Israel, Apartheid, and Sanctions: In response to Susie Jacobs

From the archive (legacy material)

Greg Dropkin | LabourNet UK | 13 June 2005

Susie Jacobs has written a detailed paper “Israel = Apartheid?: a Comparison and Critique” (see e.g. comparing and contrasting Israeli society with apartheid South Africa, acknowledging a number of common features but cautioning against any over-simplified identification of the two cases when arguing for sanctions. She is not alone.
Last year, Noam Chomsky concluded that the comparison had some validity but that sanctions were inappropriate ( and Moshé Machover ( has criticised the term “apartheid” as a description of Israel – in his view the South African analogy underestimates the oppression faced by Palestinians who face expulsion rather than exploitative incorporation.
Several points which Susie does not mention, and some aspects which she does discuss, convince me that the term “apartheid” really is appropriate.
Before we start
But first, the case for sanctions does not turn on whether the State of Israel is “just like” apartheid South Africa or even whether the term “apartheid” is relevant. The argument is that Israel continues to behave in an outrageous fashion which will continue until effective forms of international pressure on the regime – sanctions being one possible strategy – emerge inside our own societies whose ruling classes have continued for their own reasons to sustain Israel by military, diplomatic, financial and economic means. For example, although the Pinochet regime was often called a “fascist dictatorship”, the international trade union boycott of Chile after the 1973 coup did not require proving it was “fascist” along the lines of Nazi Germany – clearly it was not. But the Rolls Royce engineers (who refused to ship RB-111 engines to the Chilean Air Force), Oakland and Liverpool dockers (who blockaded trade, rescued Chilean refugees and shoved leaflets into the cargo hold of ships bound for Valparaiso) and everyone who boycotted Chilean wine for decades, all figured out what they had to do regardless.
Another preliminary point: arguments over “Zionism is Racism” and Israel’s “right-to-exist” have nothing to do with calls for the expulsion of Israeli Jews from their country of residence, any more than opposition to South African apartheid amounted to a call to throw the whites into the sea. They concern the recognition that a society which institutionalises ethnic division and racial inequality cannot and should not survive in that form. By analogy, think of slavery and civil rights in the US, stretching back to the civil war. The US had no “right-to-exist” as a slave society, even though it was born in a revolutionary struggle against the colonial power, Britain. The only way out was to end the legal basis of slavery and racial discrimination. Though the second fight is not over, you won’t find many defenders of the plantation slave economy these days. The argument over Israel’s “right-to-exist” as “the State of the Jewish people” does not turn on whether it replicates South African apartheid or slavery in the US. The question is whether the concept and practice of a “Jewish state” conflicts with universal human rights which may mean nothing to Zionist demographers but do matter to Palestinians and others, including of course Susie Jacobs.
Her analysis (“I=A?”) begins by contrasting the history of the two societies. Of course, two very different roads may lead to similar places so I would not conclude anything from the fact that South Africa was a racist society long before the Nationalists took power in 1948, the year when Israel was created. Actually the most relevant periods for considering sanctions would be contemporary Israel and South Africa in the late 1970’s – early 1980’s when the international argument took hold in the wake of the Soweto uprising. By that time the apartheid regime had already begun to modernise – combining invasions of the Front Line States, an illegal and extremely brutal permanent military occupation of Namibia and severe military and police repression at home, with moves towards recognition and regulation of the domestic black working class and the attempt to create a black middle class. The Reagan and Thatcher governments chose “Constructive Engagement” – claiming, whether they believed it or not, this would encourage further reform of apartheid – but the mass movement went ahead to impose sanctions without permission from the US or UK.
However the racist nature of the Zionist project, including its attitude to Jewish people, was also apparent long before 1948 or the rise of Nazism. It is true that Zionism contained other currents, a point which Chomsky stresses, but it is also true that the Jewish exclusivity which turned out to be the real nature of the State of Israel, in practice, had deep roots. One place to read the history is Lenni Brenner’s Zionism in the Age of the Dictators, now out of print but online at, and his more recent book 51 Documents: Zionist Collaboration with the Nazis. Here are just two examples, independent of any argument over events during the Holocaust.
“…[Balfour] then expounded to me his view of the Jewish question, and said that in his opinion the question would remain insoluble until either the Jews here came entirely assimilated, or there was a normal Jewish community in Palestine – and he had in mind Western Jews rather than Eastern. He told me that he had once had a long talk with Cosima Wagner in Bayreuth and that he shared many of her anti-Semitic ideas. I pointed out to him that we too are in agreement with the cultural anti-Semites, in so far as we believe that Germans of the Mosaic faith are an undesirable, demoralizing phenomenon, but that we totally disagree with Wagner and Chamberlain as to the diagnosis and prognosis…” Chaim Weizmann, letter “To Ahad Ha’am” Dec. 14-15, 1914 [51 Documents, p22]
Thus we conclude that we cannot promise anything to the Arabs of the Land of Israel or the Arab countries. Their voluntary agreement is out of the question. Hence those who hold that an agreement with the natives is an essential condition for Zionism can now say ‘no’ and depart from Zionism. Zionist colonization, even the most restricted, must either be terminated or carried out in defiance of the will of the native population. This colonization can, therefore, continue and develop only under the protection of a force independent of the local population – an iron wall which the native population cannot break through. This is, in toto, our policy towards the Arabs. To formulate it any other way would be hypocrisy.
“…Only when not a single breach is visible in the iron wall, only then do extreme groups, with their ‘Never’, lose their sway, and influence transfers to moderate groups. Only then would these moderate groups come to us with proposals for mutual concessions… But the only path to such an agreement is the iron wall, that is to say the strengthening in Palestine of a government without any kind of Arab influence, that is to say one against which the Arabs will fight. In other words, for us the only path to an agreement in the future is an absolute refusal of any attempts at an agreement now.” Vladimir Jabotinsky “The Iron Wall (We and the Arabs)”, Nov 4, 1923 [51 Documents, pp36-37]
“I=A?” also suggests that “apartheid” may be an inappropriate term because some aspects of the settler-colonial pattern in Israel were common to many other colonial societies. Whilst the attitudes and behaviour of individual Israeli settlers in Palestine might be comparable to the attitudes and behaviour of individual Portuguese settlers in Angola (or the British in Kenya…), the Portuguese settler regime in Angola did not demand the world recognise it as “The State of the Portuguese people” whilst expelling the bulk of the indigenous Angolan population. Nor did South Africa claim to be “The State of the White People (worldwide)” while comprehensively entrenching white supremacy. But there may be several different apartheid societies, each involving pervasive systems of racial separation and discrimination. In any case, the other settler colonial societies are history now, for good reason, but Israeli settler colonialism is in full swing.
In discussing the history of migration to Palestine, Susie Jacobs writes “Some violent uprisings against Jewish migrants to Palestine took place during the 1920s and 1930s and Arab nationalists – allied with the Axis and against British colonialism – attempted to block Jewish migration despite the mass murders of the Holocaust”. Clearly, Arab opposition to Jewish migration in the 20s and 30s could not be “despite the mass murders of the Holocaust”, as the Nazi extermination policy was only adopted in the midst of WW2 and the scale and reality of the gas chambers only dawned on the British public, for example, at the end of the war in 1945.
Legal Framework
“I=A?” then turns to the question of the legal framework and structure of the two states, which I think is the key point. It acknowledges that the Right of Return, for Jews only, constitutes “an ethnic basis to citizenship and to the state”. It points out that both South African apartheid and the Jewish State involved fractious coalitions within the dominant racial group: Afrikaaner and English speaking whites, and Ashkenazi, African and Sephardi Jews.
But it also makes a very curious statement: “As noted, Israel was established as a Jewish state by a United Nations vote; ‘Jewish’ being understood as either an ethnic or religious identity, or both.”. It is curious, first because the only previous comment was “the state of Israel was established in 1948 after a UN vote”. What did the UN actually vote for?
Ilan Pappe ( touches this point when discussing the role of the Soviet Union:
“Yes, the fact that the Soviet Union had supported the Partition resolution helped [in the subsequent covering up of ethnic cleansing]. But I think the Soviet position is more complicated. Because on the one hand it supplied arms to the Israelis, and this is something which of course helped the ethnic cleansing. On the other hand they supported the Partition resolution which did not call for an ethnic cleansing. In fact it called for the creation of a bi-national Arab-Jewish state. According to the Partition resolution, almost 50% of the citizens of the future Jewish State were supposed to be Palestinians. The fact that the Palestinians rejected the plan and so on, enabled the Israelis later on to say that they had accepted the Resolution and had it not been for the Palestinian refusal, the war would not have taken place. Which is I think quite a false argument. But coming back to the Soviet Union, the Soviet Union at least supported a solution that at the time meant that there would be two, I would say “stateless states”. One has to read the Partition resolution very carefully. Unfortunately also the Palestinians did not read the Partition resolution carefully enough at the time to understand that it had more in it for their sake than met the eye. But then that was too late anyway, it was done.”
Here for example is Chapter 2 “Religious and Minority Rights” of the Partition resolution A/RES/181 (II) (A+B) 29 November 1947 (click here:!OpenDocument)
1. Freedom of conscience and the free exercise of all forms of worship, subject only to the maintenance of public order and morals, shall be ensured to all.
2. No discrimination of any kind shall be made between the inhabitants on the ground of race, religion, language or sex.
3. All persons within the jurisdiction of the State shall be entitled to equal protection of the laws.
4. The family law and personal status of the various minorities and their religious interests, including endowments, shall be respected.
5. Except as may be required for the maintenance of public order and good government, no measure shall be taken to obstruct or interfere with the enterprise of religious or charitable bodies of all faiths or to discriminate against any representative or member of these bodies on the ground of his religion or nationality.
6. The State shall ensure adequate primary and secondary education for the Arab and Jewish minority, respectively, in its own language and its cultural traditions.
The right of each community to maintain its own schools for the education of its own members in its own language, while conforming to such educational requirements of a general nature as the State may impose, shall not be denied or impaired. Foreign educational establishments shall continue their activity on the basis of their existing rights.
7. No restriction shall be imposed on the free use by any citizen of the State of any language in private intercourse, in commerce, in religion, in the Press or in publications of any kind, or at public meetings.
8. No expropriation of land owned by an Arab in the Jewish State (by a Jew in the Arab State) shall be allowed except for public purposes. In all cases of expropriation full compensation as fixed by the Supreme Court shall be paid previous to dispossession.
In other words, the UN had voted to establish a Jewish State but on a bi-national basis, not the “ethnic basis to citizenship and to the state” which emerged. Whether or not the Partition plan was feasible or desirable is another question, but the racially discriminatory basis of the actual Israeli state which came into being in 1948 was not what the UN had envisaged.
Pass Laws
Susie Jacobs then goes on to compare the South African Homelands (Bantustan) system with the Occupied Territories, detailing and stressing a great many disturbing similarities. However, I think she underplays the question of the Pass Laws, when writing:
“The Pass system meant that Africans, as well as Coloureds (mixed-race people) and Asians had to carry passes when outside their ‘designated’ areas of work or residence. The Pass Laws constituted a major means of social and political control especially over the African population and were bitterly resisted. In Israel/the Occupied Territories, there are no formal pass laws. However, the checkpoint system to which Palestinians are subject could be said to operate similarly. Between the Green Line and the Wall (the ‘seam’ zone), Palestinians require special permits to live in their own homes, farm their own land and to make family visits. Entry to the seam zones is controlled by the IDF but frequently the zone is not opened at the scheduled times, preventing access of children to schools, worker-peasants to farmland and the ill, to hospital (Dugard, 2004).”
That’s bad enough, but what’s missing here is the situation of Palestinians inside the Green Line in relation to the Occupied Territories, brilliantly documented in a recent report “One Big Prison: Freedom of Movement to and from the Gaza Strip on the Eve of the Disengagement Plan” by B’Tselem and HaMoked ( For example, an Israeli citizen who marries a Palestinian living in Gaza cannot bring their spouse to live in Israel, and moving to Gaza is a bureaucratic nightmare called the “Divided Families Procedure”.
In the vast majority of cases, these are women citizens or residents of Israel who marry male residents of Gaza. In 2003, 909 women received permits under this procedure, of whom 414 were from East Jerusalem. On entering the Gaza Strip, the women must leave their identity cards at the “Israelis Office” at the Erez DCO (District Coordination Office), and pick up the permit to enter the Palestinian Authority. When leaving for Israel (usually for family visits), the women (though there are also men) are obliged to return the permit, even if it is still valid. When they want to return to their homes in the Gaza Strip, they have to submit a new application.
M. A. is a resident of East Jerusalem, who in 1993 married a man from Gaza and moved to Rafah, in the southern part of the Gaza Strip, to live with him. Over the years, the couple had four children. Since 1994, M. A. obtained entry permits for the Gaza Strip on a regular basis. On 7 March 2004, the last permit she held became invalid and she set out for Erez Crossing to renew it. [After various failed attempts to pass the checkpoints over the next two weeks] at the beginning of May, Israel decided again to freeze the procedure “due to the security circumstances.”
At the beginning of August, M. A. decided to enter Israel with her four children in order to visit her family in East Jerusalem. On leaving the Erez checkpoint, she was taken to the police station and interrogated regarding the circumstances behind her failure to renew her permit. At the end of her visit to Jerusalem, M. A. contacted the “Israelis Office” at the Erez DCO and requested an entry permit for Gaza. After her request was denied, she contacted HaMoked. The “Israelis Office” informed HaMoked staff that the application had been refused because M. A. had “infringed the general’s order” by failing to promptly renew her permit to stay in the Gaza Strip. HaMoked contacted the army’s legal advisor in the Gaza Strip, sending two urgent letters with no response. HaMoked therefore decided to submit a petition to the High Court, and only then did the DCO agree to enable M. A. and her children to return to their home in Rafah.
The UN Special Rapporteur John Dugard, himself South African, commented in his December 2004 report ( “The South African pass laws were administered in a humiliating manner, but uniformly. The Israeli laws are likewise administered in a humiliating manner but they are not administered clearly or uniformly. The arbitrary and capricious nature of their implementation imposes a great burden on the Palestinian people. Restrictions on freedom of movement constitute the institutionalized humiliation of the Palestinian people.”
In May 2004, Israel began to impose new conditions for permits in the framework of the Divided Families Procedure. The Israeli entering the Gaza Strip or staying there permanently had to promise not to return to Israel for at least three months, a blatant violation of the internationally recognised right to enter your own country, but consistent with a recent poll showing that 42% of Israelis agree that the state should encourage Palestinians to emigrate, while another 17% tend to agree.
The legal framework is the “Citizenship and Entry into Israel Law” known as the Citizenship and Family Unification Law, which denies Israeli citizenship or residency status to the spouses of Israeli citizens who are Palestinian residents of the West Bank or Gaza. In April, Sharon dropped the pretence that the law was needed for security.
“This law will be guided by demographic considerations meant to ensure a solid Jewish majority for years to come. There is no need to hide behind security arguments. There is a need for the existence of a Jewish state.” (
I think “apartheid” is a very apt description here.
In summarising the differences with apartheid South Africa, “I=A?” points to Arab voting rights in Israel but makes no mention of the political constraint under which parties operate. Candidates whose political platform suggests the “denial of the existence of the State of Israel as the state of the Jewish people” are banned from standing for the Knesset.
The Wall
Another point wildly underplayed in “I=A?” is the Wall, mentioned only in the brief comment on the ‘seam zone’ quoted earlier. In fact the Wall is both a giant land-grab, a system of separate development, and a system of labour control. This was detailed by Jamal Juma’ ( and I quote at length:
…The rhetoric of the [disengagement] plan hides one of the best-elaborated and most effectively planned projects for the enslavement and destruction of an entire people.
This plan consists of four main construction projects that have been submitted to the public and are intimately linked to the construction of the Apartheid Wall:
1. The Building of New Settlements and the Expansion of Existing Settlements Settlements have always been at the core of the colonial project to control Palestine. The so-called “disengagement plan” claims to be about the dismantling of settlements: that is, the evacuation of settlements in the Gaza Strip and of four minor settlements in the West Bank near Jenin. But at the same time, Israel has announced the annexation of all the other approximately 200 settlements in the Occupied West Bank and Jerusalem. In addition, Israel is currently expanding and constructing new settlements in the Tulkarem and Qalqiliya areas, ensuring the permanent annexation of the Palestinian lands isolated by the Wall.
2. More Settlers-Only “By-Pass” Roads These fenced bypass roads, heavily guarded by the Israeli military, are for settlers only – Palestinians are not allowed to use or cross them. These roads cut through the West Bank and destroy the Palestinian road system, allowing the settlers free access everywhere while at the same time annexing lands and isolating Palestinian communities from each other in the same way the Apartheid Wall does. Israel has announced the construction of a further 500 km of roads to reinforce this apartheid road network. This will ensure that Palestinian residential areas are nothing more than enclosed islands, totally isolated among the settlements and their road system.
3. Bridges and Tunnels Israel plans the construction of sixteen junctions with bridges (which will be guaranteed freeways for Israelis) and tunnels (which will be controlled passages for Palestinians, guarded by Israeli occupation forces). These will be the only passage points for Palestinians needing to travel from one area or city to another within the West Bank. While providing a facade of “maximum contiguity” among Palestinian areas to the international community – after all, the claim goes, these junctions connect the Palestinian Bantustans with each other, thus providing “contiguity” – this project is in fact aimed at guaranteeing full Israeli control over the West Bank even after a mock “withdrawal” of the Israeli army. All tunnels will be provided with gates (this is already the case in the village of Habla, in the Qalqiliya district, where the Palestinian population is at the mercy of the occupation forces in order to pass to or from their village), which will enable Israel to impose full curfew over the West Bank, perpetrate collective punishment at will, and control all Palestinian life. To do so, it will need no more than sixteen military cars, one for each junction.
4. The CBIZ (Cross Border Industrial Zones) The project of enslaving the Palestinian people, once we have been completely deprived of land, resources, trade, and livelihood, will be completed by the construction of Israeli Industrial Zones on our stolen lands that are located outside the ghettos defined by the Apartheid Wall, the settlements, and their road system. This is the key element that provides economic sustainability to the rest of the Israeli plans. These Israeli-owned industrial zones will be sites for labor intensive industries where the Palestinian people will be forced to work as exploited labor, enriching the Israeli economy in the attempt to earn a meager living in the only way possible behind the gates of our ghettos. Israel has asked the U. S. and Europe to fund the CBIZ, and thus to legitimize the Israeli political project, under the pretext of providing “work opportunities” for the Palestinian population. The CBIZ is also presented as a practical economic solution to a potential humanitarian disaster – after all, the argument goes, if the international community does not provide funding for this project, then the Palestinian population will be dependent on humanitarian aid (or simply starve to death in their ghettos, which might be upsetting for the world to watch). This humanitarian aid – like many other costs of the occupation of Palestine and the expulsion of Palestinians from their land – would thus have to be paid by the international community. In any case, under the CBIZ plan, the Palestinian people will remain subjected, enslaved, and deprived of any possibility of self-determination.
The Apartheid Wall allows Israel to implement and link all of these policies into a coherent regime. It completes the Palestinian ghettos that have been prepared by the settlement policy and the road system. It also enables Israel to completely annex Jerusalem and to isolate it from the West Bank, thus providing Israel with a direct passage from the Mediterranean Sea to the Jordan Valley, while at the same time taking away the heart of Palestine from the Palestinian people…
“I=A?” argues that there is no Israeli equivalent to the South African system of migrant labour control which lay at the heart of apartheid. This is certainly true in terms of the scale of the black South African migrant workforce. However, the plans for Cross Border Industrial Zones (above) are quite familiar.
The current reality of working life for farmers affected by the Wall was described by Sharif Omar Khaled in evidence to the Hague on 23 Feb 2004 (
…At the end of last August, the Israeli contractors completed the north gate in the Apartheid Wall next to Jayyous, and from that day onwards the army began to increase the difficulties we were already suffering by, for example, obliging us to leave our farms. They have not been sticking to the pre-agreed timetable for opening the gates. Also, allowing access without tractors and trucks which results in transportation problems for the farmers’ produce. Often they don’t allow people under thirty-five onto the land and impose a ban on certain chemical fertilizers such as potassium nitrate or urea. Sometimes they don’t allow us to take gas cylinders which we need to cook our food, along with diesel which is needed for our water pumps. They don’t allow merchants from other villages access in order to buy our produce. This has caused many problems in our city markets because of the barriers and checkpoints, while the Israeli merchants can sell their produce in our cities. The gates are also closed on Jewish holydays.
Often we can’t get to our farms early enough so we decided to build shelters and tents in order to stay on our land, but on the 13th October 2003 the army surrounded our farms and expelled sixty-six farmers and their livestock and warned them that anyone found sleeping on his land will be fined two thousand shekels and imprisoned for a period of one month. In an incident previous to this date they closed the gates for twenty-eight days continuously and declared the area a closed military zone. This took place during the guava harvesting season. As a result, the farmers lost seventy-five percent of their crops. In addition to the losses sustained in our greenhouses (of tomatoes, cucumber and other vegetables) after this long closure and mass deportation of farmers from their farms, the Israelis introduced permits for the farmers to enter through the gates. These permits are quite simply a big deception; they are only to say to the world that Palestinians have permits and can reach their farms. In reality however, they issued permits to old men and women, people living abroad, children and babies, and in one case to a deceased person, whereas the real farmers have been denied permits. A total of one hundred and sixteen farmers to date have still not been issued with permits. Of these I am one.
Of the farmers who have permits, many of them can’t farm their land as they have many dunums and they need workers.
The permits are valid for a period of three months. This is a problem throughout all of the surrounding villages. Qalqilya, the main city in our district, has been turned into the world’s largest prison consisting of 45, 000 inmates who, due to the bottle-neck construction of the Apartheid Wall, can only pass through one checkpoint. On the south side of Qalqilya, three villages and Bedouin communities are imprisoned between the Wall and the Green Line and can’t leave their area without permits.
The villagers of Azzoun (population 7000) haven’t gates to access their land so last olive season they were unable to harvest their land. So what will happen in the coming years?
The Wall will only strengthen and prolong the Occupation and weaken the Palestinian project for an independent state. Enough confiscating our land, water and freedom.
Racialised Criteria
When drawing up her balance sheet at the end of “I=A?”, Susie Jacobs points out many similarities and argues that “The equation of Zionism = apartheid has most force with regard to the situation in the Occupied Territories”. But she makes three criticisms of the “apartheid” analogy which I would like to answer directly.
“The equation of apartheid = Israel is simplistic. At another level, it is simply uninformative for anyone seriously interested in the workings of these societies.”
I don’t think any of the points I’ve raised here are simplistic or uninformative.
“[T]he equation of Israel = apartheid is often used as an (effective) rhetoric to evoke the spectre of Israel’s `illegitimacy’. It also demarcates political positions in dichotomous ways (e. g. ‘leftist-radical vs. Zionist/[reactionary]’) which are a good deal less than helpful.”
I think Zionism is a reactionary doctrine. Israel’s claim to be the “State of the Jewish people” is clearly illegitimate since a large and growing number of Jewish people simply do not accept that Israel represents them or defends their interests. But regardless, for all of us who refuse to put ethno-religious criteria above universal human rights, any society explicitly based on racial discrimination is illegitimate and cannot and should not survive in that form.
“However, comparisons should be made seriously and this requires attention to context as well as to detail. The easy elision between Israeli and apartheid South African society is inadequate. Apartheid was a great deal more than ‘normal’ segregation: it was a society (or an attempt to create one) almost wholly based on racialised critieria. In making this comparison, one is trapped between measured analysis and the use of rhetoric which skims over substantive differences. Critiques of Israel are necessary but they are not best – or always honestly – made through facile comparisons or dichotomies. Dichotomous thought may lend a feeling of certainty in a violent, fraught, and highly unstable situation (e. g. Israel, Palestine and the Occupied Territories) in which competing claims (and accusations) exist. In deciding whether Israel = apartheid, we should be aware of the role psychic dimensions such as these play.”
Let’s focus on the main point to this paragraph, that apartheid, unlike Israel, was a society “almost wholly based on racialised criteria.” Roland Rance has summarised aspects of contemporary Israel which are explicitly based on racial criteria, including:
* Immigration: Under the Law of Return (1950) “every Jew has the right to come to this country as an oleh” [a Jew immigrating, into Israel]. As subsequently amended, the law now grants citizenship to any Jew (as defined by rabbinical law), the child or grandchild of a Jew, and the spouse of any of these. By contrast, Palestinians expelled in 1948 and their descendants have no such rights.
* Citizenship: Israeli citizenship (1952) may be acquired by one of four ways: birth, return, residence or naturalisation. All Jews, wherever they are born, acquire birth through return. Non-Jews born in Israel, however, do not necessarily acquire citizenship by birth. Only those whose parents are Israeli citizens automatically become citizens by and at birth; others must apply for it and meet various criteria. On their birth certificates, their citizenship status is left blank. Palestinians resident in the areas which became part of the State of Israel in 1948 could apply for citizenship by residence provided that they had been at all times since 15 May 1948 in areas under the control of Israeli forces. Since Israel seized after May 1948 large, populated areas allocated by the UN to a Palestinian state, there were very many Palestinians resident in Israel who did not qualify for citizenship.
* Land ownership: over 90% of the land is administered on behalf of the state by the Jewish National Fund/Keren Kayemet Israel. This body is a constituent part of the World Zionist Organisation. It is a charity for tax purposes in the UK, the USA and elsewhere. It is bound by its Articles of Association to lease land and provide services to Jews only. (“Land is to be acquired as Jewish property… and held as the inalienable property of the Jewish people”).
Last September the Mayor of Jerusalem asked the Israeli interior ministry to allow him to convert an entire Arab neighbourhood, known as Wadi al-Juz, into a Jewish-only neighbourhood. His declared justification is that the “re-zoning of the area” would “enhance the unity of Jerusalem” and “strengthen the link between Jewish neighbourhoods”. The ultra-orthodox rabbi also argued that the confiscation of Wadi al-Juz would bolster “Jewish demography” in Jerusalem and ensure the safety of Jewish traffic from Jerusalem to the nearby settlement of Maali Adumim. (
* Taxation: the 1975 Sales Tax (Exemption) Act states that a citizen returning to Israel after living abroad may import various items duty free provided that “had he not been a citizen, he would have qualified for citizenship under the Law of Return”. ie, Jews returning to Israel may bring in goods duty free, but Arabs may not.
* Military service and State benefits: Palestinians are not recruited to the army, and not subject to conscription. So any law or benefit which applies to former soldiers only is necessarily discriminatory. Many social welfare benefits, unemployment and pension pay, mortgage support, health insurance, education grants and other benefits are dependent on army service; ie, for Jews only. The racist intention behind this can be seen from the extension of such rights to people “who have been exempted from military service by reason of religious practice”. This clause does not apply to Arab Muslims or Christians. They are not exempt, simply not recruited. It refers to yeshiva students, who are subject to conscription but exempted if they can establish that they spend their entire time studying Torah (and not working). Thus, even though they do not serve in the army, they receive benefits as if they had.
I think there’s plenty to justify the term “apartheid”. Whether or not their histories began similarly, contemporary Israel has more in common with apartheid South Africa than Susie Jacobs has acknowledged, and the problems go far beyond the Occupation.
We can opt for sanctions without resolving this debate. If we do, I think there are other things to learn from Southern Africa. One is that effective sanctions are not imposed by governments. In fact the Blair government’s attitude to Israel and its contempt for international law and the UN has a lot in common with the Thatcher government’s stance on Southern Africa in the 1980’s. But that’s another story.