Apartheid is a word describing the racist segregation policies of South Africa before these policies were abolished by the ANC under the leadership of Nelson Mandela in the 90s; it is a word that the white minority themselves used to describe their system of control, domination, subjugation and humiliation of the indigenous black African majority.
Apartheid is strong word with hugely damaging associations, yet consider the term that Israel uses to describe their own policies regarding the Occupied Territories: Hafrada, this is a Hebrew word meaning separation. For example, the Israeli West Bank Barrier is called Geder Ha'hafrada, it means separation fence; and separation as a word is synonymous with segregation and this usefully points to another historical situation that casts some light here: the racist segregation policies of the USA concerning their black minority, particularly in the Deep South before they began to be dismantled during the era of the Civil Rights struggle under the leadership of Dr. Martin Luthor King.
It's of course not surprising that advocates for Israel in the context of the ongoing Israeli-Palestine conflict, now going on for 80 years are deeply uncomfortable, angry and upset with the term Aparthied and are critical of its use in the context of the conflict; they would rather it be ignored, dismissed or buried. They say, it demonises Israel for it's legitimate response to the threat of terror and annihilation; they say, that it's a stick for anti-semites to beat Jews with; and that it demeans the South African experience and offensive for this very reason. Still, however much they would like to do so, it remains a contested term within the context of this conflict and not just a term used by advocates of the right of the Palestinians to self-determination as a people.
Acknowdgement of such by politicians
For example, consider a statement made in 1961 by the then Prime-minister of South Africa, Hendrik Verwoerd, when he dismissed an Israeli vote against South African Apartheid at the UN saying:
Israel is not consistent in its new anti-Apartheid attitude ... they took Israel away from the Arabs after the Arabs had lived there for a thousand years. In that, I agree with them. Israel, like South Africa is an Apartheid state.
This was no wild accusation made in the heat of the moment at the prospect of a vote going against them. A South Africa government yearbook published in 1976 had stated:
Israel and South Africa have above all else one thing in common: they are both situated in a predominantly hostile world inhabited by dark people.
So not difference in religion, nor that of culture but by the difference in the colour of their skin.
In fact three sitting Israeli prime ministers have warned that Israel could become like Apartheid South Africa: David Ben-Gurion in 1967, Yitzhak Rabin in 1976 and Ehud Olmert in 2007; and then in 2010, the then Israeli defence minister and former prime-minister said:
As long as in this territory west of the Jordan river there is only one political entity called Israel, it is going to be either non-Jewish or non-democratic. If this bloc of millions of Palestinians cannot vote then that will be an Apartheid state.
In 2003, Haaretz reported that the former Italian prime minister, Massimo d'Alema told dinner guests in a Jerusalem hotel that on a visit to Rome a few years earlier Sharon had told him that the bantustan model was the most appropriate solution to the conflict. When he was told by one of the guests he was interpreting and not quoting, he said:
No sir, that is not an interpretation. That is a precise quotation from your prime minister
So we see here, that at the highest political levels, a recognition of something very much like Apartheid was developing in Israel.
Differences between Israel & South Africa
There are important differences of course: the Jews are a majority in Israel whereas the Afrikaaners in South Africa were a minority; Arab Israelis have the vote (though they could not form their own political party until the 80s); and they are mostly equal under the law and their rights are protected; nor did the armed struggle in South Africa evolve to the level of murderous tactics adopted by the Palestinian groups.
Despite these differences, a former Israeli ambassador to South Africa, Alon Leil was able to say:
If we take the magnitude of injustice done to the Palestinians by the state of Israel there is a basis of comparison with Israel. If we take the magnitude of their suffering, we are in the same league. Of course Apartheid was a very different philosophy from what we do, most of which stems from security considerations. But from the point of view of outcome, we are in the same league.
I would beg to differ here with Alon Leil and ask him is it the case that the South African government was not interested in security when they said were surrounded by a 'predominantly hostile world inhabited by dark people', omitting the perhaps important consideration that they might not have been so hostile had they not taken away all their lands and enforced an alien way of life upon them and then subjugating, dominating and humiliating them. One can make the case, that a large part of the raison d'etre for the architecture of Aparthied was due to reasons of security.
Israeli governments reserved 93% of the land - often expropriated from Palestinians without compensation - for Jews through state ownership. In colonial and then Aparthied South Africa, 87% of the land was reserved for the whites. Their Population Registration Act categorised South Africans on an array of racial definitions, which determined who could live on what land. The Israeli Population Registry Act serves a similar purpose: both Arabs and Jews are both citizens, but each is assigned a different nationality marked out in their identity cards in effect determining where they can live, their access to government services and how they are likely to be treated by them.
Apartheid as a crime against humanity
As such a crime it is defined in the 1973 Convention against the Suppression and Punishment of the Crime of Aparthied. It was later adopted by the General Assembly of the UN. The Convention defined this crime as:
Inhuman acts committed for the purpose of establishing and maintaining domination by one racial group ... over another racial group ... and systematically oppressing them.
In 2002, this was further clarified by article 7 of the Rome Statute of the International Criminal Court as encompassing inhumane acts such as torture, murder, forcible transfer, imprisonment or persecution of an identifiable group on political, national, cultural, religious or other grounds, committed in the
context of an institutionalised regime of systematic oppression and domination by one racial group over any other racial group or groups and committed with the intention of maintaining that regime.
As the word describing this crime suggests it was inspired by the policies of the Aparthied regime in South Africa.
Can the Palestinian experience in Israel and the Occupied Territories be described as Aparthied?
A key concept in the crime of Aparthied as originally laid down is that of race. This is of course central to the South African experience.
The question of whether Israelis or Palestinians can be said to be 'racial groups' has been a point of contention with regards to the Convention and also the Rome Statute. Political writer, Ronald Bruce St John has argued that with respect to the Convention that Israeli policy cannot be technically called Apartheid because it lacks the racial component. However, he then adds with the introduction of the Rome Statute this situation is clarified as
The emphasis shifts to an identifiable national, ethnic or cultural group as opposed to a racial group
And thus technically the definition now applies; the question is now whether there is sufficient evidence to support such an accusation.
Evidence of Aparthied - studies
In 2009, a report was commissioned by the Human Sciences Research Council on Israeli policy in the Occupied Territories. The report noted that one of the most 'notorious' spectra of South African Aparthied was the 'racial enclave policy' manifested in the Black Homelands called Bantustans. They add:
As the Aparthied regime in South Africa, Israel justifies these policies on the pretext of security. Contrary to such claims, they are part of an overall regime imbed at preserving demographic superiority of one racial group over another in certain areas.
According to the report, Israeli policy correlates closely and almost entirely with the definition of Aparthied in article 2 of the Convention. These included violations of international standards for due process (such as illegal detention); discriminatory privileges based on ascribed ethnicity; draconian enforced ethnic segregation in all parts of life; comprehensive restrictions on individual liberties, such as movement and expression; a dual legal system based on ethno-national identity; denationalisation (denial of citizenship) and a system of laws specially designed to punish any Palestinians who resisted the system.
B'TSelem, an Israeli human rights group in a report have pointed out that Israel has constructed a parallel system of roads in the West Bank for Palestinians who are barred from using many existing ones and have described the system as bearing
clear similarities with the racist Apartheid regime that had existed in South Africa
Furthermore, Scott Bollens, a University of California professor of urban planning who has studied divided cities across the globe including Belfast and Berlin said:
Planning and urban policy, which normal cities view as this benign tool has been used as a powerful partisan tool to subordinate and control black people in Johannesburg and is still used that way against Palestinians in Jerusalem. In South Africa there was 'group areas' legislation, and then there was land use, planning tools and zoning that were used to reinforce and back up group areas. In Israel, they use a whole set of similar tools. They are very devious, in that planning is often viewed s this thing that is not part of politics. In Jerusalem, it's fundamental to their project of control and Israeli planners and politicians have known this since day one. They've been very explicit in linking the planning tools with their political project.
Opinion polls show that large numbers of Israelis think of Arabs as 'dirty' and 'primitive'; so you dispossess their land, confine them to under-developed and over-crowded enclaves, under-educate and the under-develop them and then you turn round to them and say: you're a dirty and primitive Arab.
One Jewish settlement mayor tried to require Arabs who entered to wearing a tag which identified them as Arabs. One wonders if he is aware of the Jewish experience in Nazi Germany when the Jewish People were forced to wear the Star of David to identify them as Jewish.
in the 1990s, right-wingers menaced shop-keepers into sacking Arab workers. Those who complied were given stickers to declare their shops Arab-Free. Sometimes the discrimination is explained as religious discrimination but the chants on the football terraces do not go 'Death to Muslims' but 'Death to Arabs'
Ronnie Kasrils, minister for security in Nelson Mandelas government and who is Jewish offers a slightly different perspective:
Yes, there are enormous parallels with the Apartheid, but the problem with making comparisons is that it actually distracts from the Palestinian context. We have to look for another definition. What struck me is disposession, colonial dispossession. Most colonial dispossession took place over centuries through settlers and forced removals. In South Africa that is a 300 year process. Here, it's taken place in 50 years: 1948, 1967 and the present in terms of the heightened nature of militarism in the West Bank and the Gaza Strip leading to the wall, which I don't see as a wall of security but as a wall of dispossession.
Also, another view on this is given by the Palestinian sociologist Elia Zureik; in 1979, he made a distinction: he argued that Israel was not in de jure an Apartheid state but in de facto An Aparthied state; he said, that Israeli civic society was characterised by a latent form of Apartheid but juridically, given what is laid down in Israels Basic Law, it was not.
I'd also add that now, B'Tselem, a widely respected Israeli human rights organisation has recently come forward to confirm that in their view, Israel is an aparthied state because of reasons that I've already detailed above.
source: I haven't bothered to identify all the sources individually here, as there are many; but they are all taken from Israel and the Aparthied Analogy, Wikipedia and also the references within.