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Is Israeli Occupation Moving Toward Apartheid?

Allan C. Brownfeld
Winter 2017

Apartheid in Palestine,  
Ghada Ageel, Editor,  
University of Alberta Press,  
263 Pages, $10 (Canadian)  
Israel’s occupation of the West Bank and East Jerusalem has come under  
increased scrutiny in recent days. In December, the U.N. Security Council  
adopted a resolution that condemned Israeli settlement building. The Obama  
administration chose to abstain from the vote rather than exercise its veto  
to block it. The New York Times (Dec. 29, 2016) editorially declared that,  
“Nowhere is it written that an American president is obligated to shelter  
Israel from international criticism that is consistent with decades-old  
American policy and with American interest … It declared that the  
settlements, in territory that Israel captured from Jordan during the Arab-  
Israeli war of 1967, have no legal validity; affirming longstanding U.N. and  
American policy, it cited the Fourth Geneva Convention of 1949, which  
prohibits any occupying power from transferring its own people to conquered  
In a major speech in December, Secretary of State John Kerry said that the  
Israeli government was undermining any hope of a two-state solution. “The  
status quo is leading toward one state and perpetual occupation,” he  
declared. “Some seem to believe that the U.S. friendship means the U.S. must  
accept any policy, regardless of our own interests, our own positions, our  
own words, our own principles — even after urging again and again that the  
policy must change. Friends need to tell each other the hard truths, and  
friendship requires mutual respect.”  
Kerry argued that Israel, with a growing Arab population, could not survive  
as both a Jewish state and a democratic state unless it embraced the two-  
state approach that a succession of American presidents has endorsed. While  
both Kerry and President Obama were harshly criticized by Prime Minister  
Netanyahu, many other Israelis expressed their agreement. The liberal  
Israeli newspaper Haaretz carried the headline, “A very Zionist, pro-Israel  
speech.” Former Prime Minister Ehud Barak, the most decorated soldier in  
Israel’s history, warned that, “As long as in this territory west of the  
Jordan River there is only one political entity called Israel, it is going  
to be either non-Jewish or non-democratic. If the bloc of millions of  
Palestinians cannot vote, this will be an apartheid state.” Of Secretary  
Kerry’s speech, Barak characterized it in these terms on Twitter: “Powerful,  
lucid … World and majority of Israelis think the same.”  
Israeli Occupation as “Apartheid”  
Both in Israel and in the U.S., the term “apartheid” is being used more and  
more to describe Israel’s occupation. Rabbi Henry Siegman, a former director  
of the American Jewish Congress, says that Israel’s settlements have created  
an “irreversible colonial project” and involves having Israel “cross the  
threshold from ‘the only democracy in the Middle East’ to the only apartheid  
regime in the Western world. Denial of self-determination and Israeli  
citizenship to Palestinians amounts to ‘double disenfranchisement,’ which,  
when based on ethnicity amounts to racism.” Reserving democracy for  
privileged citizens and keeping others “behind checkpoints and barbed wire  
fences,” he states, is the opposite of democracy.  
In the book Apartheid in Palestine, Ghada Ageel, visiting professor in the  
Department of Politics at the University of Alberta, has gathered a group of  
essays about Israel’s policy of occupation. The authors are Jewish,  
Christian and Muslim. They are of various nationalities — American,  
Canadian, Israeli and Palestinian. Some are the descendants of families who  
have been displaced by Israeli policies. They shed much light on what is now  
taking place in the occupied territories and whether “apartheid” is an  
appropriate term to describe the current situation.  
The forward is written by Richard Falk, professor emeritus of international  
law at Princeton who, in 2008, was appointed by the U.N. Human Rights  
Council to a 6 year term as U.N. Special Rapporter on “the situation of  
human rights in the Palestinian Territories occupied since 1967.” He writes  
that, “Since the early 1990s, most hopes for a peaceful resolution of the  
conflict depended on a diplomatic framework agreed upon in Oslo and  
solemnized by the … 1993 handshake at the White House between Yitzhak Rabin  
and Yasser Arafat … As of now, there is a widespread realization that  
diplomacy cannot under present conditions produce a sustainable peace by the  
parties. This became clear when negotiations collapsed in April 2014 …”  
Israeli Politics Moving to the Right  
Dr. Falk, who is Jewish, points out that, “Israeli internal politics have  
been drifting further and further to the right and seem on the verge of  
producing a consensus that will favor a unilaterally imposed solution that  
will leave the Palestinians squeezed either into barren Bantustans on the  
West Bank or incorporated into an Israeli one-state solution, in which the  
best that they can hope for is to be treated decently as second-class  
citizens in a self-proclaimed Israeli ethnocracy. Beyond this, even these  
diminished democratic elements in the Israeli reality would be threatened by  
the prospects of a Palestinian majority, leading many prominent Israelis to  
throw their democratic pretensions under the bus of ethnic privilege.”  
Dr. Ageel cites Hebrew University sociologist Eva Illouz, who recently  
compared the present circumstances of the Palestinians to conditions of  
slavery. She argues that these conditions present one of the great moral  
questions of our time and that they are similar, in certain respects, to the  
slavery that divided the U.S. in the 19th century. She writes: “If a person  
or a group creates mechanisms to alienate the freedom and life of another,  
that person is not technically speaking a slave but s/he is subject to  
conditions of slavery.” She suggests that when 70 per cent of the  
Palestinian population “live in conditions in which their freedom, honor,  
physical integrity, and their capacity to work, acquire property , marry,  
and more generally, plan for the future, are alienated to the will and power  
of their Israeli masters, these conditions can only be named by their proper  
name; conditions of slavery.” Illouz asserts that, “The occupation started  
as a military conflict and unbeknown to itself became a generalized  
condition of domination, dehumanizing Palestinians, and ultimately  
dehumanizing Israelis themselves.”  
Two controversies which this book confronts, writes Ageel, are these:  
“Comparisons of Israel’s policies to those of apartheid South Africa are  
met, almost invariably, with expressions of indignation. Equally heated  
controversy ensues when the Palestinian exodus, widely known in Palestinian  
narrative as the Nakba, is linked directly to the establishment of the state  
of Israel. This book takes on these two controversies — apartheid and Nakba  
— from the points of view of both Palestinians and Israelis, scholars as  
well as activists.”  
Displaced Palestinians  
Dr. Ageel tells the stories of many Palestinians who were displaced by the  
creation of Israel. One of these is Khadijah, 89, a mother of 10, who now  
lives in the Khan Younis refugee camp: “Once she owned a house, farms and  
land, and she enjoyed honor, dignity and hope. She was part of the Beit  
Daras community, a village that no longer exists on world maps. It has been  
demolished together with over 500 other Palestinian villages. Khadijah’s  
tale is a story of a land that has been emptied of its people and a people  
who have been separated from their land and segregated from each other …  
Over 70 per cent of the current population of Gaza are refugees whose  
stories closely approximate Khadijah’s. Either they themselves or their  
parents and grandparents were driven from their homes in 1948. Israeli  
military forces systematically destroyed hundreds of Palestinian villages  
during and after the 1948 war; as one of six measures included in a  
‘Retroactive Transfer’ approved in June 1948 by the Israeli finance minister  
and prime minister to prevent Palestinian refugees from returning home.”  
The town of Beit Daras, before it was destroyed by the Israeli Army in 1948,  
had a population of approximately 3,000 people, including some 400 houses,  
one elementary school, and two mosques. “Virtually nothing is left today,”  
writes Ageel. “According to Plan Dalet, Jewish forces were ordered to  
cleanse the Palestinian areas that fell under their control. Israeli  
historian Ilan Pappe describes this cleansing: ‘Villages were surrounded  
from three flanks and the fourth one was left open for flight and  
evacuation. In some cases it did not work, and many villagers remained in  
the house — here is where the massacres took place.’”  
Ghada Ageel is the eldest granddaughter of Khadijah. She notes that,  
“Growing up in a refugee camp … decades after the destruction of Beit Daras,  
my grandmother told me the story of our village … She didn’t forget our  
land, contrary to the prediction by David Ben-Gurion that the old generation  
would die and young generations would forget. The story of our lost village  
was, in the accurate words of Ramzay Baround, ‘a daily narrative that simply  
defined our internal relationship as a community.’ … The claim by Israel’s  
Prime Minister Golda Meir in 1979 that, ‘There are no Palestinians,’  
enhanced the misunderstanding of Palestinian peoplehood. The world seems not  
to understand that when Israelis speak of ‘the Jewish state of Israel’ they  
are talking about the ethnic cleansing of my grandmother. Likewise, the  
world seems not to understand that when the Israelis speak of ‘the war of  
independence’ they are talking about the Najba.”  
“Pullout” from Gaza  
Husaida Arraf, a Palestinian-American lawyer and human rights activist,  
writes, with regard to Israel’s withdrawal from Gaza and its current status,  
that, “In August/September 2005, in a much heralded ‘pullout’ from Gaza,  
Israel evacuated approximately 9,000 Jewish settlers from 21 illegal  
colonies in Gaza and redeployed its military from within the Gaza Strip to  
its borders. It then proceeded to proclaim that Gaza was no longer occupied.  
However, nothing about Israel’s disengagement ended its occupation, or the  
isolation of Gaza. Israel continued to control Gaza by land, sea and air,  
and to enforce a near complete separation of Gaza from the West Bank and  
from the rest of the world. Under international law, the measure of whether  
a territory is occupied is not boots on the ground, but rather the measure  
of ‘effective control’ that a foreign power has over a territory. In  
addition to control over Gaza’s borders, covering approximately one-third of  
Gaza’s agricultural land, and shoots at Palestinians who enter this area …  
As such, Israel maintains control over Gaza and consequently still occupies  
Israeli peace activist Tali Shapiro describes how her religion and  
background makes her superior to Palestinians: “Within this system, I am  
partitioned at the top of a ruling class by virtue of my mother’s religion,  
my grandmother’s geographical origins and the color of my skin. Within this  
system, if you don’t possess these random endowments, you are not only of  
the lower class but, in some cases, you are virtually non-existent. I’d like  
to point out that such ‘non-existence’ isn’t a merely a metaphorical  
erasure. It’s literal … Israeli colonial culture, via the government and  
business, not only erases Palestinian existence but also thwarts any  
attempts to counter this erasure.”  
She points to the fact that, “Israel’s one and only water company/authority  
controls and distributes water resources in the Occupied West Bank, beyond  
the armistice lines viewed as Israel’s borders prior to 1967. Not only does  
the occupying power keep its hand on the faucet; it systematically abuses  
this power by favoring its (Israeli Jewish) civilians (illegally transferred  
into occupied territory) over the indigenous population under occupation  
(‘protected persons’ under international law). Israel rations water in favor  
of its settlers, and at times leaves the occupied community completely dry,  
especially during the hot summer months. In addition, the Israeli water  
company/authority also dabbles in water technologies in collaborative  
projects with various corporations. For example, it desalinated water, which  
it eventually exports for profit.”  
Former Ambassadors to South Africa Speak Out  
Of particular interest is the essay, “Israel and Apartheid,” by the  
respected Canandian attorney Edward C. Corrigan. He points out that Alon  
Liel, a former Israeli ambassador to South Africa and a former director  
general of the Israeli Foreign Ministry, has spoken out on the continued  
Israeli occupation of the West Bank and has called for a boycott of goods  
produced in the Jewish settlements of the West Bank He makes an analogy to  
apartheid in South Africa: “Many of us tend to believe that the conflict can  
be managed forever and Israel no longer has a ‘Palestinian problem.’  
However, this is pure deception. The continuing settlement expansion  
threatens to make a two-state solution to the conflict impossible. Israel is  
sliding into a situation where, short of apartheid, or expulsion of the  
Palestinians, a one-state solution with equal rights for all could become  
the only possible way out of the conflict. This is the South African model.”  
Another Israeli ambassador to South Africa, Ilan Baruch, voiced a similar  
criticism of Israeli policies toward the Palestinians in 2011. In what was  
described as a “Foreign Ministry earthquake,” the veteran Israeli diplomat  
says he resigned “because he had a hard time defending the policies of  
Israel’s current government.” Baruch sent a personal letter to all Foreign  
Ministry employees to explain his motives for his action: “Identifying the  
objection expressed by global public opinion to the occupation policy as  
anti-Semitic is simplistic, provincial and artificial. Experience shows that  
this global trend won’t change until we normalize our relations with the  
“Apartheid,” Corrigan points out, is not simply a pejorative term of insult  
but has a specific legal meaning, as defined by the International Convention  
on the Suppression and Punishment of the Crime of Apartheid, adopted by the  
U.N. General Assembly in 1973 — and ratified by most U.N. members — but not  
the U.S. and Israel. According to Article II, the term applies to “acts  
committed for the purpose of establishing and maintaining domination by one  
racial group of persons over any other racial group of persons and  
systematically oppressing them.”  
Charges of Anti-Semitism  
Corrigan declares: “The question remains: Is the comparison to apartheid  
valid in reviewing Israel’s policies toward the. Palestinians? Is it anti-  
Semitic to defend Palestinian human rights? … Charges of anti-Semitism must  
be seen as spurious and as attempts to obscure and deflect discussion from  
the real issues when the facts reveal that Palestinians are discriminated  
against and subjected to cruel and unusual punishment in defense of their  
human rights … The Netanyahu government’s ‘Jewish nation-state’ bill is  
moving Israel even closer to being an apartheid state that discriminates on  
the basis of race and religion … Israel’s mistreatment and violations of  
Palestinians and Palestinian rights are best described in the words of Moshe  
Gorali, the legal analyst for Haaretz: ‘Chief Supreme Court Justice Aharon  
Barak used the phrase ‘long-term occupation’ to justify the Israeli  
government’s permanent, massive investments in the territories. To describe  
a situation where two populations, in this case, one Jewish and the other  
Arab, share the same territory but are governed by two different legal  
systems, the international community customarily uses the term apartheid.’”  
There is only one important legal case that relates to the Palestinian issue  
at the International Court of Justice (ICJ): the advisory opinion on the  
“Legal Consequences of the Construction of a Wall in the Occupied  
Palestinian Territory,” which was rendered on July 9, 2004. The ICJ court  
majority decision was 14-1. The ICJ found that Israel was an occupying power  
and that the Fourth Geneva Convention as well as other international  
conventions and international customary law applied to the Israeli  
occupation of the Palestinian territory. Here are some key excerpts from the  
Summary of the ICJ Advisory Opinion:  
“The Court concludes that all these territories (including East Jerusalem)  
remain occupied territories and that Israel has continued to have the status  
of occupying power.  
“As to the principle of self-determination of peoples the Court points out  
that it has been enshrined in the U.N. Charter and reaffirmed by the General  
Assembly in Resolution 2625 (XXV) cited above, pursuant to which ‘Every  
state has the duty to refrain from any forcible action which deprives  
people’s referred to (in that resolution) … of their right to self-  
ICC and Israeli Settlements  
George Bisharat, a professor at the University of California’s Hastings  
College of Law, commented on the ICC’s findings concerning one of the major  
Israeli violations of international law, namely the settlements in the West  
Bank and East Jerusalem: “No doubt, Israel is most worried about the  
possibility of criminal prosecutions for its settlements policy. Israeli  
bluster notwithstanding, there is no doubt that Jewish settlements in the  
West Bank, including East Jerusalem, are illegal. Israeli officials have  
known this since 1967, when Theodore Meron, then legal counsel to the  
Israeli Foreign Ministry and later president of the International Criminal  
Tribunal for the former Yugoslavia, wrote to one of Prime Minister Levi  
Eshkol’s aides: ‘My conclusion is that civilian settlement in the  
administered territories contravenes the explicit provisions of the Fourth  
Geneva Convention.’”  
The U.N. Human Rights Council report also affirms that Israel is in  
violation of Article 49 of the Fourth Geneva Convention, which forbids the  
transfer of a population into territory that is occupied. The U.N. fact-  
finding mission’s report on the settlements, concludes that, “Israeli  
settlements are constructed for the benefit of Jews only through a system of  
ethnic segregation and military law, and are in violation of the Fourth  
Geneva Convention, which forbids the transfer of civilian population into  
occupied territory by the occupying force.” According to the U.N. report,  
Israel must cease all settlement activity without preconditions and must  
immediately initiate a process of withdrawal of all settlers.  
The Israeli settlements, Corrigan declares, are not only illegal under  
international law but are, according to the Israeli Committee Against Home  
Demolition (ICAHD) “an obstacle to the enjoyment of human rights by the  
whole population, without distinction as to national or ethnic origin.  
Actions that change the demographic composition of the Occupied Palestinian  
Territory are violations of human rights and international humanitarian  
law.” Amnon Rubenstein, Israeli legal scholar and former parliament member,  
reached a similar conclusion: “In its policy of establishing settlements in  
the territories, irrespective of the policy’s political wisdom or absence  
thereof, Israel has clearly violated international law. It has violated the  
prohibitions concerning an occupying power’s transferring nationals to the  
territory it occupies and concerning the expropriation of land for purposes  
unrelated to the local population’s well-being.”  
Demolition of Palestinian Homes  
Since 1967, Corrigan points out, Israeli authorities have demolished more  
than 2,000 houses in East Jerusalem alone. In 2012, a total of 581 homes  
were demolished, displacing 1,049 men, women and children. He notes that,  
“These policies render the lives of Palestinians more and more miserable,  
pressuring the Arab population into a ‘voluntary’ exodus from the area; one  
wonders if this is, in fact, the unspoken goal of the Israeli government. As  
Uri Avnery, a member of Gush Shalom and a former Knesset member, writes,  
‘These methods have served ‘the redeemers of the soil’ (in Zionist  
terminology) for the last 120 years. The tempo can be increased rapidly. the  
more hellish the lives of Palestinians become — for security reasons, of  
course — the more the Israeli leadership hopes that the Arabs will go away  
voluntarily.’ Indeed, there is much evidence to support the notion that the  
intention of the current political Zionist Jewish leadership of Israel is to  
drive out the Palestinians.”  
If so-called voluntary removal does not work, Corrigan argues, “… force  
becomes the alternative. This intention has been clear in Israeli officials’  
policies and statements. In 1989, at the time of Tiananmen Square protests  
in the People’s Republic of China, Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu  
said that, ‘Israel should have taken advantage of the suppression of the  
demonstrations in China, when the world’s attention was focused on what was  
happening in that country, to carry out mass expulsions among the Arabs of  
the Territories.’ He added, ‘However, to my regret, they did not support  
that policy that I proposed, and which I still propose should be  
implemented.’ Netanyahu denied making these remarks but the Jerusalem Post  
provided a recording of his speech.”  
At the present time, as a result of the December U.N. Security Council  
resolution, and the fact that the administration of President Donald Trump  
has expressed opposition to it, there has been increasing attention paid to  
Israel’s settlements. The growing debate may be helpful. Writing in The  
Washington Post (Jan. 1, 2017), Brent Scowcroft, who served as national  
security adviser to Presidents Ford and George H.W. Bush, and Thomas  
Pickering, a former undersecretary of state and ambassador to the United  
Nations and Israel, write that, “Over decades in and out of government, we  
have shared with great conviction the United States’ commitment to Israel  
and its security. We have also followed with increasing concern the  
inability to secure the kind of peace that Israelis and Palestinians alike  
so deserve and that would best advance U.S. goals in the region and beyond.  
No side is blameless … but the relentless confiscation of Palestinian land  
and expansion of Israel’s presence in the territories occupied since 1967  
have created facts on the ground that are the proximate cause of fear that a  
two-state deal might soon be impossible to attain.”  
Peace Predicated on Israeli Withdrawal  
Scowcroft and Pickering make it clear that, “Support for Israeli-Palestinian  
peace predicated on an Israeli withdrawal to a border based on the 1967  
lines and opposition to Israeli civilian settlements in occupied territories  
have been long-standing bipartisan principles of U.S. policy. The Carter  
administration’s determination of the illegality of settlements under  
international law has never been reversed by succeeding Republican or  
Democratic presidents … We believe that a rejection of peace and the  
promotion of settlements are also bad for Israel. If we lose the two-state  
option, then we may well lose the ability to base the U.S.-Israel  
relationship on shared values. The permanent disenfranchisement of millions  
of people on an ethnic-national basis — keeping the Palestinians ‘separate  
and unequal,’ in Kerry’s words — does not conform with American values. This  
is not something to be taken lightly … We would hope that when it comes to  
weighing the alternatives, our new leaders will come to see the wisdom in  
advancing the only viable option for peace: a sovereign and contiguous  
Palestine alongside a secure and democratic Israel …”  
Explaining the U.N. action and the U.S. decision not to veto the resolution  
criticizing Israeli settlements, New York Times (Dec. 28,2016) columnist  
Thomas Friedman made the point that, “Friends don’t let friends drive drunk,  
and right now Obama and Kerry rightly believe that Israel is driving drunk  
toward annexing the West Bank and becoming either a bi-national Arab-Jewish  
state or some Middle Eastern version of 1960s South Africa, where Israel has  
systematically deprived large elements of its population of democratic  
rights to preserve the state’s Jewish character. Israel is clearly on a path  
to absorbing the West Bank’s 2.8 million Palestinians. There are already 1.7  
million Arabs living in Israel, so putting these two Arab populations  
together would constitute a significant minority with a higher birth rate  
than that of Israeli Jews — who number 6.3 million — posing a demographic  
and democratic challenge … Bibi (Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu)  
just calls Obama an enemy of Israel … U.S. Jewish ‘leaders’ then parrot  
whatever Bibi says. Sad.”  
It has been clear for some time that establishment Jewish organizations,  
which support whatever policies the government in Israel embraces, do not  
represent the views of most American Jews. Samuel Heilman, a sociology  
professor at Queens College specializing in Jewish life, notes that, “These  
days the right wing has a louder voice in Israel, and, in some ways, it also  
has a louder voice in America, because the people who are most actively and  
publicly Jewish, sectarian Jewish, share the right-wing point of view, and  
are very pro-settlement. But it’s not the mainstream point of view.”  
Jewish Support for Kerry Speech  
Rabbi John L. Rosove of Temple Israel in Hollywood, California, chairman of  
the Association of Reform Zionists of America, applauded Secretary Kerry’s  
speech and suggested that many American Jews supported the Obama  
administration’s vote in the U.N.: “I felt Kerry was exactly right. The  
people who will criticize him and will take a leap and say he’s anti-Israel,  
just as some American Jews are saying Obama is an anti-Semite. This is  
ridiculous. They recognize and cherish the state of Israel.”  
Rabbi Jill Jacobs, the executive director of T’ruah, a rabbinical human  
rights organization, says. “There’s a very clear values clash going on. On  
the one hand, we have a small but vocal minority of American Jews who  
believe that supporting Israel means supporting the right-wing agenda, the  
current government. And on the other, there is a larger percentage of  
American Jews who are committed to Israel and committed to democracy and  
want to see it as a safe place that reflects our values.” Steven M. Cohen, a  
research professor at Hebrew Union College and a consultant to the recent  
Pew study of American Jews, believes that Secretary Kerry’s speech  
represents the thinking of most American Jews: “On survey after survey,  
American Jews are opposed to Jewish settlement expansion. They tend to favor  
a two-state solution and their political identities are liberal or  
After Vice President Joe Biden visited Israel in 2010 only to be confronted  
by Prime Minister Netanyahu’s approval of 1,600 new housing units in East  
Jerusalem, Gen. David Petraeus warned, “Arab anger on the Palestinian  
question limits the strength and depth of U.S. partnership with governments  
and people in the region.” The subject of Israel’s settlements is likely to  
divide the incoming Trump administration. Its ambassador to Israel, David  
Friedman, is not only an advocate of the settlements but rejects the  
creation of a Palestinian state. The new Secretary of Defense, Gen. James  
Mattis, warned in 2013 that Israeli settlements were leading to an  
“apartheid” state.  
Reimagining the Palestinian Struggle  
Those who seek to make sense of what is certain to be a continuing  
discussion of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict would do well to read the  
collection of essays in the book Apartheid in Palestine gathered together by  
Ghada Ageel. As Richard Falk writes in the Forward, “Ghada Ageel and her  
band of collaborators are telling us to reimagine the Palestinian national  
struggle, and even to relate to it in an effective and knowledgeable  
manner.” •

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