South Africa must strengthen solidarity with Palestine


Few people are as well positioned to discuss the Israel apartheid analogy as John Dugard. A highly regarded legal scholar and human rights activist, Dugard played an important role in the struggle against apartheid in South Africa. Between 2001 and 2009 he acted as a United Nations special rapporteur on human rights in the Palestinian territories occupied by Israel since 1967. Frequent field visits and extensive investigations made him a renowned authority on the subject.

His experience in fighting apartheid in both countries, as well as in former South West Africa, is captured in his recent book Confronting Apartheid (Jacana, 2018). In the book, he outlines the conditions that led him to define the 1967 occupation regime as a form of apartheid: the dual legal system that grants Israeli-Jewish settlers legal rights and privileged access to resources and services while denying the same to the indigenous Arab residents of the territories, placing severe restrictions on the ability of Palestinians to move freely, express themselves politically, work and trade, and generally control their own lives.

A policy of systematic land confiscations for the benefit of the Israeli state, its military forces and civilian settlers has resulted in the dispossession of people, house demolitions, arrests (800 000 Palestinians have spent time in Israeli prisons over the years), and denial of human, civil and political rights.

Dugard makes a strong case for regarding the Israeli occupation as an apartheid regime. The only argument Israel and its allies overseas can raise against it is the supposedly temporary nature of the occupation, in place only until a settlement between Israelis and Palestinians is reached.

Yet after 52 years of increasingly entrenched military and civilian control, this is nothing but a lame disguise for permanent domination. But Dugard is careful not to extend this definition to the Israeli state itself beyond the 1967 territories.

Is this a correct position? Yes, because his mandate was restricted to the 1967 occupation. But there are two reasons why the answer is “no”.

The first concerns Palestinian citizens of Israel who reside within the Green Line (the pre-1967 boundaries). They can vote in elections, but are denied equality and membership in the national community.

Just three weeks ago, Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu wrote: “Israel is not a state of all its citizens. According to the basic nationality law we passed, Israel is the nation state of the Jewish people — and its alone.”

He added that if his (Jewish) opponents were form a government with the support of Arab parties, that would destabilise the security of the state and its citizens. Those opponents have rejected, though, any intention to enter into co-operation with those same Arab parties.

The 2018 Nation-State Law enshrines Israel as an exclusionary Jewish state with regard to its ethos, symbols, language and mission: to encourage Jewish immigration and settlement, and to reserve the right to national self-determination to Jews alone. It is entirely about Jewish identity and ownership of the country. The only right accorded to non-Jews is informally keeping their own days of rest and holidays.

The 2018 law merely entrenches long-held practices that have seen the state of Israel confiscating 90% of the land that Palestinian citizens held in 1948, constructing hundreds of settlements for Jews and none for Arabs, subjecting Palestinians to military rule until 1966, and subtler forms of political restriction after that, and allocating resources in a sharply unequal manner, benefiting Jewish citizens and municipalities in access to grants, services and facilities in the fields of health, education, employment and infrastructure.

The second reason a focus on the 1967 occupation is not enough concerns another group that serves as a constant reminder of the price paid by the establishment of Israel at the expense of indigenous people: these are the 1948 refugees who were subject to an ethnic cleansing campaign known as the Nakba. It expelled or forced 725 000 people (more than half of the Palestinian-Arab population at the time) to flee across the border into neighbouring countries, prohibited from returning to their homes, land and homeland.

These refugees, by now living through a fourth generation in exile, experience dispossession unknown under apartheid in South Africa. The Great March of Return in Gaza, which started a year ago, represents their plight and aspirations after decades of remaining in the shadow of the ongoing fight against the occupation.

For a complete picture of the Israeli state as an apartheid regime all three dimensions must be combined: the 1948 Nakba, the 1967 occupation (on which Dugard focuses) and the marginalised status of Palestinian citizens.

But what is to be done?

Palestinians face Israel and demand their rights on all these fronts, but their position is not strong enough to succeed by using their own resources alone. They need support and solidarity from the outside, marches in the streets, educational awareness campaigns, legal strategies in international forums, economic and diplomatic pressure on the regime from other states.

Africans — South Africans in particular — having been subjected to similar forms of oppression and having waged similar campaigns for their own liberation, could help in all these respects. The Israel Apartheid Week of 2019 was an opportunity for taking stock of the situation and intensifying solidarity efforts in this direction.

Ran Greenstein is an associate professor in the department of sociology at the University of the Witwatersrand

Subscribe to the M&G

These are unprecedented times, and the role of media to tell and record the story of South Africa as it develops is more important than ever.

The Mail & Guardian is a proud news publisher with roots stretching back 35 years, and we’ve survived right from day one thanks to the support of readers who value fiercely independent journalism that is beholden to no-one. To help us continue for another 35 future years with the same proud values, please consider taking out a subscription.

Related stories

Eusebius McKaiser: Reject the dichotomy of political horrors

Senekal shows us that we must make a stand against the loud voice of the populist EFF and racist rightwingers

How embroidery broke the silence around women’s apartheid trauma

By making embroideries, women move beyond and challenge categories and labels of “being vulnerable” or being perceived as “marginalised”

US ‘brokered’ agreements on Israel: Wind of change or toxic blast of extortion?

The United States is negotiating with African countries that will see them exchange Palestinian people’s rights for improved economic and trade conditions

How to whitewash colonial pain and trauma

Approval of the River Club development in Cape Town is reminiscent of those bulldozing spatial planners of apartheid

The pencil test still colours the rainbow nation illusion

This latest racist hair fiasco is just one more thing that all the darkies in me are tired of defending and explaining

SA in dire need of a political spring tide

The only time change has occurred in South Africa is in response to global events such as World War II. The country is once again facing such an event — Covid-19 — and will have to react

Subscribers only

Toxic power struggle hits public works

With infighting and allegations of corruption and poor planning, the department’s top management looks like a scene from ‘Survivor’

Free State branches gun for Ace

Parts of the provincial ANC will target their former premier, Magashule, and the Free State PEC in a rolling mass action campaign

More top stories

Baby Awa: The miracle baby born on a boat fleeing...

More than 300 000 people in the north of the country have been displaced by militants who ransack villages and then burn them down.

Five suspects arrested in Senzo Meyiwa case

Police minister Bheki Cela announced on Monday that his team has arrested five suspects who were allegedly involved in the killing of former Bafana Bafana captain Senzo Meyiwa.

EFF eyes municipalities ahead of 2021 local government elections

EFF leader Julius Malema says the party is preparing to govern in many municipalities from next year. It is also launching a programme to defend the rights of farm workers

WSU suspends classes and exams to avoid the spread of...

The university says it has to take the precautionary measures because 26 students have tested positive on its East London campus

press releases

Loading latest Press Releases…

The best local and international journalism

handpicked and in your inbox every weekday