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When 'apartheid' seems to be the hardest word

How much longer before all of us accept it? How many more years of suffering will Palestinians endure before we get it? How many more Palestinian and Israeli lives will perish before the hardest word of them all sinks in?

The word “apartheid” is applied more and more these days when discussing the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. What it does mostly is make people angry, on both sides of the Jewish political map. Even left-wingers will say something along the lines of “sure, there’s an occupation. But apartheid? Come on. No need to exaggerate.”

I myself am using the word more in my posts here on +972. At first it was difficult for me – comparing Israel to what happened in South Africa seemed far from the truth. But then I got to know the situation better, and become more informed.

This post isn’t about convincing anyone that Israel is an apartheid state. Others can do that much better than me. I’m already convinced that certain policies in the West Bank reek of apartheid. And if this situation continues any longer, the road to a full-apartheid state is inevitable. Is it a more cruel apartheid, a less ugly apartheid, or a similar one to South Africa? Is apartheid in the eyes of the be-occupied? I don’t know.

But hey, people agree there’s an occupation, right? You may laugh, but you shouldn’t take that for granted. I remember growing up here, when using the word “kibush” would get some serious sneers. I use the word “kibush” and not “occupation”, because in Hebrew it is a much more powerful word, as it also means “conquering”. Most people in Israel in the 80’s and 90’s didn’t even use the word. After the signing of the Oslo accords, one could begin to read it more in the papers, but to admit that there is a “kibush”? “No need to exaggerate” is what you might have gotten.

But the word became more and more acceptable, especially on the left, and even on the right. But then came the tipping point, mid 2003, shortly before Prime Minister Ariel Sharon had a stroke, he spoke the word that people thought they would never hear, from on of the founding fathers of the settler movement:

Needless to say, that speech was a shocker. It was also a tipping point for “occupation” usage.

Today, usage of “apartheid,” to me, feels exactly the same as it did back then. It’s a word people hate to use. Refuse to use! Yet they know that there is an element, if not more, of truth to it. Even Ehud Barak knows that.

I wonder, how much longer before all of us accept it? How many more years of suffering will Palestinians endure before we get it? How many more Palestinian and Israeli lives will perish?

Just how long does it take for the hardest word to sink in?

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    1. Barry Rosen

      Ami silent on Palestinian aparthied as usual.
      April 27, 2012
      Where’s the Coverage? Palestinian Authority Hands Down Death Penalty for Land Sale to Jews
      A racist law that says you can be executed if you sell land to people of a different race? If this were true, then Ami Kaufman would be all over it, because he believes in social justice.
      Oops, because its the fascist PLO, Ami cant talk about it.
      Peace Now = fringe extreme-left group that always sticks up for Israel’s enemies even when the Arabs blow up Israeli civilian on buses, shopping malls, disco’s pizzeria’s, Passover seders etc.
      Can Ami atleast condemn Palestinian racism?

      PMW reports endemic PA sponsored demonization of Jews: Routinely depicted as beasts, evil, satanic
      September 24, 2012

      Reply to Comment
      • Y-Man

        Barry, when the Palestinians occupy the Israelis for 46 years, get back to me.

        Reply to Comment
    2. Not even one year ago, the great Richard Goldstone could write in the New York Times:
      ‘In Israel, there is no apartheid. Nothing there comes close to the definition of apartheid under the 1998 Rome Statute: “Inhumane acts … committed in the context of an institutionalized regime of systematic oppression and domination by one racial group over any other racial group or groups and committed with the intention of maintaining that regime.”’
      The only fundamental difference between South-African apartheid and the Israeli brand, is the one hardly ever mentioned: South-Africa did not want to get rid of the natives, but Israel does.
      I’m no judge, but the Rome Statute seems to give a pretty accurate description of the treatment of Palestinians in Israel proper and in the OPT.

      Reply to Comment
    3. Aaron the Fascist Troll

      Well, vocabulary is about power. I think that’s one thing both left and right agree on. If “apartheid” becomes accepted, that will have had nothing to do with whether or not it’s an accurate term. It will mean that those who’ve been pushing the word have won the cultural battle. Similarly if it doesn’t catch on. Power, power, power. Hegemony, hegemony, hegemony.

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    4. That’s not really so. Apartheid does not refer to an object, but to a state of affairs. So changing the name will also change the perception of the state of affairs, whereas an object will not change by any other name. That’s why Zionists want to limit apartheid to a convenient selection of attitudes that are different from what we see in Israel. The reverse happens with anti-semitism which has to be different from any kind of racism or xenophia known to man. It’s the same process.

      Reply to Comment
    5. sh

      I think apartheid’s tame compared to judeonazis. And that was pronounced many years before anyone thought of recycling the word apartheid.

      I’d use the word hafrada rather than apartheid for Israeli policies, because separation exists in the education system, in building projects, on road and sidewalk use (in SA the roads were not segregated), public transport and myriad other things, depending on what is being separated from what (it’s not always the same, which is another difference between hafrada and apartheid. And the physical, topographical representation of hafrada is the walls, fences, barriers and blocks of all kinds found anywhere and everywhere you look (in SA I think they were only visible around the houses of the rich).

      Judeonazis stopped making me wince quite a while ago. What do you think?

      Reply to Comment
      • Aaron the Fascist Troll

        I like “Judeo-Nazis.” It’s catchy and unforgettable. Look at all the publicity it got for Yeshayahu Leibowitz. A public relations consultant’s dream.

        Why would you want to abandon a winner like “apartheid” to go for “hafradah”? “Apartheid” has all the connotations you want, ready-made. With “hafradah,” you’re starting out from scratch. That’s dangerous. For instance, will Arabs join the struggle against hafradah when they understand that ending hafradah means their children will go to school with Jews? That it means that Jews can settle anywhere they want in east Jerusalem? Trust me, be safe, stick with “apartheid.”

        Reply to Comment
        • Aaron, you must be aware of Palestinian citizens of Israel who have tried to move into Jewish communities and been rejected on grounds of ‘social incompatibility’ (what else was the Admissions Committee Law designed for?) and to get their children into a ‘Jewish’ school and failed. There was an incident a couple of years ago of a one-year-old Palestinian child being refused a daycare place in Afula because Jewish parents threatened to remove their kids if an Arab child was in attendance, and the owner couldn’t take the financial risk. The little girl’s parents had to take the matter to court. So I think it’s pretty clear that Palestinians are already aware that an end to apartheid means mixed living, education, etc.

          Of course, here I’m talking about Palestinians living in Israel itself – and I think this is why talk of apartheid makes so many people uncomfortable. People who talk about occupation sometimes like to act as though it has nothing to do with ethnicity. “It happened as a consequence of war, these things happen in war, the fact that the occupied are Arabs are irrelevant, and yeah, it might have got a bit out of control lately but we can still rein it in…” If you talk about apartheid, you end up having to look at what was done to Palestinian citizens of Israel prior to 1967. Once you do that, it’s hard not to see their lives under military rule as a template for what’s happening in the Territories now, which makes it very difficult to evade the ethnic nature of what’s happening. The connection works in reverse: military policy against Palestinians in the OT finds echoes in what is being done to Palestinian Israelis today. All the Bedouin communities in West Bank Area C, comprising roughly 27,000 people, have been slated for demolition and forced transfer. If you want to see what that policy looks like in action, you don’t have to look further than certain villages in the Negev. People in Al-Araqib may hold citizenship, but there is very little difference between the treatment being meted out to them and the treatment received by Umm al-Khair.

          Recognising this brings the problems too close. One interesting aspect of Israeli policy is the way that it has allowed people to distance Palestinians – they are those people over there, in the Territories, the ones in our backyard we call ‘Israeli Arabs’ and we think about them as a separate group. Talking about apartheid collapses that distance, and this is another reason why people are afraid to face it.

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          • Aaron the Fascist Troll

            I’m sure there are some Arabs who want their kids to go to Jewish schools, though I don’t know the details. But is that a general thing? Do Arabs really want their kids to be taught in Hebrew, the same curriculum Jews use (even given that it would be somewhere in between the Arab and Jewish curricula now)? Do they want yeshivot to move in next door to them in the Muslim Quarter? If Arabs don’t want that, then they support separation or apartheid or whatever you call it.

            Reply to Comment
          • Of course few Palestinian parents are going to want their children taught exclusively in Hebrew in a country where place names written in Arabic still sometimes get daubed over on signs and predominantly Arab communities are often not signposted at all. Abeer Zinaty was sacked from her job at McDonald’s for addressing a Palestinian colleague in Arabic rather than Hebrew; her manager was worried that even the sound of Arabic would make Jewish customers uneasy. Not wanting to send your child to school with the privileged kids who speak the right language doesn’t make you a supporter of apartheid, it means that you don’t want to be demeaned any further than you already are. There were black families living in the bantustans who worked on the same logic. Dismantling apartheid is not about getting people into the same physical space, with the rich man in his castle and the beggar knowing his place at the gate, and the beggar a supporter of apartheid if he dares to say that he doesn’t want the castle there. The old prejudices and power structures have to change too so that the education system and everything else actually can be equal.

            As for yeshivot in the Muslim Quarter, there already are yeshivot in East Jerusalem, established cheek by jowl with Palestinian communities as part of the settlement project. The locals obviously don’t want this process of settlement (and with it the inevitable dispossession and displacement) to continue so that the superior beings can have another centre for religious learning. But in a post-apartheid state where one ethnic group is no longer privileged in law above the other, a yeshiva near At-Tur wouldn’t be the symbol of power and control that it is now.

            Reply to Comment
      • Aaron the Fascist Troll

        Speaking of Judeo-Nazis, this might be a good response: . Its the Ramones playing “Today Your Love, Tomorrow the World” live in Germany in 1978. That’s Joey Ramone (a.k.a. Jeffrey Hyman) singing, “I’m a Nazi baby, I’m a Nazi, yes I am.”

        Reply to Comment
        • Aaron the Fascist Troll

          What, URLs aren’t allowed in comments? I’ll try again here. If no link, oh well, Google it.

          Reply to Comment
    6. The final stage of apartheid over a large population is bantuization (sort of making the word up from “bantu”) where people are given a rather fictional citizenship while used as labor and regulated by a dominating, racially other, authority. Fictional citizenshp is associated with a local authority which survives through the largesse of the dominating power. Obviously, the PA is creeping into that bantu designation, most blatently through its dependence on Israeli “import tarriff” money transfers. The great danger here is that Palestinians will begin to label the PA as a bantu entity, creating a new focus for militant resistence. So “apartheid/bantu” may become a label of conflict within the Bank itself. The creation of island enclaves in the Bank, surrounded by Israeli control, makes bantuization inevitable. Without contiguity of territory, no facade of Palestinian control will endure.

      Reply to Comment
    7. Eras

      I personally hate the usage of Nazi-terminology (see Mr. “Judeonazi” above) and the word “Apartheid” in this context. German and South African history is different in so many ways. I stopped discussing the conflict with people that use such terms, because they are always dogmatic and never open for arguments.

      But let’s make this an exemption from the rule: If this is Apartheid and the Israelis are the white oppressive Afrikaners, then were is the Palestinian Freedom Charter? Maybe it would be wise to – instead of using an ugly word to solely blame everything on the Israeli side – take this document (http://www.anc.org.za/show.php?id=72) as an inspiration, write a Mid-Eastern Freedom Charter and campaign for the people on both sides to sign it. If this is truly Apartheid and if the Israeli side is equal to the Afrikaners, they will ban it. And they will come after anybody who distributes it or was involved in the process of writing it.

      Do you really think that this is going to happen? I guess not. So stop comparing things that are not comparable.

      Reply to Comment
      • Greg

        Although I disagree with you, this is actually an interesting comparison.

        First I don’t agree that in order to be able to label the situation here as apartheid there has to be a charter like the ANC’s Freedom Charter. It’s a strange claim to make that the response to apartheid has to be exactly the same in every case for the definition to hold.

        Second, if there was a concerted movement to adopt a charter like the ANC’s, I have every confidence that it would be banned and that they would go after anyone distributing or promoting it. So again, I think you’re wrong there.

        But the idea of a freedom charter like this, framing what is essentially the one-state solution, is very interesting…

        Reply to Comment
        • Palestinian political activity is already severely restricted under military law. Taking part in demonstrations, for example, is forbidden and is grounds for arrest and imprisonment. Political activism on university campuses is also forbidden, and the army gets to define what constitutes such activism, with the result that Mohammed Manasreh was arrested and tortured over his decision to organise a cultural exhibit in his capacity as secretary of Bethlehem University student senate. That’s the most extreme example I know, but it goes to show just how loose the army definition of forbidden political activity can be.

          In Bethlehem over the past few months we have been creating a ‘Wall Museum’ (local people’s stories are being mounted on the wall for passers-by to read) and as more boards were being put up a couple of weeks ago, one of the Palestinian volunteers received a phone call. He called down ironically from his ladder, “Etzion [military HQ] is on the line!” Cue brief panic until people realised he was joking. The point is that it could easily have been true; people are arrested for far less than mounting stories on the wall. There is no real freedom of political expression if you happen to be a Palestinian in Bethlehem. Your (Jewish) neighbours in Efrat, on the other hand, have no conception of what it means to hear the words, “Etzion is on the line.”

          Reply to Comment
    8. I’m sure that if you can build a Museum of Tolerance on an ancient Muslim cemetery, you can also find a new word for what Israel is doing. The point is not so much that the analogy is correct in every aspect, but that what is happening is just as bad as what happened in the past in other countries, not just South-Africa. So instead of spending months or years on semantic nit-picking, something should be done about the situation. We can always agree on terms after the Palestinians get their lives back after 60+ years.

      Reply to Comment
    9. Kolumn9

      Use whatever words you want. It doesn’t change the reality. There are two peoples here that have entirely different visions of what the same land should look like. They can’t even agree on a name for the place. There isn’t going to be any proposal that is going to change this and the terminology you use to describe the situation makes absolutely zero impact on that. The only thing such terminology does is ensure that you will be ignored in any serious conversation about possible solutions because the solutions offered by harking back to such historically-tinged terminology have absolutely no relevance here. This is the primary reason why it hasn’t been picked up outside the extreme left. It isn’t because there aren’t potential similarities, there are, though not any of significance, it is because such framing has no practical benefit to finding solutions which is the only thing that policy makers who determine what terminology is widely used care about.

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      • sh

        “There are two peoples here that have entirely different visions of what the same land should look like.”
        Oh I’d go even further. Jews themselves have different visions of what the same land should look like and some Jews and Palestinians share views with each other. No reason to get discouraged.

        “They can’t even agree on a name for the place.”
        Since those who rule the place have not even agreed on its shape, don’t you think a choice of name is a little premature? Let’s get the borders fixed first, huh?

        Frankly I don’t care what terminology’s used except to note that there are similarities between documented Israeli policies and some pretty awful ideologies that became history only recently. Learning to take them on the chin instead of insisting that they have absolutely no relevance is the first step towards doing something about them.

        The fact that combatants from Israel’s war of independence who were not part of the extreme left, or even the left at all, are drawing those parallels is a sign that things are loosening up on that score.

        Incidentally, re Aaron’s remark about Yeshayahu Leibowitz, he wasn’t extreme left either, just infinitely more intelligent/prescient than the rest of us.

        Reply to Comment
        • Kolumn9

          “Since those who rule the place have not even agreed on its shape, don’t you think a choice of name is a little premature? Let’s get the borders fixed first, huh?”

          Actually, no. Borders only have relevance within the context of the name.

          Solutions that don’t make sense don’t start to make sense because a marginal group decides to call a situation something that it isn’t. You can call a cat a dog because it has four legs but it still isn’t going to bark regardless of how often you try to throw sticks and hope that it goes to fetch them.

          Leibowitz was an interesting character. If he had lived through 2000-2001 my guess is that he would broken with the extreme left that now quotes him. It isn’t that he would support the settlements, but I doubt he would be able to objectively continue to assert that the fault for the continued situation is entirely on Israel. Fortunately for you he died in 1993 before witnessing Arafat reject Barak’s offer and before witnessing an entire Palestinian society supporting the explicit targeting of Israeli civilians for murder. So, go ahead, and continue to quote him.

          Reply to Comment
          • sh

            “Borders only have relevance within the context of the name.”
            OK. The name’s The State of Israel. What are its borders?

            “Leibowitz was an interesting character”
            That’s putting it mildly. But in what way was he extreme left that he would have broken with them (a joke that, because there is no extreme left in Israel) had he lived through 2000-2001? He was a deeply religious guy (like maybe you are), plus, plus, plus some. There’s a distinct possibility that the 2nd intifada might not have changed his views at all so much as confirmed his predictions.

            Apartheid is the worst epithet what is called left in Israel can pin on the current state of affairs here because to go further in the direction of one- within which, incidentally, “apartheid-like” characteristics can be found in abundance too – that may be more relevant, but is also more repugnant given the circumstances, would taint them as well.

            Looking at it all straight in the eye is tough.

            Reply to Comment
    10. Richard Witty

      I think “apartheid” in Israel proper is a gross exageration and just should not be used. There is some institutional segregation, but it is applied against MANY, not just Palestinians. Even the common complaint about getting a building permit, is partially a function in many places of “who do you know?”.

      That is bad, but it is a different word.

      In the West Bank, I think “apartheid-like” is a more accurate description. There are fundamental differences between Israel/Palestine and South Africa, the most important being the percentage of ethnicities. In South Africa, the ruling whites were 10% of the population. In Israel/Palestine as a whole, the population demographics are 50-50 roughly (if Gaza is included). The relationship of exploitation, and the prospect of pendulum swing exploitation the other way, are more relevant.

      The factors that are similar to apartheid, are the degrees of self-governance afforded to Palestinian community of communities (nation), the isolated nature of those communities, and the presence of occupation.

      The BIG problem with the word, is the then lazy analysis of how to right the wrongs, remedy. So, BDS is adopted siting the precedent of South Africa.

      The Boer community in South Africa was originally largely a refugee community, similar to the majority of founding Israelis. And, then it changed as Israel’s society has changed.

      You have to pick actual principles to propose as basis of new relations and new political entities, not just complain.

      As, there are no clear answers to anyone’s questions, short of fascist versions of “you don’t belong here, leave”, proposal and application of positive proposal is moving forward, while punitive and isolating responses are moving backward, repeating more than changing.

      Reply to Comment
      • Richard, if you are restircting use of “apartheid” to the Bank, then your % Jews should be based soley on those resisdent on the Bank, moving you much closer to the South African value.

        Apartheid is institutionalized segregation. In the US, many schools are more segregated than they were in the 60’s through economic clumping and racial neighborhoods. There are economic and social barriors to local entry into neighborhoods, but not State rules inducing such directly. Systematic failure to issue building permits, amplifying clumping through illegal add ons, would be such a rule.

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        • Richard Witty

          The relations of apartheid and the use of the term “colonial” don’t match what is happening in Israel/Palestine, hence the more appropriate term “apartheid-like”.

          Again, the important question is of remedy. The paths that were potential remedy in South Africa, are not feasible in the West Bank/Gaza.

          The hope for 67 borders seems to be thoroughly blocked. It pains me to acknowledge that. I retained a hope that 67 borders could continue to serve as a close basis of both Israeli and Palestinian self-governance.

          The apartheid moniker is not just a description, it is also a prescription. And, the remedy of one-person one-vote in a very divided 50/50 split is NOT the same as the obvious 90/10.

          That Nelson Mandela and other ANC leaders were so generous-hearted and skilled, contributed to the transition being a possible one. Also, although there were divisions in the black vanguard, the ANC was the obvious leadership and could commit all of the population to its negotiations.

          That is NOT the case in Palestine, still. Hamas is still at a state of civil war with Fatah. On Open Zion today, there was a report of a Human Rights Watch report on Gaza, which severely criticized Hamas, and specifically for orchestrated torture of political opponents.

          Where is the unity? Not only of position, but actually unity mature enough to proceed to actual negotiation?

          Reply to Comment
        • Unfortunately, I run on a very old version of Windows; commets seem to be truncated somewhere in the “more” section. One State is not a solution but outcome, and there seems little way, now, of warding it off given Bibi et al. I don’t think a divided Palestinian State will work. I suspect ultiamtely Gaza will be regulated into Egypt. Even within the Bank, the, yes, bantu islands surrounded by Israeli control make a real, populace supported, State unlikely. I understand why you advocate Two States. But one of your worst enemeies is do nothing Bibi and whatever gains by continued encorachment. Arguing against the word “apartheid” will go nowhere.

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          • Richard Witty

            Using the word “apartheid” where it doesn’t match, elects likud.

            That’s a good enough reason to be much more careful in the terms chosen.

            Reply to Comment
    11. Tomer

      The only apartheid is the one existing in arab countries where jews are not permitted to live eg Saudi Arabia, Jordan, Libya etc. but hey this is a left-wing site, so who cares about reality?

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    12. Benjamin


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    13. BOOZ

      “Giving a wrong name to things leads to adding unfortune to the unfortunes of the world” ( Albert Camus).

      Mutual tokens of distrust are only natural. But coining an especially bad name for one party against the other only aggravates it.

      Reply to Comment
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