Israeli plan actually hurts Palestinians

From the archive (legacy material)

Mohammed Abed | The Badger Herald | 8 September 2005

The territory of historical Palestine is home to two ethnic groups, Israelis and Palestinians. Today, this entire territory is under the full political and military control of Israel, a state that defines itself as serving the interests of only one of the ethnic groups residing within its territory rather than every person that falls under its political control, irrespective of their ethnic origin. Historically, Israel has attempted to use military force to expel persons of non-Jewish origin from historic Palestine. In fact, the establishment of Israel in 1948 was made possible by a coordinated campaign of ethnic cleansing against the Palestinian people. As well as being the indigenous inhabitants, the Palestinians were a two-thirds majority in Palestine when the state of Israel was founded. Although most were exiled, some remained. Today, for the first time since they were expelled en masse from their homeland, the Palestinians are once again a majority in the territory that falls under Israel’s control.
Under the cover of regional war in 1967, Israel expelled a further 400,000 Palestinians from the areas known today as the West Bank and Gaza. Since 1967, opportunities to engage in mass ethnic cleansing have been few and far between. As a result, Israel adopted an interim policy towards the Palestinians. At its core is the idea that there should be physical separation between the two ethnic groups in historical Palestine. However, separation is not a prelude to political and territorial equality. The policy aims at using a variety of means to expropriate land from the Palestinians and to settle this land with Israeli-Jews. If all goes to plan, the Palestinians will be concentrated into territorially non-contiguous areas that comprise a fraction of the lands they have a legitimate moral claim to.
While Israel placates the international community by claiming that this new political scheme realizes self-determination, the reality is that the Palestinians are being denied the political agency to safeguard their individual rights or to shape any aspect of their future as a people. However, this new arrangement removes a burden from Israel’s shoulders: it no longer has to provide the Palestinians with municipal services or police them from day to day. If they become too disruptive or unruly, Israel can deploy its military to brutally repress them. Life under these conditions is of course unbearable, so many of the people living in these areas will eventually leave or their culture and identity will be destroyed.
This project has proceeded smoothly barring three obstacles. First, the indigenous people — the Palestinians — have risen up in rebellion and have proven to be formidable adversaries. Second, the international community continues to push for an end to this violent confrontation and peaceful settlement of the conflict between Israel and the Palestinians. Third, in Gaza, Israel’s colonization project has proven difficult to implement. To deal with these problems in one fell swoop, Israel’s government invented something called the “disengagement plan.” Gaza is territorially insignificant, and in contrast to other areas in historical Palestine, it has little religious, cultural or economic value for Israel. However, what it does have is very high population density, but of the wrong kind. To protect the few Israeli-Jews who settled in the area, Israel had to expend enormous human and material resources. As a result, minimal costs are incurred if the settlers and the army leave. By maintaining control of Gaza’s borders, airspace and territorial waters, Israel retains a hold on the economy and political destiny of the Palestinians who inhabit the strip.
The disengagement plan also entails significant benefits. In fact, it allows Israel to solve the first and second problems noted above. By creating an illusion of reasonableness and political compromise, the plan de-rationalizes Palestinian resistance. After all, why would anyone resist such magnanimous overtures? Secondly, the plan satisfies the international community’s yearning for progress in the “peace process;” at the very least, it looks like a first step in the right direction. However, the most significant benefit of the plan is that it monopolizes the world’s attention, buys time and accumulates the kind of political capital that allows Israel to intensify its colonization of Palestinian lands and solidify its interim policy of ethnic separation.
While the world focuses obsessively on the Gaza withdrawal and its long political aftermath, Israel will be busy territorially solidifying its system of control and working to endow it with de-facto legitimacy. The separation wall continues to be built in defiance of a ruling by the International Court of Justice that unequivocally established its illegality. The wall cuts deep into the West Bank and its elaborate route destroys the territorial contiguity of the area. The settlements and the infrastructure that supports them continue to expand. Very recently, the Israeli government confiscated large swaths of Palestinian land in East Jerusalem to accommodate an additional 3,500 housing units in the settlement of Ma’ale Adumim. Once this expansion is complete, Ma’ale Adumim will cut the West Bank in half.
The definition of the concept of apartheid is separation without self-determination. Apartheid-era South Africa concentrated its black population into territorially disconnected “homelands.” The homelands system gave blacks the opportunity to run their own municipal affairs while it denied them self-determination and other basic human rights. Israel is well on its way to establishing a similar regime in the entire territory of historical Palestine. The Israeli version of the homelands system will cover Gaza, 40 percent of the West Bank and limited areas inside Israel where a wide range of racist policies keep the Palestinian minority separate but unequal. In these areas, the Palestinians will continue to live without the most basic of liberties, without self-determination, and without any kind of control over their own future.
This is not the only reason that Israel can be correctly labeled the heir to apartheid South Africa’s legacy of racism and brutality. It is true that since the beginning of the second wave of Jewish settlement in 1905, Israel worked to become a “pure settler colony” that eschewed reliance on cheap indigenous labor and aimed to build an exclusively Jewish economy whereas white South African economic privilege was always dependent on the exploitation of black labor. It’s also true that Israel is an “apartheid-plus” state in the sense that it is actively opposed to the presence of indigenous populations on the land it covets and aims at their total expulsion.
However, these differences do very little to undermine the comparison. Palestinian Arab citizens of Israel are territorially segregated and their communities purposefully de-developed. Ninety-three percent of Israel is defined as state land held in perpetuity for the sole benefit of the Jewish people rather than Israel’s citizens. The administration of these lands is undertaken by quasi-governmental agencies that ensure no citizen of Palestinian-Arab descent can buy, lease or work in these areas. While non-Jewish citizens are denied these resources, their lands and homes are expropriated and destroyed by the state through a variety of bureaucratic means. The de-development of their communities is furthered by the denial of other socially meaningful goods such as state funding for education and basic municipal services. The result is that year after year, Israeli citizens of Palestinian descent score lower than Israeli-Jews on all the important socio-economic indicators. The isolation of the Palestinian community in Israel is augmented by other brazenly racist measures. The main highways in Israel do not have exits to Arab towns and localities. Discrimination even extends to laws about residency, citizenship and marriage. A Palestinian from the West Bank and Gaza who marries an Israeli citizen is legally prohibited from settling in Israel and acquiring residency and eventually citizenship. This law only applies to Palestinian Arabs. While Israel denies the internationally recognized right of the Palestinian refugees to return to the homeland they were expelled from in 1948, it will immediately grant citizenship to any person of Jewish descent and allow them to settle on lands the Palestinians have a legitimate moral claim to. The law of return is one of the many components of Israel’s matrix of apartheid laws and regulations. Finally, Israeli citizens of Palestinian origin can be killed with utter impunity by border police or the army as they were in October 2000.
When the international community was faced with the specter of apartheid in South Africa, it boycotted the regime until it was replaced by a political system that ensured political equality between whites and blacks. After almost 60 years of Israel’s brutal treatment of Palestine’s indigenous inhabitants, it should do the same now.
Mohammed Abed ( is a lecturer in the Department of Philosophy at the University of Wisconsin-Madison.