“Jewish and Arab babies are born in the same delivery room, with the same facilities, attended by the same doctors and nurses, with the mothers recovering in adjoining beds in a ward. Two years ago I had major surgery in a Jerusalem hospital: the surgeon was Jewish, the anaesthetist was Arab, the doctors and nurses who looked after me were Jews and Arabs. Jews and Arabs share meals in restaurants and travel on the same trains, buses and taxis, and visit each other’s homes. Could any of this possibly have happened under apartheid? Of course not."
- Benjamin Pogrund, South African-born author.
“In an apartheid regime, there is no possibility of judicial review, because the judges are appointed by the regime and all serve one ideology. This is not the case in Israel ... There is a very strong, independent Supreme Court in Israel. In an apartheid regime [unlike in Israel] there is no place to go to argue against the government.”
- Dr Mohammed Wattad, an Arab citizen of Israel and a member of Scholars for Peace in the Middle East.
Is Israel an apartheid state?
Israel’s critics accuse the Jewish state of practising apartheid and regularly compare the treatment of Palestinians to the treatment of non-whites in South Africa.
There are several problems with the analogy, which I believe, is merely the latest cynical attempt to destroy Israel’s reputation and harm its economy through boycotts.
Israel (excluding the West Bank)
Apartheid in South Africa was based on colour separation, i.e. white versus non-white. The white population in South Africa was a minority.
There is no colour separation in Israel, which is home to Jews from as far apart as Ethiopia and Russia.
Jews comprise 75% of the population. Arabs (mostly Muslim) comprise 21%. There are also very small minorities, including non-Arab Christians.
About 50% of Jews in Israel have Arabic ancestry.
All citizens of Israel have access to state services and are full citizens under the law. They enjoy the same civil rights as other citizens. Arabs in Israel have equal voting rights. In fact, Israel is one of the few places in the Middle East where Arab women may vote. Arabs sit in the parliament and on the Supreme Court. There are several Arab representatives in the Knesset (parliament).
In contrast, black South Africans could not vote and were not citizens of the country in which they were the overwhelming majority.
Israel is the only country in the Middle East where there is complete religious freedom.
The West Bank
Palestinians from the West Bank are allowed to work in Israel, and attend schools and universities.
[The West Bank is not part of sovereign Israel. In 1995, it was mutually agreed to divide the West Bank into regions – A, B and C. 98% of Palestinian live in Palestinian-governed areas, A and B.]
The security barrier, erected to keep out terrorists, is 95 per cent fence and 5 per cent wall. The sections of concrete wall are only erected to prevent terrorist and sniper attacks on Israelis. The barrier corresponds roughly with 1949 Armistice line.
Restrictions are only imposed because of the very real threat of terrorism. There is no racial motive in the application of checkpoints. It is true, however, that checkpoints do make life difficult for the Palestinians living in the West Bank.
Israel’s security restrictions are understandable and to a large extent justified, especially when it comes to protecting the Green Line. But there are examples where Israel could do better…
· Easing freedom of movement by reducing the number of checkpoints, curfews and forbidden roads, and relaxing the permit system.
· Dismantling the heavy-handed and sometimes arbitrary bureaucracy.
· Improving communication by ensuring IDF personnel can speak – and understand – Arabic.
· Being more compassionate and treating the Palestinians with respect.
In East Jerusalem, Palestinian residents have permanent residency rights in the city. They carry Palestinian identity cards issued by the Palestinian Authority and elect members of the Palestinian Authority. They are entitled to social and health benefits, and are eligible for Israeli citizenship. Those that become Israeli citizens can vote in municipal elections.
In the Gaza Strip, Palestinians are under the full civil and security control of Hamas, which governs the area as an autonomous entity.
So, are Israel’s critics correct in labelling Israel an apartheid state?
No. Israel is not an apartheid state. The level of freedom exercised by Arabs in Israel is head and shoulders above the treatment of Arabs in neighbouring countries. Indeed, most surveys show that Israeli Arabs are happy to live in the Jewish and would not want to move to an independent Palestine.
There are many instances where Israelis and Arabs work and play together in peace, and there are frequently stories in the newspapers about Israeli hospitals treating Palestinian children or Israeli medics rushing to help injured Palestinians. In fact, over 100,000 Palestinians received medical care in Israel during 2011. In the same year, more than 100 Palestinian doctors were interns at Israeli hospitals. Even in times of conflict, Israeli army policy is as follows: “The treatment of the Palestinian population is first and foremost a moral and professional obligation for every one of us.”
There are numerous other examples that explode the apartheid myth. For instance, following the 5.3 tremor in the Middle East in May 2012, it was reported that Israel had already set up a mechanism to channel aid to the Palestinians in the event of an earthquake. If Israel was an apartheid state, why would Israelis and Palestinians work together in the Jordan Valley to produce agricultural goods that are sold abroad? If Israel was prejudiced against Palestinians, why would it bother to establish a Israeli-Palestinian Chamber of Commerce?
Israelis and Palestinians are at loggerheads over many things, but there are numerous cases where both sides work together for the common good.
The only criticism that can be levelled at Israel is the day-to-day treatment of Palestinians in the West Bank. Although motivated by security and not prejudice, Israel is heavy handed and imposes too many restrictions on the Arab population. This is not only unfair but counterproductive, as it breeds resentment. Israel cannot police the West Bank forever. A political solution is needed, although the Palestinians themselves have to be willing to negotiate.