The escalation of violence in the Middle East is profoundly disturbing for a number of reasons. In America, and tangibly here at GW, students are concerned that the grotesque conflict is a victim of misinformation. Meaning, for too long, U.S. financial support for many Israeli actions, irrespective of how grossly inhuman, has passed under the cover of a massive misinformation campaign resulting in misconstruing the substantive issues at hand. One can easily see that the Palestinian resistance is viewed as heroic most everywhere else in the world.
A meaningful example would be the support for the Palestinian cause that is found in many sectors of South African society. Anti-apartheid heroes from Nelson Mandela to Archbishop Desmond Tutu have reflected on the common predicaments that both nations have faced, referring to Israel’s treatment of the Palestinians as reminiscent of South African apartheid. South African parliament minister Ronnie Kasrils, who is of Jewish background, has called some Israeli policies worse than apartheid.
Labeling Israel an apartheid state is not a new trend. However, it is necessary to assess if Israel fits the definition. As a standard, in 1973 the United Nations adopted an apartheid convention describing in detail the components of the “crime of apartheid.”
The first component asks if Israel denies “a member of a racial group the right to life and liberty of person.” This is indisputable, as Palestinians in the occupied West Bank and Gaza are subject to curfews, checkpoints, excessive and indiscriminate force and arbitrary detentions on a daily basis. Publications of the Israeli human rights group B’Tselem corroborate this assertion.
Second, does Israel impose conditions on a racial group calculated to cause their physical destruction in whole or part? Arguably, in 1948, upon the birth of the state, this was precisely the intent when over 400 Palestinian villages were reportedly depopulated and destroyed. Today, this continues in the occupied West Bank and Gaza through the expropriation of land, construction of a network of Israeli-only roads, and the erection of what is described by some groups as the “Apartheid wall.” The Palestinian population has been isolated into 13 cantons surrounded by armed Israeli settlers and soldiers.
Third, does Israel take measures calculated to prevent a racial group from participating in the political, social, economic, and cultural life of the country? In May, the Israeli Democracy Institute published their annual report, which stated, “There is serious political and economic discrimination against the Arab minority; there is much less freedom of religion than in other democracies; and the socioeconomic inequality indicator is among the highest in the sample.” Moreover, the disenfranchisement of 3.6 million Palestinians living under an Israeli military occupation is certainly not a benevolent invitation into Israeli political and socioeconomic life.
Finally, does Israel impose any measures designed to divide the population along racial lines? This summer, the Israeli government passed a law denying citizenship to Palestinians who marry Israeli citizens. For a more detailed description of Israeli policies intent on dividing the population, one can refer to the aforementioned IDI report.
From this relatively narrow standard, it seems clear that Israel does fit the legal definition of an apartheid state. While we can endlessly debate culpability for the latest round of violence, at the end of the day we will have accomplished nothing until we acknowledge that this is a structural conflict between an exclusive, apartheid state and a subordinate, occupied nation (for upwards of 55 years now).
While the symptoms of these structures, which have manifested themselves in state-sponsored or private terrorism on either side, are disastrous, focusing our energies on debating over these would be as ineffective as discussing the South African anti-apartheid movement, which also resorted to terrorist attacks. The general public must begin addressing the substantive structural issues either through debate or direct action in order for us to contribute positively to ending the conflict.
-The writer is a GW law student