This week, Israeli Apartheid Week is sparking debate across campus as to the true nature of the Israeli state. Depictions of Israel as an ethnically- divided nation will no doubt be countered by those who point to the fact that Palestinians in Israel proper have the right to vote, and enjoy the same status in courts of law. Despite these realities, no mistake should be made: Israel is a state in which non-Jews have an inferior legal status, and its people live different lives depending on their ethnicity.
As any high-school student can tell you, apartheid is a term literally meaning “separation” (or “apart-hood”). It is characterized by the forcible transfer of populations, land control, labour exploitation, and humiliation. Article 2 of the United Nations International Convention on the Suppression and Punishment of the Crime of Apartheid defines state practices that constitute apartheid, all of which apply to Israel’s treatment of the Palestinian people.In 1948, after having declared its independence, Israel established itself as a “Jewish state” in 78 per cent of historical Palestine, after 750,000 people, three-quarters of the native population, were ethnically cleansed from their lands. In 1967, Israel conquered the remaining 22 per cent of Palestine by taking control of the West Bank and Gaza Strip. This led to the further expulsions of another 250,000 people, and ushered in the longest-standing military occupation of the modern era.As a consequence of 1948 and 1967, Palestinians now constitute one of the largest refugee populations in the world, numbering close to five million. Today, Israel continues to deny these Palestinian refugees the right to return to their homes, claiming that they are a “demographic threat” to the maintenance of a Jewish majority within Israel.Hand in hand with the expulsion of the indigenous population has come the illegal confiscation of Palestinian land by the state of Israel. Today, 93 per cent of the territory of the state of Israel is controlled by the Jewish National Fund and other state institutions, reserved for Jewish citizens only.Similar to apartheid South Africa, present-day Israel also practices containment of the Palestinian population in the “Bantustans” of the West Bank and Gaza. Indigenous Palestinians who live in these open-air prisons are arbitrarily cut off from the rest of historic Palestine by the Apartheid Wall. Entry and exit from these Bantustans—and movement within them—is controlled by Israel through an intricate network of checkpoints, Jewish-only settlements, “bypass” roads, curfews, ID systems, and constant harassment by the Israeli military, all of which make daily life virtually impossible. These refugees’ lives are under the control of Israel. They have no say, they have no vote.It is worth noting that the analysis of Israel as an apartheid state was developed by progressive Israelis, Palestinians, and South Africans themselves. Archbishop Desmond Tutu has compared present-day Israel to Apartheid era South Africa and accused Israel of creating Bantustans for Palestinians.The apartheid analogy should bring to mind the international activist movement that helped dismantle South African apartheid. Starting in the 1970s, a grassroots popular boycott, international isolation, and economic sanctions were critical to ending the racist regime in South Africa. A similar campaign is crucial to ending the apartheid regime of Israel.The purpose of International Israeli Apartheid Week is to contribute to this chorus of international opposition to Israeli apartheid, and to bolster support for a boycott, divestment, and sanctions campaign. This is in accordance with the demands outlined in a July 2005 statement issued by over 170 Palestinian civil society organizations, who called for full equality for Arab-Palestinian citizens of Israel, an end to the occupation and colonization of all Arab lands, the dismantling the Apartheid Wall, and the protection of Palestinian refugees’ right to return to their homes and properties.Nausheen Quayyum is a member of Students Against Israeli Apartheid.