Several weeks ago, the United Nations released a statement telling us what Palestinians have known for decades since the Nakba: that Israel has established an apartheid regime.
Meaning “the Catastrophe,” the Nakba refers to the time when over 700,000 Palestinians — Muslim, Christian, and Jewish alike — were violently uprooted and expelled from their homes by Zionist forces in 1948. While this moment is understood as a time of expulsion of indigenous Palestinians, one can understand the Nakba as ongoing through the apartheid policies of the settler colonial state of Israel today.
According to the UN’s Apartheid Convention, apartheid is a discriminatory political system historically practiced by the white ruling class of South Africa. As it pertains to international law, apartheid includes “similar policies and practices of racial segregation and discrimination as practiced in southern Africa.” With this, there is a historical link between the South African struggle against white apartheid and tthe Palestinian struggle against Israeli occupation.
South African leader Nelson Mandela consistently reaffirmed Palestinians’ right to statehood and liberation, and this cross-cultural solidarity lives on today. A statue of Mandela gifted by the city of Johannesburg was erected in Ramallah in 2016. Hasina Kathrada of the South African Broadcasting Corporation writes:
“Solidarity knows no boundaries or even geography. SA’s destiny is tied to the people of Palestine. South Africa’s liberation and humanity is tied to Palestine’s. Madiba’s statue here in the centre of Ramallah will be a daily reminder to the people of Palestine that indeed, their intifada is SA’s too.”
Importantly, the definition of apartheid according to international law is: “inhuman 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.” With this definition in mind, it’s clear why Israel is an apartheid state. Palestinians, in the West Bank, Gaza Strip, Israel, and in diaspora, are deprived of rights afforded to Jewish Israelis.
The hundreds of thousands of Palestinians expelled from their homes in 1948 have grown to over 5 million refugees. While many of the dispelled Palestinians hold the deeds and keys to their houses back in Palestine, none of them, nor their descendents, are allowed to move back to their homes. In fact, depending on their citizenship or political identities, they are often not allowed to even visit Israel if they have the means to.
Palestinians, even those born in what is now Israel, have no such birthright. They have no right of return.
Palestinian citizens in Israel are also subject to racialized laws and regulations that inhibit them from living as equals under the law. First and foremost, Palestinian citizens of Israel are stripped of their national identity and classified as Arab-Israelis.
This institutionalized over-writing of Palestinian identity is consistent in Israeli rhetoric. Palestinians are grouped into the Arab monolith, rather than being considered in the context of their situated ties to the land.
Contrary to popular belief in the United States, Israel is not a bastion of liberal democracy in the Middle East. According to the Merriam-Webster Dictionary definition, democracy is a political system in which “the supreme power is vested in the people” and where there is an “absence of hereditary or arbitrary class distinctions or privileges.”
Neither are true in Israel/the Occupied Palestinian Territories. Full citizenship is harder to receive and maintain as a person of color or non-Jew in Israel, and without it, these residents cannot participate in political life.
There are over 50 laws that discriminate against Palestinians in Israel. For starters, Palestinian citizens do not serve in the Israeli military, which often asserts force on other Palestinians and Arab populations. However, military service is tied to many social/economic benefits in the country, and as such, Palestinian citizens are denied these benefits.
Public services beyond those afforded to IDF members/veterans are also segregated by race. Throughout Israel, particularly in East Jerusalem, it is more difficult for Palestinians to attain property permits, and their schools are entirely separated from the schools of Jewish students.
This tiered public system is a clear indicator of an apartheid state, especially considering that Arab schools receive under half the funding per capita of Jewish schools.
Another indicator of the race/religion based discrimination infused with Israeli law is Israel’s marriage laws, by which same-sex and interracial marriages are disallowed. Though Israel poses itself as a haven of LGBTQ+ friendliness, this rhetoric masks the deeper concern that Israel uses this as a pivot point from their rejection of queer Palestinian liberation.
Most chilling of Palestinian unequal experiences are those of Palestinians in the West Bank and Gaza, who are subject to regular home demolitions, settler violence, and toiling checkpoints throughout daily life. Palestinians in the West Bank are held under Israeli military law which arbitrarily charges children as adults. Under occupation, the IDF convicts Palestinians on “secret evidence” to prisons known for their impugned use of torture.
Residents of Gaza, one of the most densely populated places in the world, face the worst of Israeli crimes against humanity. Israel’s blockade on Gaza prevents the travel of goods and people, and every few years the IDF besieges Gaza as collective punishment. The most recent siege occurred in the summer of 2014 (known as Operation Protective Edge), when 2,205 Palestinians were killed.
Given the lived experiences of Palestinians today, it would be an injustice to purport that Israel has not established an apartheid regime. We call attention to these crimes this year in Israeli Apartheid week, and invite you to attend our events, for we know that there will not be peace and justice in the region until the liberation of Palestine.