Sunday, June 13

Why Israeli progressives have started talking about “apartheid” | Michael Sfard


TThe latest chapter of the Israel-Palestine conflict unfolded in many places, all at once. In the Gaza Strip, civilian population centers were heavily bombarded by Israeli fighter jets and artillery, causing deaths, injuries and massive property damage. Israeli cities were attacked by Palestinian rockets fired from Gaza; those who bypass Israel’s Iron Dome missile defense system also kill and destroy. In Jerusalem, settlers are attempting to forcibly displace Palestinians from their homes and worshipers have clashed with Israeli forces in one of the holiest places for Judaism, Christianity and Islam.

In Israeli cities, the tension between Palestinians and Jews is increasing. The anger and frustration of decades of dispossession, neglect and discrimination, along with images that for many represent the desecration of al-Aqsa, sparked eruptions of street violence by Palestinians, mainly from the margins of their society, against Jews. .

On social media, far-right Israeli Jews post hateful messages, not only against Palestinians living in Gaza, but also against their country’s citizens, inciting extreme violence, using racially charged language and organizing pogroms . The result of all this has been riots, gruesome violence and even lynchings on both sides. The Land of Israel – Eretz Israel-Palestine – burns again. In Gaza, Jerusalem, the West Bank, Acre, Jaffa and Lod.

Viewing Jewish-Palestinian relations in all these places as a single issue is not the way many of us were taught to analyze the conflict. I received my political education in Jerusalem in the 1980s. At that time, Israeli progressives understood that the conflict had two different elements.

First, there was Israel “within the green line”, the de facto border established in 1949. We believed that it was a democracy, imperfect, in need of improvement, but democratic. Their citizenship included a Palestinian minority (about a fifth of the population) that suffered from institutional discrimination, but hey, there are many democracies in which minorities suffer discrimination. While the injustice surely needed correction, the fact that members of this minority enjoyed political rights preserves Israel’s status as a democracy in our eyes.

The second part of the conflict took place in the Palestinian territories that had been captured in the 1967 war and held under a regime of military occupation, undemocratic by definition. We view the occupation of Palestinian land as a temporary situation that did not point toward Israeli sovereignty, and we were fighting to end it sooner rather than later. In the 1980s, very few Israeli observers believed that it was destined to last forever.

Together these two elements provided a clear explanation of what was happening between the Jordan and the Mediterranean. One part was democracy; the other party was busy. This two-tier paradigm became the lens through which we understood and analyzed the situation in which we lived.

But as the years went by, this lens turned out to produce a fairly limited view, to the point of distorting the image. This understanding slowly but steadily leaked out to Israeli activists who were exposed to the reality of Israel’s colossal West Bank settlement project, which consists of more than 250 settlements – a massive land grab with its own road networks and infrastructure, served by a separate legal system. This seemed anything but a temporary regimen.

This understanding grew alongside the recognition that Israeli policies in the occupied territories stifle Palestinian development and divert all resources from the occupied land to Jewish settlers at the expense of Palestinian subjects. These practices cannot be explained through the lens of “occupation.” The international laws governing occupations – which prohibits any transfer of civilians from the occupying state to the occupied territory – lacked the language to frame a reality where physical and legal spaces are divided, along national lines, by the guiding principle of Jewish supremacy and Palestinian subjugation. It is occupation, obviously, but not just occupation.

At the same time, the political ideas we tried to suppress undermined the spirit in which we were raised, forcing us to admit that Israel’s recognition as a democracy obscures and hides key features of its governmental personality, features that have always been there. , but they have intensified in the last decade. The constant incitement against the Palestinian citizens of Israel, which under Benjamin Netanyahu reached unprecedented levels; the vice of their political power through the defamation and delegitimization of their elected representatives; deep-seated and systemic institutional discrimination; the law of the nation-state that constitutionally consolidated their collective inferiority; and the drift towards Putinist authoritarianism, with its characteristic persecution of critics of the government. Does that sound like democracy?

In July 2020, the Israeli human rights organization Yesh Din, which for the past 16 years has been investigating violations of Palestinian rights by settlers and security forces, published a legal report that I am my own. It concluded that the West Bank was governed by a regime of domination and oppression of Israeli Jews over the Palestinians, and that it carried out inhumane acts designed to perpetuate this state of affairs. In other words, the report concluded that Israelis were committing the crime of apartheid, considered a crime against humanity under international law, in the West Bank.

In January, the Israeli human rights group B’Tselem posted a position paper stating that in the entire area between the Jordan and the Mediterranean, including within Israel, the state’s policy was intended to advance and maintain Jewish supremacy. That is to say, it is a reality in which the guiding principle of government is the promotion of Jewish interests, power and well-being, which is achieved by giving priority to Jews in legal rights and resources. For B’Tselem, there is only one regime, and it is an apartheid regime.

In late April, Human Rights Watch published an in-depth report supporting the assertion that the Israeli authorities “methodically privilege Israeli Jews and discriminate against Palestinians” throughout the area, although it found that only in the occupied territories was it accompanied by inhumane acts that, together, amounted to the crime of apartheid. While there are nuances and differences between them, the three reports had a common theme: Israel is advancing Jewish supremacy. This is a phrase that is beginning to be heard more frequently among Israeli progressives, a phrase that was previously used only to describe the ideology of extremist settler groups, but is now used to describe the policies of the Israeli government.

This speech joins a conversation that Palestinian rights groups and intellectuals have been having for decades, and the accusations they made long before us. When I first heard this argument 20 years ago, I was strongly opposed. The lens that saw the conflict in two parts, a democracy and an occupation, helped dismantle the apartheid accusation. Israel was committed to liberal democracy even if it didn’t measure up in practice, and the occupation, well, it was temporary. But now, with the evidence accumulating before my eyes, I can no longer deny the blatant apartheid in the West Bank and the relevance of the allegations about efforts to maintain Jewish supremacy in Israel as well.

The new images and videos of the conflict, visible on my mobile broadcast, do not provide context. They show criminals and victims, and that’s it. They come and go to the beat of TikTok. It is impossible to extract a political thesis from them. In the Israeli media, Jews have a story, but Palestinians only have a biography, if anything. That is why the burning of a synagogue and the despicable attacks on Jews by Palestinian thugs in Lod invoke national traumas like Kristallnacht or the Hebron massacre of Jews in 1929, but when the victims are Palestinians, their names are hardly mentioned in the newspapers. The context that the Israeli discourse obscures and hides must be brought out of the shadows; otherwise we will never fix the place we live in, nor will we be freed from the feeling of victimization in the name of which we are victimizing millions.

Israel’s progressive camp is updating its frame of reference for the conflict. It is true that it is a small group, even among those to the left of Israel’s increasingly right-wing mainstream. But given that the progressive camp is the main ideological alternative to the mainstream political mainstream, and given the credibility enjoyed by Israeli human rights groups around the world, it is influential beyond its size.

The updated paradigm provides a comprehensive analysis to understand the situation in Gaza, the West Bank, and Israel, using a lens that reveals an Israeli ethnocracy. Our improved lexicon narrows the gap between racialized reality and its political description and thus enables the forging of a shared Palestinian-Israeli vision, a vision that respects the national aspirations of both peoples and guarantees equal rights for all. those who live on earth. . This new model is fundamental, but only moral and political integrity will make it possible.


www.theguardian.com

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