israel and palestine: the new apartheid

30 May, 2006 at 11:49 am 4 comments

Apartheid was a violent system.  It wasn't just the overt violence of the militarisation of the townships, the assassinations, the arbitrary arrests and torture – it was the daily attacks on the humanity, freedom of movement, rights to association, expression, education and normal family life from the system that shaped everyday Black existence.  Systems, in other words can be violent.  It's a violence you don't see because it's how life is.  The point, however, is that in a violent system, overt violence is neither surprising nor exceptional.  It is the endemic violence breaking out into the open.

That's not how it "plays" to the outside world, of course.  The news reports used to be full of "outbreaks" of Black violence – acts of terrorism, rioting, communist subversion etc.  The implication was clear: this had nothing to do with people responding to violence inflicted on them, but was an instance of unjustified and ungrateful unruliness and general inclination to violent disorder!  Yet it was nothing of the kind.  It was the response of people who found themselves under daily attack.  When a political system is predicated upon a group within that society being less than fully human, less deserving of the normal human rights, is grudgingly tolerated and accorded the minimum of respect and space, the system is effectively a constant attack and exercise of force over that group to keep them in subjugation.  If the default mode is that they have no right to be there, then every concession towards what everyone else would take for granted is regarded by the state as a generous gift, and every protest or demand for equality an instance of outrageous selfishness and ingratitude.  If the oppressed group's response becomes violent in answer to the violence being inflicted on them – if, in other words, the oppressed group dares to fight back – they are characterised as terrorists.

Tragically, ruling groups – states – find a ready audience for this sort of Orwellian rhetoric in the international community.  States are generally regarded as legitimate (if occassionally a little oppressive or flawed).  It is appallingly easy for any state to brand protest and violent response as "terrorism", and notoriously difficult for people to recognise that states themselves can be terrorist.  We talk about Libya and Syria as "terrorist states" in connection with "state-sponsored terrorism".  The notion of a state as a "terror organisation" is far more difficult to comprehend – emotionally, as well as intellectually.  The presence of the trappings of legitimacy – the police, the army, the judiciary, the organs of government – means that states can pass and enforce laws which are in fact attacks on its citizens.  They can deploy their armed forces to carry out policies that in any other context would be deemed acts of war, or terrorism.  That is what happened in South Africa under Apartheid.  It is what is happening now in Israel.

 According to Lenin, "The purpose of terror is to terrify".  Terror is not some sort of playground bullying writ large, nor is it sadism and evil on a grand scale (though of course, all those elements can be present in individuals).  It is a deliberate strategy.  I learned this interrogating many Zimbabwean guerillas during the Independence Struggle.  I had always thought that "terrorists" were simply bad people – bullies with guns.  Crucially, for me, they lost any claim to being "liberators" because the principal victims of terror were their own people.  I came to realise that this wasn't the case.  The argument I heard went something like this: "You accuse us of terror and war-mongering.  Yet our people live in daily terror because of your laws.  We are not safe in our own houses.  You see yourselves as peaceful, reasonable people – but that is only because you are insulated against the fear and daily violence that you are committing against us.  You do not have to be violent – although you will be ruthlesslessly violent as soon as it seems necessary.  You are safe because we are weak.  You think that when our people smile and fawn, that we are grateful?  Not so.  We are cowed and terrified!  The people are very scared.  They fear you.  If we soldiers come to free them, they will betray us – even though they agree with us – because they are so scared of what you might do to them.  So we want to make them more afriad of us than of you.  Then they will help us and join the struggle."  I used to respond, "But then they are acting out of fear.  Surely you want to win their trust and support?  You cannot win hearts and minds through terror!"  The response I got was this: "When you have a man by the balls, his heart and mind will follow!  This is what we have learned from you".

The relevance to the Palestinian situation is this: Palestinian violence is the violence of response to attack.  Palestinian terror is a response to the terror inflicted on the people by Israel.  Its cause doesn't lie in some Palestinian propensity to lawlessness, violence and barbarism, but in the daily violence inflicted on the community by the Israeli state.  Prior to the current Intafada, it was inconceivable that Hamas could have won a Palestinian election.  Yet the violence of the Israeli state has radicalised the whole community.  The Palestinains see the Hamas fighters as liberators – as protectors who are resisting in their name.  They support Hamas because they see it as the only credible response to the war being waged against that community. 

When the Israeli Prime Minister Ehud Olmert addresses both houses of Congress, therefore, and insists that any precondition to negotiation with the Palestinian Authority under Mahmoud Abbas is that the Palestinians “renounce terrorism, dismantle the terrorist infrastructure, accept previous agreements and commitments, and recognize the right of Israel to exist", we need to recognise this for the cant and subterfuge it really is.  In effect, it's like the school bully sitting astride his victim, hitting him and rubbing his face into the dirt, and saying, "I'll only think of stopping this when you stop resisting and crying and objecting!"  It's saying to the Palestinians, "We're at war with you.  And we'll only even think of stopping when you first surrender!"  There is no real negotiation envisaged.  There is no intention to withdraw from the settlements.  The Wall is to form the permament border between Israel and the Palestinian territories – a border which has already been extended to annexe 10% of the Palestinian land – crucially, the 10% holding all the water supplies!  There is no offer of a viable Palestinian state – simply a patchwork of small, isolated "outcrops" of Palestinian land which are cut off from one another.

Israel, with the active support of the United States, is thumbing its nose at UN resolutions demanding an end to the oppression of the people there.  Instead, what Israel envisages is succeeding where South Africa failed – in the project of Apartheid.  Apartheid (significantly pronounced "apart-hate" in Afrikaans!) was always translated as "separate development".  This is a literal enough translation of the term – but it carefully omits and disguises what Steve Biko spotted only too clearly and lost his life for: it is a means of oppressing and subjugating the people it excludes.  It is an act of war on its own citizens; system of violent terror.  In our Reformed theological tradition, a government which is the enemy of the people is a tyrant, and needs to be removed.  Israel is a terrorist state as far as the Palestinian question is concerned.  It is a tragic and often-noted irony that the people whose national identity was formed by the Holocaust should act as they do to the Palestinians.  It is ironic that Olmert's address was drafted with the help of the Holocaust author and Nobel Peace Prize winner, Elie Wiesel.  Wiesel knows better than most that the Holocaust was made possible only by the silence of the wider international community over Germany's actions.  The Nazis mounted an active campaign of terror against its population and the world kept silent.  Now Olmert wants – and is getting – the same silence over his own terror policies against the Palestinians. 


Entry filed under: current affairs, terrorism.

forever young – bob now and then israel and palestine: the new apartheid (2)

4 Comments Add your own

  • 1. homileo  |  31 May, 2006 at 12:38 pm

    I spend a lot of time in Jerusalem and I have often been struck by the obvious absence of Palestinians in certain parts of the city, expect of course as the bin men! What I saw immediately resonated with me. It was like having a flash back to my South African childhood when I thought black men worked only as gardeners and bin men and they were never seen simply walking the streets.

    What I find so frustrating is immediately being labelled “Anti-Semitic” whenever apartheid, Israeli style is pointed out.

  • 2. Khalil  |  1 June, 2006 at 3:33 pm

    Dear Lawrence:

    Glad to know there are still people like you who are free, ready to express what is just without apology or fear. What Palestinians need are people with ethics who can expose to the world state terrorism, apartheid is just one of many, practised by Israel for over 50 years.

    How can the free world be so silent Lawrence,in this time and age, over the atrocities that are being committed each minute of the hour day after day after day. Is it a conspiracy against Palestinians whom they have turned to villains, or is it a conspiracy on principles and ideals.

  • 3. Lawrence  |  1 June, 2006 at 11:50 pm

    That’s an important observation, Homileo. I guess the reason for being labeled antisemitic is threefold (at least!): one is that the Christian Church has a very inglorious record of anti-semitism. It’s deeply bred into Christian theology and needs constant vigilance. A second reason is guilt about the Holocaust. What happened to the Jews was appalling. We live in a world where this is something still in living memory, with people who were involved alive and having to cope with being part of a world in which the Holocaust took place. Again, this leads to an admirable vigilance against anti-semitism. The problem (third reason) is that people cannot distinguish between anti-semitism and a healthy and importantly critical attitude towards Israeli nationalism. The Holocaust doesn’t give the Israelis the right to oppress other people, any more than slavery in Egypt gave the Hebrews the right to oppress people once they had established their state.

    I think one of the reasons why the free world is so silent, Khalil, is because of America. They regularly veto any UN resolutions against Israel, so that there is little that can be done in practical, international terms. Moreover, the Jewish vote in the States and the right-wing Christian vote find common ground in being pro-Israel and anti-Arab. The story of Israel vs concerted Arab attempts to wipe the nation out plays very well as a sort of David and Goliath story. The Palestinians then get lumped in western thinking as “Arabs” who illegitimately want to wipe Israel out. There’s an instinctive symptahy for Israel’s obssession with security, coupled with an inability to recognise state terrorism, that makes it incredibly easy to write of Palestinian resistance as “terrorism” – especially in the wake of 9/11. And the hard fact is that there is a great deal of anti-Muslim feeling in the free world. Muslims are seen as anti-western, anti-Christian, anti-democratic. Suicide bombers do nothing to dispel this idea – simply because the notion of being a sucide bomber is anathema to western minds. Western military strategy is to hide behind inches of armour plating and survive at all costs. The notion of someone prepared to walk into a crowd and blow themselves to pieces is horrifying and terrifying. Most people don’t see the desparation and despair that must be necessary to drive someone to that. They certainly don’t equate it with a martyr’s courage. That, I think, is why it is all too easy to make the Palestinians into villains.

  • 4. Hal Ben  |  5 August, 2006 at 7:28 pm

    The new meaning for Nazis :

    NAZIS = New Apartheid Zionist Israeli State

    Spread the word.


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