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July 3, 2015


One of my American friends just came home from touring the West Bank and Israel. He had a rich experience, but one of his conclusions was that he had witnessed apartheid. I’ve been hearing this accusation for some time, and I am uncomfortable with it, so I went to Wikipedia and here’s what I found. My responses are in Italics.

Apartheid: An Afrikans word meaning “the state of being apart” as a system of racial segregation in South Africa enforced through legislation by the National Party, the governing party from 1948 to 1994.

No official government apartheid policy here. Instead, we have instituted a system of racial segregation in the West Bank. The legal structure is separate for settlers and Palestinians, there are roads only for settlers, the groundwater that flows beneath Palestinian land is taken largely for Israel’s use.

Under apartheid, the rights, associations, and movements of the majority black inhabitants and other ethnic groups were curtailed and Afrikaner minority rule was maintained.

As in the West Bank. While we withdrew Israeli settlers from Gaza in 2005, we continue to control nearly everything that enters Gaza, enforcing a blockade on land, in the air, and by sea.

By extension, the term apartheid is currently used for forms of systematic segregation, established by the state authority in a country, against the social and civil rights of a certain group of citizens, due to ethnic prejudices.

True in the West Bank. Our defense minister recently attempted to institute segregated buses for Palestinians, in the West Bank. Only fear of international condemnation forced withdrawal, for now, of the edict.  

Apartheid as an officially structured policy was introduced after the general election of 1948.

For us, it has been part of Israel’s policy toward the Palestinian citizens of Israel since the mass expulsion of 700,000 Palestinians in 1948. The new age of apartheid began in 1967, when millions of Palestinians in the West Bank and Gaza were subjected to Israeli military rule, which is still in force.

From 1960 to 1983, 3.5 million non-white South Africans were removed from their homes, and forced into segregated neighbourhoods, in one of the largest mass removals in modern history.

In December, 1967, there were one million Palestinians living in the West Bank and Gaza. There were no Israelis in the territories. In 2014, there were 2,266,000 Palestinians in the West Bank and 464,000 Israeli settlers. While we did not deport the Palestinians, we took full control of their land, reserving the right to enter even “Area A,” ostensibly under Palestinian control, whenever “security needs” demand this.

Non-white political representation was abolished in 1970, and starting in that year black people were deprived of their citizenship, legally becoming citizens of one of ten tribally based self-governing bantustans, four of which became nominally independent states.

The West Bank and Gaza Palestinians are not citizens of a recognized country. They cannot vote in the elections of the country that controls their lives.

The government segregated education medical care, beaches, and other public services, and provided black people with services that were often inferior to those of white people.

Many of the services provided to Israeli Palestinian citizens (20% of the population) are far inferior to those of Jewish citizens.

So we do not have a declared de jure state of apartheid here, which makes the de facto situation harder to define. Yet so many features of the reality for Palestinians resemble what South Africa finally rejected. It makes arguing about whether or not Israel is an apartheid state seem irrelevant.

Civil society and human rights organizations seeking to confront the status quo are currently being threatened with new taxation, designed to curtail their activities. And yet, most of us are quiet about this state of affairs. As long as Israelis are not forced to notice the plight of the Palestinians, we go about our lives, enjoying many varieties of cottage cheese and complaining about the number of students in our children’s classrooms. We are angry about billionaires who want a disproportionate share of the profits that come from the natural gas we are drilling in the Mediterranean. Most West Bank Palestinians, living 15-30 miles from the sea, have never seen it.

Some will read these lines and decide that I am another self-hating leftist Jew. But no, I love Israel with a passion that knows no bounds. This is my home, now, for the past 43 years. I belong here as I never belonged anywhere. At the same time, I fear the closing of eyes to what is all around us, I fear the shutting down of empathy, I fear for our souls.

Tomorrow I will go to Zion Square, as part of “Talking in the Square,” to engage with the right-wing activists who yesterday hunted and beat Palestinian youths heading home from work. Will we make a difference? Here’s one of my favorite stories:

Once upon a time, there was an old man who  had a habit of walking on the beach every morning. Early one morning, he was walking along the shore after a big storm had passed and found the vast beach littered with starfish as far as the eye could see, stretching in both directions.

Off in the distance, the old man noticed a small boy approaching.  As the boy walked, he paused every so often and as he grew closer, the man could see that he was occasionally bending down to pick up an object and throw it into the sea.  The boy came closer still and the man called out, “Good morning!  May I ask what it is that you are doing?”

The young boy paused, looked up, and replied “Throwing starfish into the ocean. The tide has washed them up onto the beach and they can’t return to the sea by themselves,” the youth replied. “When the sun gets high, they will die, unless I throw them back into the water.”

The old man replied, “But there must be tens of thousands of starfish on this beach. I’m afraid you won’t really be able to make much of a difference.”

The boy bent down, picked up yet another starfish and threw it as far as he could into the ocean. Then he turned, smiled and said, “It made a difference to that one!”

We can only do what we can do. See if maybe you can make a difference to one starfish today.

Yoav Peck




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