Just over a year ago, Bob Simon at CBS’s 60 Minutes did a piece that implicitly challenged the credibility of President Obama’s early push to revive the Middle East peace process. Simon noted the swiftness with which the new president had taken up the issue, but then went on to show the stark realities of segregated life in the occupied West Bank.
For anyone paying attention to the issues, there were no revelations in the 60 Minutes segment, yet the fact that it aired on prime-time network television and right at the moment the Obama administration was being viewed by so many with such a giddy sense of hope, showed Simon’s seriousness as a journalist. Nothing that has happened in the intervening months has cast an iota of doubt on the perspective he presented.
Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu said Tuesday that Israel would never agree to withdraw from the Jordan Valley under any peace agreement signed with the Palestinians.
Netanyahu told the Foreign Affairs and Defense Committee that the Jordan Valley’s strategic importance along the eastern border of the West Bank made it impossible for Israel to withdraw, according to a meeting participant.
Salman Masalha points out that Israel’s apartheid nature is not confined to the physical separation it has created between Jewish settlers and Palestinians but is also intrinsic to the structure, operation and identity of the Jewish state:
The alienation between Arabs and Jews can be seen everywhere. It has not arisen solely in the context of the national conflict, but is rather a result of an establishment policy which has expropriated Arabs’ lands to build communities “for Jews only” and has pushed the Arab inhabitants into localities under an “ethno-Zionist siege” on all sides.
The Israel Police, which is responsible for maintaining public law and order, provides the most blatant evidence that the Israeli regime behaves as if it is a foreign regime. It abandons the Arab localities to the rule of criminal gangs, intervening only when concern arises that the crime might spill over into Jewish locales. The Arab alienation from the police – a symbol of the regime – is apparent, among other things, in the absence of Arabic writing on police vehicles. How does an Arab citizen feel about a police force that appears in his community, but does not include any writing in his language? Does this not symbolize, more than anything else, that the police represent an occupation regime, a foreign regime? How would the inhabitant of some Jewish locale feel if there were no writing in Hebrew on police vehicles, but only a foreign language?
The alienation is also evident with regard to the central government. This is the only democratic country in the world where one-fifth of the citizens – who are declared to have equal rights, at least on paper – have no representation in the government or in “provisional and permanent institutions.” And this is the case even before we start talking about budgetary allocations, master plans, the building of cities and communities, education, culture, industrialization and more.
Chas Freeman writes:
Impolitic as it is to mention this, in rejecting the analogy with apartheid in South Africa, the Washington Post’s Richard Cohen is not only denying realities on the ground in Palestine but also the principal and most awkward difference between the two cases. South Africa’s whites did not have a dedicated cadre of coreligionists or ethnic kin abroad who labored to protect them from the consequences of their deviance from the norms of humane behavior as defined by Western civilization at large. Nor, despite open sympathy for South African whites in the American South and among ardent anti-Communists, did apartheid enjoy international ideological support outside the neo-Nazi fringe. Israel’s policies are supported morally, politically, and financially by large Jewish communities and a vocal minority of Christians abroad, especially in North America, which is where global power remains concentrated. Without that support and those subsidies, Israel manifestly could not act as it does. The dependence of South Africa on external factors was far less direct or clear.
These differences between South Africa and Israel seem to me to be crucial both morally and politically. Cohen is clearly in denial not only about the realities of the Israel-Palestine situation but more importantly about the moral question raised by his support and that of so many other Jews who identify with Israel not just for the existence of Israel but for whatever it does: is Israeli pseudo-apartheid entitled to and does it enjoy the approval and support of world Jewry regardless of how inhumane it is to others? If the answer to either question is yes, it follows that the Jewish Diaspora and its Christian camp followers are as responsible as Israel itself for the Jewish state’s increasingly blatant racist outrages against Palestinians and other Arabs.
Jesse Rosenfeld writes:
I grew up in an anti-apartheid household in Toronto. My parents met while my father was touring southern Africa as part of a Canadian anti-apartheid organisation, building links with postcolonial African socialist states and the South African liberation movement. On long car journeys, our family would mix Nelson Mandela’s autobiography with Just William children’s story tapes, and my parents would occasionally hire a babysitter so they could attend organising meetings for the international boycott campaign against South Africa.
As much as I was taught about apartheid, the violence of segregation, and the brutality of a state designed only to serve a settler population, I didn’t experience it first-hand until I moved to Ramallah in 2007.
Going to Jerusalem through the Qalandia terminal checkpoint and watching the soldiers harass and degrade Palestinians with Jerusalem IDs – while most of my Ramallah friends were barred from travelling there altogether – was the first I saw of state-run segregation. Walking through the Balata refugee camp on the edge of Nablus was the first township-style ghetto I set foot in. Seeing the Palestinian Authority beat anti-Bush demonstrators in the street during the former president’s visit in 2008 was my first real taste of the bitterness of Inkatha-style divide-and-rule.