Israel and South Africa: The Many Faces of Apartheid Book launch with Ilan Pappé and Jonathan Cook

The Educational Bookshop in East Jerusalem was proud to host Ilan Pappé and Jonathan Cook to launch, ‘Israel and South Africa, The Many Faces of Apartheid’. On July 23rd 2016, a vast audience gathered in the scenic French Institute garden to hear both highly esteemed academics discuss this contentious issue.

Ilan Pappé, the editor of the book, is an Israeli historian and socialist activist. He is the director of the European Center for Palestinian Studies and is one of the Israeli New Historians; a group of Israeli academics who sought to challenged the traditional Israeli Zionist narrative. He published his seminal work, ‘The Ethnic Cleansing of Palestine’ in 2006, which establishes concepts which form the theoretical framework of ‘The Many Faces of Apartheid.’

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Ilan Pappe speaking to the audience (Photo: Ewa Katharina)

The essay collection is a brave publication that seeks to use manifestations of Apartheid in the Israeli occupation of the West Bank and East Jerusalem and in Israel itself as a starting point. In 2006, following on from his publication ‘Peace not Apartheid’, ex-US President Jimmy Carter asserted that Israel’s policies are worse than South Africa’s during the Apartheid regime. Student activists around the world hold ‘Israel Apartheid week’ as part of the boycott, disinvestment and sanctions campaign, which has attracted growing support in recent years. Despite increasing debate around this question, there has been little analysis comparing the two regimes. Pappé hopes that the book will stimulate further discussion about Israel’s policies, and continue the search for a better understanding of how to move forwards. The book brings together a diverse range of voices from respected academics, lawyers, politicians and journalists. It seeks to draw upon the South African experience to open up new possibilities in the on-going fight for justice in Palestine.

Israel as an Apartheid State?

Despite the notion of Israel as an Apartheid State often being a topic of controversy, the speakers at the book launch took an unequivocal stance. Pappé and Cook described the ways in which Israel operates an Apartheid system in the occupied territories and inside Israel itself. This evoked a feeling of energy and a sense of urgency in the garden, and a direct focus on alleviating the situation for Palestinians on the ground.

Jonathan Cook defines ‘Apartheid’ in terms of international law established at the UN convention in 1973, which refers to:

    Inhuman acts committed for the purpose of establishing and maintaining domination by one racial group of persons over any other racial group of persons and systematically oppressing them.

To be an apartheid state does not mean it has to be exactly the same as Apartheid in South Africa. Instead, Apartheid has ‘many faces’, which are not specific to any particular race or country. Despite South Africa Apartheid ending in 1994, Mandela declared in 1997, ‘We know too well that our freedom is incomplete without the freedom of the Palestinians’.

The need for a shift in language

Pappé believes in the need to challenge the central paradigm that dominates politics and the media; the focus on the conflict being between two national movements that both have an equal claim to the land. Instead, he proposes a different paradigm that asserts that the conflict is between a movement of settlers and native people. This crucial change in discourse does not provide a solution, but at least provides ‘a language that relates to the reality that is on the ground.’ Settlers who came in the 19th century who are now in their third or fourth generation have succeeded in creating their own society, state, culture, and continue to colonize the land of the native people. Pappé stressed the danger of regressing to the old language of the conflict being about two national movements that often depicts one movement as democratic, and the other one as less modern; one as western, the other one as an Arab movement. Instead, Pappé asserts that:

    We should not talk about peace at the end of negotiation, but about decolonization. We should all be part of an anti-colonialist movement that wants to decolonize this place for the sake of the native people and the settlers to contribute to peace and stability in the region as a whole.

Palestinians living inside Israel

Jonathan Cook is an award winning British journalist and writer based in Nazareth. His chapter focuses on the often ‘forgotten Palestinians’ who live inside Israel and face institutionalized racism that has been concealed in Israeli law. His chapter, ‘Visible Equality as a Confidence Trick’ asserts that there is an Apartheid within Israel that discriminates against its 20% Palestinian minority. Cook outlined a series of measures that systematically oppress the Palestinian minority in most spheres of life, yet the measures remains veiled by a façade of equality in Israeli law.

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Jonathan Cook speaks from his perspective living in Nazareth (Photo: Ewa Katharina)

The most apt example of institutionalized discrimination is the complex notion of citizenship and nationality in Israeli law. Two citizenship laws exist: The Law of Return (1950) and the Citizenship Law (1952). The Law of Return enables Jews around the world to be citizens of Israel, whereas the Citizenship law denies Palestinians the right to bring back exiled family members, including the 750,000 Palestinian refugees from the war in 1948. Unlike Jewish citizens, Palestinians have little chance of family unification. Citizenship and nationality are treated as separate categories. The nationality of ‘Israeli’ is not recognized by the state. This ensures special rights for Jewish nationals rather than Israelis as a whole, enabling Jewish nationals to be privileged over the non-Jewish. National rights are reserved for only Jewish citizens of the state, creating a hierarchy of belonging. This blends into land laws, which reserve ‘93% of land for a global and borderless Jewish nation rather than to Israeli citizens’ (Cook). The citizenship laws place Palestinians as second-rate citizens who are denied the right to identify as Palestinians, and also cannot identify meaningfully as Israeli because they are not Jewish. Discrimination is overtly present in politics. The definition of the state as ‘Jewish and democratic’ excludes Palestinian representatives, as all parties must operate in a Jewish and Zionist framework. This is demonstrated vividly by the new expulsion law that has passed recently in the Knesset.

The Future: The need to resist fragmentation

Fragmentation is a powerful tool used by settler colonialist movements. Communities have been physically torn apart, and emotional separateness has become an engrained part of society. Pappé concluded the talk by suggesting how to move forwards. A conversation needs to be opened up to discuss what Palestinians see for their future on the ground, rather than the political elite attempting to impose politics from above. Pappé asserted that Palestinians in the West Bank, in Gaza and within Israel must resist fragmentation and deliver a clear message; what do they see for their own future, and for the future of the settlers.

The question and answer session led to a wealth of debate about the future of the conflict and how to move forwards. The challenge remains concerning how to re-establish connections between Palestinians on both sides of the Green Line., Fragmentation can be resisted by forging joint strategies, and through the discussion of how the refugees, the natives and the settlers can find a way to live together. The conversation needs to be shifted from talking about territory, to talking about human and civil rights. Pappé concluded the discussion with the sentiment that ‘the beginning of a conversation about defragmentation has the power to eventually defragment the reality.’

photo credit: Flash90

A cross-section of the rapt audience at the book launch: (Photo: Ewa Katharina)