Israel “far worse” than apartheid South Africa

The situ­ation for Arabs in Israel & Palestine is “far worse” than that of the blacks in what was apartheid South Africa. This was Ron­nie Kas­rils’ response to the ques­tion of whether Israel could be com­pared to South Africa dur­ing its apartheid era. He offered this dur­ing a speech he gave at an inter­na­tional con­fer­ence I atten­ded on Palestine, Israel and Inter­na­tional Law at the Insti­tute of Edu­ca­tion in Lon­don last weekend.

Photo of Ronnie KasrilsRon­nie Kas­rils, who hap­pens to be a Jew, was act­ive in the fight against apartheid in South Africa from the 60’s onwards. He became a mil­it­ary leader around the time the ANC con­cluded that the meth­ods of non-violence such as those util­ised by Gandhi against the Brit­ish Empire dur­ing their col­on­isa­tion of India were not suit­able against the bru­tal apartheid sys­tem. Along with Nel­son Man­dela, he was a ter­ror­ist and a hero. He is cur­rently Min­is­ter of Intel­li­gence and Deputy Min­is­ter of Defence in South Africa.

The con­fer­ence included some other great speak­ers, includ­ing many intel­li­gent and witty Jew­ish law­yers fight­ing for the human rights of Palestinian Arabs. The con­fer­ence was quite a buzz and gave me real hope that there is a grow­ing cam­paign to increase aware­ness of the plight of Arab Palestini­ans, and hence the pro­spect of Arabs and Jews liv­ing side by side again in peace, step­ping back from the pre­cip­ice of world war.

Book cover of Zionism: The Real Enemy of the Jews, Vol 1On the other hand it’s extremely dis­heart­en­ing that so many intel­li­gent people are still unwill­ing to speak out against the crimes of Israel and polit­ical Zion­ism for fear of being labeled anti-Jew (or anti-Semitic as the mis­lead­ing term goes). And this because of the Nazi Holo­caust. But some truths are so obvi­ous that they often remain unstated, which doesn’t help the cause of under­stand­ing. As Alan Hart write’s in volume one of Zion­ism: The Real Enemy of the Jews:

One such unstated truth is this: It was not the Arabs who slaughtered six mil­lion Jews, it was Europeans in Europe. But it was the Arabs as a whole, and the Arabs of Palestine in par­tic­u­lar, who, in effect, were pun­ished for a European crime.

In my ana­lysis the insuf­fer­able self-righteousness that is the hall­mark of Zion­ism is a mask for sup­pressed guilt on account of the injustice done to the Palestini­ans and, also, fear rooted in the past of the future.

One of Zionism’s greatest achieve­ments for the first five dec­ades of Israel’s exist­ence was con­vin­cing the West­ern world that anti-Zionism and anti-Semitism are the same thing. They are not.

As Lenni Bren­ner, the anti-Zionist Jew­ish writer put it in 1983: Zion­ism is not now, nor was it ever, co-extensive with either Juda­ism or the Jew­ish people.

I remem­ber when I was reas­on­ably young and I was hear­ing a lot about Israel and the Arab Palestini­ans on the tele­vi­sion. At the time I remem­ber think­ing to myself that these people were all as bad as each other; always attack­ing and counter-attacking each other. As a young ignor­ant mind this is how it appeared to me through my tele­vi­sion, but when my curi­os­ity got the bet­ter of me I even­tu­ally took just a curs­ory look at the situ­ation away from the tele­vi­sion; what struck me was the over­whelm­ing injustice that had been dealt to the Arab Palestinian people by way of dis­pos­se­sion of their land and their cruel oppression.

Sub­sequently I remem­ber debat­ing the situ­ation with someone and being called anti-Semitic for my troubles. What was most inter­est­ing, such was my ignor­ance at the time, is that I didn’t even really know what a Jew was, or even what really happened in the Nazi Holo­caust, let alone why any­one would want to be anti-Semitic.

So I was look­ing at the situ­ation as a young per­son can with truly fresh eyes for what it was. Alas not any more. To this day I remem­ber that and real­ise how easy and unjust it is to demon­ise one’s oppon­ent simply by labeling them. For now I’ve come to an uneasy accept­ance that artic­u­lat­ing anti-Zionist views and being labeled anti-Semitic is part and par­cel. For some Zion­ists even writ­ing that last sen­tence makes me an anti-Semite, or a new anti-Semite, as they call it.

One day, I hope, reason will pre­vail. On both sides.

The hol­low rhet­oric of Ira­nian Pres­id­ent Mah­moud Ahmad­ine­jad—that Israel must be wiped from the map* — should come as no sur­prise to any­one. This kind of dam­aging rhet­oric has been com­mon place in Iran since the Islamic Revolu­tion of 1979. Twentysix years and now there’s a com­mo­tion about it? This is just another notch in the pro­pa­ganda war to cre­ate a pre­text for invad­ing Iran. Many are going to be sucked into this bull­shit, just as they were sucked into all the bull­shit required to invade Iraq. And we’ll be one more step closer to Armaged­don. Great.

The Demo­crats Diary puts it all in per­spect­ive, while in a let­ter to The Guard­ian, Dr Nur Mas­alha of the Uni­ver­sity of Sur­rey writes:

The appalling com­ments on Israel made by Ira­nian Pres­id­ent Mah­moud Ahmad­ine­jad (Israel should be wiped off map, Octo­ber 27) are both empty rhet­oric and highly dam­aging to the Palestinian cause. I believe we (Palestinian Muslims and Chris­ti­ans) should always make a clear dis­tinc­tion between our polit­ical struggle against insti­tu­tion­al­ised racism and eth­nic clean­ing in Palestine-Israel and the fact that we and the Israelis would, ulti­mately, have to live together as equal cit­izens under some form of sec­u­lar demo­cracy — and not wipe each other out.

Muslim fun­da­ment­al­ists (Ahmad­ine­jad included) have miser­ably failed to under­stand the real­ity in his­toric Palestine: in the pro­cess of bru­tal col­on­isa­tion of the coun­try, a Hebrew-speaking “nation” has emerged, with its own dis­tinct lan­guage, cul­ture and flour­ish­ing lit­er­at­ure. There are 5 – 6 mil­lion Hebrew-speaking Israelis and no one has the right to talk about wip­ing them out.

Acknow­ledging the cur­rent bi-national real­ity is some­thing com­pletely dif­fer­ent from legit­im­ising the colo­nial pro­cess by which this real­ity has come about. The fact that the Israelis are try­ing quietly, but sys­tem­at­ic­ally (although not always suc­cess­fully), on the ground to do to Palestini­ans in the West Bank what Ahmad­ine­jad seems to sug­gest should be done to Israel should only encour­age us to seek an altern­at­ive vis­ion, away from polit­ical Zion­ism and Islamic fundamentalism.

And to return to silly rhet­oric we have Tony Blair ask­ing us if we can ima­gine a State [that has the sen­ti­ment to wipe another from the map] hav­ing nuc­lear weapons? Well we don’t need to ima­gine. We only need to look across the map to Israel to find a coun­try that is foun­ded on the dis­place­ment and oppres­sion of another people, is clas­si­fied as an occupy­ing power, is prob­ably the only coun­try in the Middle East to pos­sess a nuc­lear arsenal, refuses to sign the Nuc­lear Non-Proliferation Treaty, and has flouted inter­na­tional law for decades.

While I believe Ahmadinejad’s hol­low rhet­oric is dam­aging I under­stand the anger and frus­tra­tion of the Arabs. Their Arab broth­ers and sis­ters in Palestine have been truly fucked over by the inher­ent injustice and bru­tal­ity that is polit­ical Zionism.

As freel­ance journ­al­ist Ben White writes:

Since Israel’s incep­tion in 1948, Palestinian towns have been demol­ished, Arabic names replaced by Hebrew ones, the very exist­ence of the Palestinian people has been called into ques­tion, and Israel has drawn up its own map based on annexed ter­rit­ory and unpun­ished occu­pa­tion. But of course, Iran is the real threat to regional peace and sta­bil­ity. Right?

* Update (14 June, 2006): con­trary to my asser­tion above, Mah­moud Ahmad­ine­jad appears not to have said “Israel must be wiped from the map,” but instead some­thing along the lines, “This regime that is occupy­ing Qods [Jer­u­s­alem] must be elim­in­ated from the pages of his­tory” (my emphasis). A not insig­ni­fic­ant difference.

** Update (26 May, 2007): Fur­ther cla­ri­fic­a­tion, in Farsi: “Imam ghoft een rezhim-e ishghalgar-e qods bayad az safheh-ye ruzgar mahv shavad.” In Eng­lish: “The Imam said this regime occupy­ing Jer­u­s­alem must van­ish from the page of time.”

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11 Comments so far. Leave a comment below.
  1. kofi,

    Non­sense! Utter balder­dash. The exper­i­ence of blacks under the fas­cist rule of whites in South Africa was by far worse than the exper­i­ence of the Palestinians.

  2. nangas,

    Bril­liant, what else are we being mis­quoted with on a daily basis? No won­der most of us have our head in the sand!

  3. sally,

    Unfor­tu­nately not all jews are as brave as those who speak out against Israel and zion­ism, but there are a few and I applaud them.

    As for the com­ment by Kofi, Israel has broken over 200 UN human rights laws, South Africa broke less then 30, you do the math, if you can man­age it.

    Plus Israel is a mil­it­ary occu­pa­tion, the worst ever, Apartheid was not mil­it­ary it was by force — police force — but is was not the 3rd most power­ful mil­it­ary against an unarmed civil­ian population.

  4. Nicole,

    I find it amaz­ing that a com­ment of this mag­nitude. The unfor­tu­nate plight of apartheid in South Africa was hor­rendous and should not even be com­m­pared to the events that are occur­ring in Israel. Apartheid was a means of cap­ital gain by the racist Europeans to seize wealth and eco­nomic gain for them­selves at the expence of an entitre nation of people. Israel is merely a mil­it­ary occu­pa­tion and can be rec­ti­fied if that was the government’s true intention!

  5. Israel is merely a mil­it­ary occu­pa­tion and can be rec­ti­fied if that was the government’s true inten­tion”?!!? Israel is not simply a mil­it­ary occu­pa­tion, it is a coun­try. Whether or not the world is ready to accept it Zion­ism (cre­ated because of their suf­fer­ing accross Europe from Spain to Rus­sia) has cre­ated a nation of people. A mil­it­ary occu­pa­tion force could go home. But Israelis have nowhere other than where they are. And even if they were able to move else­where they would not be will­ing. Israel is now thought of as the one place that Jews could have gone in the twen­ti­eth cen­tury. But in fact before Israel came on the table Jews were offered the oppor­tun­ity to settle in Rhodesia (Zim­b­abwe). This split the Zion­ist move­ment, and even­tu­ally the call for Israel won. After liv­ing in Israel for this long I ser­i­ously doubt they would now con­sider mov­ing elsewhere.

    It is not pos­sible to go into the entire his­tory here but both sides have reas­ons for their claims and their actions. You are right that it is the Israelis who need to be tak­ing the first step, and many oth­ers are right to say that the Israelis have been hugely hypo­crit­ical in their treat­ment of the Palestini­ans. But Israel is not turn­ing a cold shoulder on the Palestini­ans due to a belief in their racial superi­or­ity. They do so due to their philo­sophy of an ‘Iron Wall’ (Jabot­in­sky coined the concept in the 20s if you want to look it up). Basic­ally they fear doing what might be con­strued as a sign of weak­ness. They fear cre­at­ing a hole in this wall that their enemies will flood through, cre­at­ing a new holocaust.

    That said how­ever, the ‘iron wall’ is flawed for too many reas­ons to state. There are only two out­comes of the Israeli-Palestinian prob­lem. The first is death and misery, which I’m sure you’ll agree no one wants. The second is that Palestini­ans are given the ‘right of return’, even if only as a sym­bol­ical ges­ture, and that two states are cre­ated on the pre-1967 bor­der with Jer­u­s­alem act­ing as a joint Cap­ital guarded and enforced by UN Peace­keep­ing troops and also a UN police force. This solu­tion will be incred­ibly dif­fi­cult; it will require huge funds being inves­ted into the new states to ensure that they are a suc­cess; and it will require a great deal of inter­na­tional pres­sure, per­haps even out­right force to ensure. But that is the way forward.

  6. Two states first, yes, but ulti­mately the only last­ing solu­tion is one state (or no state).

  7. Where and when has it been done before?

    • Jews and Arabs have lived in rel­at­ive peace and indif­fer­ence towards each other for thou­sands of years of Middle East­ern his­tory. The primary cause of hos­til­ity has a mod­ern ori­gin, the cre­ation of Israel after WWII.

  8. ..which makes the cur­rent cir­cum­stances com­pletely dif­fer­ent. We are not talk­ing about genetic make-ups that make two groups of people more hos­tile to one another. We are talk­ing about causes of con­flict that have by on large all come into place in the last hun­dred years.

    And beside, even with your argu­ment you neg­lect to take power and fear into account. For most of this period of his­tory in which you note peace exis­it­ing between Jews and Arabs, the Jews had no inde­pend­ent state. And neither had Arab nation­al­ism or Zion­ism exis­ted. The con­flict is rel­at­ively mod­ern because reas­ons to fear one another are rel­at­ively new.

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