Some people shouldn’t use some words. Some stupid white people don’t understand why they’re not allowed to use the N-word when some black people use it all the time. Because you are not stupid, I won’t explain why. Similarly, it seems generally appropriate that public comparisons of anyone or anything to Nazis, Hitler, or the Holocaust should be policed by Jewish people, or maybe just actual Holocaust survivors, as these terms are frequently abused and trivialized by people who should know better. (Here’s a video of some Holocaust policing in action.)
It might seem reasonable that the term “apartheid” should fall into a similar category. As a reference to the horrific injustice and violence perpetrated against black South Africans, it is certainly a charged term. Not to be used lightly. Zionists tend to freak out when it’s applied to Israel. Just ask Jimmy Carter. Ben White’s book applies the international legal definition rather convincingly, and the recent Russel Tribunal in South Africa issued a guilty verdict on similar terms.Even a few Israeli prime ministers have made their own apartheid allusions.
But if anyone has the unquestioned moral authority to wield the term, it’s Rev. Allen Boesak, a veteran of the South African anti-apartheid struggle. In a recent interview, he describes how Israel’s oppression of Palestinians is worse:
It is worse, not in the sense that apartheid was not an absolutely terrifying system in South Africa, but in the ways in which the Israelis have taken the apartheid system and perfected it, so to speak; sharpened it. For instance, we had the Bantustans and we had the Group Areas Act and we had the separate schools and all of that but I don’t think it ever even entered the mind of any apartheid planner to design a town in such a way that there is a physical wall that separates people and that that wall denotes your freedom of movement, your freedom of economic gain, of employment, and at the same time is a tool of intimidation and dehumanisation. We carried passes as the Palestinians have their ID documents but that did not mean that we could not go from one place in the city to another place in the city. The judicial system was absolutely skewed of course, all the judges in their judgements sought to protect white privilege and power and so forth, and we had a series of what they called “hanging judges” in those days, but they did not go far as to openly, blatantly have two separate justice systems as they do for Palestinians [who are tried in Israeli military courts] and Israelis [who are tried in civil, not military courts]. So in many ways the Israeli system is worse.
On this last point, some stats: “Virtually all – 99.74 percent, to be exact – of cases heard by the military courts in the territories end in a conviction.” That means if you are a West Bank Palestinian who is arrested and tried by Israeli authorities, you will be convicted. Think about this when there is talk of a prisoner exchange.
Conversely, as all Palestinians are guilty until proven innocent, Israeli authorities rarely prosecute any criminal activity by Israelis against Palestinians. “90% of investigations of Israeli attacks against Palestinians are closed without indictments,” let alone convictions. And that’s just attacks by Israeli civilians, aka settlers, in the West Bank. When it come to abuses by the Israeli military against Palestinians:
[I]n the investigations of the full spectrum of offenses allegedly committed by Israeli soldiers against Palestinians and their property – from looting and theft, to beatings and shootings, to causing death. … [O]nly 6 percent of all cases in which a criminal investigation is opened lead to the indictment of suspected soldiers.
I’m not the first to respond to tired questions of “Where’s the Palestinian Mandela?” with the short answer, “in Israeli prison.” I also like to follow up with the question: “Where is the Israeli de Klerk?” I haven’t heard a good answer to that one, but the real F.W. de Klerk has had a few illuminating comments of his own recently:
What I supported as a younger politician was exactly what the whole world now supports for Israel and Palestine, namely separate nation states will be the solution. In our case we failed. There were three main reasons. We failed because the whites wanted too much land for themselves. We failed because the majority of blacks said this is not how we want our political rights. And we failed because we became economically totally integrated. We became an economic omelet and you can never again divide an omelet into the white and the yellow of the egg. And we realized in the early eighties we had landed in a place which has become morally unjustified.