israel and palestine: the new apartheid (3)

9 June, 2006 at 12:17 pm 8 comments

One of the questions provoking serious debate within Israel at the moment is the relationship between Israel's counter-terrorism strategy, democracy, and the rule of law. It is a serious issue and is being taken seriously. It is causing a great deal of heart-searching and opinion is deeply divided. I quote here from a letter by Dan Shaham, Director of Piblic Affairs at the Israeli Embassy, London (ie the person in charge of PR!):

The impact of this dilemma, was recently demonstrated when Israel's Supreme Court was divided six votes to five over the 'Citizenship and Entry to Israel Law' (temporary provision – 2003). The law currently halts granting legal status in Israel to Palestinians residents of the West Bank and Gaza who are married to Israelis. The law was initially passed in 2003, when Israel found that dozens of terror attacks were being carried out by and in collaboration with Palestinians who gained entry and residency in Israel by marrying an Israeli citizen.

Five of the Supreme Court Justices argued that Israel, as a sovereign state, has the right to prohibit the immigration of foreign nationals to its territory, and since Israel is in a state of war, the law, as it stood was in proportion to the threat. However, a further five Justices, led by the President of the Supreme Court, Aharon Barak – a champion of human rights – voted against the law, claiming it is a citizen's constitutional right to live with his/her family in Israel. The vote was, therefore, decided by Justice Edmond Levy, who recognised that the law violated constitutional right to family life, but considering the ongoing threat of terrorism, he rejected the petitions and gave the state a 9-month extension to amend the law

It is worth following those links. Aharon Barak's paper is well worth reading. What is clear is that the apparatus of the Security State (which Israel has become) is disturbing and dividing the people as it becomes more visible. I remember working with Mossad in Rhodesia in 1979 (that sounds grandiose: what I mean is that the Rhodesian and Israeli intelligence services worked closely hand in hand. At my level, it meant that I mainly got to read regular intelligence analysis reports). Israel was already and always a security state: it's just that in the world of the late 70s, Palestinians were terrorists and the Israelis were the embattled, courageous little nation that stood up to concerted Arab aggression and bit back with a vengeance. We Rhodesians admired the hell out of them! In fact, the admiration was mutual. But I digress!

The point here is that, no doubt as a fact in many Israeli minds (and it is certainly the position pushed in Israeli government propaganda), the present situation is presented as a new thing. It's as though there is somehow a new form of the "terrorist threat" faced by Israel. Much Israeli security rhetoric rides on the back of American post-9/11 "War on Terror". Subconsciously, the Intifada plays as a manifestation of a new global terror threat faced by all democratic countries. However, there is nothing new about it. What is new is the degree of radicalisation of the Palestinian community which has happened in response to Israeli terror tactics and the deafening silence of the western world over their plight, which has bred deapair and desperation.  It is not a new conflict: what is new is the level of visibility.

The parallel with South Africa is the escalation in the struggle against Apartheid, which happened in the mid-80s. When these sorts of conflicts escalate, the nature of the problem becomes nakedly visible. That creates problems for the government which is administering a policy of aggression and repression under the guise of separation. There is benign logic to separation: it needn't mean the same thing as oppression and exploitation. That is the rhetoric of acceptability that keeps otherwise decent citizens quiet about gross injustice. It enables the state to portray resistance as surprising, shocking, atypical, unrepresentative and immoral. The more naked the conflict, however, the more difficult that fiction is to sustain. That is what is happening in Israel at the moment.

Let's be clear: it is the duty of a sovereign state to protect itself and its citizens against terrorism and incursion. And in the contemporary climate, any democratic state is faced with the trade-off between security legislation, democracy, and civil liberties (please note, in parenthesis, that I do not include "human rights" in that list: by definition, these are simply non-negotiable). What I object to in the Israeli situation is what caused such outrage in the western democracies during the Apartheid era in South Africa: Israel illegitimately describes itself as being "at war", and casts the Palestinians as foreign aggressors. This is not a war between two states! It is a form of war – but it is the warfare of oppression and the conflict is caused by Palestinian resistance to that oppression. It is a civil war, in which a government is waging war upon a section of the populace – just as Saddam Hussein did against the Kurds and the Apartheid regime did against Black South Africans.

One way of trying to legitimate a war is to deprive the victim group of residency and citizenship. If you make them stateless, or "foreign", then you can claim that it is vital to put up a "security fence" to protect your borders. The South Africans created so-called Independent Homelands. They were neither viable nor self-governing. They had puppet regimes and were entirely dependent on South African funding for existence. They were often geographically scattered, so that one continually passed between sections of Bophutatswana and South Africa (for example), in precisely the same manner as one does between Israel and the areas nominally controlled by the Palestinian Authority. The measure of autonomy enjoyed by the Authority is seen in the fact that Israel is refusing to pay PA salaries while Hamas is in power!

Palestinians are not foreign aggressors. They are refugees in their own land. If that is not enough, they are subjected to a panoply of laws that any of us would find absolutely intolerable. What land they do have is expropriated at will by the Israelis. Their water has been cut off. They have intermittent electricity supplies. Their lands have been annexed, their houses bulldozed and their communities made into ghettos by the Wall and the checkpoint system. Their communities are invaded at will by the Israeli military. Any resistance is met not only with massive reprisal, but is branded as terrorism and condemned throughout the western world. They are the price that Israel demands fort the protection of US and British interests in the regions – and that Israel receives!

The point of these three posts is simple. For some reason, it was easy to see Apartheid for what it was. Nelson Mandela and the ANC were not regarded as terrorists (by in large), but as heroic resisters – freedom fighters. Of course, some of the methods of resistance were particularly hard to stomach – such as the gruesome necklacings in which vehicle tyres were paced around the necks of suspected sell-outs, filled with petrol and set alight. We in the west like our conflicts "tidy" – guns, warplanes, tanks, rifles, chemicals and missiles at dawn are all perfectly acceptable. Necklacings and suicide bombers are far to messy, up close and personal. It's a cultural thing – we know how to "do" war, and those other ways of resisting are just frightful – too primitive! "Won't do, my boy – won't do at all!"

Yet the parallels between the structures of Apartheid and the situation in Israel and Palestine are real. They are not strained, overly-pressed or only vaguely analogous. We ought to see Palestinian resistance for what it is – the response of a people who are being made war on. It is simply not true that all parties to a conflict must bear equal blame. A bullied child who stands up to the bully is not violent in the same way as the bully! People who defend themselves and their communities are not terrorists. And not every government of a sovereign state is legitimate – even if it is has been democratically elected! Hitler was elected, and look what he did with his Aryan policies! When is the rest of the world going to shrug off this ridiculous paralysis that says, "We don't know everything, so we can't choose sides"??? The ignorance on many aspects of South African political and economic life under Apartheid was sometimes encyclopaedic – yet that didn't stop people getting involved, protesting and boycotting. It didn't stop them being right, either! They got involved – and Apartheid crumbled. The sad thing is that, like anti-Semitism, we all thought it had been consigned to the dustbin of history. It hasn't … yet! It's alive and well, and living in the Middle East.


Entry filed under: current affairs, terrorism.

social exclusion, the church and proclaiming the gospel does god actually make a difference?

8 Comments Add your own

  • 1. Jo  |  11 June, 2006 at 9:53 pm

    Hello Laurence I am new to your blog but would like to ask a question. During the eighties we Christians (and others in Europe) boycotted South African products in protest against Apartheid. I certaimly did not buy fruit or wine from South Africa. Whether this was appropriate or not I do not know, but we all did it on mass, and eventually apartheid crumbled (whether there was any link I am not sure). Is it approprate to boycott Israeli goods? When I walk around the supermarket, I find oranges, potatoes, coriander and other herbs all from Israel, should I buy these products or not? Is it worth an economic sanction for Israel or is Israel so funded by the USA that this style of boycott would have no effect? I would be interested in your response.

  • 2. Sian  |  14 June, 2006 at 11:27 pm

    Hi Lawrence and Jo,
    One of our church members has just come back from a holiday in Israel and has been telling us a little of situations he experienced. he told us about the extreme poverty that is impacting on Israel’s youngest and oldest inhabitants. It seems that these expensive weapons are taking the food from children’s mouths. This only adds to the dilema of whether or not to boycott Israeli goods. I wish I could think of an effective way to convince the US it should be supplying food not weapons.
    There’s a little bit more about Hugh’s trip on our church blog which you can read via and click on Llanfair Uniting Church.

  • 3. Lawrence  |  14 June, 2006 at 11:48 pm

    Hi Jo. Welcome to the blog – and many thanks for your comment. It’s a difficult one, isn’t it? There is the humanitarian concern about lack of food (which Sian points to: great to have your comments, Sian). That seems straightforward: we ought to be dealing with it as a humanitarian crisis and putting as much pressure on governments as we can to ensure that people have access to food and clean, plentiful water. Then there’s the structural issue – the fact that these shortages are a direct and deliberate policy of the Israelis. Personally, I think the international community should be dealing with Israel exactly as they did with the Apartheid government. That means recognising the status of the Palestinian community as exiles in their own country and as an oppressed group that needs support, encouragement and protection. They must not be treated as pawns in an international game. And pressure needs to be put on Israel. That, to me, means boycotts and sanctions. Personally, I do boycott Israeli goods, and I wish there was a concertyed campaign to do so. I think we also need a steer from the Palestinian community. They are the ones who can do the sums and balance equations about hurting and harming the community. Not sure how helpful that is, – I’d like to hear your further thoughts, both of you.

  • 4. homileo  |  15 June, 2006 at 10:52 am

    I must admit that I still have lingering doubt about whether boycotts are that effective. I know that the South Africa situation is held up as the shinning example but I would like to see more concrete evidence. I wonder if the boycott always hurts the poorest. In this situation that would be Palestinian migrant workers.

    I wonder if we are going to boycott Israeli goods we should target those made in the illegal settlements of West Bank. The question is how are those identified?

    I do know that you can identify Israeli goods by looking at the bar code. If the code begins with 7 290 then it originates in Israel. It is also not just fruit and veg from Israel that we find on our supermarket shelves but clothes as well. Delta Galil clothes manufacturers is the biggest supplier for Marks and Spencers and they also supply Calvin Klein, Gap, DKNY, and Hugo Boss.

    Another question: could we also consider positively buying Palestinian goods?

  • 5. Lawrence  |  15 June, 2006 at 11:09 am

    I don’t think we need doubt the effectiveness of the boycotts and sanctions, Homileo. Apartheid was brought to an end because it became too expensive to maintain, rather than through any dramatic change of heart. I hear what you say about the danger of boycotts etc hurting the poorest. That’s why I write as I did last comment that it is only the Palestinian community itself that can balance the equation of hurt and harm, and ask us what we can do that will be most effective. I don’t think it is our job to be making individual decisions about what will and won’t be best. We can’t do it. We haven’t the information. There is no way of intervening in these sorts of situations that enables us to do so with “clean hands”. Whatever is or isn’t done will cause some harm. That is why I think the local community has to come to that particular decision.

    I like your stress on buying Palestinian goods. The difficulty at present is, of course, the inability of the Palestinians to get their stuff to market! We at the Centre get olive wood carving direct from a family in Bethlehem, but it isn’t easy for them over there to get stuff out. That doesn’t mean we shouldn’t do it: it means we will have to do make concerted efforts to ensure that they get goods out. I’m right with you on that one.

  • 6. Cy  |  23 June, 2006 at 11:56 am

    In any Middle-East discussion we must remember the 1880s when escape by Jews from Imperial Russian attrocity, to Turkish-occupied Palestine, grew. It is my feeling that the Zionists (who saw a defensible Jewish State as their only resort) would have been open to persuasion that co-operation with the Arabs (both Christian and otherwise) would serve their purpose of being free from pogrom better than revived nationhood.

    Indeed, there were excellent friendships between ordinary Jews and ordinary Arabs. But the religious leaders (of Christian and other faiths) preached hatred and condemned co-operation. So decades of agent-provocateur attacks on Jews, with self-defensive response enabling anti-Jew propaganda, ensued.

    The British took over after WW1. I am convinced that, if in 1947 the four nations around Palestine had welcomed the UNO declaration and co-operated with the independent Jewish areas, the State of Israel would never have been declared in 1948, and a federation of Jews and Arabs in Greater Palestine would have been founded out of econmic necessity within, say, 20 years.

    There would have been nothing to stop the Unification of Jewish and Arab areas, under the name Palestine, by about 1980 except religious hatred. Sadly, not all Arabs saw the tribe of Judah as a great asset to their land sent by divine grace. For a non-theist like me, this long delay in setting up a free Palestine is all the sad consequence of false belief. But things are fast moving to a change! Both sides will soon be working hard to set up the Unification!

  • 7. Cy  |  14 July, 2006 at 1:06 am

    NB is now defunct Cy

  • 8. Cy  |  13 August, 2006 at 5:25 pm

    NB 2 is now revived Cy


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