By Ronnie Barkan, BDS activist. @ronnie_barkan
Recently an academic institute in The Hague hosted a panel titled “Confronting Apartheid - A critical discussion”. The extraordinary thing was that Israeli practice of apartheid was set as the given framework, and the only remaining question was to what extent is it being practiced?
Is the Crime of Apartheid solely practiced in the OPT or does it also apply to Palestine ‘48, also known as Israel proper? Does is extend beyond that territory as far as Palestinian refugees are concerned? This is an important step in changing the discourse on Palestine-Israel.
The speakers included Prof. John Dugard along with Adri Nieuwhof, Shawan Jabarin, Dr. Jeff Handmaker and myself. Prof. Dugard took the conservative approach, in his words, stating that the Crime of Apartheid is practiced primarily in the OPT and “possibly also within Israel itself”. In Dugard’s view, we should be focusing our attention on the 1967 occupation which he claims to be a clearer violation of the law. There are several arguments for and against this approach, one set of such counter-arguments is offered by Dr. Ran Greenstein in his review of Dugard’s recently published book.
Then again, in their UN-commissioned report, Profs. Tilley and Falk make a compelling legal case that apartheid is practiced throughout the territory under Israeli control and even beyond. Could it be that challenging the entire State of Israel as an apartheid state, ie challenging its very character, is more about the psychology of it all?
The Zionist project in Palestine can be discussed in terms of settler-colonialism, occupation and apartheid. Zionism is not only a colonialist movement, but at its core it is also deeply supremacist and had therefore discussed the creation of a society and a state in terms of exclusivity and ethnic-purity. Its obsession with supremacy and demography meant that it never intended to implement a democratic regime in the 56% of historic Palestine which was allotted to it by the UN, but rather opted for ethnically cleansing that land of its undesired indigenous population. Those who were forcefully expelled are still denied their right to return home – punished for the crime of wrong ethnicity – and those who remained on their land have been subjugated ever since, first under military law and later under a set of oppressive state laws that strip them of every political right.
The remaining territory of Palestine, which had not been acquired during the war of 1948, was militarily occupied almost two decades later with the same intention. Control over populations in the West Bank (including East Jerusalem), the Gaza Strip and the Syrian Golan, takes on many different forms. But though the means of oppression differ across different geographies, there is one overarching system of oppression whose rationale and practice are very clear. If this is indeed the case, then focusing on a limited form of apartheid in the OPT may actually be missing the point since grand apartheid is practiced throughout the land!
Let us remember that the first and foremost group which is being affected is probably the one which cannot even interact with that system – these are the millions of refugees who are kept in forced exile since the foundation of the State of Israel, for the sole purpose of maintaining ethnic-purity in that land.
Then again, the discourse is finally changing. When we discuss the extent of Israeli apartheid let us also remember – it is the extent to which equality will reign!
The views expressed in this article are the author's own and do not necessarily reflect BDS Norway’s editorial stance.