Yesterday marked the Sixty-Second Anniversary of the Nakba, translated into English as "the Catastrophe." For Palestinians, the event marks a tragedy; namely, their expulsion from their homeland and its transformation into the modern state of Israel. For Israelis, as well as many Jews outside of Israel in the Jewish diaspora, the commemoration, which takes place on May 14, marks a triumph: the return of a Jewish nation in the region, and the beginning of true Jewish self-determination after thousands of years "wandering" in exile. Or, as it is summed up succinctly in the Declaration of Independence:
The Land of Israel was the birthplace of the Jewish people. Here their spiritual, religious and political identity was shaped. Here they first attained to statehood, created cultural values of national and universal significance and gave to the world the eternal Book of Books.
After being forcibly exiled from their land, the people kept faith with it throughout their Dispersion and never ceased to pray and hope for their return to it and for the restoration in it of their political freedom.
It is not possible, in the space of this diary, to do any justice to the volumes of English language material on its subjects. This diary is an invitation, to the Daily Kos community and beyond, for thoughtful reexamination of our perspectives, our priorities and our trajectory as it relates to the question of Israel, Palestine and American foreign policy. I have chosen today to write this piece for reasons that shall become evident in short order. And so now let us turn to them.
The University of California Press publishes a quarterly Journal of Palestine Studies, subtitled "A Quarterly on Palestinian Affairs and the Arab-Israeli Conflict." A typical issue might include original articles as well as documents covering recent events in the region, book reviews and a bibliography of recent literature on the subject. The most recent issue to hit the shelves for Autumn of 2009 included an article by Ilan Pappe, an Israeli born British academic who serves as a chair of the Department of History at the University of Exeter. Professor Pappe is also the author of the book "The Ethnic Cleansing of Palestine," which I have yet to read but which remains on my reading list. A prominent figure within the circle of academics critical of contemporary Israeli politics, Professor Pappe’s 2009 article is entitled "The Historiography of 1948."
The article is an examination of the politically sensitive and contentious topic of Israel’s founding. This topic is informed by the work of a loose collection of Israeli historians, of which Pappe is at least arguably a member. Referred to as "The New Historians," they first emerged in the 1980s and against the backdrop of Israel’s 1982 invasion of Lebanon as well as the First Palestinian Intifada, also known as "uprising" or "shaking off," in 1987. According to Pappe, these historians enjoyed a brief period of popularity during the 1990s, owing in large part to a growing willingness to reexamine Israel’s birth from a non-Zionist perspective. In 1998, the government of Israel released archived documents from the Israel Defense Forces (IDF) and the Haganah archives. These documents confirmed much of what the New Historians had started to write in the 1980s and forced Zionist historians to reckon with Israeli material that corroborated a Palestinian narrative of mass expulsions and ethnic cleansing. With the outbreak of the Second Intifada after the breakdown of the Oslo peace process, the election of Ariel Sharon in 2001 and the events of 9/11, Pappe argues, the moral interpretation of the New Historians was rejected and discarded in favor of "a reinvigorated Zionist consensus" that emphasized the necessity of Israel’s ethnic cleansing of the indigenous Palestinian population. This Zionist consensus, referred to as the "New Right" but inclusive of Left-wing and centrist historians as well, neither ignored nor condemned the policy and behavior documented by their New Historian counterparts. Rather, they rejected the moral and political judgments made by the New Historians in light of their findings. Thus one of the new Zionist historians may write of the looting of Palestinian homes in great detail but, seeking to avoid the contemporary relevance of this issue to the Palestinian "problem," the historian uses the episode to illustrate organizational failures of the Jewish Haganah terrorists who would later go on to create the IDF.
The significance of Pappe’s article cannot be overstated. The historians of 1948 largely agree on the facts of the era, but completely disagree on moral significance of those very facts. Where the New Historians saw gross violations of human rights and war crimes, the Zionist consensus historians saw military necessity and logistical barriers to state creation. It is not that the Zionist historians disagree with the positive or objective conclusions drawn by their peers, it is that they embrace the same acts condemned by the New Historians as a prerequisite for the Zionist enterprise of state creation. Although a Zionist might embrace the factual findings of their scholarship, the contemporary ethical, legal and political ramifications must be avoided.
We are therefore left not with a disputed history, but a lingering question of values. Which brings us to the topic at hand: Hafrada, which is the Hebrew word for separation, which is the English word for apartheid, which is the Afrikaans term for the policy of racial segregation.
South Africa was colonized by the English and Dutch in the seventeenth century. English domination of the Dutch descendents (known as Boers or Afrikaners) resulted in the Dutch establishing the new colonies of Orange Free State and Transvaal. The discovery of diamonds in these lands around 1900 resulted in an English invasion which sparked the Boer War. Following independence from England, an uneasy power-sharing between the two groups held sway until the 1940's, when the Afrikaner National Party was able to gain a strong majority. Strategists in the National Party invented apartheid as a means to cement their control over the economic and social system. Initially, aim of the apartheid was to maintain white domination while extending racial separation. Starting in the 60's, a plan of ``Grand Apartheid'' was executed, emphasizing territorial separation and police repression.
With the enactment of apartheid laws in 1948, racial discrimination was institutionalized. Race laws touched every aspect of social life, including a prohibition of marriage between non-whites and whites, and the sanctioning of ``white-only'' jobs. In 1950, the Population Registration Act required that all South Africans be racially classified into one of three categories: white, black (African), or colored (of mixed decent). The coloured category included major subgroups of Indians and Asians. Classification into these categories was based on appearance, social acceptance, and descent. For example, a white person was defined as ``in appearance obviously a white person or generally accepted as a white person.'' A person could not be considered white if one of his or her parents were non-white. The determination that a person was ``obviously white'' would take into account ``his habits, education, and speech and deportment and demeanor.'' A black person would be of or accepted as a member of an African tribe or race, and a colored person is one that is not black or white. The Department of Home Affairs (a government bureau) was responsible for the classification of the citizenry. Non-compliance with the race laws were dealt with harshly. All blacks were required to carry ``pass books'' containing fingerprints, photo and information on access to non-black areas.
In 1951, the Bantu Authorities Act established a basis for ethnic government in African reserves, known as ``homelands.'' These homelands were independent states to which each African was assigned by the government according to the record of origin (which was frequently inaccurate). All political rights, including voting, held by an African were restricted to the designated homeland. The idea was that they would be citizens of the homeland, losing their citizenship in South Africa and any right of involvement with the South African Parliament which held complete hegemony over the homelands. From 1976 to 1981, four of these homelands were created, denationalizing nine million South Africans. The homeland administrations refused the nominal independence, maintaining pressure for political rights within the country as a whole. Nevertheless, Africans living in the homelands needed passports to enter South Africa: aliens in their own country.
Writing during the Second Boer War, William Harding recounted, with varying degrees of detail, the history of South Africa "From Savagery to Civilization." I recently purchased a copy of his work, the full title of which is "War in South Africa and the Dark Continent from Savagery to Civilization." It appears to be available on Google Books and a link is provided for your review. While I have not completed reading, and truly have no intention to do so, the modern reader will find it a near perfect caricature of colonialist prejudice. Unfortunately, that is far from the case, as it is no caricature at all. But I present the following excerpts and text for our review.
Harding was writing to an American audience unfamiliar with the details of the Boer/British conflict in South Africa. The book is dedicated "[t]o the men and women of America" and purports to be "without prejudice or favor." The publisher’s introduction sets the stage for the material that follows:
"With her immensity of natural resources, richness of mineral wealth, valuable forests and fertile lands, together with her unsurpassed facilities for commerce, Africa will be the haven of coming emigration, the Mecca of future industrial adventure. Here will be the home of generations yet unborn, who will build might empires, bulwarks of liberty and enlightenment, that shall mold the thought and lead the progress of the world as did the ancient empire on the banks of the Nile. The pioneer movement to this end has been going on for four centuries. Slowly and stubbornly, over hard-fought fields, the savagery and gloom of the benighted continent have receded before the onward march of the pioneer as he held his way into the interior from the Cape of Good Hope. Section after section have been wrested from the savages by people from many lands, until a considerable portion of South Africa may be said to be under the rule of civilized government."
The author, Harding, purports to absolve himself of moral responsibility at the outset. From Chapter 1, titled "The Settlement of South Africa":
"There always has been and probably always will be a question as to who is right or who is wrong in maintaining that the advance of civilization has justified many apparent injustices perpetrated upon the weak by the strong. So much so, that it seems to me that it is best to leave the matter to individual opinion, and I shall not attempt to draw any deductions from the history of South Africa."
It must be noted at this stage that Harding appears to be referencing the European colonists who established permanent settlements beginning in the mid-1600s with "the Cape of Good Hope." It should also be noted that many of these colonists were fleeing persecution. Harding notes that a number of French refugees began to arrive in 1686 following the revocation of the Edict of Nantes, a charter that had established tolerance for French Protestants. All the while, the Dutch colonists fought with the indigenous population, deemed "Hotentots" by their colonial opponents. As Harding notes, they often reduced them to slavery or simply killed them. Those who survived within the boundaries of European settlements were exploited for their labor and subject to abuse by the both the British and the Boers. This activity is not condoned or condemned, nor explored in any great depth; certainly, it lacks the voluminous attention to detail accompanying Harding’s descriptions of South Africa’s natural resources and his accounting of the Boer population. His description of "the Kaffirs" stings: a "cause of a great deal of disturbance," "the Kaffirs are the original natives of the country." They are "maltreated and looked down upon by everybody, and used in a most ruffanly manner whenever sufficient motivation dictates." This "ruffanly manner" includes not being "allowed like other men to walk on the sidewalks of Johannesburg" as well as killing "for resistance...to their punishment" for interacting with the new "natives," the Kaffirs being "the original natives."
It should be noted at this point that, as was the case with the United States, Europeans had been in South Africa for a substantial period of time. The Boers did not consider themselves colonists any more than Americans at the turn of the 19th Century would have considered themselves colonists. The influx of the Huguenots began in 1686, and at that time there had already been a settlement in place for a quarter century. Thus the Boers, the descendants of the original Dutch colonists, considered themselves, in a sense, African, if not indigenous:
"It is to be remembered that the average Boer is not, like the average Briton, Jew or German, anxious to make his fortune and leave the country. He looks, and will always look, upon Africa as his home. He desires only to live in a moderate degree of comfort, in a rude plenty, to provide for his children as they grow up, and to be let alone. He shuns towns, shopkeeping, and gold-mining."
This is Harding’s observation, but it was probably one many Boers would have agreed with. It also sheds light on the reasons for National Party ascendance in the late 1940s and the creation of the institutionalized apartheid system and, later, the Bantustans. The Boers, or Afrikaners, feared decolonization and the process that they believed would follow it, deemed "social leveling" or gelykstelling. As was the case in the United States, the concept of equality before the law was a contested one in matters of race.
They had every reason to fear this, based on their treatment of the "kaffirs" as described above. The Xhosa, one of the many people tormented by the European colonists, had spoken of pushing the white man into the sea. During their conflicts with the British, both the Boers and their Anglo opponents had used blacks as labor and the British additionally armed them to fight the Afrikaners. The apartheid system was not designed for the sole purpose of maintaining Afrikaner and British rule over the indigenous population; it was also designed in the service of state security against a real or perceived "existential" threat. And in this way, it strongly resembles the Israeli practice of "hafrada," or separation:
Israelis do not use the word "apartheid" -- they have their own word, "hafrada," meaning separation -- but as it amounts to more or less the same thing, it makes little sense to use with the public a word most people are unfamiliar with. A few facts about "hafrada" highlight the striking similarities with apartheid.
Israel rules directly over approximately five million Palestinian Arabs and six million Jews, yet for over 40 years it has maintained two sets of laws: civil laws for Jews, and military laws for the roughly four million Palestinians in the occupied territories. Israeli settlements in the territories are garrisoned by Israeli military forces and are connected both to each other and to Israel proper by an elaborate set of roads that are reserved exclusively for Jewish settlers, who also get to vote in Israeli elections.
Palestinians in the West Bank, meanwhile, have their movement curtailed even within the territories by hundreds of checkpoints, including "flying checkpoints" that appear without warning or reason. Israel controls borders, airspace, and all movement. Israel also controls all water, which it diverts for its own use while keeping Palestinians on strict water quotas and prohibiting them from digging wells. It continues to confiscate farm land for settlements, many of which are built on hills, dumping sewage onto Palestinian lands below. Palestinians who engage in non-violent resistance routinely face arrest and, quite often, torture.
If this cannot be described as apartheid, what can?
Defenders of Israel against charges of apartheid tend to point to its 1.3 million Palestinian citizens of Israel. Certainly this is a difference between Israel and South Africa under apartheid. Yet "apartheid" has come to refer to a spectrum of mechanisms for separation, just as the term "genocide" encompasses a broad range of murderous actions, no two being exactly alike in every respect.
Israeli Apartheid by any other name still stinks, by Jason Kunin.
Until the 1940s, South Africa’s racial policies had not been entirely out of step with those to be found in the colonial world. But by the 1950s, which saw decolonisation and a global backlash against racism gather pace, the country was dramatically opposed to world opinion on questions of human rights. The architects of apartheid, among whom Dr. Verwoerd was pre-eminent, responded by elaborating a theory of multinationalism.
Their policy, which they termed "separate development", divided the African population into artificial ethnic "nations", each with its own "homeland" and the prospect of "independence", supposedly in keeping with trends elsewhere on the continent.
This divide-and-rule strategy was designed to disguise the racial basis of official policy-making by the substitution of the language of ethnicity. This was accompanied by much ethnographic engineering as efforts were made to resurrect tribal structures. In the process, the government sought to create a significant collaborating class.
The truth was that the rural reserves were by this time thoroughly degraded by overpopulation and soil erosion. This did not prevent four of the "homeland" structures (Transkei, Bophuthatswana, Venda and Ciskei) being declared "independent", a status which the vast majority of South Africans, and therefore also the international community, declined to recognise. In each case, the process involved the repression of opposition and the use by the government of the power to nominate and thereby pad elected assemblies with a quota of compliant figures.
John Mearsheimer, professor of international relations at the University of Chicago, has also made the comparison:
For starters, the discrimination and repression that is the essence of apartheid will be increasingly visible to people all around the world. Israel and its supporters have been able to do a good job of keeping the mainstream media in the United States from telling the truth about what Israel is doing to the Palestinians in the Occupied Territories. But the Internet is a game changer. It not only makes it easy for the opponents of apartheid to get the real story out to the world, but it also allows Americans to learn the story that the New York Times and the Washington Post have been hiding from them. Over time, this situation may even force these two media institutions to cover the story more accurately themselves.
The growing visibility of this issue is not just a function of the Internet. It is also due to the fact that the plight of the Palestinians matters greatly to people all across the Arab and Islamic world, and they constantly raise the issue with Westerners. It also matters very much to the influential human rights community, which is naturally going to be critical of Israel’s harsh treatment of the Palestinians. It is not surprising that hardline Israelis and their American supporters are now waging a vicious smear campaign against those human rights organizations that criticize Israel.
The main problem that Israel’s defenders face, however, is that it is impossible to defend apartheid, because it is antithetical to core Western values. How does one make a moral case for apartheid, especially in the United States, where democracy is venerated and segregation and racism are routinely condemned? It is hard to imagine the United States having a special relationship with an apartheid state. Indeed, it is hard to imagine the United States having much sympathy for one. It is much easier to imagine the United States strongly opposing that racist state’s political system and working hard to change it. Of course, many other countries around the globe would follow suit. This is surely why former Prime Minister Olmert said that going down the apartheid road would be suicidal for Israel.
I am no expert in South African history and the policy of apartheid, nor am I an expert in the minutiae of Israeli-Palestinian history and policy. I do not need to be in order to be disturbed by the historical parallels. And there are many parallels that I will be exploring, with others, over the coming weeks and months. Here on the internet, at Daily Kos, and offline as well.
Tomorrow marks the anniversary of the Supreme Court’s decision in Brown v. Board of Education , the landmark case that determined that separate was never equal and brought the institutionalized American racial caste system to a crashing and furious end. When a politician, Democratic or Republican, liberal or conservative, claims to support the Israeli policy of hafrada, or separation, because Israel "shares our values," ask yourself this:
Do we value one person, one vote?
Do we value equality under the law?
Do we value academic freedom and the First Amendment?
If the answer is yes, then Israel does not share our values. And it is time to reexamine our relationship with "the only democracy in the Middle East."