Our South Africa Moment Has Arrived
Introduction

As Israel shifts steadily to the fanatic, racist right, as the latest parliamentary election results have shown, Palestinians under its control are increasingly being brutalized by its escalating colonial and apartheid policies, designed to push them out of their homeland to make a self-fulfilling prophecy out of the old Zionist canard of "a land without a people." In parallel, international civil society, according to numerous indicators, is reaching a turning point in its view of Israel as a pariah state acting above the law of nations and in its effective action, accordingly, to penalize and ostracize it as it did to apartheid South Africa.

Palestinian communities in Jerusalem, Jaffa, Hebron, the Jordan Valley and the Naqab (Negev), among others, have been recently subjected to some of the worst, ongoing Israeli campaigns of gradual ethnic cleansing intended to "Judaize" their space. Qalqilya is suffocated by the colonial apartheid Wall that surrounds it from all sides, while Nablus is under constant siege. A few months ago, the Palestinian community in Acre was brutally attacked by Jewish-Israeli fundamentalists and xenophobes in one of the worst pogroms witnessed by Palestinians inside Israel. Still, Gaza today stands out as the test of our common humanity and our indispensable morality. A thorough analysis of the role played by Western and some Arab governments in regards to Israel's criminal war of aggression against Gaza will demonstrate a resounding failure on both accounts. Throughout the atrocious assault, the official West, along with the governments of Egypt, Saudi Arabia, the Ramallah-based Palestinian Authority and the UN leadership,[1] were willing accomplices in Israel's grave violations of international law and basic human rights.

In words that can quite accurately be used to describe Israel, Robert Kagan, a leading neo-conservative ideologue, justifies hegemonic tendencies as a prerogative of the mightiest [2]:

"The United States remains mired in history, exercising power in the anarchic Hobbesian world where international laws and rules are unreliable and where true security and the defense and promotion of a liberal order still depend on the possession and use of military might."

True to this paradigm, Israel has for decades maintained a regime of occupation, colonization and apartheid over the indigenous people of Palestine through the "possession and use of military might," in Addition to the indispensable collusion of Western powers, whose unconditional largesse has for six decades enabled Israel to maintain and develop its multi-faceted system of colonial oppression against the Palestinian people.

By contributing to Israel's illegal blockade of Gaza and its criminal war against it, the EU and other Western states have reached a qualitatively different stage of complicity, becoming, more blatantly than ever, full partners in the US-Israeli policy of undermining the rule of law and espousing in its stead the law of the jungle, thereby promoting the Bush-Bin Laden self-fulfilling prophecy of a dichotomous world divided surgically into good and evil, with each side regarding the other as evil.

In response to this fatal alliance of savage capitalism in the West with Israeli racism, exclusion and colonial subjugation, the global movement for boycott, divestment and sanctions, BDS, against Israel presents not only a progressive, anti racist [3], sophisticated, sustainable, moral and effective form of civil, non-violent resistance, but a real chance of becoming the political catalyst and moral anchor for a strengthened, reinvigorated international social movement capable of reaffirming the rights of all humans to freedom, equality and dignity and the right of nations to self determination.

Gaza: the West's Complicity in War Crimes

As early as 2007, Richard Falk, a prominent international law expert at Prince ton University and the current UN Special Rapporteur for Human Rights in the occupied Palestinian territories (OPT), called the Western-supported Israeli siege of Gaza "a prelude to genocide"[4] and, later, "a Holocaust in the making."[5] Falk, who happens to be Jewish, argued that the siege is especially disturbing because it vividly expresses "a deliberate intention on the part of Israel and its allies to subject an entire human community to life-endangering conditions of utmost cruelty."[6]

Using more diplomatic language, Sara Roy [7], a Harvard University expert on development in the OPT, accuses the EU, along with the US, of complicity in a deliberate Israeli policy of "de-development" of the OPT, killing any possibility of creating an independent and sovereign Palestinian state. By providing the Palestinians with "tangible benefits such as higher income and improved infrastructure," Roy argues, the EU was hoping to buy Palestinian support for substantial concessions in the so-called "peace negotiations." She concludes, "The logic of international law was abandoned in the interest of maintaining a failed political process."

An examination of the Israeli siege of Gaza, most of whose population are refugees forcibly displaced [8] by Zionists -- and later Israel -- during the 1948 Nakba, can elucidate this "de-development" policy which amounts to collective punishment, as most legal experts agree. During this ongoing -- now 21-month- old -- siege, more than 80% of the 1.5 million Palestinians caged into the world's "largest open-air prison" have been pushed into poverty and dependency on international humanitarian assistance; the entire economic infrastructure has been systematically decimated, with more than 95% of the factories forced to shut down, driving poverty and unemployment below sub-Saharan African standards; educational institutions have been unable to function properly due to lack of fuel and electricity for prolonged periods; the health care system is on the verge of collapse, and hundreds of patients in need of critical health care, particularly cancer and kidney patients, have died after being denied access to medical facilities outside Gaza.

The longer term effects of the siege are even more daunting.[9] According to the World Health Organization chronic malnutrition and dietary-related diseases have alarmingly increased, resulting in rampant low birth weights; anemia in more than two thirds of all children age one year and younger; and stunted growth in close to 13.2% of children under age five. Moreover, preventable diseases, caused by polluted water and inadequate sewage processing, started spreading wildly. Thousands, mainly children, have suffered serious hearing problems due to Israel's once concentrated use of sonic booms for weeks on end. A whole generation of Palestinian children in Gaza will suffer severe developmental and psychological disorders for many years to come, health studies have shown. There is also a significant increase already in the rate of incidence of cancer and other deadly diseases directly related to Israeli-inflicted pollution and health care denial.

Reacting to the devastating impact of Israel's siege, Karen Abu Zayd, the Commissioner-General of UNRWA, warned [10]:

"Gaza is on the threshold of becoming the first territory to be intentionally reduced to a state of abject destitution with the knowledge, acquiescence and some would say -- encouragement of the international community. . . . Humanitarian and human development work was never meant to function in an environment devoid of constructive efforts to resolve conflict or to address its underlying causes. Indeed, humanitarian work is profoundly undermined in a context where there is implicit or active complicity in creating conditions of mass suffering."

It is this aspect of the siege, the processes leading to the slow death of masses of people and to inhibiting the development of a generation of Palestinian children that prompted Falk's eye-opening description of Israel's siege as constituting acts of genocide.

Former Israeli education minister and leftist leader, Shulamit Aloni, adopted years ago this designation of Israel's policies towards the Palestinians under its occupation. As early as 2003, she condemned an Israeli atrocity that pales in comparison with the Israeli massacres just committed in Gaza saying [11]:

"So it's not yet genocide of the terrible and unique style of which we were past victims. And as one of the smart [Israeli] Generals told me, we do not have crematoria and gas chambers. Is anything less than that consistent with Jewish ethics? Did he ever hear how an entire people said that it did not know what was done in its name's"

And that was before Israel's rolling massacre in Gaza.

According to respected human rights organizations active in the field, Israel's 23-day military offensive, which started on December 27, 2008, led to the death of more than 1,400 Palestinians, approximately 83% of whom are civilians [12], and to the complete or partial destruction of thousands of homes; the leading university; 45 mosques; several ministries, including those of education and justice; scores of schools[13]; a Red Crescent Hospital and tens of ambulances [14] and clinics; as well as thousands of factories and small businesses. Several massacres were committed and well documented. The ICRC [15] accused Israel, in an unusually sharp tone, of failing to provide medical care to the injured and impeding medical relief from reaching them, thereby causing their bleeding to death, both severe violations of international humanitarian law. More than 400 Palestinian children were killed by the three-week long Israeli bombing, many due to burns caused by Israel's illegal use of phosphorous bombs.

On the opening day of its assault on Gaza, the Israeli military caused massive destruction of civilian infrastructure and massacred close to 200 Palestinian civilians, many of whom were non-combatant police trainees, while no Israeli civilians were reportedly killed. Nevertheless, Western leaders were quick to issue statements expressing concern about the loss of life and suffering on "both sides," blaming the Palestinian resistance for provoking the atrocities, and absolving Israel of any responsibility under the pretext of its "right to defend itself."

Leading international jurists [16], however, categorically rejected Israel's self-defense argument, accusing it of committing war crimes. The UN Human Rights Council and the UN Secretary General have called for impartial, independent war crimes investigations. Amnesty International [17], Human Rights Watch [18], the main Israeli human rights organization, B'Tselem [19], the International Federation for Human Rights (FIDH), the Euro-Mediterranean Human Rights Network[20], among many others, have similarly accused Israel of committing war crimes, completely refuting its self-defense claim, particularly since it was Israel that first violated the June 2008 ceasefire with Hamas on November 4th, when it attacked and killed 6 resistance fighters without any provocation.

Gerald Kaufman, a senior Jewish Labor Party member of the British Parliament compared some Israeli actions to those of Nazis. [21] So did Noam Chomsky [22] and Holocaust survivor and senior academic, Hajo Meyer [23], of A Different Jewish Voice in the Netherlands. Echoing Kaufman, Chomsky and Meyer, prominent Jewish British intellectuals and academics compared Gaza to the Warsaw Ghetto in a letter to the Guardian [24], as did the International Jewish Anti-Zionist Network on this year's Holocaust Remembrance Day. [25]

Israel's Other Colonial and Apartheid Policies

Gaza aside, Palestinian civil society and a growing number of influential human rights advocates recognize that Israel's regime over the indigenous people of Palestine constitutes occupation, colonization and apartheid. Specifically, Israel's decades-old oppression takes three basic forms which were at the core of the Palestinian BDS Call [26]:

(1) The prolonged occupation and colonization of Gaza and the West Bank, including east Jerusalem, and other Arab territories;

(2) The system of racial discrimination against Palestinian citizens of Israel; and

(3) The persistent denial of the UN-sanctioned rights of the Palestinian refugees, paramount among which is their right to reparations and to return to their homes of origin, in accordance with UN General Assembly Res. 94.

Ending these three forms of oppression is the minimal requirement to achieve a just peace in our region.

The most important of all three injustices is without doubt Israel's denial of the right of Palestinian refugees to return. The core of the question of Palestine has always been the plight of the refugees who were ethnically cleansed during the Nakba and ever since. The fact that refugees form a majority of the Palestinian people coupled with their 60-year old suffering in exile make the recognition of their basic rights, including their right to reparations and return to their homes of origin, the litmus test of morality for anyone suggesting a just and enduring solution to the Palestinian-Israeli conflict. Moral and legal rights aside, the denial of Palestinian refugee rights guarantees the perpetuation of conflict. [27]

As to the occupation [28], nothing quite captures its immense injustice as much as Israel's colonial Wall. Despite the Wall's grave repercussions on Palestinian livelihood, environment, and political rights, a near total consensus [29] exists amongst Israeli Jews in its support. The former Israeli environment minister, Yehudit Naot, however, protested a specific aspect of the Wall, saying [30]:

"The separation fence severs the continuity of open areas and is harmful to the landscape, the flora and fauna, the ecological corridors and the drainage of the creeks. The protective system will irreversibly affect the land resource and create enclaves of communities that are cut off from their surroundings."

Even after irises were moved and passages for small animals were created, the spokesperson for the Israel Nature and National Parks Protection Authority still complained [31]:

"The animals don't know that there is now a border. They are used to a certain living space, and what we are concerned about is that their genetic diversity will be affected because different population groups will not be able to mate and reproduce. Isolating the populations on two sides of a fence definitely creates a genetic problem."

While so attuned to the welfare of wild flowers and rabbits, Israel treated Palestinian children as dispensable creatures. Professionally-trained sharpshooters fatally targeted them in minor stone-throwing incidences. For example, medical sources [32] and human rights organizations, including Physicians for Human Rights, have documented in the first stage of the current Palestinian intifada a pattern of targeting the eyes [33] and knees of Palestinian children with a "clear intention" to harm. [34]

And when there was no stone-throwing incident to hide behind, Israeli soldiers had to provoke one. The veteran American journalist Chris Hedges exposed [35] how Israeli troops before their redeployment out of Gaza had methodically provoked Palestinian children playing in the dunes of the Rafah area in order to shoot them, concluding: "Children have been shot in other conflicts I have covered [. . .] but I have never before watched soldiers entice children like mice into a trap and murder them for sport."

Israel's repressive and racist policies in the 1967-occupied Palestinian territory have been recognized as constituting apartheid by a host of opinion leaders such as Archbishop Desmond Tutu, former US president, Jimmy Carter, and former UN Special Rapporteur for human rights, Prof. John Dugard, among others. In the same vein, former Israeli Attorney General, Michael Ben-Yair, wrote in a 2002 article in Ha'aretz describing Israel's regime in the OPT, "We enthu Siastically chose to become a colonial society, ignoring international treaties, expropriating lands, transferring settlers from Israel to the occupied territories, engaging in theft and finding justification for all these activities. . . . In effect, we established an apartheid regime in the occupied territories. . . ." [36]

However, the applicability of the crime of apartheid as defined in UN conventions to Israel itself has, for the most part, been either inadvertently glossed over or intentionally ignored as an explosive subject that has every potential to invite the vengeful wrath of powerful pro-Israel lobbies. Regardless, one cannot but examine the facts and analyze Israel's system of governance accordingly.

The strongest argument given by -- sometimes well-meaning -- experts who dismiss the apartheid label for Israel is that the analogy between Israel and South Africa is not exact and, in many respects, Israel's oppression is even more severe, demanding a different designation altogether. The problem with this argument is that it assumes, quite incorrectly, that apartheid is a South African trademark and, therefore, that every regime accused of practicing apartheid must be shown to be identical to South Africa's apartheid regime of yesteryear. Apartheid, however, although brought to world attention and given its name by the racist regime in South Africa, has been recognized by the UN for decades as a generalized crime with a universal definition.

The Convention on the Suppression and Punishment of the Crime of Apartheid of 1976 defines apartheid [37] as "similar policies and practices of racial segregation and discrimination as practised in southern Africa" which have "the purpose of establishing and maintaining domination by one racial group of persons over any other racial group of persons and systematically oppressing them, in particular by means such as segregation, expropriation of land, and denial of the right to leave and return to their country, the right to a nationality and the right to freedom of movement and residence" (Article II). The similarity to South Africa is cited not as a condition but in recognition of its status as a historic precedent.

As a recent in-depth strategic position paper [38] published by the Palestinian BDS National Committee states, Israel's origins, laws and policies against the Palestinian people fit to a large extent the definition of apartheid. The conceptual origins of Israel's unique form of apartheid are found in Zionism, a racist European ideology that was adopted by the dominant stream of the Zionist movement (World Zionist Organization, Jewish Agency, Jewish National Fund, among others) in order to justify and recruit political support for its colonial project of establishing an exclusive Jewish state in historic Palestine. Political Zionists dismissed the indigenous population of Palestine as non-existent in the famous Zionist slogan of "a land without a people;" making this a self-fulfilling prophecy, Zionist forces forcibly displaced 750,000-900,000 Palestinians from their homeland and destroyed hundreds of the depopulated Palestinian villages in an operation termed "cleaning the landscape" that lasted until 1960. [39]

Israel's regime over the Palestinian people amounts to apartheid precisely because it displays many of the main features of the crime as defined by international law:

1. Racial discrimination against the indigenous Palestinian people who became citizens of the State of Israel was formalized and institutionalized through the creation by law of a "Jewish nationality";, which is distinct from Israeli citizenship. No "Israeli" nationality exists in Israel, and the Supreme Court has persistently refused to recognize one as it would end the system of Jewish supremacy in Israel. The 1950 Law of Return entitles all Jews -- and only Jews -- to the rights of nationals, namely the right to enter "Eretz Yisrael" (Israel and the OPT) and immediately enjoy full legal and political rights. "Jewish nationality" under the Law of Return is extraterritorial in contravention of international public law norms pertaining to nationality. It includes Jewish citizens of other countries, irrespective of whether they wish to be part of the collective of "Jewish nationals," and excludes "non-Jews" (i.e., Palestinians) from nationality rights in Israel.

2. The 1952 Citizenship Law [40] has created a discriminatory two-tier legal system whereby Jews hold nationality and citizenship, while the remaining indigenous Palestinian citizens hold only citizenship. [41] Under Israeli law the status of Jewish nationality is accompanied with first-class rights and benefits which are not granted to Palestinian citizens.

3. The Israeli Status Law of 1952 authorizes the World Zionist Organization/Jewish Agency and its subsidiaries, including the Jewish National Fund, to control most of the land in Israel, for the exclusive benefit of Jews. In 1998, the Committee on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights, CESCR, expressed [42] grave concern about this law and stated that large-scale and systematic confiscation of Palestinian land and property by the State and the transfer of that property to these agencies constitute an institutionalized form of discrimination, because these agencies by definition would deny the use of these properties to non-Jewish citizens of the State.

4. Return of Palestinian refugees and Internally-Displaced Persons (IDPs), as required by international law, has been prevented by means of force and legislation on racist grounds. Simply because they are not Jews, Palestinian refugees were excluded from entitlement to citizenship in the State of Israel under the 1952 Citizenship Law. They were "denationalized" and turned into stateless refugees in violation of the law of state succession. Their land and other property were confiscated by the State. The approximately 150,000 Palestinians who remained in Israel after the 1948 Nakba were placed under a military regime (1948-1966) similar to the regime currently in place in the OPT.

For decades, racial discrimination against Palestinian citizens of Israel in every vital aspect of life has been the norm. From land ownership to education to health to jobs to housing, the indigenous Palestinians have been denied equality by the State's laws and policies. For instance, they are not allowed, to buy or rent land in about 93% of the state lands of Israel. [43] To this date, polls consistently show overwhelming majorities of Israeli Jews standing in opposition to full equality with the indigenous Palestinians in the state. [44] So the fact those Palestinians can vote, unlike their black African counterpart under South African apartheid, becomes almost a formality, a tokenism of sorts, clearly designed to project a deceptive image of democracy and fend off well-justified accusations of apartheid. [45]

Even in cancer research [46], Israeli apartheid is strongly present. In June 2001, the Health Ministry published a map of the geographical distribution of malignant diseases in Israel during the years 1984-1999. The report did not include a single Palestinian community in Israel, with the exception of Rahat, ostensibly due to "budgetary problems." This research is particularly important because, in Israel, only when a correlation is shown between the presence of polluting sites and the incidence of malignant disease is it possible to prevent installation of new hazards, or demand tighter environmental standards.By intentionally omitting Palestinian towns in its extensive cancer mapping, the Health Ministry has indirectly given a green light to polluters to relocate to Palestinian towns inside Israel -- not to mention in the OPT. The results of such health apartheid are ominous. In the past three decades the rate of malignant diseases in the Palestinian population in Israel has risen 3 to 4 times higher than among the Jewish population. A spokesperson for the Israeli Center against Racism commented, "The report has produced two different groups. One, an overprivileged group, whose lives are dear to the state and to the Health Ministry; a second, whose lives are of no importance to the state."

This discrimination must be seen in the wider context of Israel's perception of Palestinians by leading Israeli politicians, intellectuals, academics and mass media outlets as a "demographic threat" that needs to be dealt with resolutely; thus the rise of openly fascist parties in the recent parliamentary elections. Echoing a popular view in Israel, a ranking academic, Major General (reserve) Shlomo Gazit from the Jaffee Center for Strategic Studies, preaches: "Democracy has to be subordinated to demography."[47] And now, the fanatic right Israeli leader, Avigdor Lieberman, and his supporters are saying democracy has to be subordinated to loyalty to Jewish supremacy.

The complicity of Western governments in all this horrific violation of international law and basic human rights has led many analysts to view the role of the West as profoundly flawed, both morally and legally. The comprehensive impunity enjoyed by Israel has allowed it to project itself and to act as an uncontrollable "mad dog" -- an image advocated by Moshe Dayan decades ago and endorsed most recently by Israeli military historian, Martin Van Creveld [48] -- in an attempt to make the Palestinians submit to its colonial will, to accept slavery as fate.

This criminal impunity and categorical denial of rights, more than anything else, were the main motivation behind the Palestinian BDS campaign.

Since 9 July 2005, Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions have been advocated by virtually the entire Palestinian civil society everywhere as an effective form of solidarity that has a real potential to bring about an end to Western complicity with Israel and, therefore, to Israel's occupation, colonization and apartheid. During and ever since Israel's criminal war on Gaza, Palestinian civil society has stood more united than ever in urging people of conscience all over the world to hold Israel accountable for its crimes by treating it as South Africa was under apartheid rule. In response, unions, academic groups, faith-based organizations, political parties, social movements and others have adopted creative, context-sensitive and sustainable BDS campaigns, from South Africa to Norway, from Australia to Canada, from Britain to Venezuela, and even from the podium of the President of the UN General Assembly. [49]

Israel's state terrorism in Gaza, enabled by virtually unlimited support from the US and Western governments in general, was a key catalyst in spreading and deepening BDS around the world, prompting advocates of Palestinian rights to feel that our South Africa moment has finally arrived. Israel is now widely perceived, at a grassroots level, as an international pariah that commits war crimes with impunity and that needs to be held accountable to international law and basic principles of human rights.

The last few weeks alone witnessed some of the most significant indicators to date of this phenomenon. The Canadian Union of Public Employees (CUPE) Ontario's University Workers Coordinating Committee (OUWCC) at its annual conference last February endorsed [50] a boycott of Israeli academic institutions. A few days ago, the Federation Autonome du Collegial (FAC), Quebec College Federation, also joined the BDS campaign. [51] In Durban, South Africa, the COSATU-affiliated dock workers union refused in early February to offload an Israeli cargo ship, [52] reminding us of similar sanctions taken against South African ships during the apartheid era. An Australian dock workers union and a group of American progressive union leaders endorsed the South African BDS action. In the US, Hampshire College set a historic precedent [53] by announcing its divestment from20six companies profiting from the Israeli occupation. Significantly, Hampshire was also the first college in the US to divest from apartheid South Africa in the 1970s. In Wales, Cardiff University acceded [54] to demands by students and decided to divest from companies supporting the occupation. Even in France, where BDS had faced an uphill struggle for several years, a statement [55] was lately issued by leading academics explicitly endorsing BDS to end Israel's impunity.

The latest spectacular entrenchment of the BDS campaign, especially since the Israeli aggression against Gaza, gives us hope that one day Israel's impunity and Western, UN and Arab collusion with it will come to an end, allowing a genuine, just peace to flourish in Palestine and the entire region. Only thus can ethical coexistence have a real chance to be realized.

In his poem, Message to the Living, Henk van Randwijk, a Dutch poet of resistance against the Nazis, wrote:

A people giving in to tyrants will loose more than body and goods the light will be extinguished

On Saturday, 24 January 2009, two days after the end of Israeli hostilities and despite all the death, devastation and trauma, hundreds of thousands of Gaza's children almost literally rose from under the rubble that most of Gaza was reduced to and went with enthusiasm to their damaged schools, carrying their torn bags, scarred books and injured souls. Their agony was deep and anger deeper; but t heir eyes were still shining with defiance, ambition and hope for emancipation. Do not extinguish their light.

--
Omar Barghouti is an independent Palestinian political and cultural analyst and a founding member of the Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions (BDS) campaign.

http://palestinechronicle.com/view_article_details.php?id=14921 

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