Monday, March 22, 2010

Apartheid or ?

Ehud Barak, Israel’s defense minister, made a surprising statement recently and in the process broke an unspoken taboo by saying the choice for Israel was either two states or apartheid. No matter how obvious the situation is to reasonable observers outside of Israel, no one in Israel has before had the courage to use the word apartheid.

In the latest manifestation of Israel’s dual legal system, there’s a campaign afoot to bring to light the plight of the 300 or so Arab children behind bars in Israeli jails. It turns out the minimum age for Arabs to be tried as adults is 16, whereas Jews are not adults for that purpose until 18. How is that difference justified? Most of those incarcerated kids are there for throwing stones at Israeli soldiers. They don’t have tanks and missiles and fighter jets but they do have lots of stones (because Israel likes to keep them in poverty and thus there is lots of rubble around) to use to express their displeasure at living under military occupation.

The apartheid analogy is most obvious as pertains to the West Bank. Though they are ruled by Israel they have no power in that country’s government. Day by day, month by month, their land is being confiscated and they are being squeezed into ever smaller ghettos. The word ghetto, by the way, is derived from the practice during the Middle Ages in what’s now Italy to round up all the Jews and restrict their movements to small enclaves.

However, the word apartheid is equally valid for the status of Arabs in Israel itself. For instance, though Palestinians make up about 20% of Israel’s population they have only 5% of the seats in Israel’s parliament. How does the great democracy we are always hearing about account for that underrepresentation?

As stated previously, Israel’s relationship to democracy is akin to that of the American South during segregation. Maybe not even since the South paid lip service to separate but equal. In Israel there is not even a pretext of equality: Israel is a Jewish state, everybody else is a second class citizen. For instance, when Israeli citizens of Arab descent marry someone from the West Bank, they are not permitted to live with their spouses in Israel. Jews enjoy subsidies when living in occupied territory. Arabs are denied building permits on property they’ve owned for decades or longer.

Meanwhile, Israel is so infatuated with its self-importance, it spit in the face of its only patron in the international community. It’s easy to see how that attitude came about. First, Obama says all colonization of Palestinian land must stop. Then when it doesn’t stop and Netanyahu offers a temporary, limited, partial freeze, Hillary calls it a great gesture toward peace talks. At about the same, America politicked against the entire world to scuttle UN approval of the Goldstone Report and condemned it as biased and poor quality. Trashing Richard Goldstone, one of the most respected jurists in the world, not to mention a Jew and Zionist, to try to protect Israel from well-deserved criticism was a shameful, craven, cowardly act.

With that backdrop why would Netanyahu or any Jew in Israel think they needed to respect American opinion? Why bother? The tail wags, the dog obeys.

Ah, but the scene seems to be changing. Two top ranking American generals, including David Patreus stated recently that America’s lock-step support of Israel, regardless of its actions, is putting American troops at risk. America, therefore, has a real stake in peace.

Netanyahu on the other hand is powerless to stop the colonization project. Pandora was let out of her box the first time a Jew took up residence in Arab territory. Settlers will not leave without a fight, they will take up arms against their own army.

The two recent announcements of settlement expansion that came in the midst of American attempts at peacemaking were made by fundamentalist Jews for the purpose of embarrassing Netanyahu and asserting the right of Jews to own Samaria and Judea, the Israeli name for the West Bank. Their intent is to drive Arabs from their land. They don’t recognize Arab sovereignty over historic Israel. God said its theirs and they are going to take any way they can.

The first time Netanyahu actually tried to make a fair peace deal (he has no intention or desire to do so of course) his coalition would break apart and any other politician who tried to do the right thing would find a civil war on their hands.

Apartheid lives, but Ehud Barak’s other option, the two-state solution has been rendered impossible by the settlement project. There’s no way, after spending tens of billions of dollars building cities for 500,000 people Israel can or will want to walk away from them. There’s also no way that it will be willing to give up equivalent parts of what’s now Israel to compensate Palestinians for the land it’s taken from them.

The only option left (as long as we assume deportation and/or extermination are beyond the pale) and the only solution that is fair and makes sense in the 21st century, is a single secular state where all citizens are treated equally and all are able to live anywhere. There are several states divided by ethnicity that have learned to, or been forced to cohabitate; Belgium, Northern Ireland, Bosnia, Rwanda, for example.

What makes Israel different that gives it license to discriminate? What gives it special privilege to create different classes of citizens? Well, nothing. It has no exception to the rules of humanity. Institutionalized racism can not be abided by the international community.

Finally, finally it looks like major international players are beginning to call Israel to account and get serious about fair treatment of the Palestinians. Personally, I harbor little optimism that Obama has the will to get real with Israel. Time will tell.


Paul said...

Good, clear post Stan.

My favorite example of Israel, a supposed democracy treating some of its citizens as second class is the fact that some benefits of citizenship are only available to those who served in their military. However, Israeli Arabs can't serve in their military.


stan said...

Yes, they have many ways to discriminate.