These are words often uttered by those in the pro-Israel camp. Whenever Israeli policies are criticised and the issue of Palestinian rights and freedoms are mentioned, there is always someone who cries delegitimisation, “it’s complicated” or accuses the critic of anti-Semitism.
Israeli Apartheid Week events were officially held across several Sydney universities for the first time over the last several weeks. Israeli Apartheid Week was observed globally in over a hundred cities this year. The week aims to educate people about Israel’s institutionalised racism and segregation, its systematic discrimination against Palestinians, and its military occupation. It also aims to encourage Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions.
A week before Israeli Apartheid Week’s official March 9 start in Australia, the CEO of the NSW Jewish Board of Deputies Vic Alhadeff had an opinion piece published in The Australian, Israel: It’s Not Black and White, in which he admonished Israeli Apartheid Week and claimed that Israel is not an apartheid state.
He wrote that it was “obscene that the apartheid descriptor has become the default position for the global delegitimisation campaign against Israel”.
What Mr Alhadeff and supporters of Israel fail to see is that apartheid is not a label baselessly thrown around in an attempt to delegitimise Israel ‘just because’. Apartheid is the crime of systematic segregation and discrimination on grounds of race, and Israel’s actions satisfy the definition of apartheid under international law.
I head Students for Justice in Palestine at the University of Technology Sydney and we hosted a series of talks and events that highlighted Israel’s apartheid nature. A mock Israeli checkpoint was set up at UTS, and passersby and uni-goers caught a glimpse of what daily life is like for Palestinians under occupation.
What’s amusing is that Mr Alhadeff and other supporters of Israel are afraid that lectures and events hosted by university students is what is delegitimising Israel.
Surely Israel is delegitimising itself by enforcing a military occupation, discriminatory laws, policies of segregation, demolishing homes, annexing land, building colonies, imprisoning Palestinians without charge or trial, attacking peaceful protesters, and massacring Palestinian civilians with F16s, white phosphorous and drones?
But Israel is hardly at fault, right? Did you not receive the memo? Israel is a bastion of democracy! Palestinians are equal! Palestinians, the natives, the indigenous people of Palestine, are having a jolly good time rebuilding their homes, knocked over by the IDF. Palestinians enjoy waiting for hours on end at checkpoints. Palestinian refugees and descendants relish being locked out for 64 years. Justice! Freedom!
It is tragic that Mr Alhadeff lists racist laws enforced in apartheid South Africa without seeing how much Israel mirrors those laws and discrimination. Selective amnesia? Wilful ignorance?
Mr Alhadeff recounts black South Africans being indiscriminately stopped in the street by police and being forced to produce identity cards. Is Mr Alhadeff aware that Palestinians, like their black South African brothers and sisters not long ago, are forced to show Palestinian-marked identity cards? Does he know about Israeli military checkpoints? Does he know that there are separate roads and highways for Jewish people? Different registrations for cars? Is he aware that Palestinians are both systematically and indiscriminately checked, raided, and humiliated? Palestinian freedom of movement is severely restricted, and it is reflective of apartheid South Africa’s pass laws.
Mr Alhadeff refers to racist laws in apartheid South Africa, while conveniently forgetting to point out Israel’s Basic Law of Human Dignity and Liberty, which defines Israel as a "Jewish" state rather than a state for all citizens. Israel’s Law of Return also grants automatic citizenship rights to Jews from anywhere in the world upon request, while it denies that same right to Palestinians, whose right to return is enshrined in the United Nations General Assembly Resolution 194.
Mr Alhadeff talks about the incarceration of black South Africans. Is he aware that thousands of Palestinians languish in Israeli prisons? Many Palestinian political prisoners are being held in administrative detention – detained without charge or trial. Is he aware that occupied Palestinians are tried in military courts? That 12-year-old Palestinians are tried as adults? Such treatment is reserved for Palestinians only. Is this just or unjust? It was only in December when Palestinian political prisoner Khader Adnan began a 66-day hunger strike in protest of administrative detention and the gross injustices Palestinians face. His hunger, along with Hana Shalabi’s, a young Palestinian woman who is currently 40 days into her hunger strike, symbolises a hunger for freedom and justice among all Palestinians.
Mr Aldaheff refers to The Group Areas Act in apartheid South Africa, which “stipulated where people could and could not live, the objective being to keep them separate”. Now, this could be news to Mr Aldaheff: Palestinians are forced to live in segregated enclaves, open-air prisons – the Bantustans that are the West Bank and Gaza, much like the enclaves in apartheid South Africa. There are Jewish settlement colonies all over Palestinian land. The West Bank segregation barrier zigzags its way mostly in and around the West Bank, dividing homes and families. Land is confiscated, agriculture and sites destroyed, and Israel expropriates and enjoys the majority of Palestinian resources.
Many South African anti-apartheid activists have spoken out against Israel’s apartheid system. Israeli Apartheid Week has had its place in South Africa for many years. Desmond Tutu has said apartheid in Israel is worse than what it was in South Africa. Lifelong Australian South African anti-apartheid activist Kolin Thumbadoo also reiterated this at an anti-apartheid event hosted by Students for Justice in Palestine several weeks ago. The Human Sciences Research Council of South Africa issued a report in 2009 that found that Israel is, indeed, practicing colonialism and apartheid in the occupied territories. Israeli apartheid is alive.
Israeli Apartheid Week calls for an end to inequality. It calls for freedom, justice and equality for Palestinians. We should be chastising those who whitewash Israel and oppose equality for Palestinians, not those who wish to bring attention to it.