Uri Avnery is a radical non-Zionist Israeli who overlaps with the Zionist left in his advocacy of a two-state solution. I found parts of this essay too noxious to copy on our blog (click on the link below for his entire piece), but he has instructive – albeit painful – things to say about what is and isn’t “apartheid” in the West Bank.
A Freedom Ride by Uri Avnery
Yesterday, a decree of the Officer Commanding the Central Sector, General Yair Naveh, was about to come into force. It forbade Israeli drivers from giving a ride to Palestinian passengers in the occupied territories. The knitted-Kippah-wearing general, a friend of the settlers, justified this as a vital security necessity. In the past, inhabitants of the West Bank have sometimes reached Israeli territory in Israeli cars.
Israeli peace activists decided that this nauseating order must be protested. Several organizations planned a protest action for the very day it was due to come into force. They organized a “Freedom Ride” of Israeli car-owners who were to enter the West Bank (a criminal offence in itself) and give a ride to local Palestinians, who had volunteered for the action…. At the last moment, the general “froze” the order. The demonstration was called off.
THE ORDER that was suspended (but not officially rescinded) emitted a strong odor of apartheid. It joins a large number of acts of the occupation authorities that are reminiscent of the racist regime of South Africa, such as the systematic building of roads in the West Bank for Israelis only and on which Palestinians are forbidden to travel. Or the “temporary” law that forbids Palestinians in the occupied territories, who have married Israeli citizens, to live with their spouses in Israel. And, most importantly, the Wall, which is officially called “the separation obstacle”. In Afrikaans, “apartheid” means separation….
Because of this, we are right when we use the term “apartheid” in our daily struggle against the occupation. We speak about the “apartheid wall” and “apartheid methods”. The order of General Naveh has practically given official sanction to the use of this term. Even institutions that are far from the radical peace camp did relate it to the Apartheid system.
Therefore, the title of former President Jimmy Carter’s new book is fully justified – “Palestine – Peace not Apartheid”….
BUT WHEN we use the term “Apartheid” to describe the situation, we have to be aware of the fact that the similarity between the Israeli occupation and the White regime in South Africa concerns only the methods, not the substance. This must be made quite clear, so as to prevent grave errors in the analysis of the situation and the conclusions drawn from it….
These reservations all apply to comparisons between the Israeli-Palestinian conflict and the historical conflict between the Whites and the Blacks in South Africa. Suffice it to point out several basic differences:
(a) In SA there was a conflict between Blacks and Whites, but both agreed that the state of South Africa must remain intact- the question was only who would rule it. Almost nobody proposed to partition the country between the Blacks and the Whites.
Our conflict is between two different nations with different national identities, each of which places the highest value on a national state of its own.
(b) In SA, the idea of “separateness” was an instrument of the White minority for the oppression of the Black majority, and the Black population rejected it unanimously. Here, the huge majority of the Palestinians want to be separated from Israel in order to establish a state of their own. The huge majority of Israelis, too, want to be separated from the Palestinians. Separation is the aspiration of the majority on both sides, and the real question is where the border between them should run. On the Israeli side, only the settlers and their allies demand to keep the whole historical area of the country united and object to separation, in order to rob the Palestinians of their land and enlarge the settlements. On the Palestinian side, the Islamic fundamentalists also believe that the whole country is a “waqf” (religious trust) and belongs to Allah, and therefore must not be partitioned.
(c) In SA, a White minority (about 10 percent) ruled over a huge majority of Blacks (78 percent), people of mixed race (7 percent) and Asians (3 percent). Here, between the Mediterranean and the Jordan River, there are now 5.5 million Jewish-Israelis and an equal number of Palestinian-Arabs (including the 1.4 million Palestinians who are citizens of Israel).
(d) The SA economy was based on Black labor and could not possibly have existed without it. Here, the Israeli government has succeeded in excluding the non-Israeli Palestinians almost completely from the Israeli labor market and replacing them with foreign workers.
IT IS important to point out these fundamental differences in order to prevent grave mistakes in the strategy of the struggle for ending the occupation….
SOME PEOPLE in Israel and around the world follow the Apartheid analogy to its logical conclusion: the solution here will be the same as the one in South Africa. There, the Whites surrendered and the Black majority assumed power. The country remained united. Thanks to wise leaders, headed by Nelson Mandela and Frederick Willem de Klerk, this happened without bloodshed.
In Israel, that is a beautiful dream for the end of days. Because of the people involved and their anxieties, it would inevitably turn into a nightmare. In this country there are two peoples with a very strong national consciousness. After 125 years of conflict, there is not the slightest chance that they would live together in one state, share the same government, serve in the same army and pay the same taxes. Economically, technologically and educationally, the gap between the two populations is immense. In such a situation, power relations similar to those in Apartheid South Africa would indeed arise….
IT MAY be hoped that this situation will change in 50 years. I have no doubt that in the end, a federation between the two states, perhaps including Jordan too, will come about. Yasser Arafat spoke with me about this several times. But neither the Palestinians not the Israelis can afford 50 more years of bloodshed, occupation and creeping ethnic cleansing.
The end of the occupation will come in the framework of peace between the two peoples, who will live in two free neighboring states – Israel and Palestine – with the border between them based on the Green Line. I hope that this will be an open border….