Israel: The Apartheid State

By Graham Keelan

One of the more frequent indictments I hear against the State of Israel is that it has become an Apartheid State. On this I feel a little qualified to pass comment because I grew up in Apartheid South Africa. As British emigrants to South Africa we were at once welcome and unwelcome. Welcome because our faces were white, unwelcome because the memories of the Boer Wars were still writ large. The old enemy was returning. In the end, though, the Afrikaner Nationalist beggars could not afford to become choosers. They had a greater enemy with whom to contend. And we would all be useful to swell the common ranks.

The brutality of the apartheid system was merciless. Entire families and communities were systematically ripped apart. It was a doctrine inculcated into the hearts and minds of the nation’s children from birth, both black and white, through an extensive program of social and cultural engineering. “Apartheid” is an Afrikaans word which means “separate development”. It was a doctrine relentlessly preached and pursued. Whites and Blacks were separated at every level; in schools and hospitals, on buses and trains, in cafes and restaurants. ‘Net Blankes’ or ‘Whites Only’ signs greeted you at every turn, at every place where the possibility of mingling occurred, at beaches and swimming pools, on park benches, in public toilets. White bums and Black bums were lawfully prohibited from sharing the same seats. It is true that the 80% Black population did not pay any form of income tax and lived off the “generosity” of their White paymasters and benefactors. It is also true that the Black children were educated in second-rate schools to a lower standard; that they were all afforded separate second-rate hospitals in which they would be born and could die; and that at the end of each working day after tending the gardens and cleaning the homes of their White compatriots, they would be bussed out of the sanitized White cities, now clean and shiny with the roses pruned, to their squalid homes in the shanty townships of mud bricks and corrugated metal. And then there were the police beatings, the harassment, the intimidation, the killings. The consequences of having to endure this systematic abuse and humiliation were violent: the protests, the riots, the payback. The ultimate achievement of the apartheid doctrine was the creation of quasi-independent states within the borders of the greater South African land mass: Transkei and Ciskei. There the Blacks could even have their own government and “separate development” could continue, unhindered.

So what of Israel? For the Jews of past times returning to “Palestine” the concept of Zionism was then- as it is now – a dream, an idea hotly disputed. There were those in the Yishuv (the Jewish community of Palestine) who had only one thing on their minds and that was to establish an independent Jewish State as quickly as possible. On the other hand, there were those who thought a gradual integration of Jews into Palestine was the answer. There were also those who were in favour of a bi-national state, ruled equally by both Jews and Arabs. There were those who were opposed to a Jewish state altogether. And, of course, there were the British, who after much vacillating, settled upon the idea of a Jewish homeland inside Palestine, with a Jewish minority “protected” under the parental supervision of the Empire, with the internationalisation of Jerusalem – the last part of this proposal carried in the UN’s own Partition Plan. The rest, as they say, is history.

Any statement, though, which suggests Israel is an apartheid state automatically churns thick with irony. The reality is that it is the Palestinian Separatists who want ‘separate development’. It is they who want their own schools. It is they who want their own hospitals. It is they who want their own factories and goods. And, of course, it is they who want their own capital. It just happens to be the same one nominated as the capital of Israel. We also need to understand past form in all this. A quick read of history will tell that the Palestinian Separatists have never agreed to any of the Partition plans – regardless of how clumsy they were – put forward by either the British or the UN. Thus, past form seems to suggest that the Palestinian Separatists are not Partitionists. I recently watched an interview in which a top BBC foreign affairs correspondent quizzed a former Israeli Prime Minister concerning the death of Ariel Sharon. You could almost see the man salivating with anti-Zionist cravings, his face contorted with moral outrage at Mr. Sharon’s military record. (There is no topic quite like Zionism to get the BBC juices flowing.)

Personally, I do believe that in certain parts of the British liberal, left leaning, political Establishment there still exists an undercurrent of resentment which flows back to the time of the Mandate, and 1947 particularly, when Britain was forced to fall on her own sword. The last time there was any real British military engagement with Israel against a common enemy was – along with France – in the Suez Crisis of 1956  (“The Sinai Campaign”). And look how that ended? But then it was the Americans who pulled the plug on that unhappy enterprise.

So is Israel an Apartheid State? Well, until Israel passes laws which condemn Palestinian Arabs in the Jewish State to a second-rate education in different schools and universities; until Israel passes laws which condemn Palestinian Arabs in the Jewish State to inferior medical facilities and hospitals; and until Israel passes laws which condemn Palestinian Arabs in the Jewish State to sit on different park benches and use different toilets, then it cannot be classified as an Apartheid State – certainly not by the South African definition. And that is the only definition I know.

[Graham  is a guest-lecturer at Carmel Bible College, Bristol, UK]

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