OPINION: A response to using 'apartheid' in Israel - the shoe fits


This piece is in response to Klaas Mokgomole's piece, It’s time for black people to reclaim the term 'apartheid'.

It was in 1961 that Hendrik Verwoerd, declared that, “Israel, like South Africa, is an apartheid state.” In the half-century since, South Africans have dismantled the formal system of racial segregation instituted by Verwoerd and his racist National Party, and yet, on Palestinian land, apartheid still stands.

During that same period of time, countless other, more respectable South Africans have made the comparison between the two regimes and, unlike Verwoerd, have chosen to identify with the struggle of the indigenous Palestinians, rather than the ruling Israeli class. In 1987, Archbishop Desmond Tutu at a conference of Palestinian Christians said, “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 SA. I’ve seen the humiliation of Palestinians at [Israeli] checkpoints and roadblocks, suffering like us when young white police officers prevented us from moving about.”

Several other South Africans to have compared apartheid SA to current-day Israel, include: anti-apartheid icons Winnie Mandela, Ahmed Kathrada and Jewish anti-apartheid activist, Denis Goldberg; church leaders, reverends Allan Boesak, Frank Chikane, Zipho Siwa, Thulani Ndlazi and many others; South African Cabinet Ministers, from Trevor Manuel to Blade Nzimande; the president of the Congress of South African Trade Unions, Zingiswa Losi; the secretary general of the South African Federation of Trade Unions, Zwelinzima Vavi; the Economic Freedom Fighters' Julius Malema; social justice activist Zackie Achmat; countless artists from Zakes Mda to Simphiwe Dana; former presidents Thabo Mbeki, Jacob Zuma and our current president, Cyril Ramaphosa.

In fact, former president Kgalema Motlanthe has gone further in saying that the Israeli institution is “worse” than apartheid SA. The South African government, as a state, has itself condemned Israeli practices as “reminiscent of apartheid”.

But beyond comparisons, a recent report by Israel’s largest and most reputable human rights organisation B’Tselem details and explains the existence of an apartheid system carried out by Israel in subjugation of the Palestinians in order to promote the supremacy of Jewish people. Of the report, the organisation’s director, Hagai El-Ad, stated, “Israel is not a democracy … and we must look at the full picture and see it for what it is: apartheid”.

For a country to be termed an apartheid regime does not mean it needs to look exactly like apartheid in South Africa once did. This is because apartheid is a crime defined by the International Criminal Court (ICC) - Article 7 of the Rome Statute of the ICC. A state is said to be practicing apartheid when that country fulfils the definition of apartheid set out by the United Nations and now by the ICC.

Some may forget that the soldiers of the apartheid South African regime were made up of both white soldiers and black soldiers. Because the army had both black and white did not mean that South Africa was not an apartheid regime. South Africa was an apartheid regime because it committed the crime of apartheid. Similarly, in the case of Israel, its regime may have one or two Arab people in certain positions but this does not discount the fact that it is committing of the crime of apartheid.

In fact, Israel, as we speak, according to another Israeli human rights organisation, Adalah, has over 64 discriminatory laws against Israeli citizens who are Palestinians or non-Jewish. For example, the “Basic Law: Israel Lands” (1960) places all lands under Israel’s control, through the Jewish National Fund (JNF). The JNF, in turn, prohibits land from being transferred to or purchased by non-Jews (while at the same time it allows lands to be leased, sold and transferred to Jews - and Jews only). In other words, even if you are an Israeli citizen, if you are not Jewish, you are denied this right.

In 2009, in a 300-page report commissioned by the South African government, the South African Human Sciences Research Council found that Israel is practicing a form of apartheid. Human Rights Watch, Amnesty International and other human rights groups have subsequently published similar reports. The facts, not just opinions, are well established – Israel has committed the crime of apartheid.

Within Israel, supposedly the only democracy in the Middle East, certain people are excluded from voting. The Israeli journalist Michael Schaeffer Omer-Man has explained that "in the occupied West Bank and East Jerusalem, where Israel exercises absolute and direct control on a daily basis, 650,000 Jewish [Israeli] settlers can vote while [on the other hand] 2,953,000 Palestinians in the exact same territory cannot". This means, that of the over three million people who live in the Israeli occupied West Bank, Israel only allows 18%, because they are Jewish, to vote - fewer than one in five can vote in the elections that affect almost every aspect of their lives.

If the definition of apartheid fits another state such as Israel, then for us peace loving South Africans the path is clear. We must mobilise against such a state just as how millions of people in the international community once mobilised against apartheid South Africa. Terming Israel an apartheid state is neither inappropriate nor an insult to us black South Africans. In fact, not calling out Israel for its apartheid policies is an insult to our history.

President Ramaphosa spoke on behalf of us when he said : "As long as that struggle persists, we will be on the side of the Palestinians… we will always be on the right side because we know what is happening there, its gross apartheid taking place there, and we cannot but countenance a situation which is a duplicate or replica of what we went through. That we are not going to apologise for.”

Duduzile Mahlangu-Masango is a board member of the continent's largest Palestine solidarity organisation, #Africa4Palestine. She is also the South African coordinator of the World Council of Churches' EAPPI programme. She writes in her personal capacity.

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