i posted yesterday my dear friend nora’s interview with another friend of ours hazem jamjoum on her show flashpoints in audio form. i decided to spend today transcribing the interview because it is so amazing and important. hazem is amazing at speaking–and for sure it’s better to listen to the interview–but i think there is too much crucial information packed into this interview to not have it available in text form as well. here is the raw transcript of the interview. i’ve added some links to some of hazem’s statements.
Nora Barrows-Friedman: I wanted to interview you because you’ve been researching in exquisite detail how Israel practices apartheid on the ground here in occupied Palestine. And this is an area that I think the United States corporate mainstream media definitely is not touching. But it is becoming more and more relevant, more and more visible as this entrenched occupation grinds on. So I was wondering if you could maybe start by talking about what apartheid is and what it isn’t under the guidelines of international law.
Hazem Jamjoum: Alright, well first of all the word apartheid is an Afrikaans word, which means apartness or to separate, separateness. It was introduced to kind of the international language as a result of the regime that was implemented by white settlers in South Africa after the 1948 election. The regime in South Africa, essentially–and this has roots from before 1948: the British [sic] had instituted laws and practices which displaced indigenous Black communities off of their land, squeezing them into about 13% of the territory of South Africa. And what the national party did, which was largely representative of the Afrikaners who are descendants of Dutch settlers in South Africa, the body of laws they implemented after 1948 came to be known as the apartheid laws. And these laws included such things as pass laws, which restricted the freedom of mobility; things like the Group Areas Act, and the various bodies of laws that kind of outlined who belonged to which group in the country, where you were allowed to be based on that group, and what kinds of rights and privileges you had. Really what that system was was a system of laws that was designed to maintain the supremacy and domination of the white settler group over the Black community, which was the majority.
Now in the mid-1970s, after the Soweto uprising, and the massacre of the demonstrators in Soweto, what the international community did was there was a proposal, bill kind of at the United Nations General Assembly, and was adopted by the United Nations General Assembly, called the International Convention on the Suppression and Punishment for the Crime of Apartheid. And in this convention what the United Nations did, or what the international community did, was it defined the crime of apartheid and then detailed a set of consequences if a state was found or if a regime was found to be guilty of the crime of apartheid. And these consequences range from being legally prosecuted if a member or an institution that is part of the implementation of this regime sort of goes into a territory or a country which is a signatory to the convention, they can be prosecuted. The international community is supposed to essentially isolate this regime and do whatever it can to stop this crime of apartheid from continuing to be implemented. And now there’s some confusion with for some whether apartheid can only, is limited to South Africa during the period of 1948 to 1994. Actually, if you read the convention it’s quite clear. It stems from an understanding of what’s happening in South Africa at the time in the mid-1970s, but it’s a crime of general applicability. It can, any state can commit the crime of apartheid. And the definition of the crime–of course later there are other conventions that also talk about what the crime of apartheid is, most notably the 2002 Rome Statute, which establishes the International Criminal Court. It’s also mentioned in the International Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Racial Discrimination. And I bring up the Rome Statute because it was passed in 2002 well after racial apartheid ends in South Africa. So it’s quite clear that by defining apartheid and by saying that this is a crime, the international community is saying apartheid is still a crime and any state that commits it will be punished as an internationally-defined criminal act or an international crime. So the crime itself–even though you have different wording in these different conventions–the idea is generally the same. The idea is that you have one group that institutes institutionalized racial discrimination or institutionalized discrimination against another group for the purpose of establishing and maintaining domination and commits inhumane acts in order to maintain that domination. Inhumane acts are generally, basically human rights violations and crimes against humanity, as defined in the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, and actually in the international convention from the mid 70s you have a complete list of what these crimes or apartheid practices are, and they range from the denial of life and liberty to the denial of return to the exploitation of labor to banning mixed marriages. And what we find is that actually Israel is practicing all of these. The entire list of the practices that are considered apartheid practices.
If we want to talk about Israel as an apartheid regime what we have to show is there is one group that has institutionalized discrimination against another group for the purposes of establishing and maintaining domination. With the case of Israel it’s actually what they call a “no brainer.” It’s actually quite obvious and in Israeli laws themselves. As far as Israel is concerned there is a group called Jewish people. It’s defined in such things as the Law of Return and the Citizenship Act, so basically as far as Israel is concerned anyone who is Jewish anywhere in the world is automatically a national, is a part of the Jewish nation and a national of Israel and entitled to be here and be part of the dominant group. And then there’s another group, which in Israeli laws you would generally kind of see it as non-Jews, but as far as the facts on the ground are concerned, that means the Palestinians. And so these are Palestinians who are Muslims and Christians, atheists and agnostics, it doesn’t matter. As far as Israel is concerned, if you don’t fit that definition of Jewish, that is debated within Israel, but generally that’s the group, then you fall into that subservient group. And so it’s actually quite clear that Israel is committing this crime of apartheid.
NBF: That’s the voice of Hazem Jamjoum of the Badil Resource Center here in the occupied West Bank city of Bethlehem. We’re talking about how Israel, as a state, practices the crime of apartheid. Okay, give us some examples. And I want maybe to start with how Israel practices apartheid in the occupied West Bank and Gaza Strip and then we’ll move into maybe inside the Green Line itself and then talk about Jerusalem, which I think is kind of an anomaly within historic Palestinian area. So talk about how Israel practices apartheid in the West Bank and Gaza.
HJ: Alright, if you’ll excuse me, I think it actually works the other way around. The core of Israeli apartheid is what’s practices against the majority of Palestinians. Seven out of ten Palestinians are refugees. And the Israeli apartheid system comes into being with the creation of the state of Israel and as this new settler colony begins to implement its laws. By the early 1950s the key laws that make up the Israeli apartheid regime were already in place. And these laws are the Law of Return, which essentially says any Jewish person anywhere can come and become a citizen, which defines essentially the dominant group. But then you have the policies and practices that deny the return of the refugees. So in the late 1940s and the 1948 nakba you have the forced expulsion of the majority of Palestinians who become refugees. The denial of their return is essentially like the prime apartheid crime as far as Israel is concerned. The fact that you have a group of people with an internationally enshrined right to return to their homeland, to the places from which they were expelled, but because they are of a certain type, they are of a certain group, which is non-Jewish, then they have no right. Israel does not recognize their right to return. In fact, it actively denies their right to return. And in fact passes laws to that effect. Over and above the policies and practices on the ground that may or may not be written. And so this is kind of point number one as far as Israeli apartheid is concerned.
The second place you look is within the Green Line. Within what is called Israel proper. Because there you have, I mean, when people talk about Israeli apartheid, the Israeli response is, “no we cannot be an apartheid regime because we have Palestinian citizens and these citizens can vote and run for the Knesset, for the Israeli parliament. And this is pointed out particularly because in South Africa the indigenous community was not allowed to vote. In the early 80s sort of these other groupings that the South African apartheid regime created, like coloreds and Indians, the apartheid regime started to create new–they created something called the tri-cameral parliament and tried to modify things so it looked like Indians and coloreds could vote. It was largely a sham and it wasn’t very long lasting. But the case of Palestinian citizens inside Israel, Israeli apartheid is quite clear for anyone who wants to look. Actually, one of the earliest books dealing with the issue dealing with Israeli apartheid is called Israel an Apartheid State: Possibilities for the Struggle Within by Uri Davis who’s a Jewish Israeli who identifies as a Palestinian Jew. And he has a–this book is very interesting–and he focuses entirely on land, on the issue of land. He talks about the Law of Return and he talks about the refugees, particularly because 80% of the land inside Israel proper, within the Green Line, is refugee land. So by the early 1950s, with the passing of such things as the Absentee Property Law, where refugees were called “absentees,” they were kind of classified within Israeli law as “absentees,” their lands–80% of the land of Israel–was automatically transferred to the state. To the Israeli state. This includes what is today around 300,000 Palestinian citizens of Israel who were displaced from their villages but stayed within the state of Israel, within the Green Line. So they are internally displaced. So they lost their lands through the Absentee Property Law, but they’re not really “absentees.” They’re still in the country. They’re citizens. So Israel created their own legal classification, which I think doesn’t exist anywhere in the world: they are called “present absentees.” Present physically in the country, with citizenship, absent because they’re not allowed to get their land back.
Since 1948–between 1948 and 1966–Israel implemented a very important, and not very often talked about, regime on those Palestinians who remained. Those Palestinians who somehow managed to stay. Through the extremely violent ethnic cleansing of the 1948 nakba. It was, it is often referred to the military regime because what happened was you had two bodies of law operating within Israel. You had one body of law for Jewish Israelis, which were the regular laws passed through the parliament, they are called the Basic Laws, and then the various policies that you’d have at a municipal level, at a regional level. But then for Palestinians you had something called military law. And essentially what military law is, is that the military commander of the region in which you live is judge, jury, executioner, police force. Sort of, can essentially issue edicts that then become law automatically. And some of these laws, through their use over time, become kind of entrenched. So for example, a military law like Military Order 125. This is a very important one. This declares an area a Closed Military Zone. And what that means is that any Palestinian in the area has to leave the zone. Any person has to leave if you’re not a military person. Of course, the land that were declared Closed Military Zones were all Palestinian land. And this is something very important. If you look at Israeli laws–if you’re reading Israeli laws–and this is something Uri Davis does a really good job explaining–you won’t, other than the Law of Return, which says that any Jewish person anywhere in the world can become a citizen, the way they talk about it is aliyah, you ascend to becoming a citizen of Israel. Other than that law, the way that Israel distinguishes between Jew and non-Jew and the practicing of the laws is through the practice itself. It’s not written in the laws. So this Military Order 125 declaring an area a Closed Military Zone is a good example. You have Palestinian areas that are thousands of acres declared Closed Military Zones so people are kicked off their land. And then you have another law, for example, that says if your land is left uncultivated for three years it becomes property of the state. So that means you get kicked off–the military physically kicks you off, saying this is a Closed Military Zone–and three years later you get a piece of paper from the court saying “We’re taking your land. It’s now state land because you haven’t been there for three years. You haven’t cultivated it.” And if you go to challenge, like the thousands of Palestinians who tried to go to Israeli courts to challenge this, you’ll be told by the court that, “It’s none of our business that the military kicked you off your land, you can deal with the military for that. We’re just implementing the law.” Right and so on its face Israel looks like a regular, democratic regime that’s implementing its very benign looking laws, it’s very regular looking laws.
Another example is a very important law called the 1965 Planning and Construction Law. This law essentially lists all the towns, cities, and villages inside Israel. And so when you read the law it’s saying “this area is an archaeological area, this place is for roads, this place is for residents, this place is commercial” in each of these towns, cities, and villages, but it is what is left out that’s important. You have dozens of Palestinian villages that are simply not listed. And because this law is supposed to list all the communities that exist, so therefore, any community that’s not listed is by definition illegal. Not only does it not exist, it’s not supposed to exist. And so these villages that pre-date the existence of Israel, sometimes by centuries, simply no longer exist. They don’t appear on any Israeli maps, official maps. They receive no municipal services–we’re talking water, electricity, sewage, waste collection, clinics,–let alone hospitals–schools, nothing. They live in the fourteenth century as far as services are concerned. And because they don’t exist none of the houses are legal, which means that the houses can be demolished at any time. Again, these are citizens of the state of Israel. These are the examples of how great Israeli democracy is and yet these people on a weekly basis–and this is not an exaggeration–on a weekly basis we have home demolitions, mosque demolitions. You can just put up–because they have no water and electricity, they buy generators, that’s how you get electricity. You buy water tanks and then you buy water from anywhere you can get water. And so if you have a water tank it gets destroyed. If you have a pen for your cattle it gets destroyed. Any structure–any two bricks on top of each other is the way that we say it–you have two bricks on top of each other, that becomes an illegal structure.
Now beyond that is what happened in the cities. The interesting thing that happened in Palestinian cities that were occupied in 1948 like Yaffa, Ramla, Lydd, Akka–now some cities like Safad and Beer Saba’ or Beer Sheva were completely emptied out of their Palestinian residents. Other cities where Palestinians stayed became called “mixed cities.” And what happened was that the Israelis squeezed those Palestinians who managed to stay, or who were displaced from villages nearby and ended up in the city, squeezed them into one neighborhood. And often that neighborhood was surrounded with barbed wire with a checkpoint at the gate. And you needed a military permission in order to enter or leave this neighborhood. Of course you had these European Jewish refugees coming in from the Nazi holocaust who had only one word for this kind of neighborhood: which is ghetto. And until today, and this is one of the thousands of ironies of Palestine today, until today Palestinians who live in these neighborhoods think that the word “ghetto” actually means Arab neighborhood in Hebrew. So they call their own neighborhood “the ghetto” thinking it’s just the Hebrew word for what an Arab neighborhood is. Now these are still around today.
After 1966 you had no more of this military regime–[though] still in the south until 1970–but for the most part the military regime was disbanded only because it was exported into the West Bank and Gaza and I’ll talk about that a little more later. But what we have in these cities–these “mixed cities”–is an intensive process of expelling the Palestinians from their land, from their homes. And it doesn’t happen the way that it happened in 1948. You don’t necessarily have a military force coming in knocking houses over, collecting people into the middle–you know a big square–shooting into a crowd until it disperses and runs out of the city, or you know picking out men who are involved in the resistance and executing them the way that we had in 1948. What you have is the workings of Israel’s “democratic” laws. So each city it’s a different story. In Lydd and Ramla, for example, the entire Palestinian neighborhoods have been zoned as agricultural land so in Lydd, for example, you have 1,000 Palestinian homes with demolition orders because they are residential buildings, again many of which pre-date the state of Israel, which are illegal because they are built on agricultural land. And so the state comes in–and this is one of the interesting things–when your house is going to be demolished they make you pay for it. So basically you have two choices: either you go and get someone who owns a bulldozer to come and destroy it for you–as in destroy your own house and clean up the rubble–or the army will come, or the police or whatever authority in that particular place is running the demolition business, will come in and destroy it for you, and then fine you. And it’s actually–the fine is more expensive than building a house in many of these cases. So you’re caught in this impossible position: to destroy your own house or pay a fine that’s larger than the cost of building a new house and then if there’s rubble remaining they make you pay for removing the rubble, or again, they come and remove it and they make you pay a fine for the removal. I mean, so if anything it’s just cruel. It’s cruel and it’s inhuman. And as many South Africans who have visited have said, it’s worse than what they witnessed in South Africa. But as far as the crime is concerned, these are practices and policies that very clearly fit the fact that you have an institutionalized regime where over time, across the board, discriminates–it’s institutionalized discrimination–and it’s very clearly for the purposes of Israel being a Jewish state. A state for Jewish people, maintaining the domination, the dominance of this group, which Israel has defined itself as, you know, the Jewish group, and at the expense of, and where the inferior group is, the non-Jews, the Palestinians. In the West Bank and Gaza, I mean it’s just beyond plain for everyone to see.
NBF: And I want to tell people that you are listening to Flashpoints on Pacifica Radio. My name is Nora Barrows-Friedman reporting from the occupied West Bank city of Bethlehem in Palestine. We’re sitting here with Communications Director of Badil Resource Center, Hazem Jamjoum. We’re talking about apartheid as Israel practices it. So, Hazem, the West Bank and Gaza.
HJ: So the West Bank and Gaza. First of all, when you had the occupation in 1967, you had a very important strategic goal of maintaining control over these areas and so there were various plans kind of thrown around. First of all, what Israel did was it cleared out, it forcibly expelled over 400,000 Palestinians right off the bat in 1967. Half of them–or just under half of them–were already refugees from 1948. So for many of them this was the second, third, or fourth time they were being displaced. Still in 1967. Some of these people have been been displaced multiple times since. What this meant in the West Bank, and this is something that was developed by an Israeli general who became a minister, and was actually Prime Minister for a while, his name was Yigal Allon. So it’s known as the Allon Plan. The main idea of the Allon Plan is that you close off any access between Palestinian areas and neighboring Arab countries. So Gaza is not to have any border with Egypt with the Sinai and the West Bank is not to have any uncontrolled border with Jordan. And so the entire Jordan Valley is cleared out of its Palestinian residents with the exception of Jericho, but then that border is still controlled. And then the same happened in Gaza. The other aspect of it is that the West Bank is to be split up to be made more controllable, but also because the Zionist movement always saw Jerusalem as its eternal undivided capital. And so what this meant is that the West Bank was split in the middle through the annexation of the Jerusalem area. And so you had a northern West Bank and a southern West Bank with no access to Jordan. So you had essentially two closed-in reservations. And Gaza being the third, closed, completely controlled reservation. Now with the passage of time, especially through the 70s, you had additional kind of developments. It was modified by many different people, most notably Ariel Sharon.
In the late 70s, and especially in the early 80s, you have something that comes up called the Sharon Plan. And the main idea of the Sharon Plan is why cut the West Bank into two parts when we can cut it into many more parts. And so he cuts, he proposes that the northern part of the West Bank be split in two as well. And then that as many settler enclaves be created, the way that–I mean, so Jerusalem was one way that the West Bank was created, eh split up, but further ways that the West Bank is split up is through, essentially Israel exports its civilian population into this occupied territory through the construction of these heavily fortified things that are colonies. And internationally, the media usually calls them settlements. But essentially they are settler colonies with people who are armed to the teeth, full armed guard. I mean, the army spends a lot of money and resources defending these places, even if they are not being attacked, and they are almost always on the hilltops. And they always split Palestinian communities from one another. So if we look at a map of the West Bank today, it’s just extremely plain. One of the most recent ones I’ve seen makes it look like–the color, the non-Palestinian controlled area is blue and the Palestinian-controlled area is green–and it looks like an island archipelago. And the map is called, you know, the Palestinian archipelago. And it looks like a bunch of islands. And that’s what it is.
Now what the peace process, or so-called peace process, enabled Israel to do in terms of geography, was to begin to entrench this archipelago as a fact on the ground by expanding very rapidly through the 90s. And this is during the Labor government, the “left-wing” Israelis as they’re called, so through the Labor Party who’s in power, under Ehud Barak, who is still, I think, considered sort of a “peace dove” for many, especially in `North America who don’t know–I mean he’s the most decorated soldier in Israel, right, and that’s not because he planted a lot of trees. You know, he killed a lot of people and that was his business for most of his life and that’s why he’s so decorated. And so under his reign the settler population essentially doubled. And what Israel began to do in the early part of this millennium was to build a wall and to just entrench this geographic apartheid regime, the Palestinian Bantustan, concretely, literally, by building a wall that largely surrounds Palestinian communities, splitting them up from each other and splitting people from their lands, splitting people’s ability to reach hospitals, and to reach their work, and to reach their schools. And so this is when people began to really look at apartheid just because on the map it began to look like the Bantustans in South Africa, even though if we were to look at the legal definition, Israel’s been an apartheid regime since its inception regarding the refugees and regarding the people who became its citizens–the non-Jews who became its citizens, the Palestinian citizens of Israel.
Now in the West Bank and Gaza it’s just that much more obvious because Palestinians living in the occupied territories in the West Bank and Gaza do not have Israeli citizenship. They–so they have no vote–so you know that argument about Israeli democracy no longer applies, and then you have the brutality of the occupation, right, and this is something that South Africans who visited Palestine said–you know the South African police, the apartheid police were brutal. There is no question about South African police brutality, the torture in the prisons–it’s just that the intensity of the violence–it’s just that it’s more here as far as they’re concerned. I mean bombing entire communities with F-16s, you know, coming in and just mass house demolitions, mass arrests of entire communities. You know, where the army will come in and say “everyone, every male between the age[s] of twelve and fifty-five come to the school.” You know and if you don’t you’re in big trouble, and if you do then most likely you’re going to jail for a while. So these are the kinds of things that sort of are an intensity of Israeli violence that wasn’t necessarily as common as it was in the apartheid regime in South Africa. The fact that you have one group that has established and that is maintaining its domination over another group using institutionalized discrimination is very obvious. Like I said, the military regime, the military laws were exported here and you have actually two separate laws for two peoples. You have, if you’re an Israeli settler in the West Bank, then you are governed under Israeli civilian law. If you are a Palestinian in the West Bank then you are governed under the military law. And the person who happens to be the military commander in your region, again, reigns supreme. They make the law and they implement the law at whim. And it can be quite whimsical, actually. You know you have military orders in the West Bank that ban the growing of certain kinds of flowers. And it seems absurd at first and then you do a little bit more research and find out that the nearby settlement is growing the same kind–those flowers and they don’t want any competition so they’ve ask the military commander to outlaw the Palestinians who are growing those flowers. You know, so it can be that random.
And there are stories from the original military regime between 48 and 66 where you have the military commander punishing people by telling them they have to stand on one leg under a tree for like, say this many hours. So I mean there’s all kind of absurdity and there’s all kind of anecdotal stuff, but the big picture of the implementation of a crime, which is the crime of apartheid, plus the fact that you have a prolonged military occupation, you know for some, inside the Green Line, is occupied territory since 1948. For the entire world there is consensus that for the past 40 some years you’ve had a military occupation of the West Bank and Gaza. Plus all of this in the context of the colonial enterprise, right. Zionism came–it was a movement of Jewish people outside of Palestine–to come and colonize Palestine. And in their own language. What’s today called the Jewish Agency, a charitable organization in the United States, one of the–I mean it used to be the government of the Jewish community in Palestine before 1948–subservient to the British government, but it was the authority, used to be called the Jewish Colonization Association. You know, it is very clear and at the time it was more cool to be a colonizer. Since World War I and since the national liberation movements of the global south over the past century or so it’s less in vogue. But still, Zionism is a colonial movement. And all of these practices are basically colonial practices. It’s just that it’s also a military occupation. It’s also an apartheid regime.
NBF: That’s the voice of Hazem Jamjoum. We’re sitting here at the Badil Resource Center for Palestinian Residency and Refugee Rights in Bethlehem. And now I want you to talk–focus on a little bit about what’s happening in Jerusalem because you have a population, the indigenous population, which is being rapidly ethnically cleansed and squeezed out, the borders are being redrawn. And their status as residents versus citizens is also very indicative of the process of apartheid. Can you talk a little bit more about what’s happening in Jerusalem as its own entity.
HJ: Well I don’t think that Jerusalem is an anomaly so much as it is a microcosm. Essentially most of what you see in the rest of the country over time, over the past sixty years, you also see in Jerusalem. So Jerusalem is a city that was divided between 48 and 67. It was divided because the Zionists wanted–I mean their armed forces went right after trying to get as much of Jerusalem as they could in the 1948 war, during the ethnic cleansing, during the nakba. What they managed to do was to get everything up until the western wall of the Old City. So that part of Jerusalem, which is now referred to as West Jerusalem, that was completely ethnically cleansed. You know there was no–there were very few Palestinian families that were able to remain. All of that land was reverted to absentee property. Most of those buildings are still standing. Any person who comes and visits the city can go and visit the–you know, and they even call them “Arab houses.” If you have an Arab house it’s more expensive because it’s more authentic. It’s older looking. You know and there are certain kinds of Israeli fetishes with the Arab that are quite–I mean, they’re largely quite disgusting, but I mean they’re very interesting. They’re indicative. So you have–I’m going to digress a little, I’m sorry. But you have over 530 Palestinian villages that were destroyed in 1948. Many of them, their rubble is still there, you know, in Jewish National Fund parks and forests, on the lands that has been taken over by kibbutzes and moshavs, you know these socialist utopias that had nothing to do with socialism and much more to do with ethnic cleansing and apartheid practices. But what you have is this movement within Israeli society to go and steal the rocks from the rubble–the stones that these houses were built from and to build your own house using these rocks because it looks more authentic. It makes your house look old. And so when you walk around West Jerusalem you see these beautiful–I mean, it’s one thing, I say this, you know, Palestinian bourgeoisie used to know how to build houses.
There are very beautiful villas that are in West Jerusalem and now they’re inhabited by Jewish families and a story that you will hear from many Palestinians who will go and have tried to go and see their–because the thing with the 1948 nakba also is that many people left in a very big hurry. There were bombs going off. There were bullets within, there were children who were at threat [sic] of dying so, you know, some people left the food on the table, some people left the bread in the oven, but also their belongings, all their photo albums, all their papers, all their books, all their little–you know, the things that you collect over a lifetime, especially when you have houses, and these are houses that are generational houses. These are houses that were passed on from grandparent to grandchild. And so you have several generations of belongings that are in these houses in West Jerusalem and in the other cities and the places where houses were left intact. And so people have tried to go and get their stuff. You know, before 2000 people were able to move at least into Jerusalem and people with Jerusalem IDs–and we’ll talk about this in a second–are able to still go into West Jerusalem. And so people would go and visit their houses and in the vast majority of cases either the door was shut in their faces or the cops were called. You know, the settlers who took over these houses did not want to confront the fact that they were living in someone else’s house and that this someone else was ringing the doorbell and wasn’t asking for the house back, because they knew that this was a much larger story. They wanted to go and get their dad’s picture from over the fireplace. I’m not making this up, right, these are actual–a story that someone told me. They wanted their dad’s picture. Or their grandfather’s picture from over the fireplace. And the door was slammed in their face and when they rang the doorbell again the cops were called. So these are the kinds of–in terms of just mentality–that an apartheid regime will breed and will foster.
Now what you did have was those Palestinians who did manage to remain, like with the other cities, they were crammed into what was called the Baqa’a zone, a ghetto, literally. It was surrounded by barbed wire, you couldn’t enter or leave without permission from the military commander, et cetera, et cetera, like I’ve been describing. In 1967 Jerusalem was one of the most important places for the Israeli military to take control over. And so that was one of the first things they went for, they got it. The Jordanians didn’t put up much of a fight. Of course there were some sort of low-level officers who fought heroically and did put up a fight but as far as the regime was concerned this was a lost battle. And so they just gave up the city for the most part. And as far as Israel is concerned the city was re-unified as Israel’s undivided eternal capital. And it’s not on the negotiating table. You know, people talk about the peace process and the negotiations–as far as–the two things that Israel will not negotiate, will not touch are the refugees, that’s the first issue, and Jerusalem. And that’s why they call them the “thorny issues.” That’s why they call them the “obstacles.” Of course, usually it’s in the context of Palestinians not being flexible enough. You know, they’re not being flexible on their right to go back to their own home. Or they’re not being flexible on the fact that they want the occupation of their city to end. Regardless, what happened after 1967 was Israel began what they call, in its, you know, they call “Judalization.” The idea of Judaization, or in in Hebrew yehud, so the Judaization of places like the Galilee or Jerusalem, or today Yaffa and Akka and Palestinian cities–the idea is that you want to bring up the number of Jewish residents as high as possible and minimize the number of Palestinians, hopefully to zero, but if not at least to have a very strongly entrenched vast majority of residents who are Jewish. And again this idea of Jewish and non-Jewish is very entrenched in Israeli law, policy, and practice on every single level.
Now, in order to Judaize the city of Jerusalem several things were done. The first thing was the establishment of settlements, of colonies. So the first colony in the West Bank is actually Ma’ale Adumim. It’s the settlement that expands Jerusalem eastward and splits the West Bank into north and south and since it’s considered part of Jerusalem, it automatically raises the number of Jews compared to non-Jews in the city. But then you have several other settlements that are established in waves. After the late 1970s you have further expansion of the city. If you look at a map of Jerusalem with its settlements, the settlements are actually built kind of in concentric rings around the Old City with settlements being built inside the Old City. And there have been many sneaky tactics for this. In some cases you have straight up harassment and violence. In some cases you have settler organizations approaching Palestinians and offering massive amounts of money. There’s always stories of blank checks being thrown around. And then you have these stories of heroism where people don’t sell, you know, and they’ll say for no price will I do this. Or, you know I met an old man who told me, “you know they came and offered me a blank check. I said, I don’t want your money. I want you to go around and apologize to every single Palestinian baby and then maybe I’ll reconsider handing over my shop to you.” They had come to take his shop. But I mean usually it’s a multiplicity of tactics used even on the same piece of land–so first it’ll be an offer of money, then it’ll be an offer of much more money, then it’ll be some harassment, and then the police may get involved, then the municipality may get involved, then all of a sudden you’re being taxed for things you didn’t know you could be taxed for, and then, you know, you come to relicense your property and you find that it’s so expensive to relicense, you get the money, and then you find that there all these administrative obstacles to you being relicensed or to renewing your license and then all of a sudden your place is not licensed and so it’s subject to demolition or to you being kicked out of it, evicted. And so you have these cases, right, you have thousands of people facing eviction orders, thousands of people facing home demolition. A new policy, for example, says that if you live in a building where you are renting and it’s not licensed then both the person who is the owner and the person who is the renter get fined. And also you have these policies that gradually–and time is very much on Israel’s side with a lot of these things, right, so maybe international pressure is growing, but on the inside, as far as the power balance is concerned, it’s clear who has the guns, it’s clear who has the weapons. It’s also clear who has international state support. And so time is on Israel’s side.
If they come to demolish a house today and the community comes out and stops the bulldozer from reaching the house, and you know people get beat up, some people get arrested, and the bulldozer doesn’t manage to get to the house, you know then the municipality can just try next week. And if it doesn’t work next week they can try next month. And if it doesn’t work next month, they can try next year or in five years or in ten years. And so with the passage of time you actually have people now being kicked out of their homes–maybe they’re being kicked out of their second or third home–you know, you’ve done stories like on Um Kamel al Kurd who, you know, she was kicked out of her West Jerusalem house and became a refugee in East Jerusalem. Now her house in East Jerusalem, she’s been kicked out of it–settlers have taken over the physical house. She built a tent next door. The tent has been destroyed five, I think now, six times. And she’s still there, right, and so–this is the thing–there’s a certain stubbornness to our people. That stubbornness has become a compliment in a way. It’s become a valued trait because if you’re not stubborn then you’re in the street. If you’re not stubborn then you’re not anywhere near your second or third home. You know we’ve been–people are fighting not to return to their original home, they’re fighting to–I mean everybody’s fighting to return to their original home ultimately–but we’ve reached the point where you’re fighting to go back to the little shed that you’ve been living in and you’ve been kicked out of.
But what’s been happening also is Israel has built its wall and the most interesting, the most intricate, complicated place where the wall runs is in Jerusalem. What they’ve done is they’ve demarcated Jerusalem through the wall. And when I say wall, by the way, the wall and its associated regime, the way that the International Court of Justice talks about it, it’s not just the cement wall. You also have like vast expansive areas of kind of like barbed wire with militarized zones on both sides. You also have the checkpoints and the settlements–this is all part of the associated regime of the wall. It’s essentially a closure regime. Or most appropriately you can describe it as a cage. It cages Palestinians and the communities they’re in and it prevents them from entering other communities. And the most important one, because it’s so close and it’s also the economic, social, cultural, political hub of the West Bank is Jerusalem. And so this Jerusalem area–the Palestinians in Jerusalem for one thing have their own special status in the state. They’re not citizens of Israel, but they don’t have the West Bank Palestinian IDs, which prevent them from entering Jerusalem. They have Jerusalem IDs. They’re non-citizens, but they have the ability to move. The only thing that kind of differentiates them–between them and West Bank or Gaza Palestinians–is that they’re able to move a little bit more freely. Now, but for this Jerusalem ID has become a major burden. Because having a Jerusalem ID enables you also to get such things as social insurance. But what it also means is that you have to remain in Jerusalem to keep it. Now what’s happened with the construction of the wall and the closing off of Jerusalem is that people with Jerusalem IDs who are living without–on the other side of the wall now have to move in. So you have this massive rush of people who are living in areas that became West Bank areas overnight because the wall was put up, because Israel rezoned their area, and these are large areas, like Al Ram, Bir Nabala, Shu’fat refugee camp, Qalandia refugee camp, all these areas that you had Jerusalem ID people living in, all of a sudden, overnight if they stayed where they were living they would lose their Jerusalem residency. They would become West Bank people.
This is another way that Israel kind of on the literal meaning of apartheid has separated between people with different types of–today we talk of a Palestinian refugee, a 48 Palestinian, a Jerusalem Palestinian, a Gaza Palestinian, a West Bank Palestinian, in any case. But what it also meant was that Jerusalem prices were skyrocketing. The value of prices in Jerusalem became so high that you actually had people living in sheds. You had people living in the shack next door where people have kept their tools, you know, in the garden shed. And so it’s become extremely overcrowded. It was overcrowded before in places like Shu’fat refugee camp, like Anata. But now it’s extremely overcrowded. The prices have skyrocketed. And nobody can afford it, you know. There’s a high unemployment rate. And so what it means is that people are being forced to leave. So again you don’t have people–soldiers–coming in necessarily with guns and telling you to leave like in 1948. What you have is the slow working of various political, municipal policy and practice, the economy, so you have financial pressure, you have municipal pressure, you have the cost of renewing your license, the cost of acquiring a license, administrative hurdles–all of these working together to push you out if you’re Palestinian. If you’re Jewish it’s a completely different story. If you’re Jewish most of these things don’t apply to you. You can always go live in a settlement you know. Every few weeks we hear news of this many hundred settlements being built or established or expanded in Jerusalem settlements as well as the settlements that are further away, the colonies. So you have a very clear distinction. Israel doesn’t have to put the word Jewish or Palestinian or non-Jewish on any piece of legislation because it’s all done on the level of policy. It’s all done on the level of practice. Some things are simply not done if you’re Jewish. I have never heard of a Jewish resident of Jerusalem having their house demolished you know. I haven’t heard–you know maybe evictions happen, but it’s probably because you haven’t paid your rent not because, you know, they’ve decided that your presence here is not in the interest of the Jewish state. No: your presence here, if you’re Jewish, is in the interest of the Jewish state. It is the Judaization of the city. And so Jerusalem does operate as a kind of microcosm of the city.
NBF: That’s the voice of Hazem Jamjoum of Badil Resource Center in Bethlehem here in the occupied West Bank in Palestine and you’re listening to Flashpoints on Pacifica Radio. We only have a few minutes left, but I was wondering if you could talk a little bit about what’s being done to challenge, to counteract, to eventually bring down this apartheid system that Israel has been practicing over the last sixty-one years. Even longer as it prepared to colonize. And really how the international civil society, how individuals and collectives and communities can get involved. What is being done? And what do you see as maybe some of the most important mechanisms that are being looked at and designed and implemented right now?
HJ: Alright so this is a very massive question for like a few minutes remaining, so just to say Palestinians in very, very, many different ways. Ranging from–I mean in Jerusalem, for example, you have people who are fundraising to submit zoning plans to the municipality and wage these kinds of battles. You have people who are physically trying to stop homes from being demolished. You have people like Um Kamel who has built a tent next to her house just to kind of be there in-your-face, to say I have nowhere else to go. And then in the rest of the West Bank and in the rest of Palestinian–between Palestinian citizens of Israel, Jerusalem Palestinians, refugees, West Bank and Gaza, et cetera you have various forms of resistance.
What I’ll focus on, though, is–I mean, and it’s largely because Palestinians don’t have a choice–like it says on the wall in Qalqiliya, “to resist is to exist and to exist is to resist.” That’s what it means here, right, and to go on living and to go on doing this is even part of the resistance: to try to make a living, to try to just stay on your land is a real act of resistance–something that is as banal as that. And anywhere–in most other places in the world–not all, of course, is an act of resistance. But where there is choice is the rest of the world. I mean, most importantly in the United States, which is the major backer, Israel is not going to be able to do any of this, the only thing that has enabled Israel to do this is the international backing. And international backing takes many forms. At its lowest level you have the straight up complicity. The fact that the world will turn the other way. We just saw Israel massacre over 1,400 people in Gaza, destroy entire neighborhoods, injure thousands. The international community barely lifted a finger, but what it did afterwards is say, okay, I’ll help you rebuild, right. Let’s pay the bill for Israel’s destruction. And of course the money that Israel used to do this, and the military supplies that it used to do this, came from countries like the United States, from Italy, from Switzerland, from the international community. And so–and it’s not just in the form of aid, you know direct aid or military aid–it’s also that these companies that make up the Israeli economy, they thrive off exporting to Europe, off doing business with the United States, off the fact that even unions and left-wing organizations, and civil society invest in things like Israel bonds, invest in corporations that do business with Israel. So Israel has become normal in the international community even though it does these extremely abnormal and abhorrent things. And so what is required is required is very similar to the case of South Africa. And what is required in most cases of oppression where the international community, where the state, government, and armies have turned their backs is that the regular citizen, the regular community organization, the regular union and the worker, and the responsibility begins to fall on our shoulders as regular people. And what this responsibility means is to work towards the isolation of this regime until it implements international law. It kind of–it sounds simple–again, kind of like a no brainer–you’d think it would be very simple for this to happen, but what we’ve also seen is the massive amount of very well-funded pressure to shield Israel from any kind of public scrutiny.
You know we just came out of the Durban Review Conference where many in the international community were trying to say, “hey, what’s happening in Israel is not an issue of people just shooting at each other, it’s an issue of institutionalized racism. This is one of the key issues of racism in the world. And but Israel did everything in its power to make sure that it was not mentioned as an issue of racism: to say that Palestinians aren’t facing any racism, there’s a peace process, you know. And so this peace process has been used as a shield. Because they know that we’re talking. We’re talking with the Palestinians in the way that the South African apartheid regime was talking with its Bantustan administrators. In the way, you know, that Washington talks to tribal band leaders on the reservations, right. And so what we really need is a campaign that was started and called for by the vast majority of Palestinian civil society actors across the board–so whether refugees, citizens of Israel, or in the West Bank or Gaza, saying that we want boycott, divestment, and sanctions.
We want people not to buy Israeli products, for companies to remove their investments from Israel, if you’re investing–or your institution, your church or your union, your school, your university is investing–in Israeli companies or companies doing business with Israel, essentially war profiteers, to withdraw those investments and to work towards governments and countries actually imposing sanctions on Israel until the Israeli people, until the Israeli government feels the heat and says, “okay we’re no longer being treated as a normal country, maybe if we acted like a normal country we’d be treated as one.” And what I mean by normal is implementing the basic, most fundamental rights that everybody already agrees with as far as the international community is concerned. You know you look at the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, it’s pretty basic stuff. It’s like I get to live; I get to be free; I get to move; I get to go back to the country, to the place that I’m from; I get to leave the country if I want to knowing that I can come back; I have the right to keep the things that I–you know, my land, without someone coming and kicking me off of it arbitrarily; and I have the right not to live in an apartheid regime, right. Just because I was born to a certain group doesn’t mean that I have to be a victim of racism for my entire life. And so this is what Palestinians are demanding and this is what we’re asking the rest of the world help us do–is to help us overthrow apartheid in Palestine.
NBF: Where can people go for more information on the BDS movement and maybe some of the history that you’ve been talking about this hour?
HJ: Alright so the boycott campaign’s main hub website is bdsmovement.net. For historical information there’s a really good site that’s run out of Chicago, actually, it’s called palestineremembered.com. And you’re always welcome to come and visit our website as well where you can find links to all kinds of other useful information and that’s badil.org.
hazem talked quite a bit about south africans comparing the crime of apartheid in their country to palestine after having visited palestine. i want to share two recent examples of this. the first comes from a report in ma’an news about zeko tamela, who was in palestine this week and who expressed solidarity with palestinians:
He expressed the importance of international support and coordination especially following the recent Israeli assault on the Gaza Strip and the importance of Palestinians to continue with “struggle on all fronts.”
Tamela urged the Palestinians in the room, addressing them as “comrades,” not to compromise on their vision of full justice and equality. He said that the South African anti-Apartheid movement was pressured to reduce its struggle for a demand for civil rights, a claim that can only be made by citizens, as opposed to the struggle “of an oppressed people for liberation.”
“Because of our work the UN declared Apartheid a crime against humanity. Palestinians must do the same, must insist that Zionism is a crime against humanity,” he said.
“We knew that only a united, non-racial democratic South Africa could satisfy us; nothing in between,” he added.
Asked by a journalist what can be done to convince Jewish Israelis that they are participating in an unjust system, he said, “There is no other solution than struggle on all fronts; once they see the struggle is stronger and international solidarity is stronger they will see their cause is going to die.”
the second comes from a story in electronic intifada by arjan el fassed about a south african man who is having a message painted on the apartheid wall that he authored:
“My dear Palestinian brothers and sisters, I have come to your land and I have recognized shades of my own.” These are the first 20 words of an open letter written by Farid Esack, a South African scholar and political activist known for his role in the struggle against apartheid. The total length of his letter is 1,998 carefully chosen words in which he argues that the situation in Palestine is worse than it ever was in South Africa under apartheid rule. Esack, a black South African who worked closely with Nelson Mandela, is astonished at how ordinary people beat about the bush when it comes to Israel and the dispossession and suffering of the Palestinians. “Do ‘objectivity,’ ‘moderation,’ and seeing ‘both sides’ not have limits?” he asks. “Is moderation in matters of clear injustice really a virtue? Do both parties deserve an ‘equal hearing’ in a situation of domestic violence — wherein a woman is beaten up by a male who was abused by his father some time ago — because ‘he,’ too, is a ‘victim?'”
Almost five years after the International Court of Justice declared the wall that Israel built on Palestinian land “illegal” and ruled that it should be dismantled, Palestinians have started to spray-paint Esack’s letter along a three kilometer (1.85 miles) stretch of the structure. This is done as part of the Dutch-Palestinian collaborative project www.sendamessage.nl.
and to be sure it seems that much of what hazem says is catching on as an op ed in ha’aretz by meron benvenisti pointed out today:
Without a doubt, the intense interest is not solely academic or intellectual in nature. The steep decline in Israel’s standing in the wake of its violent actions has spurred attempts to undermine the legitimacy of the Jewish state – and even the legitimacy of the Jewish collective in Israel – by advocating a binational formula. Those hostile to Israel have discovered that the call for one state between the Jordan River and the Mediterranean Sea, a state based on civil and collective equality, is a powerful propaganda tool, because it is based on universal norms that enable critics to denounce Israel as an apartheid state.
Israelis who seek to earnestly examine various models that could serve as the basis of a future sovereign entity at times find themselves being used as fig leaves to cover up efforts to spread anti-Israel propaganda. But this is always the lot of those who pursue new avenues. We should not rule out participating in such a discussion by denouncing it as illegitimate, because it is taking place in the shadow of the reality that has taken hold in the territories and in the midst of a diplomatic stalemate.
Several factors have combined to rouse greater interest in the binational option. First, there is a growing realization that the chances of establishing an independent, viable Palestinian state no longer exist, aside from an entity along the lines of a Bantustan. Second, the status quo that has emerged, though it appears chaotic, is in practice quite stable and could be characterized as de facto binational. Third, the diplomatic positions of Benjamin Netanyahu’s government inevitably lead to a diplomatic deadlock and a deepening of the policy of annexation.
Under these circumstances, it appears that the continued preoccupation with establishing a Palestinian state is not just hopeless, but also injurious, since the delusions that it fosters enable the continuation of the status quo.
Nothing serves the interests of Netanyahu and Avigdor Lieberman better than the demand that they recognize the principle of “two states.” What happens if they agree to it? They do not intend to offer the Palestinians any proposals more generous than those Mahmoud Abbas already turned down in talks with Ehud Olmert. And in the meantime, they would have a free hand to expand settlements. Even the impassioned pleas for the Obama administration to finally enforce the “road map” lead to the same smokescreen of imagined progress toward a dead end.
But if the fictitious option is taken off the table, the real dilemmas will finally be revealed. And this is precisely what the talk of a binational state seeks to accomplish.