Despite being commonly described as “the only democracy in the middle east”, Israel is an apartheid state designed to dominate the lives of Palestinians.

Israeli apartheid wall

When speaking of ‘apartheid’ there is a tendency to compare it with South Africa. For the situation with Israel there are similarities. But there are also differences.

The UN General Assembly resolution 1973 has a universal definition of apartheid which includes denying some people “the right to leave and return to their country” and covers “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.”

It follows that comparison with South Africa is not how apartheid is tested, but by the UN criteria Israel is an apartheid state. This is Israel’s version of a system that has been universally condemned.

Zionism & the ‘natives’

The Zionist approach to the native population was always anti-democratic. In a private memorandum to Lord Curzon in August 1919 Lord Balfour wrote, “In Palestine we do not propose even to go through the form of consulting the wishes of the present inhabitants of the country.”

A publication issued by the Zionist Organization in London stated, “Democracy… means majority rule without regard to diversities of types or stages of civilization or differences of quality.”

But, of course, the majority in Palestine was Arab, not Jewish, and thus the task of establishing and justifying a Jewish Palestine would be difficult. The Zionist dream ran counter to the principle of democracy.

The derogatory attitude of Zionist settlers was breathtaking and even Chaim Weizmann, Israel’s first president said, ‘The Arab is primitive… There is a fundamental difference in quality between Jew and native.’

The reality of apartheid today

The realities of Israeli apartheid stem directly from its policies since 1948, which can be summed up as fragmentation and Judaisation. The ‘demographic threat’ posed by the Palestinians was dealt with by areas of high Palestinian population being ‘spatially Judaised’. What does this mean in practice?

The state invested a huge amount of time and resources in confiscating land. In Israel itself 20% of the population was Palestinian and kept under martial law until 1966, in order to enable a ‘democratic Jewish population’. Land confiscation from 1948 meant that by the mid-70s the average Palestinian community had lost 65-75% of its land.

The Palestinian population of 20% inside Israel receives only 4% of the budget allocation. Very many live in ‘unrecognised’ villages and 1965 planning legislation means there is no entitlement to basic infrastructure because they “don’t exist.”

In East Jerusalem colonisation and land zoning has been the policy. Municipal boundaries expanded one third by the use of settlements. 180,000 Palestinians live in East Jerusalem, but swathes of the annexed settlements land is not available to Palestinians.

Inside Israel residency status is denied to Palestinians and 100,000 children are born without citizenship. Often Palestinians only find out they are no longer ‘citizens’ when they go to, for example, the post office and discover they have been withdrawn from the database.

Israel’s illegal settlements

The Jerusalem Post has described the Arab population as a strategic threat. This attitude guides policies. We are currently witnessing the greatest Israeli effort to annex Jerusalem since 1967.

There have been 130 illegal settlements in the West Bank since 1967. Unlike the unrecognised Palestinian villages in Israel, these are ‘towns’ with proper infrastructure. Meanwhile 94% of Palestinian building permit requests are denied. Palestinian access to land and resources continues to be severely limited by a multi-layered system of restrictions. Separation and inequality are therefore reinforced.

Examination of maps showing the increases of Israeli settlements and the separation of Palestinian communities reveals the fragmentation of Palestine into ‘bantustan-like’ pockets.

This policy of ‘fragmentation’ and Judaisation is a ‘consensus’ issue in Israel, not simply a right wing policy. Growth of settlements occurred under a ‘Labour’ government too.

Israel the democracy?

It is a commonly repeated fallacy that “Israel is the only democracy in the Middle East”. Control over Palestinians designed to ensure domination of one group over another demonstrates the contrary.

In 2007 the independent human rights organization Adalah launched a ‘Democratic Constitution’, the first constitution proposed by an Arab group in Israel. The Democratic Constitution calls for a democratic, bilingual and multi-cultural state. It is modelled on constitutions adopted by different democratic countries, and international human rights conventions and universal principles of human rights contained in UN declarations. But this was denounced by Israeli media.

The reaction of the Israeli establishment to the Arab future vision documents has been one of hysteria. Such reactions were characteristic of colonial regimes, which viewed any challenge to their constitutional structure, based on repression, as a strategic threat.

Such was the reaction of the Apartheid regime in the 1950s when the African National Congress proposed the Freedom Charter, in which it demanded the transformation of South Africa into a state of all its citizens.

In the face of the undemocratic and apartheid Israeli regime Palestinians continue their policy of resistance by steadfastness, which includes non-violent protests, such as general strikes, boycotts and demonstrations. There is also a growing mood and a move to globalise resistance through organisations like the Palestine Solidarity Campaign and the Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions (BDS) movement. We should support these movements if we want to end the Israeli apartheid regime.

Ben White is author of Israeli Apartheid: A Beginner’s Guide. This article is based on a talk delivered in Newcastle recently, transcribed by Tony Dowling. The event was co-sponsored by Palestine Solidarity Campaign and Stop the War Coalition.