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The worst argument against the Apartheid analogy

Palestinian workers queue at a checkpoint to enter Israel. (photo: Anne Paq, Activestills)

A senior employee at right-wing organization NGO Monitor penned an interesting op-ed in Israeli daily Yisrael Hayom this morning (Sunday).

NGO Monitor, which targets organizations and people who actively oppose the occupation, is obsessed with use of the term Apartheid. The piece by NGO Monitor’s deputy director of communications, Lena Abayev, is a longwinded attack on those who compare the situation in the West Bank to that of Apartheid South Africa.

Interestingly enough, there are only two sentences in which the author actually addresses reality on the ground in the West Bank. Sadly, they work against her argument:

Israel is guided by the rule of law and has not imposed any form of apartheid on its citizens or on its Palestinian neighbors. The residents of the West Bank cross the border into Israel every day for their livelihood, and their movements within Israel are not restricted.

Those mildly familiar with South African history know that the permit regime (aka Pass Laws) for blacks in South Africa was one of the most notorious aspects of Apartheid. Similar (but by no means identical) procedures are an inherent part of the regime to which millions of Palestinian non-citizens are subjected.

Israel controls all population registration in the Occupied Territories. All Palestinians must carry Israeli-issued ID cards and their identity is subject to verification by the Israeli army at all times. A complicated system of permits and regulation of movement exists both within the West Bank and travelling in and out of it. A Palestinian’s degree of cooperation with the army is directly correlated to his or her ability to travel freely, and only a tiny portion of the population – tens of thousands out of over two million – have permits to work west of the Green Line. (Contrary to what Abayev says, even those workers are not permitted to travel freely within Israel. But getting facts straight was never a big priority for NGO Monitor).

Personally, I don’t care much for the Apartheid analogy because it misses some of the unique characteristics of Israel’s military regime in the Occupied Territories (and for several other reasons). It could, however, be useful in illustrating certain aspects of the occupation, particularly the separate legal systems for Israelis and Palestinians; I have previously used the term in this context. It is therefore interesting to note that NGO Monitor actually finds the Israeli permit system to be proof that Apartheid doesn’t exist in the Occupied Territories. I wonder what other name they would suggest for describing the regime that is in place there.

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    1. ish yehudi

      I’d say one of the biggest dissonances between israel- palestine and south africa was that our occupation/ military security apparatus came on the heels of war- and what most people point to as the face of the occupation (checkpoints/ closures/ raids) were started only after a terror campaign (war) between the two sides. I’m not an expert on South African history-but i dont believe it was born out at all similar conflict. And thats why the associations that apartheid awaken are not useful in resolving this conflict or bringing understanding to whats happening. Too simplistic, lets violent ideologies of hate off the hook as victims, when they need to be called out for what they are by Palestinians who are tired of the path of war.

      Reply to Comment
    2. aristeides

      In fact, the shape of SA history was certainly formed by war, the Boer war, in which the British invented the concentration camp in which to confine the occupied Afrikaner population. In response to this regime of repression, the Boers turned around and repressed those below them on the power ladder, the “Bantu” population.

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    3. Richard Witty

      There are three differences between Israeli/Palestine relations and apartheid South Africa.

      1. The population relationship of apartheid South Africa was 10% ruling over 90%.

      In Israel it is 80-20 Jewish ruling as a majority (one definition of democracy). In the land-sea its close to 50-50. The significance of that is NOT in justification for suppression of Palestinians, but in the scope of a crisis of remedy.

      2. It was possible for Europeans and Americans to regard South Africa as “other”, utterly foreign. FEW new South Africans that would be affected by say boycotts. That is not the case with Israel. Israel is NOT “other” to Europeans and Americans, maybe to dissenters who never experienced any sympathy with Israel are the exception.

      3. It remains true that most Americans and Europeans associated Palestinians with terror. The second intifada was real, and NOT benign. The period of time when Palestinians have to prove that they are not like that, is longer than the last 7 years.

      I saw a respectable idealistic and determined Palestinian present a week ago at a local church. He sited the election of Hamas in 2005 as an opportunity missed. To Israelis, it represented the contention that it was not a small majority that wished to murder Israelis, that it was more general, and may have been tragic, but was not a basis of contempt for Israel.

      Reply to Comment
      • carl

        Often I have the impression that most of you simply do not know what they are talking about. But yesterday I received this article and I understood that it’s not just a matter of ignorance but also a way to cope with your daily life:

        Occupation? What occupation?

        Every person is endowed with a certain denial mechanism they can use to avoid the shame, fear, guilt and pain involved in coping with their improper actions. Instead of facing their failure, accepting reality and dealing with it, they simply enter a state of denial.

        But denial extracts a heavy price from the denier. The mental effort involved in self-deception causes serious mental harm. Someone who denies facts is declaring that he has a mental problem. He needs treatment.
        For 46 years we have been in this situation. We are denying one of the most significant phenomenon of our national existence, if not the most central one: the occupation.

        We can use the well-worn metaphor of the huge elephant in the room, whose presence we deny. Elephant? What elephant? Here? We tiptoe around the elephant and avert our gaze so we won’t have to look at it. After all, it doesn’t exist.

        We are ruling completely over another people. This influences every sphere of our national life – our politics, our economy, our values, our military, our legal system, our culture and more. But we don’t see – and don’t want to see – what is going on only a few minutes’ drive from our homes, over the black line known as the Green Line.

        We have become so accustomed to this situation that we see it as normal. But the occupation is intrinsically an abnormal, temporary situation.

        Under the law of nations, an occupation is said to occur when one state conquers the area of another state during wartime and then holds it as an occupier until peace is achieved. Because of the temporary nature of an occupation, international law imposes severe restrictions on the occupying state. It is not permitted to transfer its own citizens to the occupied area, it is forbidden to build settlements there, it is forbidden to seize lands, and so on.

        Israel has invented something unprecedented: eternal occupation. In 1967, because no pressure was brought to bear on Israel to return the occupied territories, Moshe Dayan came up with a brilliant idea – to continue the occupation forever. If Israel had annexed the territories, it would have been forced to grant civil rights to the occupied population. But in a state of occupation, it could maintain control without giving the conquered people any rights at all – not human rights, not civil rights and certainly not national rights. A real egg of Columbus.

        We are a moral people – in our own eyes, at least. How do we resolve the contradiction between our extreme morality and our blatantly immoral circumstances? Simple: We go into denial.

        “Power corrupts,” said the British statesman Lord Acton. “And absolute power corrupts absolutely.” The occupation is the most absolute power there is. It has corrupted everything good about us – it has corrupted the army that maintains the occupation, the soldiers who are forced to terrorize the civilian population every night, the government institutions that bypass the law in the dark, the courts that implement the occupation laws, and the entire country, which is violating international law every day.

        If we ask ourselves what has happened to our country, we simply have to open our eyes and look at the elephant.

        “He who confesses and forsakes finds mercy,” the book of Proverbs tells us. It isn’t enough to admit and recognize that a sin has been committed; we must abandon the wrong path we’ve taken. In our case, to save our souls and our state, we must forsake the occupied territories.

        But before we can forsake, we must first admit and recognize that something is wrong.

        Reply to Comment
        • The Trespasser

          The occupation had started in 1948, not 1967, therefore your text is incorrect from inception.

          Reply to Comment
      • Eliza

        The term ‘apartheid’ is now generic and refers to a regime in which there is systemic oppression and domination of one racial group over another (where race includes religious and ethnic differences). The SA experience gave us the word, apartheid, but it is now has a meaning which transcends its SA origin. I don’t think we should get too hung up about the fact that Israel has not adopted all the measures SA did in its apartheid years. Of course there will be differences between the SA version of apartheid and the Israeli version. There are, of course, many similarities; both regimes have denied citizenship to those not belonging to the ‘right’ set of people and both engaged in internal transfers. SA tried to establish the bantustans and Israel is well on the way to doing the same in the W/B.

        Whether or not Americans and Europeans saw South Africans as the ‘other’ may be relevant to the means undertaken to remedy SA apartheid but has no bearing on the fact of apartheid existing. The same follows with Israel.

        Maybe 10 years ago most Americans and Europeans may have seen Palestinians as ‘terrorists’ but I very much doubt that it true today. The nabka was/is real and is ongoing. SA was a white colonial regime – it was not some foreign ‘other’ to Europeans. SA was then on the way to resolving white European colonial issues in the worst possible way.

        I think you very much overestimate the ‘sympathy’ Europeans may have for Israel. To the extent that Israel is a European Jewish colonisation project, I would say that whatever sympathy may have existed after WW11 is rapidly diminishing. We understand colonisation. We know the adverse effects colonisation had on existing indigenous populations and understand that the only way forward is the forging of nation states where all have equal rights. We know that Israel is unwilling or unable to do this as this would weaken its Jewish character.

        Finally, whatever do you mean that Palestinians have to prove themselves – are you implying that Statehood is a privilege conferred only on the worthy; a reward for good behaviour rather than a right? I suspect you mean that Israelis will not trust Palestinians so soon after the 2nd intifada and that Palestinian statehood (either 1 or 2SS) is a privilege to be granted by Israel and Israel alone. But this will never be freely granted by Israel. It will never be negotiated under the auspices of the USA. The only way forward is for Palestinians to maintain their resistance and to internationalise their claims. Unless there is a viable and sovereign Palestinian state (or 1SS with equal rights), then Israel, which has de facto control and domination over all the land, is an apartheid state.

        Reply to Comment
        • The Trespasser

          >The term ‘apartheid’ is now generic and refers to a regime in which there is systemic oppression and domination of one racial group over another (where race includes religious and ethnic differences).

          No.

          There are many more places where there is systematic oppression on various basises, but only situation in Israel is referred to as “apartheid”

          >both regimes have denied citizenship to those not belonging to the ‘right’ set of people

          Nothing like that is going on in Israel.

          >and both engaged in internal transfers.

          Like many other countries, including Russia and China.

          >SA tried to establish the bantustans and Israel is well on the way to doing the same in the W/B.

          Nonsense.

          >The same follows with Israel.

          That is what certain people are making you to believe.

          >Maybe 10 years ago most Americans and Europeans may have seen Palestinians as ‘terrorists’ but I very much doubt that it true today.

          It is of very little importance how Americans and Europeans are seeing Palestinian Arabs, what matters is the real situation.

          The only difference between now and 2000′s is that now Israel is much more efficient in prevention of terrorist activities.

          >The nabka was/is real and is ongoing.

          It’s “Nakba”. And “debka” is something completely different.

          By the way, it is not too real. For instance, the term was chosen as a reminescence to the holocaust – the catastrophe of Jews. The difference, however is that during millions of Jews were exterminated, while during nabka few hundreds of thousands of Arabs were moved within Arab lands.

          >SA was a white colonial regime – it was not some foreign ‘other’ to Europeans. SA was then on the way to resolving white European colonial issues in the worst possible way.

          How is it relevant to Israel?

          >I think you very much overestimate the ‘sympathy’ Europeans may have for Israel.

          Oh, we don’t. After all, it was Europeans, who happily had sent Jews to furnaces.

          >To the extent that Israel is a European Jewish colonisation project

          Nonsense.

          >I would say that whatever sympathy may have existed after WW11 is rapidly diminishing.

          Well, there was not much sympathy before WWII, not during and not after. We know.

          >We understand colonisation.

          Apparently, not good enough.

          >We know the adverse effects colonisation had on existing indigenous populations and understand that the only way forward is the forging of nation states where all have equal rights.

          Nonsense.
          1 – Israel is not a “colonisation project”.
          2 – Arabs can not allow Jews to have equal rights. You see, it would contradict Quran.

          >We know that Israel is unwilling or unable to do this as this would weaken its Jewish character.

          Nonsense.

          >Finally, whatever do you mean that Palestinians have to prove themselves – are you implying that Statehood is a privilege conferred only on the worthy; a reward for good behaviour rather than a right?

          Not all people are capable of having own state – it takes certain degree of civilization.

          >I suspect you mean that Israelis will not trust Palestinians so soon after the 2nd intifada and that Palestinian statehood (either 1 or 2SS) is a privilege to be granted by Israel and Israel alone.

          More nonsense. Palestinian Arabs more than once had claimed that Jews have to right to have any kind of homeland in Palestine.

          >But this will never be freely granted by Israel.

          What will never be freely granted? 1SS or 2SS? You are too confused.

          >It will never be negotiated under the auspices of the USA.

          Nonsense.

          >The only way forward is for Palestinians to maintain their resistance and to internationalise their claims.

          What claims? To have an independent state? They could have had it in 1919, in 1948, in 2000, in 2002 and in 2008. Each and every time they refused. Do you know why?

          >Unless there is a viable and sovereign Palestinian state (or 1SS with equal rights), then Israel, which has de facto control and domination over all the land, is an apartheid state.

          There can’t be viable sovereing Palestinian state. It is not possible from pure economical point of view. Also, there can not be 1SS with equal rights because it would be insult to Islam.

          You really know too little about this situation to have any kind of valid opinion.

          Reply to Comment
    4. Piotr Berman

      Aresteides, this is classic Post hoc ergo propter hoc (from Wiki: Latin for “after this, therefore because of this”, a logical fallacy.

      In particular, the original trek of the Boer away from their original settlement near Cape of Good Hope was largely prompted by British prohibition of slavery. The Boer-Black interactions did not change its character very much in the aftermath of the Boer war. It is important to note that the British attitude toward the Black was as racist, even though they somehow convinced themselves that slavery is not a good thing.

      As a case in point, consider the Apartheid type of projects that British conducted in Rhodesia (now ZImbabwe) and Kenia. Clearing the land from the natives that did not have proper property deeds, replacing them with more productive farms (and perhaps deigning to employ some of them) was exactly the marks of Progress, Civilization etc.

      South African Act of 1912 paved the way to 20-th century Apartheid, fully 5 years before Balfour declaration. And this was a very clearly written Act of Parliament, so Apartheid had much more solid legal basis. Zionism is simply another potato from the same stew.

      Reply to Comment
      • aristeides

        Piotr, not only are you vastly oversimplifying a complex history and referencing events a half-century apart from the ones I referred to, you completely miss my point.

        I think you were having a contrary day.

        Reply to Comment
        • tod

          Trespasser had a contrary life, not just a day.

          Reply to Comment
          • The Trespasser

            I already had noticed that you are incapable of writing anything which is relevant to a topic and would make sense, there is really no need to prove it further.

            Reply to Comment
        • Piotr Berman

          My precise statement should be that while Afrikaners (earlier, Boers) have important peculiarities, the nature of the relations between races in South Africa and South Rodesia was very similar. In some sense, the ideology/beliefs of Afrikaners and Israeli Jews had amazingly many similarities, but the colonialist template in both cases was very much British, or more precisely, British/Dutch norm of the period.

          Small nations do not develop their norms in isolation but they very much look to big nations. You can see Israeli discussions on editorial pages. “What do Americans think”. “We do not give a damn what Americans think, they should worry what we think” (clear cases of protesting too much). “Americans seem to like us less now (sob)”. “They like us even better than before”. Etc.

          The problem is that indeed, Zionists in USA are very successful with their “narrative”, in part because it meshes very well with the old narrative of British superiority. When put in stark terms “civilized man and the savage”, this archetype raises heckles, but when propagated more subtly, it still strikes a chord, including so-called liberal elite.

          Reply to Comment
    5. Piotr Berman

      Sorry, I feel somewhat picky and contrary today. What is so particularly bad in the argument of Lena Abayev? It is grammatical, even seems to make sense, at most you can object that it is totally false.

      Unlike the argument that Palestinian deserve whatever they get because someone supported Hitler during the war and convinced Hitler to create death camps (Hitler was notoriously weak toward any argument that high ranked clerics from the Middle East would present to him).

      Or the argument that Palestinians deserve whatever they get because they are recent interlopers who came to Palestine because of the economic opportunities created by the Yishuv (which strived to prohibit any employment of Arabs, thus making it hard to me to understand how those economic opportunities were transmitted).

      Of course, combining incompatible arguments is a long time rhetorical favorite. In Bush years it had this form: “We do not torture, and besides, they deserved it: they are simply the worst”.

      Reply to Comment
      • The Trespasser

        Palestinian Arabs deserve what they get – or get what they deserve – because they reject Jews equal rights and refuse to coexist peacefully.

        >which strived to prohibit any employment of Arabs

        It was not so 100 years ago, and it is not so now. Until 2nd Intifada Palestinian Arabs comprised very large portion of workers in Israel, few industrial zones were built specifically for that purpose.

        However since for some Arabs killing Jews is much more fun than working for Jews, they (Arabs) had to be replaced by Chinese, Thais and, recently, by African migrants.

        Reply to Comment
        • jin

          The conditions of the Pals were miserable, even more so after Oslo. Wake up.

          Reply to Comment
          • The Trespasser

            Bullshit.

            Reply to Comment
        • Gearoid

          You’re wrong here.

          Many early Zionist groups in the yishuv refused to use any Arab labor. Not out of racism as much as a Marxist view of creating a Jewish working class, but it amounted to the same thing. Thousands of fellaheen were being forced off land bought by Jews using foreign capital, then being told by those same Jews that they would not let them work, even for basic needs like food and shelter. It caused a pretty big problem in the Yishuv until the British stepped in. There are extant letters from Yishuv leaders discussing the issue.

          This is all part of the historical record.

          That’s without mentioning the whole “Palestinians are immigrants” claim has been thoroughly debunked by every serious scholar.

          Reply to Comment
          • The Trespasser

            >You’re wrong here.

            Nah.

            >Many early Zionist groups in the yishuv refused to use any Arab labor.

            “Many” < "Most" Not out of racism as much as a Marxist view of creating a Jewish working class, but it amounted to the same thing.

            Also, you are not considering Arab’s inability to quickly adopt to new technologies etc. Everything is done as their fathers were doing and if something goes wrong – that is the will of Allah. I know that from my personal experience with Galilee Bedouins.

            >Thousands of fellaheen were being forced off land bought by Jews using foreign capital, then being told by those same Jews that they would not let them work, even for basic needs like food and shelter.

            Why anyone would let someone do low quality job if there are people who would to the same job much better?

            By you logic Jews are obliged to employ Arabs no matter how bad they do their job, which is pure nonsense.

            >It caused a pretty big problem in the Yishuv until the British stepped in.

            And became a pretty good reason for Arabs to come at nights and slaughter a family or two

            >That’s without mentioning the whole “Palestinians are immigrants” claim has been thoroughly debunked by every serious scholar.

            Not all Palestinian Arab are migrants, but some of them definitely are. For instance, people with family names such as as-Misri or al-Andalusi.

            Reply to Comment
    6. Israël have the full right to block entry to anyone that does not have a citizenship. Palestinians are no citizens of Israel, and can get a permit to work or enter Israel for work. There are also foreigners who are blocked to enter Israel, any state have the right toe do thuis based on their laws. But anti-Israel people use arguments as Apartheid on a way wich does not reflects the thruth

      Reply to Comment
      • Haifawi

        Being a “foreigner” means that the state you are trying to enter isn’t taking your land and water, and is sending its army into your home in the middle of the night.
        Palestinians don’t come to Israel. Israel comes to them.

        Reply to Comment
    7. Eilon

      End the Apartheid….by throwing out the Arabs.

      problem solved

      Reply to Comment
    8. William Burns

      Actually, the worst argument against the apartheid analogy is Jeffrey Goldberg’s (and others) “But it will hurt the feelings of black South Africans!”

      Reply to Comment
      • Piotr Berman

        I personally think that this is one of the best arguments (I assume that you mean the feelings of white South Africans). First, marketing of Apartheid as non-Apartheid has to dispense gently of rational arguments. And who can deny a wish of a sobbing girl? Jeffery Goldberg does not make a good impression of a fragile girl, but if needed actual small girls can be used as props — I think that Netanyahu had a press conference like that.

        Reply to Comment
        • William Burns

          No, Goldberg and others actually think black South Africans will be insulted by linking their struggle to the Palestinians’s.

          Reply to Comment
          • Piotr Berman

            Wow! That is so monumentally bad argument! First of all, who cares about sensibilities of Black South Africans! Putative but undecided friends of Israel? Then there is a relatively minor problem of actually producing an insulted black person from South Africa (one could a person like Allen West
            to channel the feelings that his racial kin should have even if they do not). I am not sure if the sub-cranial activity that produced this idea can be called thinking. Bullshite ergo sum, indeed.

            Reply to Comment
    9. David

      Times of Israel February 21, 2013

      “Former Foreign Ministry director-general invokes South Africa comparisons.
      ‘Joint Israel-West Bank’ reality is an apartheid state”

      EXCERPT: “Similarities between the ‘original apartheid’ as it was practiced in South Africa and the situation in Israel and the West Bank today ‘scream to the heavens,’ added [Alon] Liel, who was Israel’s ambassador in Pretoria from 1992 to 1994. There can be little doubt that the suffering of Palestinians is not less intense than that of blacks during apartheid-era South Africa, he asserted.”

      Reply to Comment
      • The Trespasser

        >There can be little doubt that the suffering of Palestinians is not less intense than that of blacks during apartheid-era South Africa, he asserted.

        And suffering of Tibetans is much higher than that of blacks or Palestinians. They aren’t even allowed to call themselves Tibetans – but rather Chinese.

        So what?

        Reply to Comment
        • William Burns

          OMG, how can you be wasting your time commenting about Israel when the Tibetans are suffering!

          Reply to Comment
    10. Khaled Khalid

      If all Palestinians are issued Israeli made ID Cards – Surely that defacto makes them Israeli Citizens.

      And therefore second Class Citizens at that?

      Reply to Comment
      • The Trespasser

        >If all Palestinians are issued Israeli made ID Cards – Surely that defacto makes them Israeli Citizens.

        No.

        Reply to Comment
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