Imagine, if you will, a modern apartheid state with first, second and eleventh class citizens, all required to carry identification specifying their ethnic origin. First class citizens are obliged to serve in the armed forces, kept on ready reserve status until in their forties, and accorded an impressive array of housing, medical, social security, educational and related benefits denied all others.
Second class citizens are exempted from military service and from a number of the benefits accorded citizens of the first class. They are issued identity documents and license plates that allow them to be profiled by police at a distance. Second class citizens may not own land in much of the country and marriages between them and first class citizens are not recognized by the state. Second class citizens are sometimes arrested without trial and police torture, while frowned upon and occasionally apologized for, commonly occurs.
Citizens of the eleventh class, really not citizens at all, have no rights citizens of the first class or their government are bound to respect. Their residence is forbidden in nearly nine-tenths of the country, all of which they used to own. The areas left to them are cut up into smaller and smaller portions weekly, by high walls, free fire zones and hundreds of checkpoints manned by the army of the first class citizens, so that none can travel a dozen miles in any direction to work, school, shopping, a job, a farm, a business or a hospital without several long waits, humiliating searches and often arbitrary denials of the right to pass or to return. Posh residential settlements for the first class citizens with protecting gun towers and military bases are built with government funds and foreign aid on what used to be the villages and farms and pastures of the eleventh class citizens. The settlers are allotted generous additional housing and other subsidies, allowed to carry weapons and use deadly force with impunity against the former inhabitants, and are connected with the rest of first class territory by a network of of first-class citizen only roads.
Citizens of the eleventh class are routinely arrested, tortured, and held indefinitely without trial. Political activism among them is equated to “terrorism” and the state discourages such activity by means including but not limited to the kidnapping of suspects and relatives of suspects, demolition of their family homes, and extralegal assassination, sometimes at the hands of a death squad, or at others times by lobbing missiles or five hundred pound bombs into sleeping apartment blocks or noonday traffic. Passports are not issued to these citizens, and those who take advantage of scarce opportunities to study or work abroad are denied re-entry.
The apartheid state in question is, of course, Israel. Its first class citizens are Israeli Jews, the majority of them of European or sometimes American origin. The second class citizens are Israeli Arabs, who enjoy significant but limited rights under the law including token representation in the Knesset. The eleventh class citizens are not citizens at all. They are Palestinians. One expects to be able to say that Palestinians live in Palestine and are governed by Palestinians, but the truth is something different. The areas in which Palestinians may inhabit have shrunk nearly every year since the Nakba, their name for the wave of mass deportations, murders, the dispossession, destruction and exile of whole Arab towns, cities and regions that attended the 1948 founding of the state of Israel. As the whole world, except for the US public knows, Palestinians have lived under military occupation, without land, without rights, without hope, for nearly sixty years now.
The difference between life inside and outside the US corporate media bubble is extraordinarily clear on this question. US authorities subsidize the state of Israel to the tune of at least six billion per year, and corporate media take great pains to protect US citizens from news of actual human and legal conditions their tax dollars pay for. The ugly and racist realities of Israeli society and life under Israeli occupation are rarely discussed anywhere most consumers of media might find them. It is nearly taboo in mainstream US print and broadcast media to apply the words racist or apartheid to the state of Israel or its policies, or to call its control at the point of a gun of millions of non-citizens what it is, namely the longest standing military occupation in the world today. In the US media, and on the lips of every administration since Harry Truman’s Israel is “a democracy”, whatever that word has come to mean.
Though news stories in the US talk about autonomous “Palestinian areas” allegedly controlled by Palestinian authorities, often referring to Gaza and the West Bank by name, actual maps displaying the geographic boundaries of the so-called Palestinian controlled areas are rarely seen by American viewers, let alone maps comparing the size of Palestinian areas year to year, or showing the steady encroachment upon Arab land and water resources year to year by Israeli settlements, military outposts, Israeli-only roads, free fire zones and Israel’s wall. The massive and militarized apartheid wall, as the rest of the world calls it, is termed a “separation barrier” or a “separation fence” in the US media, an understandable precaution against hordes of terroristic former owners of the land who lurk just outside.
Still, when you Google the terms Israel + apartheid, you get 5.5 million hits. A lot of somebodies somewhere are making the connection without the help of CNN, ABC or Fox News.
The parallels with apartheid South Africa are many and striking. Like its earlier apartheid cousin, Israel menaces all its neighbors with an impressive array of nukes and the largest military establishment in the region. As Noam Chomsky observed back in 2004:
“Not discussed, in the US at least, is the threat from West Asia. Israel’s nuclear capacities, supplemented with other WMD, are regarded as “dangerous in the extreme” by the former head of the US Strategic Command (STRATCOM), Gen. Lee Butler, not only because of the threat they pose but also because they stimulate proliferation in response. The Bush administration is now enhancing that threat. Israeli military analysts allege that its air and armored forces are larger and technologically more advanced than those of any NATO power (apart from the US), not because this small country is powerful in itself, but because it serves virtually as an offshore US military base and high tech center. The US is now sending Israel over 100 of its most advanced jet bombers, F16I’s, advertised very clearly as capable of flying to Iran and back, and as an updated version of the F16s that Israel used to bomb Iraq’s nuclear reactor in 1981….” The old South Africa bombed, strafed and invaded all its neighbors with some regularity, crippling their commerce and extracting horrific death tolls from refugee camps and other civilian targets. The last time Israel invaded and occupied Lebanon, it left 20,000 corpses.
White South Africans rightly fretted at the fact that they were a minority ruling over an unhappy majority, and concocted schemes to exile the country’s black population to isolated rural reservations it called bantustans. Israeli pundits calmly discuss the demographic bomb, their name for the fact that second and eleventh class citizens, Israeli Arabs and Palestinians will soon outnumber them within the borders of their supposed “Jewish state” while Israeli politicians sit in Knesset and hold ministries in successive governments openly calling for mass deportations and ethnic cleansing.
White South Africans constructed for themselves a bogus scriptural narrative in which the God of Abraham promised them somebody else’s land, and brought it into modern history with the embellishment that they were holding the line for the free world against godless communism and the black menace. How similar is Israel’s line that European Jews are promised the land of Muslim and Christian Arabs, and that they now hold the line for the free world against radical Islam and those ungrateful brown people?
We at BC have to believe that if the American people knew the truth about what their tax dollars pay for in Israel and what is left of Palestine, there would be a deep and widespread revulsion, similar to that occasioned by US support for apartheid in South Africa. But there are important differences between that time and this one. Though unspeakably odious, racist South African was only marginally important to US interests. By contrast, the maintenance of Israel’s apartheid regime, essentially a white hi-tech and military outpost in the middle of all those brown people sitting atop a large share of the world’s proven oil reserves is absolutely central to US foreign policy for the foreseeable future. The US is Israel’s banker, its arms depot, and its principal diplomatic sponsor. The US is far more complicit in the crimes of the Israeli state than it ever was in South Africa.
Racism and apartheid being what they are, and our historical experience in America being what it is, African Americans have a crucial role to play. African Americans have seldom supported US imperial adventures overseas as readily as whites. Our American experience inclines us to a skeptical appraisal of our government’s means and motives at home and abroad. Even though we live as much within the media bubble as white America, where images of the broken and mangled families, the incinerated homes and bombed hospitals are hard to come by, our skepticism leads us to sympathize with those who live at the sharp end of US foreign policy far more often than do our white neighbors.
Our first duty is to tell the truth to each other. We must combat among ourselves the bogus historical narratives which permit indifference to US policy in the Middle East in general, and support of Israeli apartheid in particular. The churchgoers among us urgently, publicly and repeatedly must confront and debunk the nonsense which holds that “wars and rumors of wars” are something predestined to happen in the biblical holy land for what they are – bad scripture and fake history. We need to interrupt, correct and school everyone who talks to us about a “cycle of violence” in the Holy Land, as though some raggedy fool with a suicide belt, or a few hundred fighters with small arms are or ever have been equivalent to the devastation wrought by the established gulags, checkpoints, airborne firepower, economic strangulation, house demolitions and nuclear armed might of the Israeli state. The two sides do not have access to anything like equal means of inflicting violence, and so cannot be equally culpable or equally responsible for stopping that violence.
We need to catch up with the rest of the civilized world, and talk about what we can do to emphatically withdraw our support from the apartheid state of Israel and its immoral and illegal occupation regime. The Presbyterian church, for example, has in the past considered selective divestiture from Israel and from US companies who profit from the occupation, as have the Anglicans. Both might do so again. What can our churches, our unions, our local elected officials, our young people do? What will we do?
Apartheid in South Africa eventually bit the dust mostly because the inhabitants of that country, black, brown and white resisted it, putting their bodies and lives on the line. Their resistance was aided and abetted materially, financially, politically and spiritually by people of good will the world over. Someday the sun will rise on a post-apartheid Jerusalem, one that belongs to all the people who live there of whatever origin. This is bound to happen because Palestinians as well as substantial numbers of Israeli Jews do and will continue to resist the regime. They will do what they can. What will we do?
Bruce Dixon can be contacted at firstname.lastname@example.org