Many critics of the Israeli occupation of the Palestinian people, as evidenced in the recent Former U.S. President Jimmy Carter’s book “Palestine Peace, Not Apartheid,” have taken to criticize Israel as an “apartheid state,” the security barrier/wall Israel has been building over the past decades as an “apartheid wall,” and the policies of the state as “apartheid policies.”
Now, while I personally criticize not only Israeli policies in the Palestinian territories, but the mere fact that there is an occupation, I was really troubled by the use of the term “apartheid” when referring to the occupation. As a psychologist and as an academic, I can not be content, as many commentators have done, by simply explaining the use of the term as a politically convenient one, that was chosen by the opponents of Israeli rule over the Palestinian people because it is flamboyant and emotionally charged, and therefore made “promotional” sense. So, I had to ask myself, what true meaning is hiding behind the use of the term apartheid?
Apartheid, in Dutch or Afrikaans, means separation or segregation. It was officially implemented as a policy of the (white) government of South Africa from 1948 to 1994 as a way of separating, by racial lines, all citizens of South Africa into different geographical areas, political rights, access to services, employment opportunities, etc. Although in the case of South Africa, it was the official state policy and was deemed completely legal by the government, in essence it was not that different from the segregation policies in the U.S. before the 60s.
At the core of the definition of Apartheid, however, stands the issue of citizenship. Nobody, for instance, would insist that by not giving the right to vote to its temporary or even permanent residents (who are not citizens) based on their immigration status, a country would be practicing apartheid. After all, political rights, employment rights, the unrestricted rights to public services, and even the rights to purchase property in certain areas are rights enjoyed by the Citizens of a country, and not by others, in many cases even legal residents. For example, Kiran Lallo (1998), a South African professor at Iowa State University, wrote in Africa Today that the concept of citizenship was intrinsic to the definition of apartheid because citizenship is supposed to equalize the rights of all people living under the same nation. In fact, Lallo’s main thesis is that apartheid was restrictive and discriminatory because “apartheid eroded the status of citizenship.” (p. 439).
In other words, the concept of apartheid presumes one common state, with equal citizenship status for all people, who nonetheless receive differential political and social rights based on their race or national origin (or for that matter, gender). That, in my view, is the main thrust behind the use of the term apartheid to refer to Israel. By deeming Israel and apartheid state, the presumption is not that of two separate states for two separate peoples, but of ONE united bi-national state with a citizenship in common, in which one group (the Palestinians) are denied their rights based on their national origin. The use of the term apartheid, therefore, effectively negates the two-state-solution in favor of a favorite of the extreme left’s notion of a single-state-solution, which in reality, neither Palestinians living in the territories nor Israelis see as a viable alternative for peace (Hamas and other Islamist groups, of course, do advocate a single-state solution, but not as a bi-national state but as a single Palestinian state with no Israel in sight).
Take the barrier/wall, for example. What is wrong with it is that, for many in the Israeli establishment, it is a land-grab attempt. It also that it encloses large numbers of Palestinians into small enclaves, separated in some cases from the rest of the Palestinian territories and in others from their own lands and families. However, if the security barrier/wall were to be built only on the Israeli side of the pre-1967 borders, it would be perfectly legitimate. Under no circumstances can be the barrier/wall be construed as an apartheid wall, unless you assume that the Palestinians have a right to move freely, live and work on either side of the fence, i.e., the 1967 green line does not constitute an international border and Palestinians have the same political rights as Israeli citizens.
In conclusion, I believe that those responsible for the use of the term apartheid when referring to Israel, are in fact advocating a single state solution and negating a two-state alternative. Any book, especially one written by a person as smart as Jimmy Carter, who refers to Israel as an apartheid state, therefore, is not condemning the occupation, or the Israeli policies in the territories, but the basic fact of the existence of Israel as a Jewish state. Those, my friends, are two very different things. Apartheid, anyone?