apartheid and its boycotts

some great news this week and some great writing, too, in honor of land day. nora barrows-friedman has a kick-ass report on land day in palestine including an interview with the mayor of deir hana in 1948 palestine that is really great. i did an interview this week, too, with naji ali on crossing the line, which was supposed to be about the boycott campaign, but it turned out to be more about the islamic university of gaza and rebuilding it. you can listen to me as well as akram habeeb talking about this online or you may download it on naji’s website. and if you haven’t donated yet to help rebuild the islamic university please go to the middle east children’s alliance and specify that you would like money to go towards the islamic university of gaza.

of course the savagery unleashed on gaza is what prompted the global momentum of the boycott, divestment, and sanctions (bds) movement. nora also broadcast a brilliant broadcast of a lecture given by ali abunimah for the middle east children’s alliance last week, which i highly recommend listening to. there, too, abunimah contextualizes this movement in relation to gaza. what happened in gaza is one of many reasons to boycott the terrorist state of israel. we need boycott and war crimes trials and so much more. because when they say they will investigate they never do or the criminals get off and wind up running the country (just look at the long line of presidents and prime ministers and in every one you will find a war criminal multiple times over). imran garda’s “focus on gaza” last week highlighted the main war crimes charge related to white phosphorus (though listen to what ali abunimah has to say about that in the above-linked speech), which now, the zionist entity is whitewashing. here is the episode on al jazeera, which contains important interviews and information:

gaza, like the villages of deir hana and others in the jaleel that resisted on that first land day 33 years ago, it is illustrative of the wider problems here. continual land theft and murder. hazem jamjoum has a brilliant piece in common dreams this week giving us a sense of this wider picture of apartheid more generally in palestine which is essential reading for people wanting to understand what it is like here and why palestine must be liberated:

In recent years, increasing numbers of people around the world have begun adopting and developing an analysis of Israel as an apartheid regime. (1) This can be seen in the ways that the global movement in support of the Palestinian anti-colonial struggle is taking on a pointedly anti-apartheid character, as evidenced by the growth of Israeli Apartheid Week.(2) Further, much of the recent international diplomatic support for Israel has increasingly taken on the form of denying that racial discrimination is a root cause of the oppression of Palestinians, something that has taken on new levels of absurdity in Western responses to the April 2009 Durban Review Conference.(3)

Many of the writings stemming from this analysis work to detail levels of similarity and difference with Apartheid South Africa, rather than looking at apartheid as a system that can be practiced by any state. To some extent, this strong emphasis on historical comparisons is understandable given that Boycotts, Divestment and Sanctions (BDS) is the central campaign called for by Palestinian civil society for solidarity with the Palestinian liberation struggle, and is modeled on the one that helped end South African Apartheid. However, an over-emphasis on similarities and differences confines the use of the term to narrow limits. With the expanding agreement that the term ‘apartheid’ is useful in describing the level and layout of Israel’s crimes, it is important that our understanding of the ‘apartheid label’ be deepened, both as a means of informing activism in support of the Palestinian anti-colonial struggle, and in order to most effectively make use of comparisons with other struggles.

The Apartheid Analogy

It is perhaps understandable that some advocates of Palestinian rights look at the ‘Apartheid label’, in its comparative sense, as a politically useful tool. The struggle of the South African people for justice and equality reached a certain sacred status in the 1980s and 1990s when the anti-Apartheid struggle reached its zenith. The reverence with which activists and non-activists alike look to the righteousness of the South African struggle, and the ignominy of the colonial Apartheid regime are well placed; Black South Africans fought against both Dutch and British colonization for centuries, endured countless hardships including imprisonment and death, and were labeled terrorists as the powers of the world stood by the racist Apartheid regime. They remained steadfast in their struggle, raising the cost of maintaining the Apartheid system until South African capital found it no longer profitable and white political elites found it impossible to maintain. Comparison bonus points can also be scored by pointing to the deep historic PLO-ANC connection, as well as the unabashed alliance between Israel and the South African Apartheid regime, which remained strong even at the height of the international boycott against South Africa.

A further impetus for confining the ‘apartheid label’ to a comparison with South Africa is that the commonalities and similarities between the liberation struggles of South Africa and Palestine are quite stark. Both cases involved a process of settler-colonialism involving the forced displacement of the indigenous population from most of their ancestral lands and concentrating them in townships and reservations; dividing up the Black population into different groups with differing rights; strict mobility restrictions that suffocated the colonized; and the use of brutal military force to repress any actual or potential resistance against the racist colonial regime. Both regimes enjoyed the impunity that results from full US and European support. Accompanying these and countless other similarities are a host of uncanny details common to both cases: both regimes were formally established in the same year – 1948 – following decades of British rule; control of approximately 87% of the land was off limits to most of the colonized population without special permission, and so on. While we speak here in the past tense, all of this still applies to present-day Palestine.

As the Israeli apartheid label has gained ground, some have adopted the approach of describing the differences between the two regimes, albeit for various purposes. In general, Israel has not legislated petty apartheid – the segregation of spaces such as bathrooms and beaches – as was the case in South Africa, although Israeli laws form the basis of systematic racial discrimination against Palestinians. The 1.2 million Palestinian citizens of Israel (approximately 20% of Israel’s citizens) do indeed have the right to vote and run in Israeli elections while the Black community in South Africa, for the most part, did not. The South African version of apartheid’s central tenet was to facilitate the exploitation of as many Black laborers as possible, whereas the Israeli version, although exploiting Palestinian workers, prioritizes the forced displacement of as many Palestinians as possible beyond the borders of the state with the aim of eradicating Palestinian presence within historic Palestine. South African visitors to Palestine have often commented on the fact that Israeli use of force is more brutal than that witnessed in the heyday of Apartheid, and several commentators have thus taken the position that Israel’s practices are worse than Apartheid; that the apartheid label does not go far enough.

Israel and the Crime of Apartheid

In terms of law, describing Israel as an apartheid state does not revolve around levels of difference and similarity with the policies and practices of the South African Apartheid regime, and where Israel is an apartheid state only insofar as similarities outweigh differences. In 1973, the UN General Assembly adopted the International Convention on the Suppression and Punishment of the Crime of Apartheid (General Assembly resolution 3068 [XXVIII](4) – entered into force 18 July 1976 – the year of the Soweto uprising in South Africa and the Land Day uprising in Palestine) with a universal definition of the crime of apartheid not limited to the borders of South Africa. The fact that apartheid is defined as a crime under the Rome Statute of the International Criminal Court (5), which entered into force in 2002 – long after the Apartheid regime was defeated in South Africa – attests to the universality of the crime.

While the wording of the definition of the crime of apartheid varies between legal instruments, the substance is the same: a regime commits apartheid when it institutionalizes discrimination to create and maintain the domination of one ‘racial’ group over another. Karine Mac Allister, among others, has provided a cogent legal analysis of the applicability of the crime of apartheid to the Israeli regime.(6) The main point is that like genocide and slavery, apartheid is a crime that any state can commit, and institutions, organizations and/or individuals acting on behalf of the state that commit it or support its commission are to face trial in any state that is a signatory to the Convention, or in the International Criminal Court. It is therefore a fallacy to ground the Israeli apartheid label on comparisons of the policies of the South African Apartheid regime, with the resulting descriptions of Israel as being ‘Apartheid-like’ and characterizations of an apartheid analysis of Israel as an ‘Apartheid analogy.’

Recognition by the international community of such universal crimes is often the result of a particular case, so heinous that it forces the rusty wheels of international decision-making into motion. The Transatlantic Slave Trade is an example where the mass enslavement of people from the African continent to work as the privately owned property of European settlers formed an important part of the framework in which the drafters of the 1956 UN Supplementary Convention on the Abolition of Slavery thought and acted. An even clearer example is the Genocide Convention (adopted 1948, entered into force 1951) in the wake of the Nazi Holocaust in which millions of Jews, communists, Roma and disabled were systematically murdered with the intention to end their existence. We do not describe modern day enslavement as ‘slavery-like,’ nor do we examine the mass killing of hundreds of thousands of mainly Tutsi Rwandans through a Rwandan ‘Genocide analogy.’

Two points made by Mac Allister in her legal analysis of Israeli apartheid deserve to be reiterated because they are often confused or misconstrued even by advocates of Palestinian human rights. First, Israel’s crimes and violations are not limited to the crime of apartheid. Rather, Israel’s regime over the Palestinian people combines apartheid, military occupation and colonization in a unique manner. It deserves notice that the relationship between these three components requires further research and investigation. Also noteworthy is the Palestinian BDS Campaign National Committee (BNC)’s “United Against Apartheid, Colonialism and Occupation: Dignity & Justice for the Palestinian People” (7) position paper, which outlines and, to some extent, details the various aspects of Israel’s commission of the crime of apartheid, and begins to trace the interaction between Israeli apartheid, colonialism and occupation from the perspective of Palestinian civil society.

The second point worth reiterating is that Israel’s regime of apartheid is not limited to the West Bank and Gaza Strip. In fact, the core of Israel’s apartheid regime is guided by discriminatory legislation in the fields of nationality, citizenship and land ownership, and that was primarily employed to oppress and dispossess those Palestinians who were forcibly displaced in the 1948 Nakba (refugees and internally displaced), as well as the minority who managed to remain within the ‘green line’ and later became Israeli citizens.(8) Israel’s apartheid regime was extended into West Bank and Gaza Strip following the 1967 occupation for the purpose of colonization, and military control over the Palestinians who came under occupation. Using again the example of South Africa, the crime of apartheid was not limited to the Bantustans; the whole regime was implicated and not one or another of its racist manifestations.

The analysis of Israel as an apartheid state has proven to be very important in several respects. First, it correctly highlights racial discrimination as a root cause of Israel’s oppression of Palestinians. Second, one of the main effects of Israeli apartheid is that it has separated Palestinians – conceptually, legally and physically – into different groupings (refugees, West Bank, Gaza, within the ‘green line’ and a host of other divisions within each), resulting in the fragmentation of the Palestinian liberation movement, including the solidarity movement. The apartheid analysis enables us to provide a legal and conceptual framework under which we can understand, convey, and take action in support of the Palestinian people and their struggle as a unified whole. Third, and of particular significance to the solidarity movement, this legal and conceptual framework takes on the prescriptive role underpinning the growing global movement for boycotts, divestment and sanctions (BDS) against Israel until it complies with international law.

Colonialism and the Role of Comparison

I have argued that the question of whether apartheid applies cannot be determined by means of comparison with South Africa, but rather by legal analysis. This, however, does not mean that comparative study is not useful. Comparison is in fact essential to the process of learning historical lessons for those involved in struggle. A central importance of comparison with South Africa stems from the fact that the South African struggle against apartheid was, as it continues to be for the indigenous people of Palestine and the Americas, a struggle against colonialism.

Focusing on the colonial dimension of Israeli apartheid and the Zionist project enables us to maintain our focus on the issues that really matter, such as land acquisition, demographic engineering, and methods of political and economic control exercised by one racial group over another. Comparison with other anti-colonial struggles provides the main resource for understanding this colonial dimension of Israeli oppression, and for deriving some of the lessons needed to fight it.

One of the many lessons from the struggle against Apartheid in South Africa stems from the fact that the ANC leadership was pressured to compromise on its economic demands such as land restitution. Only a tiny proportion of white controlled land in South Africa was redistributed to Blacks after 1994. As such, while the struggle of the South African people defeated the system of political apartheid, the struggle against economic apartheid continues in various forms including anti-poverty and landless peoples’ movements today. As Palestinians and those struggling with them work to reconstruct a political strategy and consensus on how to overcome the challenges of the post-Oslo period, the centrality of the demand for land restitution should be highlighted as part of the demand for refugee return.

A second lesson of major importance comes in response to the paradigm currently guiding most mainstream accounts of how to achieve the elusive ‘peace in the Middle East’, which is the idea of partition often referred to as the two state ‘solution’. In the 1970s, South Africa tried to deal with its “demographic problem” – the fact that the vast majority of its population was Black but did not have the right to vote. The Apartheid regime reconstructed South Africa as a formal democracy by reinventing the British-established reservations (the Bantustans) as independent states. (9) These ten ‘homelands’ were each assigned to an ethnicity decided by Pretoria, and indigenous South Africans who did not fit into one of the ethnicities were forced to make themselves fit in order to become nationals of one of the homelands. Through this measure, members of the indigenous population were reclassified as nationals of one or another homeland, and between 1976 and 1981 the regime tried to pass the homelands off as independent states: Transkei in 1976, Bophuthatswana in 1977, Venda in 1979, and Ciskei in 1981.

Each of these Bantustans was given a flag and a government made up of indigenous intermediaries on the Pretoria payroll, and all the trappings of a sovereign government including responsibility over municipal services and a police force to protect the Apartheid regime, but without actual sovereignty. The idea was that by getting international recognition for each of these homelands as states, the Apartheid regime would transform South Africa from a country with a 10% white minority, to one with a 100% white majority. Since it was a democratic regime within the confines of the dominant community, the state’s democratic nature would be beyond reproach. No one was fooled. The ANC launched a powerful campaign to counter any international recognition of the Bantustans as independent states, and the plot failed miserably at the international level – with the notable, but perhaps unsurprising, exception that a lone “embassy” for Bophuthatswana was opened in Tel Aviv.

Israel has employed similar strategies in Palestine. For example, Israel recognized 18 Palestinian Bedouin tribes and appointed a loyal Sheikh for each in the Naqab during the 1950s as a means of controlling these southern Palestinians, forcing those who did not belong to one of the tribes to affiliate to one in order to get Israeli citizenship. (10) In the late 1970s, the Israeli regime tried to invent Palestinian governing bodies for the 1967 occupied territory in the form of ‘village leagues’ intended to evolve into similar non-sovereign governments; glorified municipalities of a sort. As with Apartheid’s Homelands, the scheme failed miserably, both because the PLO had established itself as the sole legitimate representative of the Palestinian people, and because Palestinians largely understood the plot and opposed it with all means at their disposal. The main lesson for Israel was that the PLO would have to either be completely destroyed or would have to be transformed into Israeli apartheid’s indigenous intermediary. Israel launched a massive campaign to destroy the PLO throughout the 1980s and early 1990s. In the early 1990s, and with the demise of the PLO’s main backers such as the Soviet bloc and Iraq, Israel capitalized on the opportunity, and worked to transform the PLO from a liberation movement to a ‘state-building’ project that was launched by the signing of the Oslo accords, seven months before South Africa’s first free election.

The push for the establishment and international recognition of an independent Palestinian state within the Palestinian Bantustan is no different from the South African Apartheid regime’s campaign to gain international recognition of Transkei or Ciskei. This is the core of the “two-state solution” idea. The major and crucial difference is that in the current Palestinian case, it is the world’s superpower and its adjutants in Europe and the Arab world pushing as well, and armed with the active acceptance of Palestine’s indigenous intermediaries.

Notes:

1 I use capital ‘A’ in Apartheid to denote the regime of institutionalized racial superiority implemented in South Africa 1948-1994, and lower-case ‘a’ to indicate the generally applicable crime of apartheid.

2 See www.apartheidweek.org

3 See Amira Howeidi, “Israel’s right not to be criticised”, Al-Ahram Weekly, 19-25 March 2009: http://weekly.ahram.org.eg/2009/939/re2.htm. Also see the Palestinian civil society response at http://israelreview.bdsmovement.net

4 For the full text of the Convention see: http://www.unhchr.ch/html/menu3/b/11.htm

5 For the full text of the Statute see: http://untreaty.un.org/cod/icc/statute/99_corr/cstatute.htm

6 See Karine Mac Allister, “Applicability of the Crime of Apartheid to Israel”, al-Majdal #38, (Summer 2008): http://www.badil.org/al-majdal/2008/summer/articles02.htm

7 This is the Palestinian civil society position paper for the April 2009 Durban Review Conference in Geneva, and can be downloaded at: http://bdsmovement.net/files/English-BNC_Position_Paper-Durban_Review.pdf

8 For a discussion of how Israel’s apartheid legislation continues to affect refugees and Palestinian citizens of Israel with regards to control over land see Uri Davis, Apartheid Israel: Possibilities for the Struggle Within, London: Zed Books, 2003.

9 British rule in South Africa established reserves in 1913 and 1936 on approximately 87% of the land of South Africa for the purpose of segregating the Black population from the settlers.

10 For more on this see: Hazem Jamjoum, “al-Naqab: The Ongoing Displacement of Palestine’s Southern Bedouin”, al-Majdal #39-40, (Autumn 2008 / Winter 2009): http://www.badil.org/al-majdal/2008/autumn-winter/articles03.htm

for these reasons and more boycott is gaining momentum all over the world. the boycott motorola campaign now has a local chapter in new york and they held their first demonstration on land day/global bds day as reported on electronic intifada:

Motorola Israel produces fuses used in cluster bombs, “bunker-buster” bombs, and a variety of other bombs. Cluster bombs are specifically condemned by an international consensus of human rights organizations, and banned by many countries. Even the US government has voiced concern over their use. Motorola Israel acquired a $100 million contract to provide a data encrypted cellular network, “Mountain Rose,” to allow the Israeli army, which consistently and severely violates Palestinian human rights, to communicate securely anywhere they operate. Motorola supplies the Israeli military with the Wide Area Surveillance System (WASS) and other high-tech configurations of radar devices and thermal cameras. These surveillance systems are being installed around Israeli settlement/colonies and the apartheid wall, both of which Israel has constructed in the Palestinian West Bank in violation of international law.

Lubna Ka’aabneh of NYCBI and Adalah-NY explained, “The highly effective campaign to boycott diamond mogul and Israeli settlement-builder Lev Leviev set a successful precedent for boycotting Israel in New York. Motorola products are used to help steal Palestinian land in the West Bank, and to kill and oppress Palestinians. Similar support by Motorola for South Africa’s apartheid regime prompted a successful boycott against Motorola. This Land Day, we ask New Yorkers to once again rise to challenge by joining the campaign to boycott Motorola. Let’s do it again!”

in belgium, too, there is new divestment energy directed at a bank as adri nieuwhof reports in electronic intifada:

In a remarkably short period of time, activists in Belgium have built a strong basis for the campaign “Israel colonizes — Dexia funds,” asking the bank to divest from its subsidiary Dexia Israel because of its financing of the expansion of illegal settlements in the Occupied Palestinian Territories. The Israeli settlements violate Article 49 of the Fourth Geneva, prohibiting the Occupying Power to deport or transfer parts of its civilian population into the territory it occupies, as well as Article 53 prohibiting the destruction of property on occupied territory. The Dexia campaign is flourishing in Belgium and may potentially spread to other countries where Dexia subsidiaries are based.

The French-Belgian bank Dexia bought the Israeli Municipality Treasure Bank in 2001 and established Dexia Israel. Centrum voor Ontwikkeling, Documentatie en Informatie Palestijnen (CODIP), an organization focusing on Palestine, raised its concern about the transfer in a letter to Dexia’s board of directors in April 2001. The organization argues that Dexia’s investment in an Israeli bank involved in public loans might give the impression that the bank “supports Israel’s policy of occupation, colonization and discrimination.”

land day also launched the website to remove hamas from the european union’s “terror” list. here is their petition and you may click on the link to sign it yourself:

Appeal for the removal of Hamas from EU terror list !

On the occasion of the June 2009 European elections, we are launching an urgent appeal to all candidates for the 736 seats in the European parliament.

We ask that they actively pursue the immediate and unconditional removal of Hamas and all other Palestinian liberation organizations from the European list of proscribed terrorist organizations.

We further ask that they acknowledge the right of the Palestinian people to self-determination and, by so doing, recognise, Hamas as a legitimate voice for the Palestinian people’s aspirations for national liberation.

while i love the bds momentum, i continue to be frustrated by the fact that people are selecting companies that are specifically profiting from the colonization in the west bank and not companies that profit off of colonialism in palestine more generally. this is why i love the new lebanon boycott campaign. and, finally, the article rania and i wrote about the academic boycott in lebanon for al akhbar was translated into english in dissident voice:

In remembering and commemorating Land Day, March 30, 1976, when six Palestinians were killed and almost 100 wounded by Israeli forces in Sakhnin during unarmed protests against the confiscation of Palestinian lands in Galilee; in remembering the December 2008 Israeli savagery against the Palestinians in Gaza; in recognizing the continuity of attacks against Palestinians; and in remembering the numerous and ongoing Israeli atrocities against Lebanese, let us stand in active support of a movement that has the strength and vital potential to significantly contribute to this struggle for liberty and self-determination in this fight against Zionism.

That movement is the boycott, divestment, and sanctions movement, and one of its main demands is the boycott of and divestment from Israeli corporations and international corporations that sustain Israeli apartheid and colonialism. We know from the South African example that a combined strategy of armed resistance with boycott, divestment, and sanctions led to the downfall of the apartheid regime, and thus can be successful. Focusing on economic resistance ties this movement to the roots of the Palestinian Resistance Movement which historically sought to liberate Palestine as well as the rest of the region from Western imperialism through its economic neocolonial policies.

We also know that we in Lebanon are not cleansed from Zionist products. From cosmetics to clothing, from bulldozers to coffee, we consume products that are produced by corporations that substantially support Israel — either by investing in Israel, or by supporting Israel financially or diplomatically. (While the removal of certain Zionist products, like Intel, is difficult, for the vast majority of products, such as Nestle and Estee Lauder, their removal from our market will actually invigorate our economy by increasing investment in local products and local businesses.)

In addition to the clear form of economic boycott (which, is too often incorrectly confused with censorship), there is the important avenue of academic and cultural boycott. An academic boycott involves refraining from participation in any form of academic or cultural cooperation, collaboration or joint projects with Israeli institutions, and thus ultimately works to promote pushing universities themselves to divest from any collaboration or cooperation with any Israeli institution. South African professors also called on their colleagues around the world to boycott them in order to delegitimize and isolate the apartheid regime. The boycott campaign in South Africa worked because of that isolation, which was coupled with an economic boycott, divestment, and eventually this led to the sanctions placed on the regime, which led to its demise.

The most powerful weapon of the academic boycott is the refusal to legitimize Zionism, the ideology upon which Israel was built, the ideology that allows for one group of people to steal, to kill, and to expel, an ideology that is fundamentally and wholly racist. It is Zionism that must be defeated.

The academic and cultural boycott of Israel is growing globally. It has been active in Canada and in the United Kingdom for a few years now. It has spread to Australia and the United States. The publicity surrounding this movement is as powerful a weapon as the movement itself as well as it further calls for a rethinking of Israel’s right to exist as a Jewish state. Indeed, the boycott movement is so strong now that Israeli colonists are paying $2 million to improve their global image.

Academics in Lebanon have added their voice to this growing movement. Faculty from the University of Balamand, the American University of Beirut, the Lebanese American University, Notre Dame University, Lebanese University, Beirut Arab University, USEK, Lebanese International University and Global University signed a statement calling for full academic boycott of Israel and Israeli institutions, and calling our colleagues, throughout the world, and most particularly those in the Arab world and those claiming to stand in solidarity with the Palestinians, to comprehensively and consistently boycott and divest from all Israeli academic and cultural institutions, and to refrain from normalization in any form of academic and cultural cooperation, collaboration or joint projects with Israeli institutions as a contribution to the struggle to end Israel’s occupation, colonization and system of apartheid. To add your signature, please refer to: www.boycottzionism.wordpress.com

Today, March 30, 2009, marks the Global Boycott Divestment and Sanctions Day of Action. Let us stand together.

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s