Israeli Apartheid

At our protest on February 26, a small group of Zionists came and stood nearby, waving the Israeli flag and handing out leaflets bearing the title “Apartheid? You Decide.”  We have posted that leaflet beneath the following information that provides facts about the apartheid character of the Israeli state.

“The end of apartheid stands as one of the crowning accomplishments of the past century, but we would not have succeeded without the help of international pressure—in particular the divestment movement of the 1980s. Over the past six months a similar movement has taken shape, this time aiming at an end to the Israeli occupation….These tactics are not the only parallels to the struggle against apartheid. Yesterday’s South African township dwellers can tell you about today’s life in the occupied territories….If apartheid ended, so can the occupation, but the moral force and international pressure will have to be just as determined.”

Archbishop Desmond Tutu,The Nation, 15 July 2002

What is apartheid?

Apartheid is the Afrikaner word for “apartness.” It became systematized in South Africa in 1948 when the Afrikaner Nationalists took power. It is a system of institutionalized segregation designed to perpetuate the supremacy of the dominant group. It reflects a belief that certain people are less human than others.

In South Africa, apartheid translated into the systematic imprisonment of Black South Africans, torture in prisons, ghettoized neighborhoods, lack of equal opportunities to work, education, and living standard. That’s what most people think of as apartheid. But in fact, apartheid is not only a South African phenomenon. According to the International
Convention on the Suppression and Punishment of the Crime of Apartheid GA Resolution 3068 (1973), apartheid refers to policies and practices enacted in order establish and maintain domination by one racial group of persons over any other racial group of persons and systematically oppressing them. More broadly, apartheid refers to any social system that separates and discriminates against people based on race or ethnicity or other similar, nonmalleable characteristic, when that system is institutionalized by laws or decrees.  Indeed the “Jim Crow” laws of the Southern United States established an apartheid system there for nearly a century.

How does “Apartheid” apply to Israel?

The bedrock of Israeli apartheid is the Zionist expulsion of at least 750,000 Palestinians from their homes in 1947 and 1948 (the Nakba) and the subsequent Israeli denial of their right to return–a right guaranteed by international law.  This form of apartheid, known as “ethnic cleansing,” has been buttressed by the establishment of a Jewish “right of return.”  Under Israeli law, anyone calling herself “Jewish,” from anywhere in the world, is eligible to become a citizen of Israel, whereas exiled Palestinians, many of whom are stateless refugees, may not and often face difficulty even attempting to visit Israel.  This ethno-religious law privileges the colonizing agenda of foreign Jewish nationals over the right of indigenous and exilic/diasporic Palestinians to return to the homes from which they were expelled or fled within living memory.  Palestinians in exile and diaspora now number at least five million.

Following the establishment of Israel in 1948, structural discrimination began to be implemented, as state policy, against Palestinians holding Israeli citizenship. For example, Palestinian “Israelis” became severely restricted as to where and what they are permitted to build; to date, the vast majority of Jewish Israelis live in willfully segregated enclaves, towns and villages–apart from Palestinians. Even when Palestinians have been allowed to construct new homes or businesses, the state of Israel can tear them down at will–something which occurs regularly, in order to make way for the construction of Jewish “neighborhoods” in areas deemed militarily “strategic” by the Israel Defense Forces.  Almost all of these expropriated areas are historically Palestinian (e.g., along the coastline between Haifa and Akko; in the Negev; and in the Galilee).  Many of them contain major reservoirs and underground aquifers, which have likewise been expropriated for diversion to largely Jewish areas, especially the big cities. As a result Palestinians face water shortages and electricity stoppages, with dire effects on their agricultural economy and everyday lives.

Exacerbating the above has been the pervasive tendency on the part of Jewish Israelis to refuse to hire Palestinians–at least above the table. This tendency stretches back to the early 20th century, when waves of Zionist settlers with national-political intentions began arriving in Palestine. In order to discourage such hiring, the state of Israel has historically encouraged–at times violently compelled–the immigration of Jews from Arab countries and the former Soviet Union (many of the latter are not really Jewish), who would come to comprise a predominantly Jewish working class. Israel in turn established “guest-worker” programs for the employment of non-Jewish migrant workers from sub-Saharan Africa, the Philippines, Brazil, and elsewhere in the Third World (except for Arab and Muslim countries) to do the kinds of work many Jews won’t perform. This situation has contributed to the social and economic marginalization of Palestinians in Israel, one aim of which is to pressure them to emigrate and thereby lower the Palestinian “demographic threat” within Israel.

In addition, as mentioned elsewhere on this website, pervasive social-structural impediments have long existed to Palestinian enrollment and sustained matriculation in Israeli schools and universities, not least the Technion, and to the construction and official accreditation of Palestinian universities in Israel “proper” (to date there exists only one accredited Palestinian institution of higher education in Israel). As a result, the quality of Palestinian education has been diminished, resulting in the formation of an impoverished underclass not unlike that of African Americans in U.S. urban centers. Unlike at U.S. universities, however, and in contrast to Israel’s treatment of Jewish Israeli students, Palestinian students may legally be disciplined and expelled for congregating and protesting university or Israeli policy on campus; and Palestinians generally may be arrested and imprisoned without charge, indefinitely, if they are suspected of engaging in activities arbitrarily deemed politically subversive by the state.

Apartheid Under occupation

Since 1967, Israel has been building settlements in the oPts that are available only to Jewish Israelis, and more recently it constructed the Apartheid Wall on huge swathes of stolen Palestinian land. A dual legal system exists in the oPts. Palestinians who live in the West Bank are controlled by Israeli military law, while the 220,000 Jewish settlers there are governed by Israeli civil laws. In occupied East Jerusalem, Palestinians, many of whose families have lived there for generations, are only considered “residents”; they can vote in municipal, but not national, elections. By contrast, the 200,000 Jewish settlers in occupied East Jerusalem, like the West Bank settlers, are citizens of Israel, with the right to vote, run for office, and seek redress in Israeli courts. Israeli military authorities control virtually all the land and water of the West Bank, and keep the entire Gaza Strip in a permanent state of siege.

Palestinians under occupation meanwhile live completely separate lives from the Israeli settlers in the same territories.  According to the US Campaign to End the Israeli Occupation, of which NYACT is a member group:

• They face constant threat of arrest, interrogation, and incarceration, often for “administrative detention” without trial or conviction, under conditions of military justice; Israeli settlers face no such threat.

• Palestinian towns, cities and villages face the imposition of collective punishment (explicitly prohibited by the Geneva Conventions) in the form of extended curfews, closures, military raids and more, either following an alleged act of violence or for no reason at all; Israeli settlers face no such collective punishment.

• Palestinian land ownership and use for agriculture, residence or any other purpose is at all times subject to confiscation for military and economic purposes, often to expand existing or establish new Jews-only settlements, and to seize control of the most important water sources.

• Palestinians are subject to house demolitions and destruction of agriculture land including the uprooting of hundreds of thousands of centuries-old olive trees; Israeli settlers are safe from such punishments.

• Palestinians are prohibited from using the network of settler-only by-pass roads which separate Palestinian towns and villages from each other and on which only settlers and soldiers are allowed to drive; vehicles belonging to Palestinians are distinguished from Israeli-owned cars by differently-colored license tags.

• Palestinians are subject to a network of 750 or so permanent and “flying” military checkpoints at which they often wait for hours and must show their identity cards or passes; settlers and other Israelis are allowed immediate passage through the checkpoints.

The impact of Israel’s settlement activity and the route of the Apartheid Wall enable a vivid analogy to the apartheid evident across the very landscape of the West Bank and the imprisoned Gaza Strip. Palestinian territory has been fragmented into truncated Bantustans resembling in miniature those “homelands” for Black South Africans created under apartheid rule to control and contain what they regarded as their “demographic problem.” In the words of the South African Minister of Intelligence Ronnie Kasrils:

“With the illegal Jewish settlements, security road network, and construction of the monstrous wall around the militarily occupied West Bank, the remaining Palestinians are ghettoized within 12 percent of their original territory. This dispossession is reminiscent of Apartheid and its 13 percent of Bantustan homelands…May Israelis wake up and see reason, as happened in South Africa, and negotiate peace.”

For more information about the history and situation of Palestinians in Israel, see:

More information on how the term “apartheid” applies to Israel can be found here: