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You have the power to stop apartheid: An open letter to AIPAC

American Jews, who play such a central role in what happens in Israel, can put an end to the oppression of Palestinians on both sides of the Green Line. But only if they tell Israelis that enough is enough.

By Marzuq al-Halabi

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu speaks at the AIPAC Conference in Washington DC, on March 6, 2018. (Haim Zach/GPO)

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu speaks at the AIPAC Conference in Washington DC, on March 6, 2018. (Haim Zach/GPO)

Dear AIPAC leaders,

In one of his most famous poems, “Think of Others,” Palestinian national poet Mahmoud Darwish asks the reader to keep the other in mind at all times. This, he writes, should apply whether we are preparing breakfast, paying our water bill, or declaring war. I wonder, then, whether you, as you take part in your annual conference next week think about us over here? Do you think about me or my 19-year-old daughter Shaden, who these days is head over heels in love?

Jewish people across the world have much influence over what is happening in Israel, a fact that to a large degree also affects my fate. Thus, as the third wheel in your relationship with the state in which I live, allow me to ask a few simple, banal questions. Ordinary questions, like those in Darwish’s poem.

Before you invite Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu to address the conference goers, ask him about the daily, unbridled incitement against Israel’s Palestinian citizens, people yearn for a decent life, as do all the people of the world — as do you, Jewish-American citizens of the United States. Ask him and his friends about who gave them the right, the power, and the justification to pass the Jewish Nation-State Law, which creates a hierarchy between communities and nationalists, and which is a gateway to a racist state?

When they come to Washington D.C. to speak about the right of the Jewish people in its homeland, ask them about the rights of people such as myself, non-Jews, in their homeland. Do you know of Jewish values that undermine values of universalism, human rights, and democracy? Would you accept a situation in which American Jews are prevented from having the same rights as other citizens?



My questions, of course, pertain to citizens of Israel inside the Green Line. These are residents of the State of Israel whose land was expropriated and never returned, even if it was never put to use. These are citizens, a third of whom are internal refugees, uprooted from their villages and towns in 1948 and forbidden to return, even if they live just a stones throw away. This is the lived reality of 100,000 residents of the unrecognized villages in the Negev, living on borrowed time.

Bedouin women collect their belongings from the ruins of their demolished homes in the village of Umm al-Hiran, Negev desert, January 18, 2017. (Hadas Parush/Flash90)

Bedouin women collect their belongings from the ruins of their demolished homes in the village of Umm al-Hiran, Negev desert, January 18, 2017. (Hadas Parush/Flash90)

These people are the indigenous minority from before the 1948 war and the Nakba, making up 20 percent of the general population that lives on 3.2 percent of this country’s land. A relatively quiet national minority compared to others living under similar circumstances. A population that gave its blessing to the peace process and the Oslo Accords, one which has always taken its citizenship seriously. This goes for the Druze community as well, which forged a blood pact with the Israeli state, at least until the passing of the Jewish Nation-State Law.

And what about the occupied territories, the Gaza ghetto, and the daily injustices that long ago have been transformed into an apartheid regime? My apologies, but there is no other term that accurately describes what happens every day, every hour, in the West Bank. Jewish-only roads, fences, walls, checkpoints, closure, collective punishment, military operations against a civilian population, and nationalistic settlers, who make the lives of the Palestinians miserable.

Recently, as I made my way to a meeting of the Global Forum of the National Library of Israel, I passed through the city of Modi’in, which was partially established on land conquered in June 1967. There I saw fenced-off Palestinian villages with only one or two entries, under the control of Israeli soldiers. I saw a terrifying wall, which dismembers not only the land but also the lives of those who are forbidden from traveling freely — an elementary right of all people. Speaking to one of the discussion groups, I told them exactly what I had witnessed.

The separation wall in Shuafat refugee camp, in the background is Israeli settlement of Pisgat Ze'ev, East Jerusalem, January 24, 2017. (Anne Paq/Activestills.org)

The separation wall in Shuafat refugee camp, in the background is Israeli settlement of Pisgat Ze’ev, East Jerusalem, January 24, 2017. (Anne Paq/Activestills.org)

From a bird’s eye view, Israel has never had it better: Military, economic, political, and strategic superiority over the Palestinians and the neighboring Arab countries. It appears that the feeling of being drunk on power has far surpassed the euphoria that took hold of the Jewish community following Israel’s victory in June 1967. This new feeling has left Jews in a stupor, effectively legitimizing Kahanism, hyper-nationalism, racism, and belligerence. The Jewish Nation-State Law was born out of this very feeling.

We are on the verge of witnessing Israel turn from an ethnic democracy into a full-fledged apartheid state, and there is no one left to put the genie back in the lamp. Right-wing leaders are exploiting the situation they created in order to frighten Jews in Israel and across the world of even the slightest possible change in the status quo. Meanwhile, they have succeeded in delegitimizing not only Palestinians on both sides of the Green Line, but any Jewish citizen who believes in human rights. They have not succeeded in establishing a so-called Start-Up Nation, but rather a terrified citizenry subject to constant fear-mongering. The government takes advantage of this fear to justify the occupation’s crimes.

The feeling of total victory pushes Israelis to believe that the time has come to defeat the Palestinians once and for all. Yet life has its own set of rules. The fading relevance of the Green Line is creating a demographic balance between Jews and Palestinians between the river and the sea. To deal with this fact, the government will try to deepen its control over six million Palestinians. Oppression will lead to a cycle of resistance, subsequent greater oppression, followed by a popular uprising. More power will lead to expulsions, ethnic cleansing, and crimes against humanity. American Jews could end up paying the price for Israel’s actions, and the world may no longer be able to look you in the eyes.

Palestinian protesters seen at the Gaza border fence, during a 'Great Return March' protest, Gaza Strip, September 28, 2018. (Mohammed Zaanoun/Activestills.org)

Palestinian protesters seen at the Gaza border fence, during a ‘Great Return March’ protest, Gaza Strip, September 28, 2018. (Mohammed Zaanoun/Activestills.org)

We can move toward a process of historic reconciliation only after the sense of Jewish supremacy is replaced by generosity, out of the understanding that the Jewish question is intertwined with that of the Palestinian question — that both will be solved between the river and the sea in historic Palestine. And while reconciliation is naturally a long and arduous process, it is preferable to apartheid.

AIPAC leaders, you who live thousands of miles from here, must listen to the voices of those who are not invited to deliver speeches at your annual conference — those whose voices were silenced or purposefully distorted. Please, do not believe those who tell you how good we have it in the Land of Zion. At the very least, cast doubt on what they say.

You, who play such a central role in what happens in Israel, can prevent the worst from happening. Tell them “no more.” Perhaps then we can bring an end to the injustices.

Marzuq al-Halabi

Marzuq Al-Halabi is a jurist, journalist, author. He writes regularly for Al-Hayat. This article was first published in Hebrew on Local Call. Read it here.

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    1. Bruce Gould

      Whatever it was that brought down apartheid in South Africa – we can argue endlessly about that, but in my opinion it wasn’t just the kindness of their hearts – I’ll have some of that.

      Reply to Comment
    2. Lewis from Afula

      The only solution to the “fakestinyan” question is unconditional surrender of the defeated JORADANIANS. If this does not occur soon, then mass repatriation of unrepetent JORDANIANS to the East Bank becomes the only sane solution.

      Anything else will only cause further wars, terrorism, misery and bloodshed to both Arabs and Israelis.

      Peace to All.

      Reply to Comment
      • Musa ibn Maimon

        Why don’t you get off the Internet for a while and read a book, “Lewis from Afula”? “Leave a comment” is a bare infinitive, not an imperative. You’re allowed to refrain from spewing your ignorant nonsense.

        Reply to Comment
    3. Ben

      I do not mean to disparage the efforts exemplified by this well-written, peace-seeking, truth-speaking letter, but in my opinion the AIPAC leaders are just as power-drunk and won’t do a thing except eagerly prostrate themselves in fealty to King Bibi and wallow in kitschy, flag-waving triumphalism (“Both flags of course! America First and Israel First! (Don’t ask how that adds up.) We are so bipartisan! Except when we’re not and we have to savage a Democrat to keep them in line! Sorry!”)

      The AIPAC audience is made fun of by Israelis for not knowing anything about what is really going on. “Thanks for your money and support for Trump, now sit down and be quiet, children, and that’s right, since you don’t live over here and have no clue you have no right to offer any criticism of our government and the way we treat people. Just enjoy the Disneyland Birthright pablum you are fed and feed yourselves—down the hatch!.”

      It turns out Jews are no different that any other people, so when absolute power comes to them they on the whole behave just as bad as any antebellum white American or 1950s Afrikaner. And absolute power corrupts them just as absolutely. And all their history, ancient and modern, becomes a sick, ironic footnote, a scandal.

      What Israel’s Founding Fathers Never Imagined
      Zeev Sternhell
      “No one ever envisioned the actual possibility that power would fall one day into the hands of people with the demeanor of masters, for whom the oppression of another nation was second nature. Who ever imagined that the Jewish community might one day turn into a colonialist entity and lay the foundations of an apartheid regime as a permanent condition, and would want to engrave that shame in its law books on top of that?”

      Bruce is right, South African apartheid was not brought down by the kindness of their hearts. Start banning Israeli athletes from international competition.

      Reply to Comment
    4. average american

      I must say something here. Surprise or not, in America, we here don’t like foreign interference with our government. At least the people not being paid off with money don’t like it. The people who are not regularly “informed” of the “important matters” of a foreign country called Israel through AIPAC, and the reciprocal “cooperation expected”.

      Reply to Comment
    5. Ben

      Tweeting notes:

      Peter Beinart: “To anyone in @AIPAC who supports 2 state solution + Israeli democracy: You’re on the titanic. Bibi’s boasting he’s going to annex part of W Bank + end 2SS if he wins reelection. BDS will become mainstream on left + @aipac will become NRA. You’re destroying yourselves.”

      Martin Indyk: “Yup. It won’t be long before the West Bank annexationists make their move. And Trump will probably recognize that acquisition by force too. And that will threaten the very existence of the Jewish democratic state. With friends like these who needs enemies?”

      Reply to Comment
      • Ben

        Note to Martin Indyk: What do you mean “existence of the Jewish democratic state”? ==>

        By Noam Sheizaf |Published September 11, 2013
        Why I oppose recognizing Israel as a Jewish state
        A country can, at least in theory, be ‘Israeli and democratic.’ It cannot and will never be ‘Jewish and democratic.’

        Reply to Comment
    6. itshak Gordine

      Stop bleating. Israel is a democracy where even hostile minorities are represented in parliament.

      Reply to Comment
      • Ben

        Tell that to the Druze.

        “Stop bleating” radiates the contempt of the overlord not the fellow citizen, so you are haplessly transparent, Halevy. As always.

        I will recall you the fact that Netanyahu did not warn his fellow Feiglinists that “bleating sheep are coming to the polls in droves,” nor did he say that “our fellow citizens are coming to the polls to vote,” he said “the Arabs are coming to the polls in droves.” And people like you knew full well what he meant: They are not full citizens and we will never let their vote count. Even the so-called opposition, Gantz, just said that he is seeking only Jewish partners, will not ever partner with Arabs citizens. Gantz is the same Feiglinist, bleating coded Feiglinism in sheep’s clothing:

        You fool no one, Halevy.

        Reply to Comment
      • Tom

        The definition of democracy, is not about the right to vote, it’s about equal rights and sovereignity of the people without distinction of religion.

        As only Jewish people belong to the nation, the non jewish Citizen do not have the same value for the nation (additional to existing hunderds of law that discriminate them directly), there are second class citizens, and are not sovereign of Israel. How can it be a democracy ?

        Reply to Comment
        • Lewis from Afula

          Tom: “The definition of democracy, is not about the right to vote, it’s about equal rights and sovereignity of the people without distinction of religion.”

          So how come countries like UK, Greece, Georgia, Malta, Denmark, Sweden, Finland, Norway and Iceland have flags with Christian Crosses on them ?
          Some of them have Head of States that must belong to a certain Religion.
          WHOOPS !!!!!

          Reply to Comment
          • Tom

            If you don’t have any arguments, that’s ok, but don’t try to be ridiculous, democracy is not a question about having a cross on your flag.

            Most of the country you ve listed don’t discriminate 20% of their Citizens because they are not christian, The soveignity of the nation (for the republic, for the kingdomn, it’s différent) belongs to all the citizens, without exeption of religion. They don’t have two classes of Citizen in their country.

            You should instead compare Israel to other islamic countries that are not democracy eather. But even your non democratic-neighbor are doing better (in the law at least). For exemple Egypt : Yes they have a state religion (as Israel) BUT jewish and christian are protected (more or less the same in Israel, but with additional 50 discriminated laws) and ARE PART OF THE EGYPT NATION, according to Egypt Constitution. In the new Egyptian constitution, they don’t have two classes of citizens as Israel (the jewish that belongs to the nation, and the others),

            Reply to Comment
          • tom

            Sorry I made a mistake just mistakes*
            “more or less the same in Israel, but WITHOUT the 50 discriminated laws against non-jewish people”

            Reply to Comment