Opinion: U.S. should stand against apartheid in Israel

By Sam Jadallah

Special to the Mercury News

November 3 marked, in the words of political blogger Philip Weiss, a “historically dark day” in the U.S. Congress. House Republicans and Democrats lined up to vote against the United Nations Fact-Finding Mission carried out by Justice Richard Goldstone and to bash Goldstone, a committed Zionist, because he had the temerity to detail Israel’s war crimes in Gaza this past winter. Expressing not a word of concern regarding the over 300 Palestinian children killed in Israel’s attacks, the disappointing resolution places our Congress on the front lines of denying documented war crimes.

Congressional rhetoric continues to place blame on Palestinians, insisting to a large extent that they are responsible for their own misery. But it is absurd to think that Palestinians will simply surrender to life under permanent discrimination and iron-fisted military rule.

Freedom and equality must be centerpieces of American efforts to secure peace in the region. Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu rejects this with misleading words and ongoing colonization of Palestinian territory. He offers caveats, limitations and conditions to ensure Palestinians will not realize fundamental aspirations and dreams.

His newest condition demands that Israel be recognized as a Jewish state, despite 20 percent of Israel’s population being Palestinian. This demand is akin to George Wallace insisting Martin Luther King Jr. recognize the U.S. as a white state. Yet, American leaders, who would never support the United States as a white state, uphold this in Israel despite such language implicitly relegating Palestinian citizens to inferior status.

Already, over 20 Israeli laws favor Jewish citizens and discriminate against Palestinians. And in the Israeli-controlled West Bank, Palestinians face segregated roads, unequal distribution of water and a dual system of law.

The question is how to break the impasse. I look to guidance Nelson Mandela offered from his prison cell. He asked, “What freedom am I being offered when I must ask permission to live in an urban area? What freedom am I being offered when I need a stamp in my pass to seek work?”

I have profound doubts as to Netanyahu’s intentions when days ago a university student in Bethlehem was transferred back to Gaza because she was in the occupied West Bank “illegally.” Israel’s pass stamps for this young woman, Berlanty Azzam, are just as noxious as in apartheid South Africa.

Palestinian lives are increasingly shaped by stunting discrimination and despair. The time is long past for “economic progress,” “easing travel restrictions” and other baby steps for Palestinians that avoid a just and legally based solution. Only a focus on the prize – freedom and equality, neither of which can be concessions – will prevent the situation from dramatically worsening, and rapidly.

Americans who fought Jim Crow or apartheid must reject today’s version in the occupied Palestinian territories. America’s leadership is based on promoting freedom and equality around the world, and we must start with our allies.

South Africa achieved freedom only when President F.W. de Klerk released Mandela and legalized his “terrorist” ANC organization under external boycotts and political pressure. Clearly, Israel’s leaders are incapable of providing freedom and equality without a clear and strong message from the U.S. And the longer we support military rule and discrimination, the more we erode our leadership.

It’s time for our leadership to step up for our values and call on Israeli leaders to follow the South African path to peace. Any solution starts with a clear and immediate commitment to delivering freedom and equality.

American and Israeli leaders need to replace rhetoric with tangible freedom and equality for all people in a land so overdue these blessings.

Freedom can’t wait.

SAM JADALLAH is a Silicon Valley venture capitalist, former Microsoft executive and co-founder and chairman of the board of the Institute for Middle East Understanding. He wrote this article for the Mercury News.

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