Apartheid: Israelis adopt what
South Africa dropped
by John Dugard, IMEU
November 29, 2006
Former President Jimmy Carter's new book,
"Palestine: Peace Not Apartheid," is igniting controversy
for its allegation that Israel practices a form of apartheid.
As a South African and former anti-apartheid
advocate who visits the Palestinian territories regularly to assess
the human rights situation for the U.N. Human Rights Council,
the comparison to South African apartheid is of special interest
On the face of it, the two regimes are
very different. Apartheid was a system of institutionalized racial
discrimination that the white minority in South Africa employed
to maintain power over the black majority. It was characterized
by the denial of political rights to blacks, the fragmentation
of the country into white areas and black areas (called Bantustans)
and by the imposition on blacks of restrictive measures designed
to achieve white superiority, racial separation and white security.
The "pass system," which sought
to prevent the free movement of blacks and to restrict their entry
to the cities, was rigorously enforced. Blacks were forcibly "relocated,"
and they were denied access to most public amenities and to many
forms of employment. The system was enforced by a brutal security
apparatus in which torture played a significant role.
The Palestinian territories - East Jerusalem,
the West Bank and Gaza - have been under Israeli military occupation
since 1967. Although military occupation is tolerated and regulated
by international law, it is considered an undesirable regime that
should be ended as soon as possible. The United Nations for nearly
40 years has condemned Israel's military occupation, together
with colonialism and apartheid, as contrary to the international
In principle, the purpose of military
occupation is different from that of apartheid. It is not designed
as a long-term oppressive regime but as an interim measure that
maintains law and order in a territory following an armed conflict
and pending a peace settlement. But this is not the nature of
the Israeli occupation of Palestine. Since 1967 Israel has imposed
its control over the Palestinian territories in the manner of
a colonizing power, under the guise of occupation. It has permanently
seized the territories' most desirable parts - the holy sites
in East Jerusalem, Hebron and Bethlehem and the fertile agricultural
lands along the western border and in the Jordan Valley - and
settled its own Jewish "colonists" throughout the land.
Israel's occupation of the Palestinian
territories has many features of colonization. At the same time
it has many of the worst characteristics of apartheid. The West
Bank has been fragmented into three areas - north (Jenin and Nablus),
center (Ramallah) and south (Hebron) - which increasingly resemble
the Bantustans of South Africa.
Restrictions on freedom of movement imposed
by a rigid permit system enforced by some 520 checkpoints and
roadblocks resemble, but in severity go well beyond, apartheid's
"pass system." And the security apparatus is reminiscent
of that of apartheid, with more than 10,000 Palestinians in Israeli
prisons and frequent allegations of torture and cruel treatment.
Many aspects of Israel's occupation surpass
those of the apartheid regime. Israel's large-scale destruction
of Palestinian homes, leveling of agricultural lands, military
incursions and targeted assassinations of Palestinians far exceed
any similar practices in apartheid South Africa. No wall was ever
built to separate blacks and whites.
Following the worldwide anti-apartheid
movement, one might expect a similarly concerted international
effort united in opposition to Israel's abhorrent treatment of
the Palestinians. Instead one finds an international community
divided between the West and the rest of the world. The Security
Council is prevented from taking action because of the U.S. veto
and European Union abstinence. And the United States and the European
Union, acting in collusion with the United Nations and the Russian
Federation, have in effect imposed economic sanctions on the Palestinian
people for having, by democratic means, elected a government deemed
unacceptable to Israel and the West. Forgotten is the commitment
to putting an end to occupation, colonization and apartheid.
In these circumstances, the United States
should not be surprised if the rest of the world begins to lose
faith in its commitment to human rights. Some Americans - rightly
- complain that other countries are unconcerned about Sudan's
violence-torn Darfur region and similar situations in the world.
But while the United States itself maintains a double standard
with respect to Palestine it cannot expect cooperation from others
in the struggle for human rights.
John Dugard is a South African law professor
teaching in the Netherlands. He is currently Special Rapporteur
(reporter) on Palestine to the United Nations Human Rights Council.
This article comes courtesy of the Institute for Middle East Understanding
and was published first in the Atlanta Journal-Constitution.