Palestinians and Israelis deserve a vision beyond apartheid

Across the international community there is a growing awareness that what has been happening on the ground in Israel-Palestine is morally unacceptable. In a recent position paper the prominent Israeli human rights group B’Tselem clearly stated the sad reality: Israel, from the Jordan River to the Mediterranean Sea, has become an apartheid state.

Those who refuse to accept this reality are actively hurling claims of antisemitism whenever anyone brings up Israeli apartheid, with the recent SNL controversy over Israel’s refusal to vaccinate millions of Palestinians an obvious example. But those who claim Israel is not an apartheid state are increasingly undermined by a powerful Israeli right that is very open and vocal about its plan for ethnic supremacy. 

In 2018 the Israeli Knesset passed the “Nation-State” law, which makes Israel the exclusive homeland of the Jewish people. The law, now part of Israel’s unofficial constitution, openly states,“The exercise of the right to national self-determination in the State of Israel is unique to the Jewish People.” Lest there be any doubt, the following year Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu clarified on social media: “Israel is not a state of all its citizens. According to the Nation-State Law that we passed, Israel is the nation-state of the Jewish People – and them alone.”

Indeed Adalah, a Palestinian-run legal center in Israel, has compiled a list of over 65 Israeli laws that discriminate, both directly and indirectly, against the Palestinian people living under Israeli rule. 

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As the Israeli government continues to adopt policies that maintain and sustain a political system based on ethnic supremacy (i.e. apartheid), the Palestinian leadership, both within the Green Line and in the occupied land, must respond by presenting the people with an alternative vision; a vision that rejects ethnic domination in favor of justice and equality for all who live between the river and the sea. 

This alternative vision for Israel-Palestine is necessary because the regime of Jewish supremacy imagined by the Israeli right is inherently unstable. The government of Israel currently rules over about 14 million people, both within the Green Line and in the occupied Palestinian territory. About half the population are Jewish and granted full rights, while the other half are Palestinian and granted either partial rights or no rights at all. No government that oppresses and abuses half its population can ever be safe and stable. Just as South Africa’s attempt at creating a political regime based on white supremacy ultimately failed, Israel’s attempt at creating a political regime based on Jewish supremacy will also eventually fail, and when it does another vision will be needed.

In South Africa that vision was provided by Nelson Mandela and the African National Congress. In 1964 Mandela was accused of acts of sabotage against the apartheid regime, an offense punishable by death. At his trial, Mandela famously told the court:

“During my lifetime I have dedicated myself to this struggle of the African people. I have fought against white domination, and I have fought against black domination. I have cherished the ideal of a democratic and free society in which all persons live together in harmony and with equal opportunities. It is an ideal which I hope to live for and to achieve. But if needs be, it is an ideal for which I am prepared to die.”

This vision of equality and justice, a vision Mahatma Gandhi and Martin Luther King Jr. also fought for, is the vision the Palestinian leadership must now take up because it is the only vision that can challenge apartheid. According to Mandela:  

“I hate the practice of race discrimination, and in my hatred I am sustained by the fact that the overwhelming majority of mankind hate it equally… . I hate the racial arrogance which decrees that the good things of life shall be retained as the exclusive right of a minority of the population, and which reduces the majority of the population to a position of subservience and inferiority, and maintains them as voteless chattels to work where they are told and behave as they are told by the ruling minority. I am sustained in that hatred by the fact that the overwhelming majority of mankind both in this country and abroad are with me.”

However, unlike the African National Congress, the Palestinian Authority has been less effective at opposing apartheid. Instead the PA, created at Oslo to be the fledgling government of a sovereign Palestinian state, has gradually been transformed into a strongman for Israeli apartheid. The PA today, through corruption and violence, helps the Israeli government oppress the Palestinian people and undermines the fight against apartheid.

What is therefore needed is a Palestinian leadership with the wisdom to see that the goal of the American led peace process, which the PA earnestly and faithfully supported for decades, was never the establishment of a fully independent and sovereign Palestinian state that grants Palestinians the self-determination they are guaranteed under international law. Indeed the American led peace negotiations have never offered Palestinians anything more than an autonomous ‘state-minus’ under Israeli control. 

From President Clinton’s Camp David Summit all the way to President Trump’s Deal of the Century, the U.S. has diminished, trivialized, and limited Palestinian aspirations in order to establish what Martin Luther King Jr. once called “an obnoxious peace.”

In a 1956 sermon given the day before his trial, King explained why he rejected that “peace”:

“1) If peace means accepting second-class citizenship, I don’t want it.
2) If peace means keeping my mouth shut in the midst of injustice and evil, I don’t want it.
3) If peace means being complacently adjusted to a deadening status quo, I don’t want peace.
4) If peace means a willingness to be exploited economically, dominated politically, humiliated and segregated, I don’t want peace. So in a passive, non-violent manner, we must revolt against this peace.”

It is time for the Palestinian leadership, both within the Green Line and in the occupied land, to work toward a better peace. Alongside Palestinian and Jewish activists who oppose apartheid, many of whom have paid a heavy price for their opposition, a new plan for Israel-Palestine needs to be written. This plan must be built upon the only foundation that can provide a true and lasting solution to this conflict: equality and justice for all who call this land home. 


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