There is a lot of discussion, much of it heated, about what term to use for the institutionalized system of ethnically-based segregation in Palestine/Israel: Discrimination, segregation, or apartheid.
Who would be in the best situation to comment on this? South Africans.
South Africans, who for decades suffered under a brutal regime of apartheid.
Well, the leading political party for South Africans has spoken, clearly, and unambiguously, comparing their own experiences with those currently being suffered by Palestinians.
The African National Congress has spoken out in a historical decision against the systematic policies of the Israeli state:
The ANC declared it was ‘unapologetic in its view that the Palestinians are the victims and the oppressed in the conflict with Israel.’
Long before the ANC’s historic decision above and their support of the Boycott Israel movement, their iconic leader, Nobel Peace Prize winner Desmond Tutu had spoken out against what he termed “Israeli apartheid.”
Bishop Tutu stated that he was ”very deeply distressed” by a visit to the Palestine/Israel, adding:
“It reminded me so much of what happened to us black people in South Africa”.
What’s ironic is that this decision was covered on the progressive independent station Democracy Now, and also in Israel’s leading newspaper Haaretz, but was largely left out of the mainstream US corporate media, which tends to minimize atrocities of the Israeli state to perpetuate the myth of Israel as a “democratic” island in the Middle East and a worthy US ally.
Indeed, what’s astonishing is the extend to which these policies have permeated almost every imaginable realm of society, down to being told which side of the street one can—and cannot—walk on.
Here is a note from Sa’ed Adel Atshan, a Harvard graduate student who just came back from the Occupied West Bank territories. He reports on what many know, but is almost never reported in the US media: the system of segregation for Palestinians and Israelis extends to what roads one can drive on, and even what side of the street one should walk in. Seriously, how many of us would ever choose to live under a system whereby we are told what side of the street we can walk on, what roads we can and cannot drive on? And who among us would deem this a worthy representation of a democracy?
Here is my Sa’ed’s report:
“I come from a place (the occupied West Bank) where a central feature of the apartheid system we live under here is a two-tiered road network: Jewish-only roads for Israeli settlers and inferior roads for Palestinian Christians and Muslims.
Today, I walked down a main street in Hebron that the Israeli military has divided: with a narrow sliver designated for Palestinian pedestrians (our cars are not allowed on this street) on one side, and the remainder of the road for Jewish pedestrians only (and for the Israeli settler cars) on the other side.
I defied the orders to stay on the Palestinian sliver of the road and walked with the American delegation I am leading this week on the settler part. When a Palestinian boy saw me, he joined us on the Israeli side and tried to sell us bracelets.
At that moment, Israeli soldiers chased after the boy, cornered him against a wall, harassed him, and attempted to detain him. Many of the 25 delegates froze in disbelief and had tears in their eyes. They decided as a group that they would stare at the soldiers and refuse to move until the army released the boy. All he had done was to walk on the wrong side of the street, and it could have been me who was met with his fate. As the soldiers realized the intervention of our delegates in shame, they let the boy go. Another day in occupied Palestine, another day under apartheid, but another moment to restore my faith in humanity.”
This is not a one-time, isolated, practice.
We in America eventually got rid of segregated lunch counters, segregated buses and segregated schools.
In Israel, there are still segregated roads, segregated housing, segregated sidewalks, segregated…
Dr. King told us to not segregate our moral concerns. What is our response to this segregated public accommodation in Israel?
I simply wonder how many Americans would support a notion where Whites, Blacks, Hispanics, and other ethnicities would be issued different colored ID cards, different colored license plates, and be discriminated upon based on those ethnicities. We would never tolerate it, yet this is what we pay for in Israel each and every day through billions of dollars of our tax dollars.
This is simply not how a democracy functions. And our tax dollars are enabling this system. No matter whether you see yourself as pro-Israel or pro-Palestinian, this is unacceptable, morally repugnant.
It is demeaning to Palestinians, who have to endure such humiliation in their own ancestral homeland.
It is demeaning to Americans, who betray our own ideals by funding such a system of institutionalized segregation.
And it is demeaning to Israelis, who are betraying their own lofty ideals of generous treatments of one’s neighbors and even strangers through these institutionalized practices.
We, all of us, deserves better than this system of prejudice, discriminate, institutionalized racism and segregation.