The Israeli Occupation as an Apartheid System

During the sixth International Israeli apartheid week, the Alternative Information Center is hosting events and lectures. On 2 March, Hazem Jamjoum of the Badil Resource Center for Palestinian Residency and Refugee Rights discussed about Israeli apartheid system in the AICafé. On this occasion we interviewed him.

Why can the Israeli occupation be considered an apartheid system?

The Israeli state is committing a crime of apartheid. Unfortunately there are two very big errors that people commit talking about Israeli apartheid: the first is that they base on a comparison with South Africa. South Africa is the historical place where even the word comes from, from the afrikaans language, but now the word “apartheid” is a crime that any state can commit, like genocide. It has an international definition that we can find in the international convention for the suppression and punishment of the crime of apartheid. We can find a similar definition in Rome statute of the International Criminal Court. Essentially a state commits the crime of apartheid when it establishes a regime of institutionalized discrimination, a regime of dominance by one group over other groups. In the Convention we have a series of practises that are committed in the context of trying to establish a regime of dominance through this institutionalised discrimination. So, when we look at the history of the Zionist movement and the process of establishing and maintaining the Israeli state, it’s clear that Israeli committed the crime of apartheid.

The second very major mistake that people commit in analysing Israeli apartheid is that they limit their analysis to the West Bank and Gaza, to the part of Palestine that was occupied in 1967. In the case of South Africa, for example, it would mean to look for the crime of apartheid only in the bantustans. You see many aspects of the commission of the crime but you don’t see the crime itself: you see the crime looking at the regime which is in our case Israel. In the case of Israel, there are very clear goals placed by the Zionist movement who wanted to create a Jewish state in Palestine since the late 1800s. They chose a place, namely Palestine, which already had an indigenous population and this population was still here at the time they established the Israeli state in the first half of the 20th century.

The Zionist movement resorted to several crimes: the most major crime was the mass transfer of the Palestinian population in 1948, kicking out two third of the Palestinian population, over 800,000 Palestinians, expelled in what Palestinians refer to as the Nakba, and consequently denial of their return. Until today you have millions of Palestinian refugees that have the clear right to return, but Israel denies the implementation of this right. So, this is the cornerstone of apartheid in Palestine.

The second place where we can find the crime of apartheid being committed is against the Palestinian citizens of Israel. Here you have the institutionalised discrimination in every single aspect of life: from the education system to cultural and language rights and it’s clearer in the issue of land. The idea becomes to squeeze the Palestinians into the smallest piece of land and to take control over the rest of the land with the aim of strengthening the Jewish state. And here, when we look at the map of Palestine and a map of South Africa we see stark similarities.

In the West Bank we find the crime of apartheid in every aspect of life. We have the added issue of the military occupation: occupation is something separated from apartheid, legally speaking. Occupation is something tolerated by the international community, it”s not a crime, but it”s governed by the Geneva Conventions. So when you violate the Geneva Conventions in the commission of an occupation, here you commit war crime and Israel commits war crimes on a daily base: the implementation of the settlements in the Occupied Territories is a war crime, collective punishment, population transfer are all war crimes. And Israel commits all of these war crimes, in addition to the really stark situation of the Gaza Strip since 1994. So, when we talk about Israel, it is not just that it’s committing crime of apartheid: it’s committing the crime of apartheid in addition to the other war crimes that it commits, the colonization that is central in the entire process.

What is the meaning of the BDS campaign? Can it really be effective?

Palestinians are resisting occupation and apartheid in very creative ways: the current Palestinian national resistance movement began its resistance activity during the British occupation after the First World War and lasted to 1948, reaching its pinnacle in 1930s. One of the main ways of the struggle was the idea of not cooperating with the colonizers: boycott was an essential part of that resistance in the late 1920s to 1930s. After 1948 people and states in solidarity with Palestinian people–the organization of the Islamic conference, the Arab league, the organization of African unity, the non-alignment movement–all imposed boycott on the Zionist state, which only began to be broken in the late 1970s with the Camp David signing between Egypt and Israel. In the first Intifada, boycott was an integral part of the struggle, with tax and work strikes. The 1990s, the period of the Oslo agreement, was a period of confusion in Palestine and all the around the world: some people celebrated the signing of the Oslo agreement and the reason was that they believed to an independent Palestinian state. But in fact what Israel did was to accept a Palestinian partner in the apartheid system and so the Palestinian authority founds itself tied, chained completely to Israel. The foundations of life in the West Bank and Gaza go through Israel. The ability to do this directly came from the framework of the so-called peace process.

In 2005 on the first anniversary of the International Court of Justice’s advisory opinion on the illegality of the Wall, Palestinian civil society organizations, which included all the political factions, all the workers unions, farmers unions, women unions, refugee organizations on both the sides of the Green Line and all over the world called on the international civil society to impose boycott, divestment and sanctions to isolate the Israeli regime. The three main demands of this movement have been: ending the occupation, dismantle the apartheid Wall and freeing the political prisoners; full rights and equality for Palestinian citizens; the implementation of the rights of the refugees. This movement, in less than five years, has witnessed very major successes: some major trade unions have joined boycotting movement and federations have joined the boycott movement including South African trade unions, trade union conference in England, Scotland, Ireland, students and churches movement. We’ve seen a vibrant campaign for cultural and academic boycott and one of the major divestment decisions was taken by the Norwegian Pension Fund.

Who are the organizers of the Israeli apartheid week?

In Bethlehem, Israeli apartheid week is organized by groups of youths, not a specific organization, even if many youths are involved in some of the community organization. In the three refugee camps the AIC, Badil Center, the Popular Committee in al-Masara are planning activities. The idea is to raise awareness of the BDS campaign: not all the Palestinians are aware of the successes of the BDS campaign.

One of the only ways we have to resist the apartheid system is not support the apartheid system by purchasing its products. The Palestinian market is a captive market for Israeli products and Israel controls all the access into and out the ghettos. We aim to try at least to get people to think twice before they spend their money on Israeli products. This is a way where everybody can participate, it’s not exclusive to one group or another. The boycott to be successful is largely based on international actors. It’s something that Palestinians can help for, providing information and coordination. The week itself is in over 20 cities all around the world. Perhaps two of the most interesting things this year is that Gaza city and Beirut are participating for the first year with a group anti-apartheid.

And after the Israeli apartheid week?

Israeli apartheid week is not a goal, it’s not an end in itself, it’s a chance to highlight existing campaigns. People are working the rest of the year on BDS campaign. It’s a moment where we all around the world coordinate our activities to draw connections to the struggles everywhere. It’s not surprising that in this sixth year, we see intensified efforts by those who support the apartheid regime to try to delegitimize, to try to crack down the week. Canada is almost trying to illegalize the week; the Canadian government will be discussing a motion stating that anybody who says “Israeli apartheid” is committing a sort of crime. However, our work will continue.

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