Is Israel really like apartheid South Africa? | by Jaamia Galant

by Oct 15, 2014Amandla Issue 35, Magazine

To say that Israel is like apartheid South Africa is truly an understatement. The sustained violent dispossession, discrimination and repression of Palestinians by the state of Israel are far, far worse than what black South Africans had to endure under apartheid South Africa.

The violent forced removal of the Palestinians from their land and from their homes by the Zionist State of Israel goes far beyond the Native Land Act, the Colour Bar Act, the Population Registration Act, the Group Areas Act and all other acts to separated whites and blacks in South Africa.

If apartheid South Africa had come anywhere close to what Israel has achieved, then it would have been much more successful in herding all black South Africans into the Bantustan homelands of Transkei, Ciskei, Bophuthatswana and Venda. It would have succeeded in confining all Black South Africans to these territories to live and subsist, while controlling all access to and from those territories, in addition to controlling their access to water and food supplies. It would have separated the homelands from the rest of South Africa by building an 18-metre high concrete wall, arbitrarily positioned with no regard to whether it cut through people’s farmland or separated families on either side of the wall.

Imagine if this had succeeded under apartheid South Africa, and imagine if black South Africans had shown any form of resistance to this imposed way of life, and then the apartheid regime had simply rained bombs down on them while the world stood by and watched in silence. It is too ghastly to imagine such a scenario.

The brutal repression and deadly force with which the Palestinian people have been silenced, routinely killed or imprisoned goes far beyond the apartheid regime’s Suppression of Communism Act, the Riot Act, the states of emergency’, the Internal Security Act or detention without trial.

While the pass laws severely restricted the movement of black South Africans, we could never relate to the story of the Palestinian man who was arrested and jailed for driving his pregnant wife to hospital in a car with Palestinian colour-coded number plates into an area where only Israeli number plates are allowed. Black South Africans never had to get used to living with the daily threat of air raids and bombs raining down on their homes and neighbourhoods.

The death toll from the 1960 Sharpeville Massacre and the 1976 Soweto student uprising pales in comparison with the number of Palestinians killed in every Intifada, every Nakba, and every “Operation Defence” embarked on by the Israelis. The scale of deaths of young children, teenagers and entire families of Palestinians at the hands of Israel was never witnessed in apartheid South Africa.

The truth is that the state security apparatus of apartheid South Africa was nowhere near as brutal, as indiscriminate, as callous and inhumane as that of the Israeli state. So to liken Israel to apartheid South Africa is indeed an understatement.

And yet, while the world was eventually galvanised to act against the brutality of racial segregation implemented by apartheid South Africa, we still wait for official action from the world powers against Israel’s even more brutal force of occupation of Palestinian land.

The United Nations General Assembly, with notable abstentions being the US, the UK, France and Portugal, passed resolutions in the 1960s condemning apartheid policies, condemning the Sharpeville and Soweto massacres, enforcing an arms embargo on South Africa, imposing cultural, educational and sporting boycotts with South Africa and eventually expelling South Africa from the U.N. in 1974. When the resistance movement in South Africa finally resolved to engage in armed struggle against the apartheid state, no one claimed the apartheid state had a right to protect itself from this insurgence. Such a claim would have been considered absurd.

Even more absurd would have been a proposal from the apartheid state for a “two state solution ” to ensure that part of South Africa at least was reserved for whites only. Imagine how we would have felt in 1985, after thirty-seven years of living under apartheid state policies, if some external peace brokers had told us that it was time for us to stop our acts of terror, and give up our arms or otherwise the South African state would have the right to defend itself?

Fortunately, there was worldwide recognition that black South Africans had a right to protect themselves from the brutality of the apartheid state; they had a right to fight for their freedom of movement; they had a right to fight for their dignity to live as equal citizens in the country of their birth; they had a right to resist.

Why are these same rights for Palestinians not recognised and vociferously defended by nations the world over? Is it not legitimate for Palestinians to resist against more than six decades of brutal occupation by Israel? Do they not have the right to fight for their freedom of movement? Do they not have the right to fight to return and live in the land of their birth?

From the 1970s onwards, the global anti-apartheid movement grew in stature and influence, and in the late 1980s trade sanctions and economic boycotts against South Africa eventually gained worldwide traction, although again with the notable exception of the US. Ultimately, the political, cultural and economic isolation of South Africa made the cost of maintaining the apartheid state unsustainable. This, coupled with increased internal resistance that had the support of the global anti-apartheid movement, eventually forced the apartheid state to concede to negotiations and grant full dignity and citizenship to all South Africans, free from racial prejudice and discrimination.

While a growing international Boycott Divestment and Sanctions (BDS) movement is putting pressure on world powers to isolate Israel politically, culturally and economically, we have yet to see powerful Western nations embracing this call. It is unconscionable that the world has allowed Israel to persist in the oppression of Palestinians for so long, enabling it to perpetrate such extreme violence and horror on generations of Palestinians.

Let us hope that the BDS movement will play the same role in Israel/Palestine that it played in South Africa, contributing to the end of the occupation and the dismantling of the Zionist state of Israel.

In the seven years between its inception in 2006 and 2013, the United Nations Human Rights Council passed 47 resolutions condemning the actions and policies of Israel. And yet, Israel continues to act with impunity in the expansion of its occupation of Palestinian land and its decimation of the Palestinian people.

Israel remains a member state of the United Nations, despite repeatedly violating the UN’s own laws on International Human Rights and UN resolutions limiting the occupation. The apartheid South African state never had the privileged protection that the Zionist state of Israel enjoys from powerful states within the United Nations.

And yet, as we have seen, to liken Israel to apartheid South Africa is a gross understatement.

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