Category Archives: Apartheid

If I Fall in the Struggle, Take My Place

Tiger Tateishi (Japan), Samurai, the Watcher (Koya no Yojinbo), 1965.

Tiger Tateishi (Japan), Samurai, the Watcher (Koya no Yojinbo), 1965.

Ugliness defines the mood of state violence from Cali (Colombia) to Durban (South Africa), each context different and the depth of the violence particular to the location. Images of security forces cracking down on people trying to express their political rights have become commonplace. It is impossible to keep track of the events, which move swiftly from public manifestations to courtroom scenes, from the dissipation of tear gas to the invisible frustration of the prison cell. Yet, underlying these events and amidst the range of feelings that shape them lies a sense of refusal, the Great Refusal, the refusal to accept the terms dictated from those in power and the refusal to express this dissent in polite terms.


Orchestra director Susana Boreal (Medellín, Colombia), El pueblo unido jamás será vencido, 5 May 2021.

Colombia’s government decided to push through a peculiarly named Sustainable Solidarity Law (Ley de Solidaridad Sostenible) that transferred the financial cost of the pandemic onto the population, which reacted – as expected – with anger. Faced with a national strike on 28-29 April, the Colombian state responded, as it often does, with wildly harsh violence, including by mobilising the dangerously named Mobile Anti-Disturbance Squadron (ESMAD). Those on the streets came with rage and with music, the range of responses united by antipathy to the government of President Iván Duque.

The unflinching Colombian oligarchy, which has dispensed violence to maintain its power, must have trembled when it saw protestors in Cali take down the statue of Sebastián de Belalcázar, a conquistador. This act suggested that the protestors would not be satisfied only with the reversal of the proposed law, but that they wanted to overturn the rigid hierarchies that govern their society. Duque does not see the protestors as citizens; to him, they are ‘vandals’. No wonder that Duque let loose the ugliest of violence, with the cities of Bogotá, Cali, and Medellin facing the brunt of the attack. Despite calls from the mayors of Bogotá (Claudia López) and Medellin (Daniel Quintero), this state violence nonetheless went ahead, the battlefield in the streets coming to resemble Iraq, in the words of a Colombian friend who had covered the wars in West Asia.

David Koloane (South Africa), Bull in the City, 2016.

David Koloane (South Africa), Bull in the City, 2016.

Like Iraq. Or like Israel, recently named an apartheid state by Human Rights Watch (HRW). Apartheid is an Afrikaans word meaning ‘apartness’, to keep the whites apart from others or, in the case of Israel, to keep the Jewish citizens apart from the Palestinian subjects. The HRW report follows numerous others by the United Nations Economic and Social Commission on West Asia (ESCWA), which used the word ‘apartheid’ to describe Israel’s racist policies towards the Palestinian people. HRW, which has taken its time to come to these elementary conclusions, says that Israel harshly deprives Palestinians of the right to affirm life; ‘these deprivations are so severe that they amount to the crimes against humanity of apartheid and persecution’.

The linkage between the terms ‘apartheid’ and ‘crimes against humanity’ refers to a United Nations General Assembly resolution from December 1966 that condemned ‘the policies of apartheid of the Government of South Africa as a crime against humanity’. In 1984, the UN Security Council described apartheid as ‘a system characterised as a crime against humanity’. The term ‘crime against humanity’ has subsequently been enshrined in Article 7 of the Rome Statute of the International Criminal Court (1998). It is no coincidence that on 3 March 2021, the lead prosecutor at the International Criminal Court (ICC), Fatou Bensouda, said that the ICC would open an investigation into crimes committed in Israel since 2014. Israel has refused to cooperate with the ICC.

Israeli courts decided to move ahead with the eviction of six families from the Palestinian neighbourhood of Sheikh Jarrah in East Jerusalem, an area with three thousand residents – despite the fact that the Israeli courts have no jurisdiction in the occupied territories. In 1967, Israel seized East Jerusalem, which forms part of the occupied Palestinian territories. UN resolution 242 (1967) states that the occupying power, namely Israel, must respect the sovereignty, political independence and ‘territorial inviolability’ of every State in the area. In 1972, Israeli settlers moved the Israeli courts to evict the thousands of Palestinians who lived in the area, a process that has been resisted by the Palestinians in the fifty years since. The brazen violence of the Israeli Border Police, or Magav, was further escalated with the entry of heavily armed Israeli soldiers into Jerusalem’s al-Aqsa mosque on 7 May, mimicking the violence of the Colombian ESMAD.

Terrible repression comes alongside the continued attempt to delegitimise any political project of the Palestinian people. If the Palestinian people stand up, Israel calls them terrorists. This mirrors the way the South African apartheid government and their Western allies described the African National Congress during the heyday of the anti-apartheid struggle. In 1994, the African National Congress alliance took power over the South African state, beginning a long-term process to dismantle the entrenched structures of inequality and apartheid; it will take generations of resistance to undo what has been so powerfully set in place over the past decades.

Dang Xuan Hoa (Vietnam), The Red Family, 2008

Dang Xuan Hoa (Vietnam), The Red Family, 2008

In August 2020, Tricontinental: Institute for Social Research published a dossier entitled ‘The Politic of Blood’: Political Repression in South Africa. Early into the text, we quote from Frantz Fanon’s Wretched of the Earth (1961), which several times uses the word ‘incapacity’ to refer to the ruling classes of the new states that emerge out of colonialism. When the people form their own organisations and develop their demands for participatory forms of democracy, the ruling class, Fanon writes, has an incapacity to understand this popular action as rational; it sees this popular action as a threat to its rule. Such an attitude governs the Colombian oligarchy and the Israeli apartheid class. It also defines the ruling class in South Africa, whose political instruments cannot find the room to allow for the growth of the independent political organisation of the working class in that country.

On 4 May 2021, the authorities arrested Mqapheli George Bonono, the deputy president of Abahlali baseMjondolo (AbM), the shack dwellers’ movement in South Africa. The authorities charged Bonono with ‘conspiring to commit murder’. Led by shack dwellers, AbM – which organises land occupation and housing struggles with a membership of 82,000 people – has faced repression since its foundation in 2005.

In 2018, we interviewed AbM leader S’bu Zikode for a dossier, in which he said:

Politics has become a way to get rich and people are willing to kill or to do anything to become rich and to stay rich. We move from funeral to funeral. We bury our comrades with the dignity that they were denied in life. Many of our comrades cannot sleep in their own homes or cannot leave their home after dark in the so-called democratic post-apartheid South Africa. Repression comes in waves.

Bonono is only the latest of the AbM members to face political repression. Brave activists from one end of the planet to the other face intimidation and murder for building organisations against the present. This repression resulted in the recent police killing of the artist Nicolas Guerrero in Cali (Colombia) and the political murder of Kakali Khetrapal of the Communist Party of India (Marxist) from Nabagram, East Burdwan (West Bengal, India). Guerrero was killed on the streets during the first hours of this protest wave, while Ketrapal was murdered by members of the party that won the West Bengal legislative election. This is political cleansing or politicide, the murder of activists whose deaths deflate the confidence of the masses to take on the great granite block of power. Sharpening their swords in the shadows, the killers take their orders from cell phones that can dial the homes of the powerful.

Fernando Bryce (Peru), Untitled (Cadaveres Atomicos), 2018

Fernando Bryce (Peru), Untitled (Cadaveres Atomicos), 2018

Ugly, this use of power, this killing with impunity. On 6 May, squadrons of the state entered the favela of Jacarezinho in Rio de Janeiro (Brazil) and opened fire, killing at least twenty-five people who appeared to surrender before the guns blazed. The United Nations has called for an investigation, but this will not go far. Brazil’s 1988 Constitution abolished the death penalty, yet the evidence suggests that the police believe that if you live in the favelas, then the death sentence – without judicial review – is permitted.

What kind of times are these when political repression operates without sufficient outrage? Muin Bseiso sang songs to rouse his fellow Palestinians in Gaza, suffocated by apartheid Israel. In his epic poem, Al-Ma’raka (‘The Battle’), Muin Bseiso found this solace:

If I fall in the struggle, comrade, take my place.
Gaze at my lips as they stop the wind’s madness.
I have not died. I still call you from beyond my wounds.
Bang your drum so that the people might hear your call to battle.

The post If I Fall in the Struggle, Take My Place first appeared on Dissident Voice.

Jerusalem protests: The mob “breaking faces” learned from Israel’s establishment

Inside the Israeli parliament and out on the streets of Jerusalem, the forces of unapologetic Jewish supremacism are stirring, as a growing section of Israel’s youth tire of the two-faced Jewish nationalism that has held sway in Israel for decades.

Last week, Bezalel Smotrich, leader of the far-right Religious Zionism faction, a vital partner if caretaker Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu stands any hope of forming a new government, issued a barely veiled threat to Israel’s large Palestinian minority.

Expulsion, he suggested, was looming for these 1.8 million Palestinians, a fifth of the Israeli population who enjoy very degraded citizenship. “Arabs are citizens of Israel – for now at least,” he told his party. “And they have representatives at the Knesset [Israeli parliament] – for now at least.” For good measure, he referred to Palestinian legislators – the elected representatives of Israel’s Palestinian minority – as “our enemies sitting in the Knesset”.

Smotrich’s brand of brazen Jewish racism is on the rise, after his faction won six mandates in the 120-member parliament in March. One of those seats is for Itamar Ben Gvir, head of the neo-fascist Jewish Power party.

Ben Gvir’s supporters are now in a bullish mood. Last month, they took to the streets around the occupied Old City of Jerusalem, chanting “Death to Arabs” and making good on promises in WhatsApp chats to attack Palestinians and “break their faces”.

For days, these Jewish gangs of mostly youngsters have brought the lawless violence that has long reigned largely out of sight in the hills of the occupied West Bank into central Jerusalem. This time, their attacks haven’t been captured in shaky, out-of-focus YouTube videos. They have been shown on prime-time Israeli TV.

Equally significant, these Jewish mobs have carried out their rampages during Ramadan, the Muslim holy month of fasting.

Arson attacks

The visibility and premeditation of this gang violence has discomfited many Israelis. But in the process, they have been given a close-up view of how appealing the violent, anti-Arab doctrines of the late Rabbi Meir Kahane – the ideological inspiration behind Jewish Power – are proving with a significant section of young Jews in Israel.

One, sporting a “Kahane was right” badge, spoke for her peers as she was questioned on Israeli TV about the noisy chants of “May your village burn down” – a reference to so-called “price-tag” arson attacks committed by the Israeli far-right against Palestinian communities in the occupied territories and inside Israel.

Olive groves, mosques, cars and homes are regularly torched by these Jewish extremists, who claim Palestinian lands as their exclusive biblical birthright.

The woman responded in terms she obviously thought conciliatory: “I don’t say that it [a Palestinian village] should burn down, but that you should leave the village and we’ll go live in it.”

She and others now sound impatient to bring forward the day when Palestinians must “leave”.

Machinery of oppression

These sentiments – in the parliament and out on the streets – have not emerged out of nowhere. They are as old as Zionism itself, when Israel’s first leaders oversaw the ethnic cleansing of Palestinians from most of their homeland in 1948, in an act of mass dispossession Palestinians called their Nakba (catastrophe).

Violence to remove Palestinians has continued to be at the core of the Jewish state-building project ever since. The rationale for the gangs beating up Palestinians in occupied East Jerusalem are the actions pursued more bureaucratically by the Israeli state: its security forces, occupation administrators and courts.

Last week, that machinery of oppression came under detailed scrutiny in a 213-page report from Human Rights Watch. The leading international human rights group declared that Israel was committing the crime of apartheid, as set out in international law.

It argued that Israel had met the three conditions of apartheid in the Rome Statute: the domination of one racial group over another, systematic oppression of the marginalised group, and inhumane acts. Those acts include forcible transfer, expropriation of landed property, the creation of separate reserves and ghettos, denial of the right to leave and return to their country, and denial of the right to a nationality.

Only one such act is needed to qualify as the crime of apartheid but, as Human Rights Watch makes clear, Israel is guilty of them all.

Dragged out of bed

What Human Rights Watch and other human rights groups have been documenting is equally visible to the gangs roaming Jerusalem. Israel’s official actions share a common purpose, one that sends a clear message to these youngsters about what the state – and Israel’s national ideology of Zionism – aims to achieve.

They see Palestinian land reclassified as Jewish “state land” and the constant expansion of settlements that violate international law. They see Palestinians denied permits to build homes in their own villages. They see orders issued to demolish Palestinian homes, or even entire communities. And they see Palestinian families torn apart as couples, or their children, are refused the right to live together.

Meanwhile, Israeli soldiers shoot Palestinians with impunity, and drag Palestinian children out of bed in the middle of the night. They man checkpoints throughout the occupied West Bank, restricting the movement of Palestinians. They fire on, or “arrest”, Palestinians trying to seek work outside the closed-off ghettos Israel has imposed on them. And soldiers stand guard, or assist, as settlers run amok, attacking Palestinians in their homes and fields.

All of this is invariably rubber-stamped as “legal” by the Israeli courts. Is it any surprise, then, that growing numbers of Israeli teenagers question why all these military, legal and administrative formalities are really necessary? Why not just beat up Palestinians and “break their faces” until they get the message that they must leave?

Uppity natives

The battlefront in Jerusalem in recent days – characterised misleadingly in most media as the site of “clashes” – has been the sunken plaza in front of Damascus Gate, a major entrance to the walled Old City and the Muslim and Christian holy places that lie within.

The gate is possibly the last prominent public space Palestinians can still claim as theirs in central Jerusalem, after decades in which Israeli occupation authorities have gradually encircled and besieged their neighbourhoods, severing them from the Old City. During Ramadan, Damascus Gate serves as a popular communal site for Palestinians to congregate in the evenings after the daytime fast.

It was Israeli police who triggered the current explosive mood in Jerusalem by erecting barriers at Damascus Gate to seal the area off at the start of Ramadan. The pretext was to prevent overcrowding, but – given their long experience of occupation – Palestinians understood the barriers as another “temporary” measure that quickly becomes permanent, making it ever harder for them to access the Old City and their holy sites. Other major gates to the occupied Old City have already been effectively “Judaised”.

The decision of Israeli police to erect barriers cannot be divorced from a bigger context for Palestinians: the continuing efforts by Israeli authorities to evict them from areas around the Old City. In recent weeks, fresh waves of armed Jewish settlers have been moving into Silwan, a Palestinian community in the shadow of al-Aqsa Mosque. They have done so as Israel prepares to raze an entire Palestinian neighbourhood there, using its absolute control over planning issues.

Similarly, the Israeli courts have approved the eviction of Palestinians in Sheikh Jarrah, another neighbourhood under belligerent occupation close to the Old City that has been subjected to a long-running, state-backed campaign by Jewish settlers to take it over. Last month, Jerusalem officials added insult to injury by approving a plan to build a memorial to fallen Israeli soldiers in the midst of the Palestinian community.

The decision to close off the Damascus Gate area was therefore bound to provoke resistance from Palestinians, who fought police to take down the barriers. Police responded with tear gas, stun grenades and water cannon.

Those scenes – of uppity natives refusing to be disappeared back into their homes – were part of the trigger that brought the Jewish gangs out onto the streets in a show of force. Police largely let the mob rampage, as youths threw stones and bottles and attacked Palestinians.

Tired of half measures

The sight of Jewish gangs roaming central Jerusalem to hurt Palestinians has been described as a “pogrom” by some progressive US Jewish groups. But the difference between the far-right and the Israeli state in implementing their respective violent agendas is more apparent than real.

Smotrich, Ben Gvir and these street gangs are tired of the half-measures, procrastination and moral posturing by Israeli elites who have hampered efforts to “finish the job”: clearing the native Palestinian population off their lands once and for all.

Whereas Israeli politicians on the left and right have rationalised their ugly, racist actions on the pretext of catch-all “security” measures, the far-right has no need for the international community’s approval. They are impatient for a conclusion to more than seven decades of ethnic cleansing.

And the ranks of the far-right are likely to swell further as it attracts ever-larger numbers of a new generation of the ultra-Orthodox community, the fastest-growing section of Israel’s Jewish population. For the first time, nationalist youths from the Haredi community are turning their backs on a more cautious rabbinical leadership.

And while the violence in Jerusalem has subsided for the moment, the worst is unlikely to be over. The final days of Ramadan coincide this year with the notorious Jerusalem Day parade, an annual ritual in which Jewish ultra-nationalists march through the besieged Palestinian streets of the Old City chanting threats to Palestinians and attacking any who dare to venture out.

Turning a blind eye

Human Rights Watch’s detailed report concludes that western states, by turning a blind eye to Israel’s long-standing abuses of Palestinians and focusing instead on a non-existent peace process, have allowed “apartheid to metastasize and consolidate”.

Its findings echo those of B’Tselem, Israel’s most respected human rights organisation. In January, it too declared Israel to be an apartheid regime in the occupied territories and inside Israel, towards its own Palestinian citizens.

Despite the reluctance of US and European politicians and media to talk about Israel in these terms, a new survey by B’Tselem shows that one in four Israeli Jews accept “apartheid” as an accurate description of Israel’s rule over Palestinians. What is far less clear is how many of them believe apartheid, in the Israeli context, is a good thing.

Another finding in the survey offers a clue. When asked about recent talk from Israeli leaders about annexing the West Bank, two-thirds of Israeli Jews reject the idea that Jews and Palestinians should have equal rights in those circumstances.

The mob in Jerusalem is happy to enforce Israel’s apartheid now, in hopes of speeding up the process of expulsion. Other Israelis are still in denial. They prefer to pretend that apartheid has not yet arrived, in hopes of easing their consciences a little longer.

• First published in Middle East Eye

The post Jerusalem protests: The mob “breaking faces” learned from Israel’s establishment first appeared on Dissident Voice.

Quibbling Over Cruelties: Human Rights Watch, Israel and Apartheid

Criticism of Israel’s policies towards Palestinians has always induced a defensive rage from its defenders and advocates.   A Threshold Crossed, a report by Human Rights Watch, lit several fires of rage and disapproval.  Israel, according to the authors, is responsible for apartheid policies.

The word, and the application of its meaning, is immemorially nasty.  This deeply though through policy of Afrikaans origin speaks to a hatred not merely of Black Africans but British imperialism and its carefree mixing of multiracial labour.  But apartheid has become an expression so singular it resists appropriation, adaptation and application.  This is all good from a historian’s point of view, but, taken in its theoretical idea and its application, the Israeli policy towards Palestinians in certain areas (the Occupied Territories, for instance) suggests that the term varies in application.

HRW, however, is a touch loose on distinguishing the policy, highlighting that Israeli “authorities have dispossessed, confined, forcibly separated, and subjugated Palestinians by virtue of their identity to varying degrees of intensity.”  It remarks that the Israeli government aims “to ensure that Jewish Israelis maintain domination across Israel and the OPT (Occupied Palestinian Territories).”

Israeli-Jewish domination is the leitmotif, whether it be “limiting the population and political power of Palestinians”, restricting movement, “Judaization” of areas with large numbers of Palestinians “including Jerusalem as well as the Galilee and the Negev in Israel.”  Acknowledgment is made that the nature of the discrimination, part of the “goal of domination” does vary “to different rules established by the Israeli government in Israel, on the one hand, and different parts of the OPT, on the other, where the most severe forms take place.”  In this package of analysis, the report argues that such distinctions are specious.

Reference is made to the 1973 International Convention on the Suppression and Punishment of the Crime of Apartheid and the 1998 Rome Statute of the International Criminal Court.  The definition of apartheid under both yields three elements: “the intent to maintain a system of domination by one racial group over another; systematic oppression by one racial group over another; and one or more inhumane acts, as defined, carried out on a widespread or systematic basis pursuant to those policies.”

The report makes no mention of the findings of the Russell Tribunal on Palestine, a people’s assembly inspired by the formula used by Bertrand Russell and likeminded intellectuals to subject the United States to scrutiny for alleged war crimes in Vietnam in the 1960s.  This is an odd omission, given that the 2011 proceedings held in Cape Town concluded that two distinct racial groups were present; “inhumane acts” based on that distinction had been committed by Israeli authorities; and that these arose out of the “institutionalised nature of domination by one group over another.”

The HRW report does take a place alongside a burgeoning collection of critiques and assessments of Israeli policy.  Most of those, however, focus on the Occupied Territories as a distinct zone of political control and discrimination.  In 2007, a report by John Dugard, UN Special Rapporteur on the situation of human rights in the Palestinian territories occupied since 1967, found that “[e]lements of the Israeli occupation constitute forms of colonialism and apartheid, which are contrary to international law”.  These “legal consequences” arising from such an occupation should be put to the International Court of Justice.  The following year, the Rapporteur remarked that Israel was “practising apartheid but in a very dishonest and concealed manner.  At least South African apartheid was open and honest.”

Over the years, much heavy artillery has been brought to bear on those accusing Israel for policies that might be caught by that dirty term.  The HRW report has endured a similar barrage of obloquy.  Israel’s Ambassador to the United Nations, Gilad Erdan considered HRW’s findings “a collection of lies and fabrications, bordering on anti-Semitic.”

Arsen Ostrovsky, CEO of the International Legal Forum, calls the report “tantamount to an anti-Semitic ‘blood libel’ against the Jewish state”.  It was filled with “malicious lies and gross distortions of law while peddling in unhinged hate, incitement and racist stereotypes.”  Doing exactly what he accuses HRW of, Ostrovsky adopts a selective analytical lens: Israeli Arabs enjoyed “full political and civil rights” while Palestinians living in the West Bank or Gaza had autonomous control through the Palestinian Authority and Hamas.

The authors of the Report are accused of not considering the loss of Israeli lives, be it of soldiers or civilians as a result of terrorist attacks.  Josh Feldman, himself a son of South African Jews, is keen to point out that the West Bank “separation barrier” was the result of “Palestinian terrorist attacks”.  All, in short, have suffered.

Like the Holocaust, apartheid is claimed to have a lineage of moral copyright and ethical intellectual property.  There is an almost proprietary essence to it: certain people discovered it, patented it, implemented it, and therefore, no one else could possibly do the same.  If they did, it would be slipshod, amateurish and shallow, not to mention a plain old insult.  Israel might discriminate in its policies, but more would need to be shown.

Former Justice of the South African Constitutional Court Richard Goldstone signalled that point in chastising the misuse of the term. This is despite the view of the Human Sciences Research Council of South Africa, which found in 2009 that Israel’s control of the Occupied Palestinian Territories “with the purpose of maintaining a system of domination by Jews over Palestinians … constitutes a breach of the prohibition of apartheid.”  In opining on the activities of the Russell Tribunal on Palestine, Goldstone considered the apartheid accusation to be a “particularly pernicious and enduring canard”.  Accepting that the word might have a wider meaning, Goldstone was stubbornly insistent that it remain anchored in the pre-1994 soil of South Africa.  “It is an unfair and inaccurate slander against Israel, calculated to retard rather than advance peace negotiations.”

The same sentiments have been aired in response to the HRW report.  Like Goldstone, these envisage a peace process that barely exists but can somehow be disrupted by the views of a human rights organisation.  Michal Cotler-Wunsh, formerly a lawmaker for the Blue and White Party regarded the report as “a complete hurdle to peace” and “driven by blind hate”.

Resistance against using the term “apartheid” in the context of Israeli policy has not been total.  Some crumbling has taken place in Israel proper.  Veteran Haaretz columnist Bradley Burston, writing in 2015, said it was time to stop the qualifications and defensive delusions.  “This is what has become of the rule of law.  Two sets of books.  One for Us, and one to throw at Them.  Apartheid.”  He pointed to a few examples: the actions of fundamentalist clergy encouraging segregation, inequality, supremacism and subjugation; the suggestions by lawmaker and former Shin Bet chief Avi Dichter to segregate the use of roads and highways in the West Bank; attacks by Jewish settlers upon Palestinian property with impunity; Palestinians jailed or shot dead without trial.

Gideon Levy, also of Haaretz and ever reliable in keeping the fires of controversy burning, suggested in his response to the HRW report that Israel had, indeed, “crossed the line.”  Israelis might continue to praise themselves and “enjoy life and lie as we please.”  But hideous as it was, his citizens could no longer claim that the spit directed at their faces was “rain”.

In January this year, the longstanding Israeli human rights group B’Tselem used an approach similar to HRW in concluding that there was “one regime governing the entire area [between the Mediterranean Sea and the Jordan River] and the people living in it, based on a single organizing principle.”  According to the organisation’s director Hagai El-Ad, “One of the key points in our analysis is that this is a single geopolitical area ruled by one government.”  It was not a case of “democracy plus occupation” but “apartheid between the river and the sea.”  Such a fact was concealed by different regimes of control exercised by the Israeli state, highlighting the inherent inequality between Jews and Palestinians.

Ami Ayalon, former Knesset member, and former head of Shin Bet and Israel’s naval forces, is also convinced that Israel’s political system “integrates apartheid and is not commensurate with Judaism” though he is careful with territorial applications.  The West Bank, he warned, is no democracy, marked as it is by “two different legal systems, one for the Jews and one for the Palestinians”.  Such assessments can hardly be dismissed as blood libels and anti-Semitic fancies.

The post Quibbling Over Cruelties: Human Rights Watch, Israel and Apartheid first appeared on Dissident Voice.

Recognition of Palestine is ‘Symbolic’ but also Critical: The Australian Case

Australia’s Labor Party’s recognition of Palestine as a State on March 30 is a welcomed position, though it comes with many caveats.

Pro-Palestinian activists are justified to question the sincerity of the ALP’s stance and whether Australia’s Labor is genuinely prepared to fully adopt this position should they form a government following the 2022 elections.

The language of the amendment regarding the recognition of Palestine is quite indecisive. While it commits the ALP to recognize Palestine as a State, it “expects that this issue will be an important priority for the next Labor government”. ‘Expecting’ that the issue would be made an ‘important priority’ is not the same as confirming that the recognition of Palestine is resolved, should Labor take office.

Moreover, the matter has been an ‘important priority’ for the ALP for years. In fact, similar language was adopted in the closing session of the Labor conference in December 2018, which supported “the recognition and right of Israel and Palestine to exist as two states within secure and recognized borders,” while adding this important clause: The ALP “calls on the next Labor government to recognize Palestine as a State”.

Unfortunately for Labor, they lost the May 2019 elections, where the Liberal Party maintained the majority, again forming a government under the leadership of Scott Morrison.

Morrison was the Prime Minister of Australia when, in 2018, the ALP adopted what was clearly a policy shift on Palestine. In fact, it was Morrison’s regressive position on Israel that supposedly compelled Labor to develop a seemingly progressive position on Palestine. Nine days after former US President, Donald Trump, defied international law by officially recognizing Jerusalem as the capital of Israel – and subsequently relocating the US embassy from Tel Aviv to Jerusalem – Morrison flirted with the idea as well, hoping to enlist the support of the pro-Israel lobbies in Australia prior to the elections.

However, Morrison did not go as far as Trump, by refraining from moving his country’s embassy to the occupied city. Instead, he developed a precarious – albeit still illegal – position where he recognized West Jerusalem as Israel’s capital, promising to move his country’s “embassy to West Jerusalem when practical, in support of, and after, final-status determination.”

Canberra, however, did take ‘practical’ steps, including a decision to establish a defense and trade office in Jerusalem and proceeded to look for a site for its future embassy.

Morrison’s self-serving strategy remains a political embarrassment for Australia, as it drew the country closer to Trump’s illegal, anti-Palestinian stance. While the vast majority of United Nations member states maintained a unified position regarding the illegality of the Israeli occupation of Palestine, asserting that the status of Jerusalem can only be determined based on a negotiated agreement, the Australian government thought otherwise.

As Palestinians, Arabs and other nations mobilized against Australia’s new position, the ALP came under pressure to balance out the Liberal party’s agenda, seen as blindly supportive of military occupation and apartheid.

Since the ALP lost the elections, their new policy on Palestine could not be evaluated. Now, according to their latest policy conference conclusion, this same position has been reiterated, although with some leeway, that could potentially allow Labor to reverse or delay that position, once they are in power.

Nonetheless, the Labor position is an important step for Palestinians in their ‘legitimacy war’ against the Israeli occupation.

In a recent interview with Professor Richard Falk, former UN Special Rapporteur on the situation of human rights in the Palestinian territories, the international law expert explained the need to “distinguish symbolic politics from substantive politics”.

“In the colonial wars that were fought after 1945, the side that won usually was the side that won what I call the legitimacy war, which is the ‘symbolic battlefield’, so to speak, and maintain the principled position that was in accord with the anti-colonial flow of history,” Falk said.

Practically, this means that, often, the militarily weaker side which may lose numerous military battles could ultimately win the war. This was as true in the case of Vietnam in 1975 as it was in South Africa in 1994. It should also be true in the case of Palestine.

This is precisely why pro-Israeli politicians, media pundits and organizations are fuming in response to the ALP’s recognition of Palestine. Among the numerous angry responses, the most expressive is the position of Michael Danby. He was quoted by Australian Jewish News website as saying that ALP leaders, Anthony Albanese and Richard Marles, have done more than adopting the pro-Palestinian position of former British Labor leader, Jeremy Corbyn, by also adopting “his Stalinist methods by suppressing debate on the foreign policy motions”.

Israel and its supporters fully understand the significance of Falk’s ‘legitimacy war’. Indeed, Israel’s military superiority and complete dominance over occupied Palestinians may allow it to sustain its military occupation on the ground a while longer, but it does very little to advance its moral position, reputation and legitimacy.

The fact that ALP’s position advocates a two-state solution – which is neither just nor practical – should not detract from the fact that the recognition of Palestine is still a stance that can be utilized in the Palestinian quest for legitimizing their struggle and delegitimizing Israel’s apartheid.

Falk’s theory on ‘substantive politics’ and ‘symbolic politics’ applies here, too. While calling for defunct two-states is part of the substantive politics that is necessitated by international consensus, the symbolism of recognizing Palestine is a crucial step in dismantling Israel’s monopoly over the agenda of the West’s political elites. It is an outright defeat of the efforts of pro-Israeli lobbies.

Politicians, anywhere, cannot possibly win the legitimacy war for Palestinians, or any other oppressed nation. It is the responsibility of the Palestinians and their supporters to impose their moral agenda on the often self-serving politicians so that the symbolic politics may someday become substantive. The ALP recognition of Palestine is, for now, mere symbolism. If utilized correctly, through pressure, advocacy and mobilization, it could turn into something meaningful in the future.  This is not the responsibility of Labor, but of Palestinians themselves.

The post Recognition of Palestine is ‘Symbolic’ but also Critical: The Australian Case first appeared on Dissident Voice.

Israel election: The Far-right is Triumphant: The Only Obstacle Left is Netanyahu

As 13 parties struggle with Israel’s complex post-election maths, seeking alliances that can assure them power, the most significant outcome of the vote is easily missed. The religious fundamentalists and settler parties – Israel’s far right – won an unprecedented and clear-cut victory last week.

Even on the most cautious assessment, these parties together hold 72 seats in the 120-member parliament. For more than a decade they have underwritten Benjamin Netanyahu’s uninterrupted rule. That is why all the current talk in Israel and the western media about two equal camps, right and left, pitted against each other – implacably hostile and unable to build a majority – is patent nonsense.

The far right has a large majority. It could easily form a government – if it wasn’t mired in a now seemingly permanent crisis over the figure of Netanyahu.

Standing against the far right are what are loosely termed the “centrists”, equally committed to the takeover of swaths of the occupied territories, if in their case more by stealth.

There are two parties on the “centre-right” – Yesh Atid and Blue and White – that won between them 25 seats. The “centre-left”, represented by the Labor party and Meretz, still struggling to maintain the pretence that they comprise a “peace camp”, secured 13 seats. A final 10 seats went to the various parties representing Israel’s large minority of Palestinian citizens.

Both the far right and the “centrists” subscribe to versions of the settler-colonial ideology of Zionism. To outsiders, the similarities between the two camps can sometimes look stronger than the differences. Ultimately, with the possible exception of Meretz, both want the Palestinians subjugated and removed.

The “centrists” may best be understood as the apologetic wing of Zionism. They worry about Israel’s image abroad. And that means they have, at least ostensibly, emphasised dividing territory between Jews and Palestinians – as the Oslo accords proposed – rather than visibly dividing rights. The centrists’ great fear is that they will be seen as presiding over a single apartheid state.

Jewish Supremacy

The 60 percent of the parliament now in the hands of extreme religious and settler parties takes the opposite view. They prefer to divide rights – to create an explicit apartheid system – if they can thereby avoid dividing the territory. They want all of the region, and ideally only for Jews.

They care little what others think. All subscribe to an ideology of Jewish supremacy, even if they differ on whether “Jewish” is defined in religious or ethnic-nationalist terms. In 2018 Netanyahu’s government began the process of legislating this worldview through the Jewish Nation State Law.

The far right explicitly views Palestinians, the native people whose homeland the European-led Zionist movement has been colonising for the past 100 years, as interlopers or unwelcome guests.

Unlike the centrists, the far right places little weight on the distinction between Palestinians under occupation and the fifth of Israel’s population who are Palestinian and have degraded citizenship. All Palestinians, wherever they live and whatever their status, are seen as an enemy that needs to be subdued.

Allying with Centrists

So why, given the far right’s incontestible triumph last week, are the media filled with analyses about Israel’s continuing political impasse and the likelihood of a fifth election in a few months’ time?

Why, if a clear majority of legislators are unapologetic Jewish supremacists, has Netanyahu kept courting centrists to stay in power – as he did after the last election, when he ensnared battle-hardened general Benny Gantz into his coalition? And why after this election is he reported to be reaching out for the first time to a Palestinian party for support?

Part of the answer lies in a deep disagreement within the far right, between religious fundamentalists and its more secular components, on what “Jewish rule” means. Both sides focus on the supremacy of Jews over Palestinians and refuse to make a meaningful distinction between the occupied territories and Israel. But they have entirely different conceptions of Jewish sovereignty. One faction thinks Jews should take their orders from God, while the other looks to a Jewish state.

Further, they disagree on who counts as a Jew.

It is hard, for example, for Avigdor Lieberman, the leader of Yisrael Beiteinu, to break bread with the extremist rabbis of Shas and United Torah Judaism, when those rabbis don’t regard many of his supporters – immigrants from the former Soviet Union – as real Jews. To them, “Russians” no more belong to the Jewish collective than Palestinians.

Oppressive Shadow

But an even bigger obstacle is to be found in the figure of Netanyahu himself, Israel’s longest-serving prime minister.

The far-right is largely unperturbed by Netanyahu’s trial on multiple corruption charges. Israel’s short history is full of major crimes: wars of aggression, forcible population transfer, executions and looting, land theft and settlement building. All Israeli leaders, Netanyahu included, have had a hand in these atrocities. The current focus on allegations against him of fraud and acceptance of bribes looks trivial in comparison.

The far right’s problem with Netanyahu is more complex.

He has been presiding over this bloc, relatively unchallenged, since the early 1990s. He has become by far the most skilled, experienced and charismatic politician in Israel. And for that reason, no other far right leader has been able to emerge from under his oppressive shadow.

He may be King Bibi – his nickname – but the far right’s more ambitious princes are getting increasingly restless. They are eager to fill his shoes. Their knives are out. Gideon Saar, his Likud protege, created a party, New Hope, to run in last week’s election precisely in the hope of ousting his old boss. But equally, Netanyahu is so wily and experienced that he keeps outsmarting his rivals. He has managed to avoid any of his opponent’s lethal lunges by exploiting the far right’s weaknesses.

Netanyahu has employed a twofold strategy. Despite perceptions abroad, he is actually one of the more moderate figures in the extreme religious and settler bloc. He is closer ideologically to Benny Gantz of Blue and White than he is either to the rabbis who dictate the policies of the religious parties or to the settler extremists – or even to the bulk of his own Likud party.

Netanyahu has become a bogeyman abroad chiefly because he is so adept at harnessing the energy of the religious and settler parties and mobilising it to his own political and personal advantage. Israeli society grows ever more extreme because Netanyahu has for decades provided an aura of respectability, statesmanship and intellectual heft to the rhetoric surrounding the far right’s most noxious positions.

In this election he even brokered a deal helping to bring Jewish Power – Israel’s most fascistic party – into parliament. If he has to, he will welcome them into the government he hopes to build.

Wearing Thin

But Netanyahu’s relative moderation – by Israel’s standards – means that he has, at least until recently, preferred to include centrists in his coalitions. That has helped to curb the excesses of a purely far right government that might antagonise the Europeans and embarrass Washington. And equally, it has kept the extreme right divided and dependent on him, as he plays its parties off against the centrists.

If the princes of the settlements push him too hard, he can always tempt in a Yair Lapid (Yesh Atid), or a Gantz (Blue and White), or an Ehud Barak (Labor) to replace them.

He has been loyal to no one but himself.

Now that strategy is wearing thin. His corruption trial and the resulting campaign he has waged to weaken Israel’s legal and judicial systems to keep himself out of jail has left a sour taste with the centrists. They are now much warier of allying with him.

After last year’s election, Gantz only dared join a Netanyahu government after citing exceptional grounds: the urgent need to fight the pandemic in an emergency government. Even so, he destroyed his party in the process. Now, it seems, only a rookie, conservative Islamist leader like Mansour Abbas may be willing to fall for Netanyahu’s trickery.

Sensing Netanyahu’s weakness and his loss of alternative partners, parts of the far right have grown unruly and fractious.

Netanyahu has kept the extreme religious parties on board – but at a steep cost. He has given them what they demand above all else: autonomy for their community. That is why Israeli police have turned a blind eye throughout the pandemic as the ultra-Orthodox have refused to close their schools during lockdowns and turned out in enormous numbers – usually without masks – for rabbis’ funerals.

But Netanyahu’s endless indulgence of the ultra-Orthodox has served only to alienate the more secular parts of the far right.

Betrayed on Annexation

Worse, as Netanyahu has focused his energies on ways to draw attention away from his corruption trial, he has chosen to play fast and loose with the far right’s political and emotional priorities – most especially on annexation. In the recent, back-to-back election campaigns he has made increasingly earnest promises to formally annex swaths of the West Bank.

But he has repeatedly failed to make good on his pledge.

The betrayal hit hardest after the election a year ago. With then-President Donald Trump’s blessing, Netanyahu vowed to quickly begin annexation of large sections of the West Bank. But in the end Netanyahu ducked out, preferring to sign a “peace deal” with Gulf states on the confected condition that annexation be delayed.

The move clearly indicated that, if it aided his political survival, Netanyahu would placate foreign capitals – behaviour reminiscent of the centrists – rather than advance the core goals of the far right. As a result, there is a growing exasperation with Netanyahu. Sections of the far right want someone new, someone invested in their cause – not in his own political and personal manoeuvrings.

In the fashion of Middle Eastern dictators, Netanyahu has groomed no successor. He has cultivated a learnt helplessness in his own ideological camp, and the princes of the settlements are fearful of how they will cope without him. He has been their nursemaid for too long.

But like rebellious teenagers, they want a taste of freedom – and to wreak more havoc than Netanyahu has ever allowed.

They hope to break free of the political centre of gravity he has engineered for himself. If they finally manage it, we may yet look back on the Netanyahu era as a time of relative moderation and calm.

• First published in Middle East Eye

The post Israel election: The Far-right is Triumphant: The Only Obstacle Left is Netanyahu first appeared on Dissident Voice.

The Nakba of Sheikh Jarrah: How Israel Uses ‘the Law’ to Ethnically Cleanse East Jerusalem

A Palestinian man, Atef Yousef Hanaysha, was killed by Israeli occupation forces on March 19 during a weekly protest against illegal Israeli settlement expansion in Beit Dajan, near Nablus, in the northern West Bank.

Although tragic, the above news reads like a routine item from occupied Palestine, where shooting and killing unarmed protesters is part of the daily reality. However, this is not true. Since right-wing Israeli Prime Minister, Benjamin Netanyahu, announced, in September 2019, his intentions to formally and illegally annex nearly a third of the occupied Palestinian West Bank, tensions have remained high.

The killing of Hanaysha is only the tip of the iceberg. In occupied East Jerusalem and the West Bank, a massive battle is already underway. On one side, Israeli soldiers, army bulldozers and illegal armed Jewish settlers are carrying out daily missions of evicting Palestinian families, displacing farmers, burning orchards, demolishing homes and confiscating land. On the other side, Palestinian civilians, often disorganized, unprotected and leaderless, are fighting back.

The territorial boundaries of this battle are largely located in occupied East Jerusalem and in the so-called ‘Area C’ of the West Bank – nearly 60% of the total size of the occupied West Bank – which is under complete and direct Israeli military control. No other place represents the perfect microcosm of this uneven war like that of the neighborhood of Sheikh Jarrah in occupied East Jerusalem.

On March 10, fourteen Palestinian and Arab organizations issued a ‘joint urgent appeal to the United Nations Special Procedures on forced evictions in East Jerusalem’ to stop the Israeli evictions in the area. Successive decisions by Israeli courts have paved the way for the Israeli army and police to evict 15 Palestinian families – 37 households of around 195 people – in the Karm Al-Ja’ouni area in Sheikh Jarrah and Batn Al-Hawa neighborhood in the town of Silwan.

These imminent evictions are not the first, nor will they be the last. Israel occupied Palestinian East Jerusalem in June 1967 and formally, though illegally, annexed it in 1980. Since then, the Israeli government has vehemently rejected international criticism of the Israeli occupation, dubbing, instead, Jerusalem as the “eternal and undivided capital of Israel”.

To ensure its annexation of the city is irreversible, the Israeli government approved the Master Plan 2000, a massive scheme that was undertaken by Israel to rearrange the boundaries of the city in such a way that it would ensure permanent demographic majority for Israeli Jews at the expense of the city’s native inhabitants. The Master Plan was no more than a blueprint for a state-sponsored ethnic cleansing campaign, which saw the destruction of thousands of Palestinian homes and the subsequent eviction of numerous families.

While news headlines occasionally present the habitual evictions of Palestinian families in Sheikh Jarrah, Silwan and other parts of East Jerusalem as if a matter that involves counterclaims by Palestinian residents and Jewish settlers, the story is, in fact, a wider representation of Palestine’s modern history.

Indeed, the innocent families which are now facing “the imminent risk of forced eviction” are re-living their ancestral nightmare of the Nakba – the ethnic cleansing of historic Palestine in 1948.

Two years after the native inhabitants of historic Palestine were dispossessed of their homes and lands and ethnically cleansed altogether, Israel enacted the so-called Absentees’ Property Law of 1950.

The law, which, of course, has no legal or moral validity, simply granted the properties of Palestinians who were evicted or fled the war to the State, to do with it as it pleases. Since those ‘absentee’ Palestinians were not allowed to exercise their right of return, as stipulated by international law, the Israeli law was a state-sanctioned wholesale theft. It ultimately aimed at achieving two objectives: one, to ensure Palestinian refugees do not return or attempt to claim their stolen properties in Palestine and, two, to give Israel a legal cover for permanently confiscating Palestinian lands and homes.

The Israeli military occupation of the remainder of historic Palestine in 1967 necessitated, from an Israeli colonial perspective, the creation of fresh laws that would allow the State and the illegal settlement enterprise to claim yet more Palestinian properties. This took place in 1970 in the form of the Legal and Administrative Matters Law. According to the new legal framework, only Israeli Jews were allowed to claim lost land and property in Palestinian areas.

Much of the evictions in East Jerusalem take place within the context of these three interconnected and strange legal arguments: the Absentees’ Law, the Legal and Administrative Matters Law and the Master Plan 2000. Understood together, one is easily able to decipher the nature of the Israeli colonial scheme in East Jerusalem, where Israeli individuals, in coordination with settler organizations, work together to fulfill the vision of the State.

In their joint appeal, Palestinian human rights organizations describe the flow of how eviction orders, issued by Israeli courts, culminate into the construction of illegal Jewish settlements. Confiscated Palestinian properties are usually transferred to a branch within the Israeli Ministry of Justice called the Israeli Custodian General. The latter holds on to these properties until they are claimed by Israeli Jews, in accordance with the 1970 Law. Once Israeli courts honor Israeli Jewish individuals’ legal claims to the confiscated Palestinian lands, these individuals often transfer their ownership rights or management to settler organizations. In no time, the latter organizations utilize the newly-acquired property to expand existing settlements or to start new ones.

While the Israeli State claims to play an impartial role in this scheme, it is actually the facilitator of the entire process. The final outcome manifests in the ever-predictable scene, where an Israeli flag is triumphantly hoisted over a Palestinian home and a Palestinian family is assigned an UN-supplied tent and a few blankets.

While the above picture can be dismissed by some as another routine, common occurrence, the situation in the occupied West Bank and East Jerusalem has become extremely volatile. Palestinians feel that they have nothing more to lose and Netanyahu’s government is more emboldened than ever. The killing of Atef Hanaysha, and others like him, is only the beginning of that imminent, widespread confrontation.

The post The Nakba of Sheikh Jarrah: How Israel Uses ‘the Law’ to Ethnically Cleanse East Jerusalem first appeared on Dissident Voice.

Israel is hiding the truth about the killing of Ahmad Erekat

Once again, video footage reveals that Israel’s account of a Palestinian “terror attack” bears no relationship to what actually happened. Not only did Israel dissemble about the circumstances in which its soldiers shot dead 26-year-old Ahmad Erekat last June, but it is still inflicting appalling suffering on his family eight months later based on those lies.

A new forensic investigation discredits Israel’s claim that Erekat used his car to launch a ramming attack on a military checkpoint near Bethlehem. It finds that the collision was more likely an accident, and that the soldiers responded by carrying out an extra-judicial execution.

Nonetheless, Israel is still refusing to hand Erekat’s body back to his parents for burial, in what amounts to the psychological torture of the family while Israel insists on holding on to the bodies of Erekat and some 70 other Palestinians for use as bargaining chips in potential future negotiations with Hamas.

Shot six times

Erekat was shot six times by soldiers on 23 June. He had been driving through the occupied West Bank to complete errands on his sister’s wedding day, on what should have been a simple journey. But more than five decades of Israel’s belligerent – and seemingly permanent – occupation have created an obstacle course of checkpoints and traffic holdups that Erekat had to negotiate.

By mid-afternoon, he arrived at the large “Container” checkpoint, one of many Israel has built to permanently divide up the West Bank. The purpose of these checkpoints is to limit Palestinian movement and thereby help Jews living in Israel’s illegal settlements to seize more Palestinian territory for themselves. In that sense, the checkpoints are integral to Israel’s decades-long effort to stop a Palestinian state from ever being born.

Erekat’s killing was widely reported in both Israeli and international media, in part because he was a nephew of Saeb Erekat, a prominent Palestinian spokesperson until his own death late last year of complications related to Covid-19.

In reporting Ahmad Erekat’s killing, most media faithfully echoed Israel’s official line. He had rammed his car into the checkpoint in a “terror attack” that lightly injured a soldier. He was then fatally shot – or “neutralised” – when he emerged from his car to attack other soldiers.

None of this fitted with what was known even then. But Israel refused to conduct an investigation that risked clearing Erekat’s name. Witnesses were not interviewed and the the car was not checked for malfunctions.

Extrajudicial executions

Israel, however, has found it harder than usual to put Erekat’s killing in the rearview. As is often the case, Palestinians who witnessed the incident disputed the Israeli army’s account of an attack. Video from other drivers’ phones suggested that Erekat had been denied medical attention and left to bleed to death on the side of the road.

But more significantly, Saeb Erekat intervened to deny that his nephew was carrying out an attack, and accused the soldiers of executing him “in cold blood”.

Israel often refuses to release footage of these all-too-frequent checkpoint deaths. That alone should raise suspicions that in many cases, Israeli soldiers are not defending themselves – as the army claims – but carrying out extrajudicial executions when something, anything, takes them by surprise.

Trigger-happy soldiers shoot first, and the army barely bothers to ask questions later – both because Palestinian lives are considered cheap and because soldiers know they are operating in a system with no accountability. Impunity is what happens when a belligerent occupation becomes permanent rule by a master class over a serf class.

But in this case, with international pressure building, Israeli officials issued footage from one of the checkpoint’s cameras, assuming it would quiet the criticism. They were wrong.

Optical illusion

The problem for Israel is that today’s digital tools mean experts can reconstruct events in astonishing detail from even limited video.

The footage was studied by Forensic Architecture, a research group based at the University of London and headed by British Israeli academic Eyal Weizman. The team was able to create a three-dimensional reconstruction of that afternoon’s events.

To the untrained eye, the footage appears to show Erekat’s car accelerating as it swerves towards a concrete blast wall protecting soldiers. But as experts found, that was an optical illusion caused by changing perspective as the car altered direction.

Forensic Architecture’s experts show that the car continued at roughly 15km per hour throughout. Had Erekat wished to, he could have driven the car much harder and faster into the checkpoint than he did.

Jeremy Bauer, a US collision expert who was part of the team, said the movement of the wheels suggests that Erekat might have tried to brake during the swerve.

‘Confirming the kill’

Many Israelis, of course, ignored this expert analysis and maintained last week that the incident was still a car-ramming. But they studiously avoided discussing the even more damning second and third parts of Forensic Architecture’s analysis.

The team also found that, after the crash, Erekat got out of the car and was moving backwards while trying to raise his hands when he was struck by the first shot. He was four metres from the nearest soldier. A further two bullets were fired in quick succession. Three more rounds were fired into him as he lay wounded on the ground. 

In other words, whether or not Erekat carried out a car-ramming – and the evidence suggests he did not – soldiers shot him even though he posed no threat.

In Israeli military parlance, the soldiers “confirmed the kill”. They followed an unwritten army code that allows them to carry out an extrajudicial execution of any Palestinian they have unilaterally decided is a “terrorist”.

Left to bleed

It was exactly the same logic that dictated what happened next. In the third part of the analysis, Forensic Architecture noted that an Israeli medical team arrived within 10 minutes. They left Erekat to bleed to death, even though footage from a driver’s phone showed him moving his arm after he was shot.

At the time, Israeli officials claimed that Erekat was given medical attention “within minutes”, but that it was determined he was dead. The truth is that Israeli paramedics attended solely to the lightly injured soldier, while a Palestinian ambulance was denied access to Erekat.

In the video footage, an Israeli soldier can be seen wandering past Erekat’s head shortly after he was shot, but the soldier offered no assistance. The Forensic Architecture report points out that the denial of medical assistance to Palestinians is an established practice of “killing by time” – a bureaucratic version of “confirming the kill”.

Erekat was left for around two hours on the ground. At some point his body was stripped of its clothes and, the report observes, he could be seen naked, surrounded by around 20 Israeli soldiers and police. How his family must feel about this additional indignity one can only imagine.

But even this degrading treatment pales in comparison to the fact that his parents have been denied access to their son’s body and the right to bury him ever since.

Erekat’s corpse – like those of 70 other Palestinians assumed to be “terrorists” – has been effectively kidnapped by the Israeli state and held as a bargaining chip.

Nothing exceptional

There is nothing exceptional about Israel’s treatment of Erekat. An earlier investigation by Forensic Architecture exposed almost identical lies justifying an extrajudicial execution in 2017 by police inside Israel of another Palestinian man – this one nominally an Israeli citizen.

Fed by a similar culture of racism to the army’s, Israeli police shot Yacoub Abu al-Qiyan, a teacher, as he was driving down a hillside track in his Negev village. Badly injured, he lost control of the vehicle and hit and killed a police officer. In seeming revenge, Abu al-Qiyan was left to bleed to death for half an hour as police and medics milled around nearby.

Even more notoriously, a video from 2016 shows an Israeli army medic, Elor Azaria, shooting a wounded Palestinian man in the head at close range as the man lies on the street in the occupied Palestinian city of Hebron.

And last May, an unarmed, autistic Palestinian man, Iyad al-Halak, was shot seven times at close range by Israeli police as he lay on the ground, and while one of his teachers begged the officers not to harm him. Afterwards, Israel claimed that all the cameras at the site of his shooting in Jerusalem’s Old City were malfunctioning.

Dark secret

Despite Forensic Architecture’s work, Israeli police last week continued to claim that Erekat’s crash was “a documented terrorist attack”.

A joint statement from the government, army and Shin Bet intelligence service still falsely claimed that Erekat moved “quickly towards Border Police fighters while waving his hands in a manner taken as threatening”, adding that the soldiers “were certain that they were in immediate mortal danger”.

In Israel’s security worldview, even a Palestinian raising his hands in surrender proves only his “terrorist” intent.

It is important to remember that last summer, in the days preceding Erekat’s execution, the Israeli army had braced for what it assumed would be a wave of “terror attacks” that ultimately failed to materialise. The military expected retaliation after Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu announced Israel’s intent to annex swaths of the West Bank, in violation of international law.

The truth is that Erekat died not only because Israeli soldiers misread his intentions. He died because those same soldiers – like their military commanders and political leaders – live with the repressed knowledge that their presence on another people’s land, and their efforts to displace those people by force, can never be accepted.

Erekat was killed on his sister’s wedding day, and his body and his family continue to be abused to this day, so that Israel can avoid confronting what the occupation necessarily entails. He paid the price with his life so that Israelis can avoid facing that dark secret.

• First published in Middle East Eye

The post Israel is hiding the truth about the killing of Ahmad Erekat first appeared on Dissident Voice.

“Engaging the World”: The “Fascinating Story” of Hamas’s Political Evolution

On February 4, representatives from the Palestinian Movement, Hamas, visited Moscow to inform the Russian government of the latest development on the unity talks between the Islamic Movement and its Palestinian counterparts, especially Fatah.

This was not the first time that Hamas’s officials traveled to Moscow on similar missions. In fact, Moscow continues to represent an important political breathing space for Hamas, which has been isolated by Israel’s Western benefactors. Involved in this isolation are also several Arab governments which, undoubtedly, have done very little to break the Israeli siege on Gaza.

The Russia-Hamas closeness is already paying dividends. On February 17, shipments of the Russian COVID-19 vaccine, Sputnik V, have made it to Gaza via Israel, a testament to that growing rapport.

While Russia alone cannot affect a complete paradigm shift in the case of Palestine, Hamas feels that a Russian alternative to the blind and conditional American support for Israel is possible, if not urgent.

Recently, we interviewed Dr. Daud Abdullah, the author of ‘Engaging the World: The Making of Hamas’s Foreign Policy’, and Mr. Na’eem Jeenah, Director of the Afro-Middle East Center in Johannesburg, which published Dr. Abdullah’s book.

Abdullah’s volume on Hamas is a must-read, as it offers a unique take on Hamas, liberating the discussion on the Movement from the confines of the reductionist Western media’s perception of Hamas as terrorist – and of the counterclaims, as well. In this book, Hamas is viewed as a political actor, whose armed resistance is only a component in a complex and far-reaching strategy.

Why Russia? 

As Moscow continues to cement its presence in the region by offering itself as a political partner and, compared with the US, a more balanced mediator between Israel and the Palestinians, Hamas sees the developing Russian role as a rare opportunity to break away from the US-Israel imposed isolation.

“Russia was a member of the Quartet that was set up in 2003 but, of course, as a member of the (United Nations) Security Council, it has always had an ability to inform the discourse on Palestine,” Abdullah said, adding that in light of “the gradual demise of American influence, Russia realized that there was an emerging vacuum in the region, particularly after the (Arab) uprisings.”

“With regard to Hamas and Russia the relationship took off after the (Palestinian) elections in 2006 but it was not Hamas’s initiative, it was (Russian President Vladimir) Putin who, in a press conference in Madrid after the election, said that he would be willing to host Hamas’s leadership in Moscow. Because Russia is looking for a place in the region.”

Hamas’s willingness to engage with the Russians has more than one reason, chief among them is the fact that Moscow, unlike the US, refused to abide by Israel’s portrayal of the Movement. “The fundamental difference between Russia and America and China … is that the Russians and the Chinese do not recognize Hamas as a ‘terrorist organization’; they have never done so, unlike the Americans, and so it made it easy for them to engage openly with Hamas,” Abdullah said.

On Hamas’s ‘Strategic Balance’

In his book, Abdullah writes about the 1993 Oslo Accords, which represented a watershed moment, not only for Hamas but also for the entire Palestinian liberation struggle. The shift towards a US-led ‘peace process’ compelled Hamas to maintain a delicate balance “between strategic objectives and tactical flexibility.”

Abdullah wrote:

Hamas sees foreign relations as an integral and important part of its political ideology and liberation strategy. Soon after the Movement emerged, foreign policies were developed to help its leaders and members navigate this tension between idealism and realism. This pragmatism is evident in the fact that Hamas was able to establish relations with the regimes of Muammar Gaddhafi in Libya and Bashar al-Assad in Syria, both of whom were fiercely opposed to the Muslim Brotherhood.

In our interview, Abdullah elaborated:

From the very beginning, Hamas adopted certain principles in respect to its international relations and, later on, in the formation of a foreign policy. Among these, there is a question of maintaining its independence of decision-making; non-alignment in conflicting blocks, avoidance of interference in the affairs of other states.

Mr. Jeenah, an accomplished writer himself, also spoke of the “delicate balance.”

“It is a delicate balance, and a difficult one to maintain because, at this stage, when movements are regarded and regard themselves as liberation movements, they need to have higher moral and ethical standards than, for example, governments,” Jeenah said.  “For some reason, we expect that governments have to make difficult choices but, with liberation movements, we don’t, because they are all about idealism and creating an ideal society, etc.”

Jeenah uses the South Africa anti-apartheid struggle which, in many ways, is comparable to the Palestinian quest for freedom, to illustrate his point:

When the liberation movement in South Africa was exiled, they took a similar kind of position. While some of them might have had a particular allegiance to the Soviet Union or to China, some of them also had strong operations in European countries, which they regarded as part of the bigger empire. Nevertheless, they had the freedom to operate there. Some of them operated in other African countries where there were dictatorships and they got protection from those states.

Hamas and the Question of National Unity

In his book, which promises to be an essential read on the subject, Abdullah lists six principles that guide Hamas’s political agenda. One of these guiding principles is the “search for common ground.”

In addressing the question of Palestinian factionalism, we contended that, while Fatah has failed at creating a common, nominally democratic platform for Palestinians to interact politically, Hamas cannot be entirely blameless. If that is, indeed, the case, can one then make the assertion that Hamas has succeeded in its search for the elusive common ground?

Abdullah answers:

Let me begin with what happened after the elections in 2006. Although Hamas won convincingly and they could have formed a government, they decided to opt for a government of national unity. They offered to (Palestinian Authority President) Mahmoud Abbas and to (his party) Fatah to come into a government of national unity. They didn’t want to govern by themselves. And that, to me, is emblematic of their vision, their commitment to national unity.

But the question of national unity, however coveted and urgently required, is not just controlled by Palestinians.

The PLO is the one that signed the Oslo Accords,” Abdullah said, “and I think this is one of Hamas’s weaknesses: as much as it wants national unity and a reform of the PLO, the fact of the matter is Israel and the West will not allow Hamas to enter into the PLO easily, because this would be the end of Oslo.

On Elections under Military Occupation

On January 15, Abbas announced an official decree to hold Palestinian elections, first presidential, then legislative, then elections within the PLO’s Palestine National Council (PNC), which has historically served as a Palestinian parliament in exile. The first phase of these elections is scheduled for May 22.

But will this solve the endemic problem of Palestinian political representation? Moreover, is this the proper historical evolution of national liberation movements – democracy under military occupation, followed by liberation, instead of the other way around?

Jeenah spoke of this dichotomy:

On the one hand, elections are an opportunity for Palestinians to express their choices. On the other hand, what is the election really? We are not talking about a democratic election for the State, but for a Bantustan authority, at greater restraints than the South African authority.

Moreover, the Israeli “occupying power will not make the mistake it did the last time. It will not allow such freedom (because of which) Hamas (had) won the elections. I don’t think Israel is going to allow it now.”

Yet there is a silver lining in this unpromising scenario. According to Jeenah, “I think the only difference this election could make is allowing some kind of reconciliation between Gaza and the West Bank.”

Hamas, the ICC and War Crimes 

Then, there is the urgent question of the anticipated war crime investigation by the International Criminal Court (ICC). Yet, when the ICC agreed to consider allegations of war crimes in Palestine, chances are not only alleged Israeli war criminals are expected to be investigated, but the probe could potentially consider the questioning of Palestinians, as well. Should not this concern Hamas in the least?

In the Israeli wars on Gaza in 2008, 2012 and 2014, Hamas, along with other armed groups had no other option but to “defend the civilian population,” Abdullah said, pointing out that the “overriding concept” is that the Movement “believes in the principle of international law.”

If Hamas “can restore the rights of the Palestinian people through legal channels, then it will be much easier for the Movement, rather than having to opt for the armed struggle,” Abdullah asserted.

Understanding Hamas

Undoubtedly, it is crucial to understand Hamas, not only as part of the Palestine-related academic discourse, but in the everyday political discourse concerning Palestine; in fact, the entire region. Abdullah’s book is itself critical to this understanding.

Jeenah argued that Abdullah’s book is not necessarily an “introductory text to the Hamas Movement. It has a particular focus, which is the development of Hamas’s foreign policy. The importance of that, in general, is firstly that there isn’t a text that deals specifically with Hamas’s foreign policy. What this book does is present Hamas as a real political actor.”

The evolution of Hamas’s political discourse and behavior since its inception, according to Jeenah, is a “fascinating” one.

Many agree. Commenting on the book, leading Israeli historian, Professor Ilan Pappé, wrote,

This book challenges successfully the common misrepresentation of Hamas in the West. It is a must-read for anyone engaged with the Palestine issue and interested in an honest introduction to this important Palestinian Movement.

• (Dr. Daud Abdullah’s book, Engaging the World: The Making of Hamas’s Foreign Policy, is available here.)

The post “Engaging the World”: The “Fascinating Story” of Hamas’s Political Evolution first appeared on Dissident Voice.

Imagining Palestine: On Barghouti, Darwish, Kanafani and the Language of Exile

For Palestinians, exile is not simply the physical act of being removed from their homes and their inability to return. It is not a casual topic pertaining to politics and international law, either. Nor is it an ethereal notion, a sentiment, a poetic verse. It is all of this, combined.

The death in Amman of Palestinian poet, Mourid Barghouti, an intellectual whose work has intrinsically been linked to exile, brought back to the surface many existential questions: are Palestinians destined to be exiled? Can there be a remedy for this perpetual torment? Is justice a tangible, achievable goal?

Barghouti was born in 1944 in Deir Ghassana, near Ramallah. His journey in exile began in 1967, and ended, however temporarily, 30 years later. His memoir I Saw Ramallah – published in 1997 – was an exiled man’s attempt to make sense of his identity, one that has been formulated within many different physical spaces, conflicts and airports. While, in some way, the Palestinian in Barghouti remained intact, his was a unique identity that can only be fathomed by those who have experienced, to some degree, the pressing feelings of Ghurba – estrangement and alienation – or Shataat – dislocation and diaspora.

In his memoir, translated into English in 2000 by acclaimed Egyptian author, Ahdaf Soueif, he wrote, “I tried to put the displacement between parenthesis, to put a last period in a long sentence of the sadness of history … But I see nothing except commas. I want to sew the times together. I want to attach one moment to another, to attach childhood to age, to attach the present to the absent and all the presents to all absences, attach exiles to the homeland and to attach what I have imagined to what I see now.”

Those familiar with the rich and complex Palestinian literature of exile can relate Barghouti’s reference – what one imagines versus what one sees – to the writing of other intellectuals who have suffered the pain of exile as well. Ghassan Kanafani and Majed Abu Sharar – and numerous others – wrote about that same conflict. Their death – or, rather, assassination – in exile brought their philosophical journeys to an abrupt end.

In Mahmoud Darwish’s seminal poem, ‘Who Am I, Without Exile’, the late Palestinian poet asked, knowing that there can never be a compelling answer: “What will we do without exile?”

It is as if Ghurba has been so integral to the collective character of a nation, and is now a permanent tattoo on the heart and soul of the Palestinian people everywhere. “A stranger on the riverbank, like the river … water binds me to your name. Nothing brings me back from my faraway to my palm tree: not peace and not war. Nothing makes me enter the gospels. Not a thing …,” Darwish wrote.

The impossibility of becoming a whole again in Darwish and Barghouti’s verses were reverberations of Kanafani’s own depiction of a Palestine that was as agonizingly near as it was far.

“What is a homeland?” Kanafani asks in ‘Returning to Haifa’. “Is it these two chairs that remained in this room for twenty years? The table? Peacock feathers? The picture of Jerusalem on the wall? The copper-lock? The oak tree? The balcony? What is a homeland? .. I’m only asking.”

But there can be no answers, because when exile exceeds a certain rational point of waiting for some kind of justice that would facilitate one’s return, it can no longer be articulated, relayed or even fully comprehended. It is the metaphorical precipice between life and death, ‘life’ as in the burning desire to be reunited with one’s previous self, and ‘death’ as in knowing that without a homeland one is a perpetual outcast – physically, politically, legally, intellectually and every other form.

“In my despair I remember; that there is life after death … But I ask: Oh my God, is there life before death?” Barghouti wrote in his poem ‘I Have No Problem.’

While the crushing weight of exile is not unique to Palestinians, the Palestinian exile is unique. Throughout the entire episode of Palestinian Ghurba, from the early days of the Nakba – the destruction of the Palestinian homeland – till today, the world remains divided between inaction, obliviousness, and refusal to even acknowledge the injustice that has befallen the Palestinian people.

Despite, or perhaps because of, his decades-long exile, Barghouti did not engage in ineffectual discussions about the rightful owners of Palestine “because we did not lose Palestine to a debate, we lost it to force.”

He wrote in his memoir “When we were Palestine, we were not afraid of the Jews. We did not hate them, we did not make an enemy of them. Europe of the Middle Ages hated them, but not us. Ferdinand and Isabella hated them, but not us. Hitler hated them, but not us. But when they took our entire space and exiled us from it they put both us and themselves outside the law of equality.”

In fact, ‘hate’ rarely factors in the work of Barghouti – or Darwish, Kanafani, Abu Sharar and many others – because the pain of exile, so powerful, so omnipresent – required one to re-evaluate his relationship to the homeland through emotional rapport that can only be sustained through positive energy, of love, of deep sadness, of longing.

“Palestine is something worthy of a man bearing arms for, dying for,” wrote Kanafani. “For us, for you and me, it’s only a search for something buried beneath the dust of memories. And look what we found beneath that dust. Yet more dust. We were mistaken when we thought the homeland was only the past.”

Millions of Palestinians continue to live in exile, generation after generation, painstakingly negotiating their individual and collective identities, neither able to return, nor feeling truly whole. These millions deserve to exercise their Right of Return, for their voices to be heard and to be included.

But even when Palestinians are able to end their physical exile, chances are for generations they will remain attached to it. “I don’t know what I want. Exile is so strong within me, I may bring it to the land,” wrote Darwish.

In Barghouti too, exile was ‘so strong’. Despite the fact that he fought to end it, it became him. It became us.

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Picnic Video Exposes Both Faces of Israeli Apartheid

A short video taken by a family as they picnicked in the West Bank this month may be the best field guide yet to Israel’s complex apartheid system of state-sponsored Jewish supremacy.

In the clip posted to Facebook, armed Jewish settlers arrive unexpectedly to break up the picnic of a Palestinian family – including grandparents and two babies – at a scenic public space on a hillside north of Ramallah.

In the occupied West Bank, the settlers are the lords of the land and used to getting their own way. They assume that this is just another group of Palestinians to be terrorized away so that the illegal Jewish settlement they live in, one of many dozens, can further expand its jurisdiction on to Palestinian land.

For the settlers, this is all in day’s improvised ethnic cleansing.

Not as it appears

But they are in for a surprise. The scene is not exactly as it appears and things don’t go to plan.

Some distance from their homes, Palestinians would usually pack up in a hurry at the first sight of menacing armed settlers. But these Palestinians stand their ground and argue back in fluent Hebrew.

When the settlers cite the Bible as their title deeds to the land, and start grabbing the family’s things to evict the group, the grandmother shouts indignantly: “We are Israelis just like you and we’re allowed to be here.”

She is partly right. They are indeed Israelis. The family are from Nazareth, the largest and most privileged Palestinian community inside Israel. They belong to a minority formally known as “Israel’s Arabs”. But the grandmother’s claim that her family is “just like you” is an error – or more likely a bluff.

A settler corrects her: “You’re not Israelis, you’re Arabs, we did you a favor when we let you stay.”

Historical anomaly

In Israeli public discourse, “Israel’s Arabs” – or “Israeli Arabs” as the term is usually transcribed into English to make it seem less offensive – have been stripped of their real identity to sever their connection to the larger Palestinian people.

Nonetheless, they are descended from exactly the same Palestinian population that today lives either under occupation in the West Bank, East Jerusalem and Gaza, or as refugees exiled from their homeland by Israel’s mass ethnic cleansing campaign in 1948, known by Palestinians as the Nakba, or Catastrophe.

“Israel’s Arabs” are marked out from other Palestinians only by an historical anomaly: a small number managed to avoid the ethnic cleansing operations of 1948 and remained on their land in what was about to become Israel.

Eventually, and very reluctantly under international pressure, Israel conferred a very degraded citizenship on these “Arabs”. Today, after decades of higher birth rates than Israeli Jews, “Israel’s Arabs” are a fifth of the population.

Ugly truth

Israel proudly tells the world that its “Arab” citizens enjoy entirely equal rights with Jewish citizens. The truth is far uglier, as prime minister Benjamin Netanyahu inadvertently conceded when he used Instagram to correct an Israeli TV host who had suggested that Israel was a western-style democracy. “Israel is not a state of all its citizens. According to the nation-state law we passed, Israel is the nation-state of the Jewish people — and not anyone else,” he wrote.

Some 70 laws explicitly offer differentiated rights depending on whether an Israeli citizen is Jewish or “Arab”.

“Israel’s Arabs” are almost entirely segregated from Israeli Jews in where they can live, where they go to school, and in many cases where they are allowed to work. The citizenship status of Jews and “Arabs” derives from separate laws. These “Arabs” are barred from living in most of Israel’s territory, and planning rules have been systematically skewed to their disadvantage.

In short, most “Israeli Arabs” live in segregated, poor, land-hungry, overcrowded and under-resourced communities.

But by historical accident they have an Israeli citizenship that confers on them – unlike Palestinians under occupation – the right to vote in Israeli elections and basic legal rights protected by Israel’s civilian courts, not its military courts.

“Israel’s Arabs” are also typically dealt with either by the ordinary Israeli police or by a paramilitary force known as the Border Police that operates in both Israel and the occupied territories. The border being policed is the segregated one between Jews and non-Jews.

But dealing with the Border Police is often preferable to being policed by the Israeli army, as is usually the case for Palestinians in the occupied territories.

No price to pay

As the settlers who disrupt the woodland picnic fail to get their way, they look confused and unsure. One says to the family: “You are not Israeli, you are Arabs. We did you a favor by letting you remain [in Israel]. Go back to Nazareth.” But what exactly are their rights in a situation like this?

If these were straightforward “Palestinians”, the settlers could throw rocks at them or shoot over their heads. Should the Palestinians refuse to flee, they could be beaten or the settlers could even consider shooting one in the leg – or worse – to make sure the rest got the message: “We are kings and you are unwelcome serfs”.

There is unlikely to be a price to pay for harming Palestinians under occupation, apart from maybe a story in Haaretz from Amira Hass, the only Israeli reporter living in the West Bank.

But the settlers can always say they had been attacked by Palestinians and were defending themselves. No real questions would be asked. If a video surfaced on YouTube showing otherwise, Israeli officials would act as press officers, claiming the footage was edited to mislead viewers – just another example of Pallywood. And anyone sharing the video could be discounted as an antisemite.

Familiar rules

This is a game whose rules the settlers – and the Israeli army and government behind them – know only too well, rules designed to work exclusively for their benefit.

But in the case of “Israeli Arabs” picnicking in the West Bank, the rules have not been properly defined. Can settlers beat with impunity these uppity natives with Israeli citizenship? Can they point their guns at them? If they do, what happens? Might there be an investigation? And if so, who will lead it – the army or the police?

Might these “Arabs” have relatives back in privileged Nazareth who are lawyers versed in the intricacies of the Israeli legal system? There are even some “Arab” judges in the court system. How might such a judge rule in a case like this?

The settlers’ uncertainty is justified. Which apartheid rules apply in the occupied territories when dealing with “Israel’s Arabs”: the occupation version of apartheid or the Israeli democracy version of apartheid? It is a grey area.

Unsure of powers

No longer confident that their powers are limitless, at least in a situation like this one, the settlers decide to delegate. They call the army. After all, soldiers of the Jewish state are there to protect other Jews, even when those Jews are armed, they are living illegally on Palestinian land and they are attacking defenseless Palestinians.

The army will know what to do.

The soldiers are soon there, but they look a little unsure too. They are more used to standing “guard” as settlers attack and terrorize Palestinians, only interfering if it looks like the settlers might be in need of help.

These picnickers aren’t Jewish, so the soldiers are under no duty to protect them. But at the same they are Israeli citizens so the soldiers cannot afford to be filmed pointing their guns at them or watching impassively as the settlers beat them up.

Gentle ethnic cleansing

There is no rule book for this situation, so the soldiers improvise. With the wisdom of Solomon, they cut the baby in half. A soldier concedes that they are indeed in a public space but warns the “Arabs” that, unlike the settlers, they are “not allowed here”. He adds: “I don’t want to use too much force.”

The soldiers prefer that the threat remains implicit. The family will have to leave immediately and cede this land to the masters, the Jews. The “Israeli Arabs” are evicted in an orderly fashion.

What we see, caught on the camera of Lubna Abed el-Hadi, is what might be termed gentle ethnic cleansing.

This short video confirms the lie of the oft-repeated claim of Israeli leaders that “Israel’s Arabs” have equal rights with Israeli Jews. In truth, Jews always have superior rights, whether it is inside “democratic” Israel or in the occupied territories.

Layers of apartheid

The original apartheid state – the one in South Africa – offers a template that can help us to decode this video. As with Israel, there were layers to South African apartheid, although those layers were much less effective than Israel’s at veiling the segregation system.

South Africa had its “Whites” – the masters – and its “Blacks” – the serfs. But it also had a group trapped between them, one that was harder to classify, called the “Coloreds”. In a system that craved clear racial categorizations, the Coloreds were a nuisance – a reminder of times before apartheid when segregation was not so strict and inter-racial relationships possible.

The Coloreds were really Blacks in the sense that they had none of the privileges of the Whites. But they also enjoyed a few exemptions from the worse racist policies faced by the Blacks, such as the requirement to carry passes to move around.

A New York Times article in 1985, in South Africa’s final apartheid years, concluded: “Despite the law that seeks to lock them into a simple group definition, South Africa’s mixed-race people defy such labeling and the ambiguity of their status is acute.”

Israel’s Coloreds

The comparison is not precise. “Israel’s Arabs” are not the descendants of mixed relationships between Jews and Palestinians. They are as native as other Palestinians, their histories indistinguishable until 1948. Like other Palestinians, “Israeli Arabs” have a relatively unified language and culture that was not true of the Coloreds in South Africa.

But their inferior legal status and ambiguous social position within the dominant apartheid system is similar to that of the Coloreds.

After the fall of South Africa’s apartheid, and in an era of 24-hour rolling news, Israel has eased the most blatant forms of discrimination faced by its “Arabs”. It has been careful to avoid the worst excesses of South Africa’s version of apartheid inside Israel. There are no separate entrances to rest rooms or shops for Israel’s “Coloreds”.

But the core segregation continues. “Israeli Arabs” are expected to live in their own 120 or so segregated neighborhoods, Israel’s version of the notorious Group Areas Act. They are banned not only from accessing the Jewish-only settlements of the West Bank, but from living in all of the territory inside Israel bar the 3% reserved for non-Jews.

‘Security’ policy

The Coloreds had “token representation” in South Africa, according to the Times. “Israeli Arabs” too have the semblance of a vote, but one that makes no impact on the parliamentary system or the shape of the government. Like the Colored counterparts, “Israeli Arab” schools are massively underfunded and under-resourced, and the police force’s policy towards them moves between neglect and open hostility.

As happened in 1966 at District Six, a Colored community near Cape Town, “Israel’s Arabs” can be forced off their lands at the drop of the hat – as is currently happening at Umm al-Hiran in the Negev – if the state deems that the land is needed more by the masters than the serfs.

The New York Times article notes that apartheid South Africa’s policy towards its Coloreds and Blacks was governed by a “security” approach that treated them as an enemy. Just such an official policy towards “Israel’s Arabs” was highlighted nearly 20 years ago by a state commission of inquiry.

Another observation by the Times will echo with “Israeli Arabs”: “Most black townships, for instance, have few entrances and are thus easily sealed.” Similarly, “Arab” communities in Israel typically have one or two ways in or out – a legacy of the military government that in Israel’s first two decades tightly controlled all “Arab” movement.

In recent months those memories were revived in Nazareth, for example, when the police again blockaded the city’s entrances during periods of lockdown.

Desirable or undesirable

Very belatedly it has finally dawned on Jewish human rights groups in Israel that the country’s apartheid system can no more be separated between a “democratic” Israel and a non-democratic occupied territories than South Africa’s could be between its white areas and the so-called black homelands, the Bantustans.

One group, B’Tselem, concluded last month that Israeli apartheid is indivisible, just as South Africa’s was. Its executive director, Hagai El-Ad, observed: “There is not a single square inch in the territory Israel controls where a Palestinian and a Jew are equal. The only first-class people here are Jewish citizens such as myself.”

The division, El-Ad noted, was not primarily between Israelis – Jews and “Arabs” – and Palestinians but between the segregated treatment of people under Israeli rule as either “desirable or undesirable”.

Those picnicking “Arabs” are the undesirables just as much as are the Palestinians living close by in Ramallah. Which is why the settlers were determined to move them off the land, and why the soldiers were only too happy to assist.

Israel upholds a system of Jewish supremacy over the land, and it matters not one jot whether those challenging its apartheid rule are Palestinian subjects without rights or “Arab” citizens supposedly with full rights.

• First published in Mondoweiss

The post Picnic Video Exposes Both Faces of Israeli Apartheid first appeared on Dissident Voice.