Archive for June, 2009

Haaretz Journalist Harry Rubinstein on the I/P Conflict

June 27, 2009

Today the interns started our educational tour of Israel/Palestine. We had a guided tour of the Muslim and Jewish quarters of the Old City, which I will hopefully report on later. At an educational meeting today our internship coordinator invited Haaretz journalist Danny Rubenstein, a pair of girls from the Shiministin (conscientious objectors) and two members from Combatants for Peace.

Danny Rubenstein’s father came to Russia in reaction to the pogroms occurring in Russia 100 years ago. Jews came to Israel from Europe and Arab countries to continue the Jewish civilization at the expense of the Palestinians. He used an interesting analogy to describe the nature of the conflict. He said that, “the Jews fell from a burning house on to a Palestinian and he fell down.” In reference to the Palestinian land being colonized by Israel settlers in the West Bank… “the Palestinian fell down [in 1948] but we now we shouldn’t take the wallet from his pocket.” This was an unsatisfying analogy because he made it seem like the Jew jumped out of his window and accidentally landed on the Palestinian. The colonization and expulsion of the Palestinians was a pivotal aspect of the Zionist project from its inception. There was nothing accidental about it; the colonization and expulsion of the indigenous Palestinian population was systematic and purposeful. The truth is that the Jew’s house was on fire, he saw a Palestinian walking by and jumped on him to try and break his fall. Then he stole his wallet.

Rubinstein believes the land needs to be divided into two states with East Jerusalem as the capital of Palestine and West Jerusalem as the capital of Israel. The Palestinians will have full sovereignty over the old city (it is in East Jerusalem), including the Western Wall; the holiest site of Judaism. The two-state solution, with Israel withdrawing to its pre June-1967 borders, is the only possibility of creating a viable Palestinian state. This will be the only way that Israel can remain the state of the Jewish people so that they can continue practicing Judaism. Rubinstein believes the conflict isn’t between Jerusalem and Cairo or Jerusalem and Syria, the conflict is between Jerusalem and Jerusalem. There is a great amount of religious intolerance between the Jews and Muslims which is fueling the conflict. Religious antagonism over Jerusalem needs to dissipate in order for their to be peace in I/P.

Rubinstein thinks that Palestinians need to concede the right of return. If Israel wants to to be preserved as the Jewish state they cannot return to their homes. He thinks that Palestinians should be adequately compensated  for their loss of land from 1948. He notes that Palestinians will never give up the right of return (which is their lawful right — UN Resolution 194). So the conflict will continue.

To sum up his lecture: Israeli needs to concede the settlements in the West Bank but can never accept the right of return because Israeli needs to maintain its status as the Jewish state. There needs to be pressure from the international community so that it will no longer be in Israel’s economic interest to continue colonizing the West Bank. He acknowledges that Israel needs to uproot the settlements, even though it does not have any desire to do so at the present time.

Rubinstein also wants Israel to remain the state of the Jewish people so that they can continue practicing Judaism. This kind of statement is antithetical to the foundations of a healthy democracy. Under such a system there is only a democracy for the Jewish people and Israeli-Palestinians are treated like second-class citizens (Adalah). Israel should use America as an example, which is more of a democratic nation (it’s actually a polyarchy) where Jews can freely and safely practice Judaism. America doesn’t need to be recognized as the state of the Jewish people in order for them to practice Judaism freely there. Rubinstein is essentially an apologist for Jewish exceptionalism, which is racist at its core.


A Gentile Goes to Israel

June 26, 2009

So I travelled to Israel for the first time in my life today. The 8-hour Iberia flight to Madrid was thoroughly pleasant and I made friends with the person sitting next to me (a charming young woman who will be studying abroad in Spain). We discussed a wide range of political issues; she patiently listened to my anger directed at capitalism and the unfair distribution of wealth in America. At some point during our conversation I even audibly expressed my disgust with Israeli policies… there were no problems at all. She was extremely tolerant of my viewpoints and in return gave me numerous things to think about. We were able to discuss controversial issues in a civil and productive manner. Bottom line: on the flight to Spain I felt like I had the democratic right to freely express myself as a human being and it was healthy. All of that changed when I took a connecting flight to Tel-Aviv on El Al Airlines (the Israeli airliner).

Due to the lack of academic freedom in Israel regarding the Arab-Israeli conflict, I was warned ahead by my Jewish and Non-Jewish acquaintances that it would be unwise to bring in literature that was critical of Israel. Being the non-conformist/rebel that I am, I brought Righteous Victims: The History of the Zionist-Arab Conflict by Benny Morris with me. I continued to read this enlightening history book during my flight from JFK(NYC) to Madrid without a hitch. Things changed for the worse on my connecting flight to Tel Aviv on El Al because of my ‘unfortunate luck’ being born to a Palestinian father. At the El Al gate in Madrid there is a little outpost called the “El Al Security Station” which I expected to encounter sooner or later. Everyone flying on the plane was required to stand in line at this booth and present their passports and boarding passes. The Jewish lady in front of me handed over her passport, answered a few questions and left to stand in line at the gate entrance. I approached the ‘security booth’ and was asked by a bilingual (Spanish/Hebrew) security officer what my purpose was in Israel. I told him that I intended to visit my Jewish-Israeli friend in Tel Aviv. He let me know that he recognized my middle name ‘Saleem’ as being of Arab descent. He asked me what my ethnicity was and I told him that I was a mix of Irish, Czech and last but not least… half-Palestinian. The word ‘Palestinian’ triggered something in his brain and he told me to follow him ‘right this way.’ He led me into the basement area where luggage was coming in from the baggage checks and was being transferred from connecting flights. [In New York I was told that the flight staff at Madrid would automatially transfer the luggage from my Iberia flight to my El Al flight]. As soon as I arrived in the area, the bilingual Jew and an Israeli security officer asked me to take off my backpack and step into a side room. In this room they made me take all the loose objects off of my body, which included my cell phone, wallet and headphones. I then passed through a metal detector and was instructed to take off my belt. Again through the metal detector. After the Israeli security officer spent 5 minutes checking my leather belt for explosive devices he asked me to pull down my pants. Ahhh, to be strip searched in Madrid simply because I was born the ‘wrong way’ in a genetic lottery.

After the attempts to humiliate me via strip-search, the Israeli security guard made me put my iPhone in my backpack. Then I sat in a waiting area while three Israeli security employees checked every item in my carry-on (which contained my video camera, digital still camera, laptop and and iphone — over 1000$ worth of valuables) and my large bag of luggage. I watched them take out a pin from my bag that read, “Boycott Israel” (I completely forgot it was there). [The political pin turned out to be a null issue throughout the interrogation proceedings.] I also watched them read through the contents of  my notebook, which had some information that was personal to me. They ‘wanded’ every single object I was carrying for explosives and also pushed most of these items through a metal detector. A pretty young Israeli lady came up to me with the book that was in my backpack and asked me what it was about. I told her that Benny Morris is a professor at Ben-Gurion University and I highly recommend reading his work. After an unnecssary long wait, El Al security told me that I wasn’t permitted to carry my valuable items on to the plane. The reason for this is that the Israelis wanted to analyze the contents of my bag again in Tel Aviv. Every Jewish traveler on the flight had a carry-on bag and cell phone. I was deprived of rights simply because of I was born of the ‘wrong’ ethnicity. Blatant racial discrimination should not be the policies of a peaceful and Democratic society. But then, Israel is neither peaceful nor Democratic.

El Al Security allowed me to bring my book on the plane (they didn’t let me bring on my music player) but by the time we were flying I was so flustered that I couldn’t even read it. I was so nervous about the pin in my bag, my diary and the safety of my valuables that I decided to ‘forget’ my book on the airplane to avoid further questions. I left it behind to expedite the interrogation procedure. When I got on the flight to Israel I struck up a conversation with a neighbor sitting next to me. He is a 16-year old Jewish kid, an extremely nice person, who had his cell phone, ipod and carry on. I winced at the hypocrisy but attempted to be jovial with him. He received a free trip from some Jewish organization to travel to Hungary to see how Diaspora Jews there live. He was a couple years away from his birthright to Israel and admitted that he could become an Israeli citizen in the future. The bottom line: Israel is an exclusivist and inherently racist society that provides services and rights only to Jews. The discrimination at the airport is the tip of the iceberg. Jews are essentially the beneficiaries of a genetic lottery.

At Tel-Aviv, the customs agent discovered my Palestinian heritage and a security guard escorted me to a depressing little area filled with anomalies (read: Gentiles). While sitting in this waiting area I recognized one of my fellow  interns, Nick. Me and him agreed to tell Israeli security that we became friends through facebook and that we have a mutual friend (an Israeli-Jew) living in Tel Aviv. After about 30 minutes a security official entered the waiting area and called out “Saleem! Saleem!” I responded, “my name is Joel, it isn’t Saleem.” His perception of me was based wholly on the fact that my middle name was abnormal. He made some small talk about the Mets and asked me thestate the purpose of my trip. I responded by telling him that I have a friend in Israel and that I am planning on visiting my family in East Jerusalem. He asked me for the name and telephone number of my family in Jerusalem. I told him that El Al security confiscated my phone when they took my carry on bag in Madrid. I told him that If he allowed me to have my cell phone I could get him the information he was seeking. He asked me, “you don’t know where your bag is? It was in a back room being riffled through and we both knew it. I stayed in the waiting area for two and a half hours while the security officials intermittently questioned me and scoured through every item of my luggage. At some point the security official finally came up to me and said, “you are free to go, but don’t do anything illegal while you are here.” I agreed and the trip from hell was finally over. I was in.

P.S. When I got my cell phone (which was in the backpack they wouldn’t let me carry-on) the case was back on it upside down. The stuff in back pack was clearly unpacked and they made little effort to conceal the intrusion into my privacy.

Side note: the following quotes were taken from Emma Schojaei (an intern with FFIPP). These quotes are accurate but not represented here verbatim.

While me and Nick were talking, a third FFIPP intern entered the ‘waiting area’ meant to process anomalies (a.k.a. Gentiles). Her name is Emma Shojaei, a 21-year old British-Iranian woman. She experienced the most brutal interrogation of all of the interns. First the interrogator started off by saying sweet things like “I would like to welcome you to Israel. But the fact that her father is Iranian was a hot-button issue. The Security official asked her “where is your dad now and what is he doing?” You don’t look like the person who would blow up something, what are your plans here?” Her response was that she wanted to travel and see the sights in Israel/Palestine. She told the interrogator that she was planning on meeting her female friend in Israel. The interrogator asked her to provide him with her friends date of birth and what she was studying in school. She also told the interrogator she was meeting with our Israeli-Jewish mentor. He responded by saying “you must go to America often meet all these friends.” She told him that she became acquainted with one of these friends through facebook. At this point the Israeli officers really put on the pressure. He became aggressive. “You’re lying to me, I can tell you’re lying! I’m going to give you a chance to tell the truth or I’m going to deport you. I’ll give you the chance now or that is it.” At this point, the interrogator ‘broke’ her and she burst into tears. She told the officer that she was meeting these people for her internship in I/P. He continued his harassment… “Why should I let you through, you’ve lied to an Israeli officer. Why should I believe you if all of this was a lie. Why did you do this, these people told you to do it, that’s pathetic. Why would you cover for them and lie to an official. We’re trained to break professional liars who would take 7-8 hours to crack. I’m going to let you through but I can tell your weak, you’re a woman and you’re British and a Christian. If you do anything illegal while you are here you we will find out. The conflict is beyond you, you’ll never understand.”

After five and a half hours they let her into Israel.

The Israel/Palestine Conflict As I See It

June 26, 2009

In December 2008-January 2009, Israel launched a ‘self-defensive’ invasion into the Palestinian territory known as the Gaza strip which it claimed was a reaction to homemade rockets that were being fired into southern Israel by Hamas fighters.  During the ‘war’, mainstream US corporate news stations completely failed to report the truth of the conflict and essentially betrayed every principle of journalism. According to the corporate media, the rockets were launched because of Hamas’ deep seeded anti-Semitism and their hatred of the only democracy in the Middle East. Walter Lippman, the pioneer of modern journalism, says that “citizens are like theatergoers who arrive in the middle of the third act and leave before the final curtain, staying just long enough to decide who is the hero and who is the villain.” Citizens use the information given to them by the media to distinguish the bad guys from the good guys. Ultimately, the media failed in its obligation to the truth while it was reporting on the Israeli invasion into Gaza. The media portrayed the conflict as beginning with Hamas rockets and ending with a valiant Israel defending itself from ruthless terrorist attacks. In order to get at the truth, we need to go to the beginning of the conflict starting in the 1880’s…

The current conflict between Jews and Palestinians began with the Zionist project. In the 1880’s, anti-Semitism in Western Russia and Western Europe convinced a group of Jews that they needed their own homeland/safe haven. Zionism called for the creation of a Jewish homeland in the Ottoman controlled area of Palestine. For the Zionists, Palestine was a “land without people for a people without land.” The Jews would stroll into a largely uninhabited land, settle down and resurrect the nation of Israel. However, the truth of the matter was that Palestine was populated by a large number of indigenous Arabs. Theodor Herzl, the father of Zionism, ignored numerous warnings that Jewish aspirations for statehood would result in Arab antagonism. He convinced himself that the Arabs would be eternally grateful by the vast amounts of material wealth that the Jews would bring to Palestine. Vladimir “Ze’ev” Jabotinsky — the spiritual mentor of five Israeli prime ministers: Menachem Begin, Yitzhak Shamir, Benyamin Netanyahu, Ariel Sharon, and Ehud Olmert — was more realistic. “Any native people, whether civilized or savage, view their country as their national home, of which they will be the complete masters. They will never voluntarily accept not only new masters but also new co-owners or partners.” The fathers of Zionism knew that Arab animosity was the natural reaction to the colonization of their land. The founders of Israel believed that the creation of a Jewish state in Palestine was justified regardless of the fact that Arabs would reject it outright.

The Jewish settlers viewed the Arab population as primitive, lazy and savage; similar to the way European colonists viewed the Native Americans. David Ben-Gurion (one of the architects of Zionism) expressed his sentiments about the Arabs in a letter to his father: “They are nearly all good-hearted, and are easily befriended. One might say that they are like big children.” (Morris, 44) From the outset the Jews were emboldened with symptoms of Manifest Destiny, in which they considered the native inhabitants to be lesser humans. Colonization of inhabited land can only occur if the colonizers believe they have more of a right to that land than the inhabitants. Blaming the inevitable violent Arab response to Zionism on the Arabs would be like blaming the violent Native American response to European colonization on the Native Americans. Who in their right mind would blame the Native Americans for their own demise? The same logic applies to the indigenous Palestinians.

After World War 1 and the fall of the Ottoman Empire, Britain took control of Palestine in a deal with France known as the Sykes-Picot agreement. The Zionists knew they needed the aid of a Great Power and tirelessly lobbied Britain to advance their cause. The Jews experienced a major diplomatic victory in 1917, when Lord Arthur Balfour wrote a letter to Lord Rothschild that read, “His Majesty’s Government view with favor the establishment in Palestine of a national home for the Jewish people.” The Balfour Declaration was a major victory for the Yishuv (Jewish communities). The Zionists were careful not to define the borders of their future state but there is adequate documentation that proves what they had planned. In 1918, David Ben-Gurion and Yitzhak Ben-Zvi published a book called The Land of Israel, Past and Present in which they described “our country” as stretching from the Litani River in southern Lebanon, the Hermon Mountain foothills and Wadi A’waj (just south of Damascus) in the north, to the Gulf of Aqaba in the south. In the west it would reach as far as Al-Arish in Sinai, and in the east it would stretch to a rough line between Aqaba and Amman [MAP].

Chaim Weizzman (another architect of Zionism) and David Ben-Gurion were expansionists and knew that partition was the stepping stone to the eventual takeover of all of Palestine. Ben-Gurion in a letter to his son said, “A Jewish state in part [of Palestine] is not an end, but a beginning… through this we increase our power, and every increase in power facilitates getting hold of the country in its entirety. Establishing a [small] state… will serve as a very potent level in our historical efforts to redeem the whole country.” (Morris, 138) Moreover, according to Morris,”transfer” of the indigenous Arab population “was one of the main currents in Zionist ideology from the movement’s inception.” Got that? The Zionists knew that a Jewish national state could never be achieved without massive immigration of Diaspora Jews into “Greater Israel” and that Arabs would have to be transferred (forcibly if they chose not to leave) as well.

From the end of World War 1 to the Arab-Israeli Wars in 1947-48, there were a couple of large-scale Arab revolts against Jewish colonization and immigration. One of them occured in 1929 and the second occured in 1936. The Arabs inflicted some terrible acts of violence against members of the Yishuv during these revolts, however, the Zionists knew that such violence was inevitable from the get go. These revolts were crushed by British and Jewish armed forces. During the same time Jewish terror groups sprang up. The IZL (the Irgun — whose leader was future Prime Minister Menachem Begin) and the LEHI (the Stern Gang — whose leader was future Foreign Minister Yitzhak Shamir) carried out violent terror attacks directed at British and Arab “occupiers”. There is sufficient evidence in the historical record that suggests that the present Arab terrorist groups learned bus bombings from these Jewish terror groups. Jewish terror culminated in the Irgun bombing of the King David Hotel, in 1946 ,which killed 91 and wounded 46. Currently, Israel and the US refuse to negotiate with Hamas because it is a “terror organization.” By that same logic the US should have refused to broker peace between Anwar Sadat and Menachem Begin during the Camp David Accords because Begin was the leader of a well-known terrorist organization.

The Zionists were effective in lobbying Western powers for the creation of the Jewish state. As a result, the UN partition plan of 1947 gave the Jews 55% of Palestine and left the remaining 45% to the Arabs. As Noam Chomsky points out, “the indigenous Arab population rejected the idea, accepted as natural in the West, that they had a moral obligation to sacrifice their land to compensate for the crimes committed by Europeans against Jews. They perhaps wondered why a more appropriate response would not have been to remove the population of Bavaria and turn it into a Jewish state – or given the self-righteous moralizing they hear from the United States, why the project could not have been carried out in Massachusetts or New York… If someone were to take over your home, then offer you a few rooms in a ‘fair compromise,’ you might not be overwhelmed by his generosity, even if he were homeless, destitute and persecuted.” Many Israeli apologists say that if the Arabs had just accepted the Partition Plan there would be peace today. As I noted before, Israel’s fathers, past and present, intended on expanding and colonizing all of the land of “greater Israel” from the inception of Zionism. Unfortunately for the Arabs, God didn’t consider them to be as worthy of the land as the Jewish settlers so they had to get out of Palestine. This sense of superiority is the driving force of the conflict today.

In 1948, after the civil war between the Jews and Palestinians, the Arab armies of Egypt, Jordan, Iraq and Syria attacked. The historical record clearly shows that the Jews possessed superior weaponry and were better organized than the invaders. The ‘War of Independence’ is probably the only existential threat that Israel has ever faced. It is also important to note that virtually all of the fighting occurred on the Arab portion of the partition. The final phase of the Israeli war strategy was Plan D, in which the Zionists went on the offensive. During this offensive, 700,000 Palestinian Arabs were systematically expelled or fled in what they refer to as the ‘Nakba’ or ‘Catastrophe’. King Abdullah of Jordan had an agreement with the Ben-Gurion cabinet that Jordan would get the West Bank (of the Jordan River) following the 1948 war. Gaza was divided between Israel and Egypt, and the Gaza Strip remained under Egyptian control from 1948-1967. Israel and Jordan, but not Egypt, annexed the territories they occupied. (Fateful Triangle, 96) Following the war, the 1949 Armistice Agreements gave Israel 77% of Palestine and the Arabs the remaining 22%. Jerusalem (the remaining 1%) became an international holy site. UN Resolution 194, called for the demilitarization and UN control over Jerusalem, free access to Jerusalem and the right of return for refugees of the 1948 war. [A good friend tells me that non-Muslims are NOT allowed into Al-Aqsa Mosque, in the Old City, and the IDF are very strict about this at the checkpoints to get in. From what I hear, Israeli soldiers will ask you to recite the Al-Fathia to ‘prove’ you’re muslim, and still be skeptical even if you perform it correctly. You can judge for yourself whether this conforms with Resolution 194].

In 1967 (The Six-Day War) the Israelis launched a preemptive war of ‘self-defense’ against Egypt, Jordan and Syria even though there was little evidence proving Egypt was going to attack. The former Commander of the Air Force, General Ezer Weizmann, stated that there was “no threat of destruction” but that the attack on Egypt, Jordan and Syria was nevertheless justified so that Israel could “exist according to the scale, spirit and quality she now embodies.” Menachem Begin, had the following to say: “In June 1967, we again had a choice. The Egyptian Army concentrations in the Sinai approaches do not prove that Nasser was really about to attack us. We must be honest with ourselves. We decided to attack him.” The war of 1967 was not a war of “self-defense” but a war of conquest.” During the June 1967 War, Israel took control of the Sinai peninsula from Egypt, the West Bank from Jordan and the Golan Heights from Syria. It promptly began to increase settlements in all of these areas after the fighting. Apparently Jewish settlers on other peoples land was a necessary form of self-defense. Israel reliquished the Sinai in 1978 as a result of the Camp David Accords, in which Egypt agreed to become US/Israeli client state in exchange for land. [Today, we give Egyptian president Mubarak $2 billion per year to bolster his secret police force and crush dissent throughout his population.] Israel still holds on to the Golan Heights and the West Bank; both are being rapidly populated by Jewish settlers. UN Resolution 242 called for Israel to withdraw from the conquered territories. A peremptory clause of the UN charter states that it is illegal to acquire land through war; Israel has no legal claim to the West Bank, Gaza and the Golan Heights.

The root of conflict today is the Jewish colonization of land (West Bank and Golan Heights) that Israel acquired in the course of the June 1967 war. Israel, backed by the United States, is the belligerent party in this conflict. Every year the UN General Assembly votes on the “Peaceful settlement of the question of Palestine.” Every year the entire world votes on the legality of Israel’s occupation and colonization. Every year the whole world votes on the side of Justice and the United States, Israel and a few pacific islands choose to brush the issue under the rug. Check it out here, the vote is 164-7 in favor of Israel returning all the land it holds illegally [Link]. In 2004, the International Court of Justice, the highest judicial body in the world, voted on the legality of the annexation wall (80% of it is on Palestinian land) that Israel is building to incorporate Jewish settlements into Israel. This wall is snaking through the West Bank and cutting off Palestinian villages from one another (parts of the wall are even built right on Palestinian land). The landmark advisory opinion was that the wall is illegal and that it must be dismantled. The one dissenting vote was by the American judge, Thomas Buergenthal, who issued a declaration that essentially agreed with the majority opinion [Link]. Throughout the peace process, we’re told that these “final status issues” are so complicated that they must wait until the end of peace negoatiations. According to the international consensus on resolving the conflict, these issues are incredibly uncomplicated. All of the West Bank land Israel acquired in the June-1967 war is “Occupied Palestinian Territory” (OPT) and all of the settlements in the West Bank are illegal under international law (Article 49 of the 4th Geneva Convention). Accordingly, Israel has no claim to the water in the West Bank (which Israel is stealing) and Israel has 100% ZERO claim to East Jerusalem. Don’t take my word for it, read the court documents.

I want to avoid rewriting a history book so I’ll conclude. If we use the international consensus that respects the rights of Palestinians to self-determination within their own land, Israel and the United States have rejected the peace process every step of the way. Every time Israeli and Palestinian leadership meet to negotiate peace the Palestinians are the only party that has to make concessions. Israel has to make ZERO concessions. It is true that Palestinians have walked away from peace talks, such as the Camp David talks with Clinton in 2000. The reason is because Israel still has colonial ambitions, so it rejects Palestinian rights of self-determination and wants Palestine to remain dominated. The Israeli Minister of Internal Security, Shlomo Ben-Ami, said that “if I were a Palestinian, I wouldn’t have accepted Camp David either.” [Link] In order for peace to come about Zionism needs to be cast away. At its core, Zionism believes that Jews have a holy right to settle on land that other people have been living on for centuries. It is essentially a modern day crusade being waged against the indigenous inhabitants of Palestine (and Syria).  There are 500,000 illegal Jewish settlers in the West Bank right now and they continue to grow in numbers.  When Zionists and supporters of Israel finally realize that Jews are no more humans than the Palestinians and they embrace the international consensus, then there will be peace.

Is Israel an apartheid state?

June 15, 2009

Numerous scholars, academics, human rights workers and political leaders have begun to use the word ‘apartheid’ to describe Israel’s occupation of Palestinian land. In Jimmy Carter’s book, Palestine: Peace Not Apartheid, he says, “Utilizing their (the Israelis) political and military dominance, they are imposing a system of partial withdrawal, encapsulation, and apartheid on the Muslim and Christian citizens of the occupied territories. The driving purpose for the forced separation of the two peoples is unlike that in South Africa – not racism, but the acquisition of land.” (Carter,189) Desmond Tutu in The Guardian: “I’ve been very deeply distressed in my visit to the Holy Land; it reminded me so much of what happened to us black people in South Africa. I have seen the humiliation of the Palestinians at checkpoints and roadblocks, suffering like us when young white police officers prevented us from moving about.” [1] Desmond Tutu in The Nation: “Many South Africans are beginning to recognize the parallels to what we went through. Ronnie Kasrils and Max Ozinsky, two Jewish heroes of the antiapartheid struggle, recently published a letter titled “Not in My Name. Signed by several hundred other prominent Jewish South Africans, the letter drew an explicit analogy between apartheid and current Israeli policies. Mark Mathabane and Nelson Mandela have also pointed out the relevance of the South African experience.” [2] John Dugard, the UN Special Rapporteur on the human rights situation in the OPT and South African Law Professor: “So, Israel is in occupation. But over the past 40 years, we’ve seen the addition of two other elements. That is colonialism and apartheid… I think it’s important to stress that there are major differences between apartheid as it was applied in South Africa and the policies and practices in the occupied territories.  The systems are clearly not identical.  But there are many similar features.” [3]

The Israeli occupation and colonization of the West Bank has fragmented Palestinian land into three separate islands (or cantons), all cut off from one another via checkpoints, which in Dugard’s opinion are Bantustans. Amnesty International produced a comprehensive report entitled, Enduring Occupation, which discusses how Israel’s colonization and military occupation are fragmenting the West Bank into these cantons (or bantustans). From the report, “The Israeli authorities contend that this regime of closures and restrictions is necessary to prevent Palestinians from entering Israel to carry out suicide bombings and other attacks. However, virtually all the checkpoints, gates, blocked roads and most of the fence/wall are located inside the West Bank – not between Israel and the West Bank. They curtail or prevent movement between Palestinian towns and villages, splitting and isolating Palestinian communities, separating Palestinians from their agricultural land, hampering access to work, schools, health facilities and relatives, and destroying the Palestinian economy. The fence/wall itself, located as it is inside occupied territory, is unlawful, according to the International Court of Justice (ICJ).” [4] (There is an excellent map, created by artist Julien Bousac, that simulates this cantonization of Palestinian land in the West Bank as islands in a sea of occupation. [5]) Shulamit Aloni, a prominent member of the Israeli peace camp and leader of the Meretz party, via Counterpunch: “Indeed Apartheid does exist here. And our army is not “the most moral army in the world” as we are told by its commanders. Sufficient to mention that every town and every village has turned into a detention centre and that every entry and every exit has been closed, cutting it off from arterial traffic. If it were not enough that Palestinians are not allowed to travel on the roads paved ‘for Jews only’, on their land, the current GOC found it necessary to land an additional blow on the natives in their own land with an “ingenious proposal.” [6]

In December 1997, Nelson Mandela spoke at the International Day of Solidarity with the Palestinian People, “When in 1977, the United Nations passed the resolution inaugurating the International Day of Solidarity with the Palestinian people, it was asserting the recognition that injustice and gross human rights violations were being perpetrated in Palestine. In the same period, the UN took a strong stand against apartheid; and over the years, an international consensus was built, which helped to bring an end to this iniquitous system. But we know too well that our freedom is incomplete without the freedom of the Palestinians; without the resolution of conflicts in East Timor, the Sudan and other parts of the world.” [7]

There is a report by the Middle East Project of the Human Sciences Research Council of South Africa titled Occupation, Colonialism, Apartheid: A re-assessment of Israel’s practices in the occupied Palestinian territories under international law (LINK) . Phil Weiss, a journalist/blogger, says, “the study is an assessment written by legal experts on the specific ways in which Israel’s policies in the OPT can be considered colonialism and/or apartheid, as defined by international law.” From the study, “Israel, since 1967, has been the belligerent Occupying Power in the OPT, and that its occupation of these territories has become a colonial enterprise which implements a system of apartheid… Restrictions on the Palestinian right to freedom of movement are endemic in the West Bank, stemming from Israel’s control of the OPT’s checkpoints and crossings, impediments created by the Wall and its crossing points, a matrix of separate roads, and obstructive and all encompassing permit and ID systems that apply solely to Palestinians.” (The article is worth a read) [8] It is important to note that South Africa does not equal apartheid. Apartheid equals apartheid. The segregation, occupation and colonization that existed in South Africa and the segregation, occupation and colonization that exist now in Palestine, both fall under the definition of Apartheid. There is no disservice or exploitation being done to the black South Africans by using that term to describe life on the ground in Palestine. Tutu and Mandela agree.

It is of vital importance to note that the ANC, Nelson Mandela’s anti-apartheid party, engaged in acts of terrorism, including a car bomb that killed 16 and injured 130 in South Africa’s capital city, Pretoria.[9] Winnie Mandela (Nelson Mandela’s wife) endorsed terrorist activities on at least one occasion. From the Guardian, “In 1986 she embarrassed the anti-apartheid community with the statement in a speech that “we shall liberate this country” with “our boxes of matches and our necklaces” interpreted as an implicit endorsement of the political killings by burning which did enormous damage to the anti-apartheid movement between 1984 and 1987.” [10] In 1988, the United States under Reagan, labelled the ANC one of the world’s “more notorious terrorist groups” similar to the label the U.S. gave Hamas. [11] Comparing the size of the resistance movements between the ANC in apartheid SA and Hamas, Islamic Jihad and Hezbollah serves little purpose. In both conflicts the oppressed indigenous population faced, and are facing, an undefeatable foe. Israel has the 4th largest military in the world, with over 200 nuclear weapons [12], and compulsory military service in the IDF for every Israeli girl and boy. Israel receives approximately $3 billion per year in foreign aid from the U.S. (the most of any country), the vast majority of which buys back U.S. armaments. The Palestinian and Lebanese resistance do not pose an existential threat to Israel. The power to end the conflict is wholly in Israel’s hands. Nowhere in the definition of Apartheid – the Afrikaner word for a social policy or racial segregation involving political and economic and legal discrimination against people who are not Whites – is the level of resistance a determining element. In both instances the indigenous populations were/are stripped of their right to self-determination; which is a key component of Apartheid. I also want to say, the U.S. perspective on terrorism is extremely hypocritical. We ignore our own instances of terror while condemning terror that is contrary to our government’s interest. The U.S. quickly changed its mind about the ANC when the international community began to boycott the South African government. People have a right to defend their land, just like the ANC did and just like the Palestinians do. For reasons we can get into later, our government often takes sides that are politically advantageous while refusing to lend support to the victims of injustice.

When I engage in polemics with people regarding the I/P conflict, I usually refer to Gaza as a concentration camp. Concentration camps, generally defined, are camps where persons (as prisoners of war, political prisoners, or refugees) are detained or confined. The death camps Nazi’s used for the extermination of Jews were concentration camps; extermination and death aren’t the defining elements of a concentration camp. I consider the internment camps of Japanese-American citizens during WW2 and the camps the U.S. placed Native Americans in the 1830’s to be examples of concentration camps. After the ethnic cleansing of Palestinians in 1948, many Palestinian refugees were transferred to areas in Gaza and the West Bank. The 1.5 million people in Gaza are mostly all refugees of Israel’s forced transfer in 1948. Now Israel controls all the borders around Gaza, excluding the Egyptian checkpoint of Rafah (which is basically an Israeli/US checkpoint), and is restricting movement of people as well as crucial supplies from entering and exiting the area. Because of this siege, Gaza now has a 70% unemployment rate; the Gazans are the prisoners and the Israelis are the prison guards. From Haaretz, “when Senator John Kerry visited the Strip, he learned that many trucks loaded with pasta were not permitted in. When the chairman of the Senate Foreign Affairs Committee inquired as to the reason for the delay, he was told by United Nations aid officials that “Israel does not define pasta as part of humanitarian aid – only rice shipments.” Secretary of State Hilary Clinton, “Israel is not making enough effort to improve the humanitarian situation in Gaza… the U.S. expects Israel to meet its commitments on this matter.” [13] From another Haaretz article, “The few items merchants are allowed to trade in are divided into three categories: food, medicine and detergent. Everything else is forbidden – including building materials (which are necessary to rehabilitate Gaza’s ruins and rebuild its infrastructure), electric appliances such as refrigerators and washing machines, spare machine and car parts, fabrics, threads, needles, light bulbs, candles, matches, books, musical instruments, crayons, clothing, shoes, mattresses, sheets, blankets, cutlery, crockery, cups, glasses and animals. Many of the banned products are imported through the tunnels and can be found in Gaza’s markets.” [14] As a result of this crippling blockade, Gaza’s economy is completely devastated and people are living in squalor. Human Rights Watch has called on Sec. of State Clinton to put pressure on Israel to end the blockade, “Secretary Clinton’s comments make it sound like the Israeli blockade isn’t causing much of a problem for civilians in Gaza…But our researchers on the ground have seen how restrictions on food, construction material, and even children’s clothes are having an awful effect on civilians trying to rebuild from a devastating war.” [15] Even the Vatican is speaking out. Cardinal Martino, president of the Vatican’s Council for Justice and Peace, in Jan. 2009, “defenceless populations are always the ones who pay. Look at the conditions in Gaza: more and more, it resembles a big concentration camp.”[16] After the recent massacre in Gaza (to call it a war wouldn’t be honest), Richard Falk, United Nations Special Rapporteur on Human Rights in the Palestinian Territories, says, “The people of Gaza are victims of geopolitics at its inhumane worst: producing what Israel itself calls a ‘total war’ against an essentially defenseless society that lacks any defensive military capability whatsoever and is completely vulnerable to Israeli attacks mounted by F-16 bombers and Apache helicopters. What this also means is that the flagrant violation of international humanitarian law, as set forth in the Geneva Conventions, is quietly set aside while the carnage continues and the bodies pile up.” [17] Over at AlterNet, Ellen Cantarow makes a strong case for calling Gaza a concentration camp. “Gaza is an immense concentration camp — 1.5 million people squeezed into 140 square miles hemmed in on all sides by 25-foot-high walls separated by a vast expanse of bulldozed earth. The 2005 “pull-out” left Gaza still controlled by Israel from air and sea, its entries and exits prisonlike mazes electronically controlled and under constant surveillance. Bombing it, assaulting it with tanks and Uzis, is like shooting animals in a pen.” [18] There is an excellent documentary on the state of the economy in Gaza hosted by Democracy Now!, Land of Ruins: A Special Report on Gaza’s Economy.

I’m not using words like ‘Apartheid’ and ‘Concentration Camp’ casually, I do believe that they effectievely describe the plight of the Palestinians under Israeli occupation. They are effective methods of conveying information to people who may not be knowledgeable about the conflict. There is scholarship to back up these claims. I am not trying to engage in an armchair intellectual debate to appease my ego; I truly believe these terms describe the suffering of the Palestinians. When, and if, Israel abides by the tenets of International and Humanitarian Law everyone will win; both Palestinians and Israelis.