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apartheid in Israel

Since the foundation of the State of Israel in 1948 (Al-Nakba), the state has employed an evolving but ever-present set of measures in order to entrench Jewish supremacy in the land under their control (“Eretz Israel” and, since 1967, the West Bank and Gaza Strip). For many years, Palestinian activists have described these measures as an apartheid system, and as of 2021–22 mainstream human rights NGOs are catching up, with Human Rights Watch and Amnesty International both describing the situation in Israel-Palestine as apartheid.

Israel classifies Israelis and Palestinians in a number of different ways:

  • Israeli Jews: full equality under the law (although there is still racist discrimination against Jews of non-European origin, particularly against Mizrahim and Ethiopian Jews for example)
  • Palestinians with Israeli citizenship: have the right to vote, but are not allowed to just move to any town in Israel that they want (towns are allowed to bar non-Jews from moving there).
    • From 2018 onwards, Israel’s Basic Laws have defined it as the nation-state of the Jewish people, a status which inherently precludes Palestinians from true “partnership” in the nation. The 2018 law also downgraded the status of Arabic, which had previously been a co-official language, and is now a “language with special status”.
    • Palestinian villages in Israel are often denied building permits or funding for maintenance, and are sometimes just bulldozed for “lack of permits” even if they’ve existed longer than the state itself has.
    • Palestinians do not have equal employment opportunities (even beyond the “bosses be racist” issue) because many jobs are only open to those who’ve completed military service, which Palestinians do not do.
    • Israel also maintains a segregated Arabic-language education system, distinct from the Hebrew-language one, which is funded to approx. one-eighth the level of the Hebrew system per student. A small number of non-segregated kindergartens exist, but have come under attack (e.g. firebombing) by Jewish extremists.
  • Palestinians with Jerusalem residency: are permitted to live in Jerusalem so long as they do so continuously (if they move away for any reason, Israel considers itself entitled to remove their status). Also subject to being evicted, or having their houses demolished, on the whim of the Israeli government if they decide they want to “Judaise” that part of Jerusalem. Since 2018, Israel has also given itself the right to strip Jerusalem residency from Palestinians on the grounds of “breach of allegiance to the State of Israel” – as if a colonised people living under occupation should actually owe any allegiance to their oppressor.
  • West Bank Palestinians: live under a bewildering patchwork of rulesets that apply to different “areas” of the West Bank. Their communities are fragmented, separated by Jewish-only roads, Israeli settlements and frequent checkpoints. Israel has a habit of declaring Palestinian farmland in the West Bank to be “closed military zones” before promptly “reopening” them to Israeli property developers to build Jewish settlements on. Like Jerusalemites, West Bank Palestinians who move away for a period of time can find that Israel will not allow them to return. Many West Bank Palestinians work in Israel, crossing the “border” each day, because Israel maintains such a stranglehold on the Palestinian economy that it is often necessary to take an Israeli job (often one too menial or lowly-paid for Israelis themselves to be willing to do it) to make a living. However, Palestinians who have done anything to record or expose Israeli injustices find themselves on a “no-entry” list. A number of these Palestinians enter Israel anyway through breaches in their fence, which Israel usually turns a blind eye to due to Israeli businesses’ reliance on their neighbour, but it means those Palestinians risk Israel punishing them capriciously for political gain when they feel like it.
  • Gazans: live under siege, and have done since 2007. Despite the fact they have a coastline, Israel claims all Gaza’s territorial waters for their own. Israel also leverages its cozy relationships with Egyptian dictatorships to ensure Gaza can’t break the siege through the Egyptian border, either. Basic items like building supplies and certain medicines are not allowed into the strip because Israel deems them “dual-purpose items”. Gazans are only allowed a few hours of electricity each day, because Israel has destroyed all of Gaza’s electricity generation capabilities. Every few years, Israel declares “war” on them, bombs the fuck out of the strip, and kills about a thousand people. The EU built Gaza an airport in 1999 that Israel destroyed a couple of years later, presumably for its siege-breaking capabilities. If Gazans ever want to travel outside their territory, they must apply for and receive a permit from Israel, which Israel has a habit of regularly denying out of capriciousness.

An ongoing strategy that Israel uses to “manage” the areas they have temporarily allowed Palestinians to live in their own land is the manipulation of building permits. In short, Israel pretty much does not issue building permits to Palestinians, or at least very few, and never in areas that they have an eye on appropriating for Jewish settlers (like Jerusalem). Because Palestinians require homes to live in regardless of Israeli bureaucracy, they build homes anyway. Then Israel issues (but doesn’t immediately act on) demolition orders, allowing those to hang over Palestinian residents’ heads until something (an Israeli property developer with a concrete proposal, or perhaps they want to take a little revenge against those who engage in civil resistance against their repression…) triggers them to send in the bulldozers.

Another thing that Israel does is insist that Palestinian villages which existed before the State of Israel itself did were “built without planning permission”, and therefore subject to destruction. Some villages in the south of Israel have been rebuilt like two dozen times after the Israeli government has repeatedly destroyed them. Other villages, like Umm al-Hiran, were built at Israel’s behest in the first place (to home Palestinians they’d previously expelled from their original home villages), and still later deemed to be “unrecognised” and subject to demolition. An-Nabi Samwil is another village, just north of Jerusalem, whose residents were expelled from their original homes for the sake of a luxury Jewish-only housing estate which was never built. They’ve been forbidden to build replacement homes ever since, with Israel redefining their land as a “national park” in 1995.

As mentioned above, a strategy that Israel commonly uses in the West Bank is to declare an area a “firing zone”, a closed military zone only available to the IDF to use for training. These zones often include Palestinian villages and farmland – indeed, the presence of Palestinians is the very reason Israel seizes that land – and making them a “firing zone” requires those Pal­es­t­in­ians, under Israeli law, to go find somewhere else to live (though naturally many resist). Masafer Yatta is one example of Israel using this strategy. They even offered the affected Palestinians the insulting offer of the right to live in their own homes and farm their own land on weekends, Jewish holidays, and for two non-consecutive months every year – so basically they would still be required to find somewhere else to live, and could not actually farm – and the Palestinians’ rejection of this “deal” caused the judge in the related court case to be prejudiced against them, as the judges claimed they had rejected a reasonable compromise settlement and were only continuing the case out of obstinacy.

Sometimes, Israel instead expels Palestinians from their own property for “security reasons”. For example, the main commercial street of Hebron, Shuhada Street, has been a ghost town for many years as Israel refuses to allow the Palestinian shopkeepers (or any other Palestinians) to enter the street.

One Palestinian activist described the Israeli state as having a three-pronged strategy for driving Palestinians out of their homes in areas the state wants to seize:

  • demolitions
  • evictions, often under the pretext of “returning” properties to Jewish owners who just so happened to have been absent for decades
  • refusing to plan for, maintain or develop Palestinian areas, instead allowing them to fall into disrepair

Israeli settlements, which are all illegal under international law, are a huge problem and a major reason why the West Bank population has become as fragmented as it has. A 2022 Israeli court decision has found that settlements built on seized Palestinian private land become legal if the settlers pay a token “compensation” to the landowner, basically paving the way for settlers to steal as much land as they want, “legally”.

Jewish settlers regularly use violence to intimidate or attempt to drive out Palestinians for areas that they wish to seize for themselves. Not only does the Israeli state allow them to do so with impunity, but in many cases the IDF joins such violent confrontations on the side of the colonisers, shooting or otherwise attacking the Palestinians defending themselves. They then, often, release a public statement about there having been no injuries etc. and only if anti-occupation activists have iron-clad proof (like video footage) of what really occurred will the IDF say they “will investigate”. Such investigations never amount to anything, of course.

Israel also regularly arrests Palestinian journalists who document the reality of occupation and Israeli state violence, describing their reports as “incitement”. Apparently, it is reporting the truth of Israeli violence that “incites” Palestinian resistance, and not Israeli violence itself. They have also killed numerous journalists, including Shireen Abu Akleh in May 2022 – apparently they’ve killed 50 journalists since 2000, and wounded 144 since 2018 – and during their 2021 assault on Gaza the IDF destroyed the building housing the offices of Al-Jazeera and the Associated Press. It’s not only journalists that the IDF murders, of course; they also kill many Palestinian civilians, including minors, whose murders they refuse to investigate (refusing to collect evidence like bullets then insisting they have no evidence with which they could charge or prosecute killers) as a matter of course. Israel also uses “administrative detention orders” to hold Palestinians in prison without charge, for indefinite periods of time. They bring the wrath of the military and a rigged justice system down against human rights and aid organisations, too; for example, they imprisoned World Vision Gaza director Mohammed Halabi for 12 years, after a six-year secret trial, despite the lack of any evidence against him.

As Israel exerts state authority over the entirety of Mandate Palestine (i.e. including the entire West Bank and Gaza Strip), it controls Palestine’s borders, and those wishing to enter the West Bank for any reason must apply for a visa through the Israeli military (not the Israeli civil authorities, who you’d apply through to enter Eretz Israel). The IDF is highly capricious in whether it will grant visas (and flat-out refuses to grant visas to people from many Arab countries, including Morocco and Jordan).

As of mid-2022, right-wing political figures in Israel feel entitled to call openly for a “second Nakba” (cf. Al-Nakba), which demonstrates how little regard they have for the human rights of Palestinians.

An international campaign, the Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions movement, exists to put pressure on the Israeli state and offer solidaristic support to the Palestinians fighting against its oppression.

See Also / References