Palestinians expelled during and before the Nakba in 1948 are denied this right. Nor are Palestinians allowed to marry Jews, or non-Israeli Palestinians as the Israeli states tries its best to limit the growth of its Arab population. Additionally, it is very hard for Arab Israelis to buy or lease land in Israel as 93% of the land in Israel is reserved for its Jewish citizens.

Nelson Mandela once described the plight of the Palestinians as “the greatest moral issue of our time”. While he meant it as a statement of fact and call for people of conscience to action, the Palestinian struggle has been categorized, re-categorized, annexed, adopted, altered, mutated, blunted, ignited and manipulated by a plethora of people and groups claiming to have the self-righteous moral right and authority to take on the mantle of its Savior. However, the Palestinian issue has always been and will remain a human one.

We can easily be enticed to read reconciliation and fairness as meaning parity between justice and injustice. Having achieved our own freedom, we can fall into the trap of washing our hands of difficulties that others face.

Yet we would be less than human if we did so. 

It behooves all South Africans, themselves erstwhile beneficiaries of generous international support, to stand up and be counted among those contributing actively to the cause of freedom and justice.

Even during the days of negotiations, our own experience taught us that the pursuit of human fraternity and equality – irrespective of race or religion – should stand at the centre of our peaceful endeavors. The choice is not between freedom and justice, on the one hand, and their opposite, on the other. Peace and prosperity; tranquility and security are only possible if these are enjoyed by all without discrimination.

It is in this spirit that I have come to join you today to add our own voice to the universal call for Palestinian self-determination and statehood.

(An address by Nelson Mandela at the International Day of Solidarity with the Palestinian people, 4 December 1997.)

– Change in a Box

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