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issue of Nonviolent News]
'Readings in Nonviolence' features extracts
from our favourite books, pamphlets or other
At the time I had been looking for
something interesting/powerful/challenging for this month's
Readings in Nonviolence, this article on the possible comparisons
between the Israel-Palestine situation and the one in South
Africa. The aspect that struck me was the connection it makes
to nonviolence. I had been reading articles from the author
for several months and had started to send out to friends
and colleagues some that seemed specially interesting/relevant
to current issues.
The article was written on January 20th and
as soon as I got it, the 21st, I wrote a personal note to
Uri asking him permission to put it into our Readings in Nonviolence
section. He replied immediately and said that he was more
than happy that we made as much use we wanted of it.
Searching the internet for relevant information
about him, found out that he is a veteran of the military
campaign against the British ( Irgun ) prior to independence,
and turned into a Israeli peace activist.
Uri Avnery created a world sensation when he
crossed the lines during the battle of Beirut and met Yassir
Arafat on July 3, 1982 -- the first time the Palestinian leader
ever met with an Israeli. Several Israeli cabinet ministers
called for Avnery's indictment for high treason, while peace
activists hailed the meeting as a historical breakthrough.
It was the culmination of an effort started by Avnery many
At present he is a journalist, writer, peace
activist. You can find interesting information about him,
his work and this article and others to come on
MAHATMA GANDHI would have loved it. Nelson Mandela
would have saluted. Martin Luther King would have been the
most excited - it would have reminded him of the old days.
Yesterday, a decree of the Officer Commanding
the Central Sector, General Yair Naveh, was about to come
into force. It forbade Israeli drivers from giving a ride
to Palestinian passengers in the occupied territories. The
knitted-Kippah-wearing General, a friend of the settlers,
justified this as a vital security necessity. In the past,
inhabitants of the West Bank have sometimes reached Israeli
territory in Israeli cars.
Israeli peace activists decided that this nauseating
order must be protested. Several organizations planned a protest
action for the very day it was due to come into force. They
organized a "Freedom Ride" of Israeli car-owners
who were to enter the West Bank (a criminal offence in itself)
and give a ride to local Palestinians, who had volunteered
for the action.
An impressive event in the making. Israeli drivers
and Palestinian passengers breaking the law openly, facing
arrest and trial in a military court.
At the last moment, the general "froze"
the order. The demonstration was called off.
THE ORDER that was suspended (but not officially
rescinded) emitted a strong odor of apartheid. It joins a
large number of acts of the occupation authorities that are
reminiscent of the racist regime of South Africa, such as
the systematic building of roads in the West Bank for Israelis
only and on which Palestinians are forbidden to travel. Or
the "temporary" law that forbids Palestinians in
the occupied territories, who have married Israeli citizens,
to live with their spouses in Israel. And, most importantly,
the Wall, which is officially called "the separation
obstacle". In Afrikaans, "apartheid" means
The "vision" of Ariel Sharon and Ehud
Olmert amounts to the establishment of a "Palestinian
state" that would be nothing more than a string of Palestinian
islands in an Israeli sea. It is easy to detect a similarity
between the planned enclaves and the "Bantustans"
that were set up by the White regime in South Africa - the
so-called "homelands" where the Blacks were supposed
to enjoy "self-rule" but which really amounted to
racist concentration camps.
Because of this, we are right when we use the
term "apartheid" in our daily struggle against the
occupation. We speak about the "apartheid wall"
and "apartheid methods". The order of General Naveh
has practically given official sanction to the use of this
term. Even institutions that are far from the radical peace
camp did relate it to the Apartheid system.
Therefore, the title of former President Jimmy
Carter's new book is fully justified - "Palestine - Peace
not Apartheid". The title aroused the ire of the "friends
of Israel" even more than the content of the book itself.
How dare he? To compare Israel to the obnoxious racist regime?
To allege that the government of Israel is motivated by racism,
when all its actions are driven solely by the necessity to
defend its citizens against Arab terrorists? (By the way,
on the cover of the book there is a photo of a demonstration
against the wall that was organized by Gush Shalom and Ta'ayush.
Carter's nose points to a poster of ours that says: "The
Wall - Jail for Palestinians, Ghetto for Israelis".)
It seems that Carter himself was not completely
happy with the use of this term. He has hinted that it was
added at the request of the publishers, who thought a provocative
title would stimulate publicity. If so, the ploy was successful.
The famous Jewish lobby was fully mobilized. Carter was pilloried
as an anti-Semite and a liar. The storm around the title displaced
any debate about the facts cited in the book, which have not
been seriously questioned. The book has not yet appeared in
BUT WHEN we use the term "Apartheid" to describe
the situation, we have to be aware of the fact that the similarity
between the Israeli occupation and the White regime in South
Africa concerns only the methods, not the substance. This
must be made quite clear, so as to prevent grave errors in
the analysis of the situation and the conclusions drawn from
It is always dangerous to draw analogies with
other countries and other times. No two countries and no two
situations are exactly the same. Every conflict has its own
specific historical roots. Even when the symptoms are the
same, the disease may be quite different.
These reservations all apply to comparisons
between the Israeli-Palestinian conflict and the historical
conflict between the Whites and the Blacks in South Africa.
Suffice it to point out several basic differences:
(a) In SA there was a conflict between Blacks
and Whites, but both agreed that the state of South Africa
must remain intact- the question was only who would rule it.
Almost nobody proposed to partition the country between the
Blacks and the Whites.
Our conflict is between two different nations
with different national identities, each of which places the
highest value on a national state of its own.
(b) In SA, the idea of "separateness"
was an instrument of the White minority for the oppression
of the Black majority, and the Black population rejected it
unanimously. Here, the huge majority of the Palestinians want
to be separated from Israel in order to establish a state
of their own. The huge majority of Israelis, too, want to
be separated from the Palestinians. Separation is the aspiration
of the majority on both sides, and the real question is where
the border between them should run. On the Israeli side, only
the settlers and their allies demand to keep the whole historical
area of the country united and object to separation, in order
to rob the Palestinians of their land and enlarge the settlements.
On the Palestinian side, the Islamic fundamentalists also
believe that the whole country is a "waqf" (religious
trust) and belongs to Allah, and therefore must not be partitioned.
(c) In SA, a White minority (about 10 percent)
ruled over a huge majority of Blacks (78 percent), people
of mixed race (7 percent) and Asians (3 percent). Here, between
the Mediterranean and the Jordan River, there are now 5.5
million Jewish-Israelis and an equal number of Palestinian-Arabs
(including the 1.4 million Palestinians who are citizens of
(d) The SA economy was based on Black labor
and could not possibly have existed without it. Here, the
Israeli government has succeeded in excluding the non-Israeli
Palestinians almost completely from the Israeli labor market
and replacing them with foreign workers.
IT IS important to point out these fundamental differences
in order to prevent grave mistakes in the strategy of the
struggle for ending the occupation.
In Israel and abroad there are people who cite
this analogy without paying due attention to the essential
differences between the two conflicts. Their conclusion: the
methods that were so successful against the South African
regime can again be applied to the struggle against the occupation
- namely, mobilization of world public opinion, an international
boycott and isolation.
That is reminiscent of a classical fallacy,
which used to be taught in logic classes: an Eskimo knows
ice. Ice is transparent. Ice can be chewed. When given a glass
of water, which is also transparent, he thinks he can chew
There is no doubt that it is essential to arouse
international public opinion against the criminal treatment
by the occupation authorities of the Palestinian people. We
do this every day, just as Jimmy Carter is doing now. However,
it must be clear that this is immeasurably more difficult
than the campaign that led to the overthrow of the South African
regime. One of the reasons: during World War II, the people
who later became the rulers of South Africa tried to sabotage
the anti-Nazi effort and were imprisoned, and therefore aroused
world-wide loathing. Israel is accepted by the world as the
"State of the Holocaust Survivors", and therefore
arouses overwhelming sympathy.
It is a serious error to think that international
public opinion will put an end to the occupation. This will
come about when the Israeli public itself is convinced of
the need to do so.
There is another important difference between
the two conflicts, and this may be more dangerous than any
other: in South Africa, no White would have dreamt of ethnic
cleansing. Even the racists understood that the country could
not exist without the Black population. But in Israel, this
goal is under serious consideration, both openly and in secret.
One of its main advocates, Avigdor Lieberman, is a member
of the government and last week Condoleezza Rice met with
him officially. Apartheid is not the worst danger hovering
over the heads of the Palestinians. They are menaced by something
infinitely worse: "Transfer", which means total
SOME PEOPLE in Israel and around the world follow the Apartheid
analogy to its logical conclusion: the solution here will
be the same as the one in South Africa. There, the Whites
surrendered and the Black majority assumed power. The country
remained united. Thanks to wise leaders, headed by Nelson
Mandela and Frederick Willem de Klerk, this happened without
In Israel, that is a beautiful dream for the
end of days. Because of the people involved and their anxieties,
it would inevitably turn into a nightmare. In this country
there are two peoples with a very strong national consciousness.
After 125 years of conflict, there is not the slightest chance
that they would live together in one state, share the same
government, serve in the same army and pay the same taxes.
Economically, technologically and educationally, the gap between
the two populations is immense. In such a situation, power
relations similar to those in Apartheid South Africa would
In Israel, the demographic demon is lurking.
There is an existential angst among the Jews that the demographic
balance will change even within the Green Line. Every morning
the babies are counted - how many Jewish babies were born
during the night, and how many Arab. In a joint state, the
discrimination would grow a hundredfold. The drive to dispossess
and expel would know no bounds, rampant Jewish settlement
activity would flourish, together with the effort to put the
Arabs at a disadvantage by all possible means. In short: Hell.
IT MAY be hoped that this situation will change in 50 years.
I have no doubt that in the end, a federation between the
two states, perhaps including Jordan too, will come about.
Yasser Arafat spoke with me about this several times. But
neither the Palestinians not the Israelis can afford 50 more
years of bloodshed, occupation and creeping ethnic cleansing.
The end of the occupation will come in the framework
of peace between the two peoples, who will live in two free
neighboring states - Israel and Palestine - with the border
between them based on the Green Line. I hope that this will
be an open border.
Then - inshallah - Palestinians will freely
ride in Israeli cars, and Israelis will ride freely in Palestinian
cars. When that time comes, nobody will remember General Yair
Naveh, or even his boss, General Dan Halutz. Amen.