Call Apartheid in Israel by Its Name

Citizenship here is reminiscent of South Africa’s in the past: Jews are ‘white’ citizens, Arabs in Israel have ‘colored’ (in other words, partial) citizenship; and Palestinians in the territories have ‘black’ citizenship, without political rights.

Recently, an interesting argument was held in Haaretz between Michael Sfard and Gideon Levy. Sfard claims that “One day the occupation will end suddenly” (, January 22), while Levy suggests that “the occupation won’t end” (January 24) and that Israel “can continue with the occupation as long as it likes, so why should it end?”

Maybe both are wrong. An analysis of the geopolitical situation on the West Bank shows the occupation hasn’t been an occupation for a long time. It has not been defeated or liquidated, but rather has developed into the next stage: civil colonial control, accompanied by a creeping process of apartheid into the entire area controlled by Israel between the Jordan and the sea.

The Israeli left, which is fighting this outrageous situation, needs to get in sync with the change in reality, and adopt new terminology: No longer “occupation,” a condition that doesn’t exist anymore, and which at any rate can be legal, but “apartheid,” which is coming into being before our eyes, and constitutes a grave international crime.

Occupation is a situation of temporary, militarized control, external to the state’s sovereign borders. The characteristics of Israeli rule in most of the West Bank are the opposite: Control is civilian, permanent (according to the statements of Israel’s leaders), and internal to Israeli society and politics.

Over 600,000 Israeli citizens live in the West Bank (including Jerusalem beyond the Green Line); most of the area of the West Bank is under the control of Israeli municipal councils; Israelis in the West Bank are tried according to Israeli law and vote for the Knesset. Over 1,000 square kilometers of Palestinian land, private and public, are registered to the state, and they are marketable real estate in Israel.

Israel controls entry and exit, customs and taxes, tourism, trade and even registering births and deaths in the territories. Gaza is under blockade. The Palestinian Authority, and even the hostile Hamas, reconcile themselves to the civil makeover of the occupation, being governmental bodies within the Israeli envelope. The main harm to human rights and the obstacles to establishing a Palestinian state are not a result of the military occupation, but actually stem from the civil transformation.

The left in Israel always tried to separate: Democracy “here,” and occupation “there.” But according to the data, this separation long ago disappeared. Israel created a continuous Jewish civilian space, while the Palestinians are separated into enclaves and ghettos. True, Israeli citizens enjoy a flourishing economy and progressive legislation that protects the rights of women, LGBTs and immigrants. But Arabs have inferior collective citizenship in the Jewish state, closely linked to their identity as Palestinians.

In such a geopolitical situation, there is no possibility of talking about democracy, despite the holding of elections in Israel, because true democratic elections would remove the right wing from power. If the elections had been held only inside the Green Line, in other words in within Israel legally sovereign territory, as is proper in a democracy – a left-center bloc would have won in every election since Rabin’s murder, except one. (In 2001, Ariel Sharon defeated Ehud Barak even inside the Green Line, partly because of the Arab boycott). Alternatively, had the elections been held with the participation of all residents whom Israel rules (Jews and Arabs), as general elections are meant to be, it is almost certain that then, too, the right would be defeated. Nonetheless, it is in power, with short breaks, for decades, while cynically using the term “democracy.”

In international law, a situation whereby a country appropriates and settles territories outside its sovereign borders is called colonialism. Southern Lebanon was an example of military occupation; the West Bank is an example of colonialism, one that seeks to entrench itself over time while preserving the privileges of the ruling population, and incidentally creating an apartheid regime.

Apartheid in the West Bank seeps into the entire area between the Jordan and the sea. In the West Bank, the expansion of the Jewish settlements means the erasing of the difference between “there” and “here,” while west of the Green Line, the means of repression are imported from the West Bank, such as the persecution of human rights organizations and removal of Bedouin from their ancestral lands. The impressive economic prosperity of Israel has poured enormous resources mainly into the Jewish population on both sides of the Green Line. This has exacerbated the process of “separate development” that characterizes apartheid regimes.

These processes caused the creation of different types of citizenship, which remind one of South Africa in the past: Jews between the Jordan and the sea are “white” citizens, Arabs in Israel have “colored” (in other words, partial) citizenship, and Palestinians in the territories have “black” citizenship, without political rights.

So what can be done? First, we must call this thing by its name. In other words, opponents of the occupation must update their image of the phenomenon and use legal, conceptual and political tools to fight it. Military occupation can be justified as essential and even legal, as many in Israel do. Colonialism and apartheid are illegal and undemocratic. Using these terms would significantly strengthen the struggle.

Second, because of the complex history and geography involved, we must think about new, creative approaches that are not limited to “one-shot” solutions such as unilateral withdrawal. An example of this is the “Two States, One Homeland” movement founded recently, which offers a vision of an Israeli-Palestinian union. This arrangement would have two states established on the two sides of the Green Line, which would become an open border with freedom of movement, and Jerusalem serving as a joint, unified capital for both states.

Whatever the solution, Israeli society must stop hiding its head in the sand and understand that the apartheid process is the most serious security threat facing the residents of this entire land – “white,” “colored” and “black.”