Additional material on apartheid and racism in Israel and Occupied Palestine

| Doron Isaacs

This material was written up by Doron Isaacs in preparation for a panel discussion titled: \xe2\x80\x9cApartheid: South Africa’s history; Palestine’s reality?\xe2\x80\x9d This took place on 13 March 2013 at UCT as part of Israel Apartheid Week 2013.

This is supplementary material for this article.

1. Apartheid in the West Bank

There is indeed a vicious\xc2\xa0apartheid\xc2\xa0in the occupied territories.1 The population of the West Bank is made up of approximately 2.5m Palestinians and 500,000 Jewish Israeli settlers. Despite living there illegally, in violation of the Fourth Geneva Convention, these settlers benefit from Apartheid road networks, and separate water reticulation.

In Israeli settlements daily per person water consumption is 242l. But in Tulkarm it is 40l, in Nablus 30l and in Palestinian Hebron 26l.2

Last week Israel launched two Palestinians-only bus lines in the occupied West Bank.3

Most importantly, Palestinians and Israelis in the West Bank live under two completely separate legal systems. A Palestinian and an Israeli who commit the same crime on the same day will be charged and treated as if they were living on opposite ends of the world. The Israeli will be charged under Israeli civil law, and be subject to the protections of a modern legal system. The Palestinian will be subject to military law. The whims of military law govern every aspect of Palestinian life in the West Bank.

2. Discrimination and creeping apartheid in Israel

There is a different but nevertheless deep racism4 and real discrimination against the Arab minority within Israel. A creeping Apartheid.

Arabs of Israel can vote and stand for election. However this is under threat. The Knesset voted to ban Arab MK Haneen Zoabi from the 22 January elections because she was aboard the Mavi Marmara in 2010. The Supreme Court needed to overturn this.5 There is now a bill \xe2\x80\x93 the Zoabi Bill \xe2\x80\x93 which seeks to prevent the Court from overturning such a ban in future.6 There is an Arab judge on the Supreme Court, but there are moves to remove him because he refused to stand for Hatikvah.

Palestinian citizens of Israel are citizens, but their ID cards identify them as Arab. On an Israeli Jew's ID card it will identify them as Jewish. There is no Israeli national identity. Israel is one of the very few countries in the world like that.

Palestinians who live inside Israel find it very difficult to lease land because the land is controlled by the Israeli Land Authority, which is itself controlled by the Jewish National Fund, or the Israeli Land Authority which is effectively controlled by the JNF.7

There is a growing list of laws targeting Israel's Arab citizens. The word “Nakba” was banned, in 2009, from Israeli textbooks.8 This is the word that Palestinians call the events in 1948 which resulted in the creation of the State of Israel, and the dispossession of 700,000 people that became refugees. Another law passed in 2011 takes funding away from municipalities and organisations that mark the Nakba in any way.9

The Admissions Law allows communities to reject potential residents if they are “not right for social life in the community”.10 In other words Jewish communities are rejecting would-be members because they are Arab, and this is specifically permitted in law.11

The Citizenship and Entry into Israel Law makes inhabitants of\xc2\xa0the\xc2\xa0West Bank\xc2\xa0and\xc2\xa0Gaza Strip12\xc2\xa0ineligible for the automatic granting of Israeli citizenship and residency permits that is usually available through marriage to an Israeli citizen. A South African Jew can become an Israeli citizen just by moving there. An Italian Catholic can become an Israeli citizen simply by marrying an Israeli. But a West Bank Palestinian is denied this right. And more to the point, whereas the Israeli spouse of the Italian Catholic has the benefit of seeing their partner granted citizenship the Israeli citizen who marries a Palestinian does not get this benefit. The West Bank Palestinian cannot even move to Israel to live with his Israeli spouse \xe2\x80\x93 if they want to live together the Israeli citizen must leave Israel. The Israeli Supreme Court recently approved this law.13

Although Arab and Jewish citizens of Israel are taxed equally, they do not receive equal benefit of government spending. In education, according to official state data published in 2004, the state provides three times as much funding to Jewish pupils compared to Arab pupils.14

There is general discrimination in access to jobs15, funding of municipalities16, treatment at airports17 etc\xe2\x80\xa6

3. Erosion of democracy in Israel

There is a wider erosion of even the internal democracy that Jews enjoy in Israel.18

Freedom of speech is threatened by the Boycott Law which stipulates that every Israeli who publicly calls for a boycott against the state of Israel, even one confined to the Occupied Territories, is liable to pay punitive damages \xe2\x80\x93 “independent of the actual damage caused.”19

Freedom of Association is threatened by a new law which requires NGOs receiving funding from foreign state entities to report to the government four times a year.20

The Infiltration Law stipulates a three-year minimum imprisonment for anyone entering Israel without permission. This is aimed mainly at African refugees and migrants.21 A recent Knesset amendment to this law has restored the measure by which migrant workers are bound to a single employer, notwithstanding that this arrangement was previously deemed illegal by the Supreme Court,\xc2\xa0which went so far as to call it “a modern form of slavery.”22




1 HRW Report In addition to apartheid, in the some parts of the West Bank, generally closer to the Separation Barrier, there is very definite ethnic cleansing by stealth. Many methods are used to move communities off their land to make way for settlement expansion, the path of the barrier, or just to have an empty buffer. The official United Nations definition of ethnic cleansing is “rendering an area ethnically homogeneous by using force or intimidation to remove from a given area persons of another ethnic or religious group.”

2 BTselem 'The Gap in Water Consumption between Palestinians and Israelis' (1 Jan 2013) available at and stats available at “There are still 220 Palestinian localities with 215,000 residents (about 10% of the population) which are not connected to any running water systems (B'Tselem, 2000) available at See also Yoav Kislev 'Water in the Palestinian localities' Water Engineering \xe2\x80\x93 the Israeli Water Magazine, March 2008 translation available at:
3 Jeffrey Heller 'Israel opens Palestinians-only bus lines in W. Bank' (Reuters) available at “The left-wing Haaretz daily reported the ministry opened the lines, to be used by Palestinian labourers travelling between the West Bank and Israel, after Jewish settlers complained that Palestinians on mixed buses were a security risk.”Creating separate bus lines for Israeli Jews and Palestinians is a revolting plan,” Jessica Montell, director of the B'Tselem rights group, said on Army Radio. “This is simply racism. Such a plan cannot be justified with claims of security needs or overcrowding.”The Transport Ministry said the two new lines would “improve public transport services for Palestinian workers entering Israel” and replace pirate buses charging them “exorbitant prices”.”The Ministry of Transport has not issued any instruction or prohibition that prevents Palestinian workers from travelling on public transport in Israel nor in Judea and Samaria,” it said, referring to the West Bank.”Furthermore, the Ministry of Transport is not authorised to prevent any passenger from using public transport services.”Rights groups, however, voiced concern that Israeli police at checkpoints in the West Bank would remove Palestinian passengers from regular bus lines and order them to use the new ones.Police spokesman Micky Rosenfeld said all Palestinians returning to the West Bank would be searched for stolen property, describing this as a routine Israeli precaution.He said he did not know whether and how this might affect Palestinian travel on regular buses.Herzl Ben-Zvi, mayor of the Karnei Shomron settlement, said the new lines “answer the needs of all passengers - Palestinians and settlers” because they would relieve overcrowding on buses in the area.”
4 Moshe Feiglin, senior Likud leader.\xc2\xa0Here's what he told a reporter from the New Yorker: “You can't teach a monkey to speak and you can't teach an Arab to be democratic. You're dealing with a culture of thieves and robbers \xe2\x80\xa6 The Arab destroys everything he touches.”

Naftali Bennett, leader of the Jewish Home party, which holds 10% of the seats in the Israeli Knesset: In a 2010 TV debate he dismissed a Palestinian member of the Knesset\xc2\xa0in these terms: “When you were still climbing trees, we had a Jewish state here\xe2\x80\xa6 We were here long before you.”

Miri Regev, a Likud MK, said African immigrants are “a cancer in the body” of the nation at a Tel Aviv rally in May 2012.

Those who say that there is not Apartheid taking root in Israel sometimes do so on the supposed basis that whereas in South Africa the basis of apartheid was racism, in Israel everything is a practical response to security threats. This is spurious. Firstly, it can be easily shown that a lot of what goes on in the West Bank and Israel has nothing to do with security, particularly not the security of those Israelis living within the Green Line. But secondly, this argument misunderstands something about racism.

Eric Hobsbawm has said this about racism:

“Apart from its convenience as a legitimation of the rule of white over coloured, rich over poor, it is perhaps best explained as a mechanism by means of which a fundamentally inegalitarian society based upon a fundamentally egalitarian ideology rationalised its inequalities, and attempted to justify and defend those privileges\xe2\x80\xa6”

In both South Africa and in Israel the discrimination and oppression, often based upon racism, can best be understood in this way, as a means to defend and acquire privileges.

6 'Zoabi Bill' seeks to keep Balad MK out of Knesset (Jerusalem Post)\xc2\xa0

7 Through legislation passed by the Knesset the Jewish National Fund controls seven out of the 13 seats on the Israeli Land Authority's Board, a majority. The Jewish National Fund's mission, it says it on its Web site, is to provide land for the Jewish people, which means it's Jews-only land.

8 'Israel bans use of Palestinian term 'nakba' in textbooks' Haaretz 22/07/2009

9 The Nakba Law: Proposed by Yisrael Beitenu MK Alex Miller. Voted into law on March 22, 2011.

10 Or if they “do not match the socio-cultural fabric of the settlement and there is reason to assume they might harm it.”

11 The Admissions Law: Proposed by MKs David Rotem (Yisrael Beitenu), Israel Hasson (Kadima), Shai Hermesh (Kadima). Voted into law on March 22, 2011. See

12 And Iran, Afghanistan, Lebanon, Libya, Sudan, Syria, Iraq, Pakistan, Yemen.

13 High Court rejects petition against 'Citizenship Law' (Ynet),7340,L-4174616,00.html

14 'The Inequality Report' Adalah 2011

15 According to the US State Department only 3% of civil service jobs are held by Arabs, despite being almost 25% of the population.

16 According to a report by the US State Department, Government spending was proportionally lower in predominantly Arab areas than in Jewish areas, which adversely affected children in Arab villages and cities

17 Report: Arab citizens viewed as 'security threats' at airports

18 ACRI page on anti-democratic laws. See also Israeli activists being arrested for reading names of destroyed Palestinian villages:

19 The Boycott Law: Proposed by Likud MK Zeev Elkin. Voted into law on July 11, 2011. Boycott is defined as “deliberately avoiding economic, cultural or academic ties with another person or body solely because of their affinity with the State of Israel, one of its institutions or an area under its control, in such a way that may cause economic, cultural or academic damage.” Out of interest, there is also a less punitive anti-boycott-of-Israel law in the United States:

20 Former Israeli Ambassador to South Africa, Alon Liel, has compared this legislation to South African Apartheid laws. See “Israel needs outside 'interference'”\xc2\xa0

21 The Infiltration Law: Proposed by the Netanyahu government. Voted into law on January 9, 2012. In some cases the law allows for an “infiltrator” to be imprisoned indefinitely. The law also stipulates stiff penalties for Israelis who help illegal migrants. The law will be in effect for three years at which time the government is to examine its impact on hampering illegal immigration.

22 Entry into Israel Law \xe2\x80\x93 Amendment 21 (Proposed by the Government). Status: Passed final reading on 16 May 2011.


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