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Ben White
Ben White
Ben White is a freelance writer specialising in Palestine and Israel.
Goldstone's 'apartheid' denial sparks strife
The author of the Gaza War report erroneously argues that Israel does not practice apartheid.
Last Modified: 02 Nov 2011 12:45
Judge Richard Goldstone courted controversy by dismissing claims that Israel practices "apartheid" [EPA]

After his famous article earlier this year on Gaza, Judge Richard Goldstone has written a new op-ed, this time seeking to defend Israel against charges of apartheid.

There are numerous problems with Goldstone's piece, but I want to highlight two important errors. First, Goldstone - like others who attack the applicability of the term "apartheid" - wants to focus on differences between the old regime in South Africa and what is happening in Israel/Palestine. Note that he does this even while observing that apartheid "can have broader meaning", and acknowledging its inclusion in the 1998 Rome Statute.

As South African legal scholar John Dugard wrote in his foreword to my book Israeli Apartheid: A Beginner's Guide, no one is saying the two situations "are exactly the same". Rather, there are "certain similarities" as well as "differences": "It is Israel's own version of a system that has been universally condemned".

Goldstone would appear not to have read studies by the likes of South Africa's Human Sciences Research Council and others, who conclude that Israel is practicing a form of apartheid. The term has been used by the likes of Nobel Peace Prize Laureate Archbishop Desmond Tutu, President Jimmy Carter, and Israeli human rights organisation B'Tselem.

Goldstone's second major error is to omit core Israeli policies, particularly relating to the mass expulsions of 1948 and the subsequent land regime built on expropriation and ethno-religious discrimination. By law, Palestinian refugees are forbidden from returning, their property confiscated - the act of dispossession that enabled a Jewish majority to be created in the first place.

As an advisor on Arab affairs to PM Menachem Begin put it: "If we needed this land, we confiscated it from the Arabs. We had to create a Jewish state in this country, and we did". Within the "Green Line", the average Arab community had lost between 65 and 75 per cent of its land by the mid-1970s. Across Israel, hundreds of Jewish communities permit or deny entry according to "social suitability". Goldstone's claim that there is merely "de facto separation" rings hollow.

Successive Israeli governments have pursued policies of "Judaisation" in areas of the country where it is deemed there are "too many" non-Jews, i.e. Palestinian citizens. The current Housing Minister has called it a "national duty" to "prevent the spread" of Palestinians. In the Negev, there is a plan to forcibly relocate some 30,000 Bedouin citizens, a population group President Shimon Peres described as a "demographic threat". A racialised discourse about birth rates is commonplace: In 1998, the mayor of Jerusalem, Ehud Olmert, told reporters that "it's a matter of concern when the non-Jewish population rises a lot faster than the Jewish population".

The other side of the story

"If we needed this land, we confiscated it from the Arabs. We had to create a Jewish state in this country, and we did."

- Former Israeli Prime Minister Menachem Begin

Startlingly, Goldstone does not mention even once Israel's illegal settlements in the West Bank, a network of colonies at the heart of apartheid policies vis-à-vis land usage, freedom of movement, transport links, military courts, water usage, and the Wall (not an exhaustive list). This military occupation has been going on for 44 years, 70 per cent of Israel's total history.

A reality routinely condemned by the UN and major human rights organisations as against international law and discriminatory by design is, for Goldstone, all about "self-defence". Human Rights Watch has described Israel's "two-tier system" where Palestinians face "systematic discrimination merely because of their race, ethnicity and national origin" - discrimination that Amnesty International says "is the dominant feature of Israel's settlement policy".

As Israeli professor Oren Yiftachel has put it, "a credible analysis of the Israeli regime … cannot conclude that Israel is a democracy". Goldstone's op-ed was not about "credible analysis", but hackneyed hasbara talking points.

Instructively, Goldstone began his piece by expressing his concern that "hope for any two-state solution [is] under increasing pressure". Indeed, a one-state solution is increasingly discussed - and this worries the defenders of Jewish privilege in Palestine/Israel, for whom the implementation of international norms and human rights constitutes a "threat".

Coincidentally, the idea that "equality means national suicide" has an historical echo: Those were the words of South Africa's prime minister in 1953, speaking some 40 years before internal and external resistance silenced the apologists for apartheid. This same process of struggle and hope is the best chance for "peace and harmony" in Palestine/Israel, not denial and delusion.

Ben White is a freelance journalist and writer, specialising in Palestine and Israel. His first book, Israeli Apartheid: A Beginner's Guide, was published by Pluto Press in 2009, receiving praise from the likes of Desmond Tutu, Nur Masalha and Ghada Karmi.

The views expressed in this article are the author's own and do not necessarily reflect Al Jazeera's editorial policy. 

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