The South African archbishop Desmond Tutu, champion of the fight against Apartheid, recently passed away.
This mourning reminds me of a burning problem still present today in Israel: a hateful discriminatory system that affects Israeli Arabs. I am referring to the Arab component of Israeli citizens, which represents about 20% of the population of my native country.
The term apartheid, which means “separation”, originated in South Africa in 1916 through the mouth of South African Prime Minister Jan Smith, but was officially introduced in 1948. Millions of black and mestizo South African citizens will later be forcibly evicted from their homes and collected. in poor urban agglomerations (Bantustan) and forced to numerous forms of separation (schools, transport, shops …) from the white community. Apartheid was abolished only in 1991, due to the ten-year military opposition of Nelson Mandela and the preaching of Archbishop Tutu.
Let’s go back to Israel. The debate on whether some form of apartheid is taking place with regard to Israeli Arabs – those who live in Israel and have Israeli citizenship – is open and lively both in Israel and in the international community.
The supporters of the apartheid thesis rely mainly on the following arguments:
- Cities built on state land can deny Palestinians housing on the basis of the criterion of “social fitness”.
- It is forbidden for groups or schools that receive government funds to commemorate Israel’s 1948 ethnic cleansing campaign against Palestinians during the founding of the state (known as Nakba or Catastrophe).
- Calls for a boycott of Israel are prohibited.
- While Palestinians who were expelled or left their property after November 1947 are not entitled to return, Jews who lost their property during this period are allowed to reclaim their land.
- The Law of Return grants citizenship to all Jews, while no law grants it to Palestinians, even if they were born in what is now considered modern Israel.
- The law prohibits citizenship rights for Palestinians living in the Occupied Territories even if they are married to Israeli citizens. Reunification still remains a significant problem for many Palestinian families.
- Israeli Arabs are not admitted to military service and the economic privileges that come with it.
In an article published in 2017 in Ytali (Association of Independent Journalists)1, Umberto De Giovannangeli writes from Jerusalem that the Israeli Arabs, the “invisible people”, as the well-known pacifist writer David Grossman defines it, can certainly exercise the right to vote and are represented by their parliamentarians at the Knesset, “but they already know from the outset that, whatever happens, they will never be represented in a government, whether right, center or left, because first of all comes the Jewish identity of the ‘executive”.
The author also reports that Salim Joubran, an Arab judge of the Israeli supreme court, argues that “the Arab citizens of the state live in a reality of discrimination. There are gaps in education, in employment, in the allocation of land for construction … “.
According to many observers, including Israelis, to make matters worse, in 2018 the Knesset passed the basic law on the nation-state. It defines Israel as the historical homeland of the Jewish people, encourages the creation of communities reserved for Jews and downgrades Arabic from an official language to a language with a special status.
In this regard, the Israeli journalist Gideon Levy, the day after the approval of the law, denounces in the daily Haaretz2 that “The law puts an end to the farce of an Israeli ‘Jewish and democratic’ state […]. The state is Jewish and cannot be democratic, because there is no equality. If it is democratic, it cannot be Jewish, since a democracy does not guarantee privileges on the basis of ethnic origin.
The journalist concludes with bitter irony: “Now there will be a state that finally tells the truth. Israel is for Jews only, even on paper. The nation state of the Jewish people, not of its inhabitants. Its Arabs are second-class citizens and its Palestinian inhabitants have no statute, they don’t exist […] ”.
Let us now give the floor to the defenders of the Israeli system.
Once and for all, I report the clear and clear position of the diplomat Alon Pinkas, former Israeli consul in New York.
Pinkas writes3: “I don’t think there is a term that infuriates and insults Israelis more than ‘apartheid’ […], a vile and racist system that Israelis find deeply disgusting.”
He recalls that the Rome Statute of the International Criminal Court (2002) defines the apartheid crime “… inhuman acts of a character similar to other crimes against humanity […], committed in the context of an institutionalized regime of systematic oppression and domination by one racial group over another or other racial groups, and in order to perpetuate this regime “.
The diplomat responds with disdain to the dossier published by Human Rights Watch4, entitled “A threshold crossed: the Israeli authorities and the crimes of apartheid and persecution”, stressing that “The report does not distinguish between three groups: the first, the” Israeli Arabs “, a minority of 20% living inside Israel in its pre-1967 borders. They vote, pay taxes and enjoy all the civil rights granted to any minority in any democracy […]. The second group is the Palestinians who live under military occupation and see their rights violated and are not truly free. But this tragic reality does not constitute structural “apartheid” […]. The occupation is not a racial conquest or a targeted colonial enterprise, but the default result of a war that Israel believed was defensive in 1967 […]. The third group is made up of 1.9 million Palestinians residing in the Hamas-controlled Gaza Strip, from which Israel withdrew in 2005.
The diplomat believes that “Applying the same criteria to all three groups is a critical methodological error […]. No “racial” component, or “racial domination” ideology guides Israeli policies […]. And he concludes: “It is legitimate to criticize Israel’s occupation and treatment of Palestinians. But to call it “apartheid”, implying structural, deliberate and racially motivated choices, is ridiculous.”
To answer the question posed in the title, I personally believe that Israel cannot (yet) be considered a state in which there is a real apartheid regime. But a state in which the Arab minority is strongly discriminated against, yes, with absolute evidence.
What do you think?
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- Umberto De Giovannangeli (2017) – Figli di un dio minore. Gli arabi israeliani, un “popolo invisibile”
- Gideon Levy (2018) – La legge che dice la verità su Israele (in italiano su Internazionale)
- Alon Pinkas (2021) – Perché Israele non è uno Stato di apartheid
- Human Rights Watch (2021) – A Threshold Crossed: Israeli authorities and the crimes of apartheid and persecution