Yesterday, a decree of the officer commanding the Central Sector, Gen. Yair Naveh, was about to come into force. It forbade Israeli drivers from giving a ride to Palestinian passengers in the occupied territories. The knitted-Kippah-wearing general, a friend of the settlers, justified this as a vital security necessity. In the past, inhabitants of the West Bank have sometimes reached Israeli territory in Israeli cars.
Israeli peace activists decided that this nauseating order must be protested. They organized a "Freedom Ride" of Israeli car-owners who were to enter the West Bank (a criminal offense in itself) and give a ride to local Palestinians, who had volunteered for the action.
An impressive event in the making. Israeli drivers and Palestinian passengers breaking the law openly, facing arrest and trial in a military court.
At the last moment, the general "froze" the order. The demonstration was called off.
The order that was suspended (but not officially rescinded) emitted a strong odor of apartheid. It joins a large number of acts of the occupation authorities that are reminiscent of the racist regime of South Africa, such as the systematic building of roads in the West Bank for Israelis only and on which Palestinians are forbidden to travel. Or the "temporary" law that forbids Palestinians in the occupied territories, who have married Israeli citizens, to live with their spouses in Israel. And, most importantly, the wall, which is officially called "the separation obstacle". In Afrikaans, "apartheid" means separation.
It is easy to detect a similarity between the planned enclaves and the "Bantustans" that were set up by the white regime in South Africa - the so-called "homelands" where the blacks were supposed to enjoy "self-rule" but which really amounted to racist concentration camps.
Because of this, we are right when we use the term "apartheid" in our daily struggle against the occupation.
Therefore, the title of former President Jimmy Carter's new book is fully justified - "Palestine - Peace not Apartheid". The title aroused the ire of the "friends of Israel" even more than the content of the book itself. How dare he? To compare Israel to the obnoxious racist regime? To allege that the government of Israel is motivated by racism?
It seems that Carter himself was not completely happy with the use of this term. He has hinted that it was added at the request of the publishers, who thought a provocative title would stimulate publicity. If so, the ploy was successful. The famous Jewish lobby was fully mobilized. Carter was pilloried as an anti-Semite and a liar.
The storm around the title displaced any debate about the facts cited in the book, which have not been seriously questioned. The book has not yet appeared in Hebrew.
But when we use the term "Apartheid" to describe the situation, we have to be aware of the fact that the similarity between the Israeli occupation and the white regime in South Africa concerns only the methods, not the substance. There are several basic differences between the Israeli-Palestinian conflict and the historical conflict between the whites and the blacks in South Africa.
(a) In South Africa there was a conflict between blacks and whites, but both agreed that the state of South Africa must remain intact - the question was only who would rule it.
Our conflict is between two different nations with different national identities, each of which places the highest value on a national state of its own.
(b) In South Africa, the idea of "separateness" was an instrument of the white minority for the oppression of the black majority, and the black population rejected it unanimously. Here, the huge majority of the Palestinians want to be separated from Israel in order to establish a state of their own. The huge majority of Israelis, too, want to be separated from the Palestinians. On the Israeli side, only the settlers and their allies demand to keep the whole historical area of the country united and object to separation, in order to rob the Palestinians of their land and enlarge the settlements. On the Palestinian side, the Islamic fundamentalists also believe that the whole country is a "waqf" (religious trust) and therefore must not be partitioned.
(c) In South Africa, a white minority (about 10 percent) ruled over a huge majority of blacks (78 percent), people of mixed race (7 percent) and Asians (3 percent). Here, between the Mediterranean and the Jordan River, there are now 5.5 million Jewish-Israelis and an equal number of Palestinian-Arabs (including the 1.4 million Palestinians who are citizens of Israel).
(d) The South African economy was based on black labor and could not possibly have existed without it. Here, the Israeli government has succeeded in excluding the non-Israeli Palestinians almost completely from the Israeli labor market and replacing them with foreign workers.
It is important to point out these fundamental differences in order to prevent grave mistakes in the strategy of the struggle for ending the occupation.
In Israel and abroad there are people who cite this analogy without paying due attention to the essential differences between the two conflicts.
No doubt it is essential to arouse international public opinion against the criminal treatment by the occupation authorities of the Palestinian people. We do this every day, just as Jimmy Carter is doing now. However, it must be clear that this is immeasurably more difficult because Israel is accepted by the world as the "State of the Holocaust Survivors", and therefore arouses overwhelming sympathy.
It is a serious error to think that international public opinion will put an end to the occupation. This will come about when the Israeli public itself is convinced of the need to do so.
There is another important difference. In South Africa, no white would have dreamt of ethnic cleansing. But in Israel, this goal is under serious consideration, both openly and in secret. One of its main advocates, Avigdor Lieberman, is a member of the government and last week Condoleezza Rice met with him officially. Apartheid is not the worst danger hovering over the heads of the Palestinians. They are menaced by something infinitely worse: "Transfer", which means total expulsion.
Some people in Israel and around the world follow the apartheid analogy to its logical conclusion: The solution here will be the same as the one in South Africa. There, the whites surrendered and the black majority assumed power. In Israel, that is a beautiful dream for the end of days.
I have no doubt that in the end, a federation between the two states, perhaps including Jordan too, will come about. Yasser Arafat spoke with me about this several times.
But neither the Palestinians not the Israelis can afford 50 more years of bloodshed, occupation and creeping ethnic cleansing.
The end of the occupation will come in the framework of peace between the two peoples, who will live in two free neighboring states - Israel and Palestine - with the border between them based on the Green Line. I hope that this will be an open border. Then Palestinians will freely ride in Israeli cars, and Israelis will ride freely in Palestinian cars.
Uri Avnery is a journalist, peace activist, former member of the Knesset, and leader of Gush Shalom. He can be reached at [email protected]
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