Encountering Peace: On Apartheid
We must be a free people in our land; in order to do that the Palestinians must also be a free people in their land.
Former South African President Nelson Mandela. Photo: Reuters
Spending days with the Jewish community of South Africa at Limmud is a unique
opportunity to meet another dynamic, engaged Jewish community in the Diaspora.
My lectures here have focused on political issues concerning Israel and the
region, Israeli-Palestinian peace and conflict and the story of the secret back
channel for the Schalit negotiations.
Throughout my time here, both in
the Jewish community, and in media interviews with the non-Jewish South African
press, I have been repeatedly asked my opinion on whether or not Israel is an
apartheid state or if it is heading towards being an apartheid
Many of the Jews here were actively involved in the anti-apartheid
movement in the past. I too grew up boycotting South Africa until 1994. I
remember attending the first party at the home of the South African ambassador
in Herzliya in 1994 for the inauguration of Nelson Mandela. After holding
parties for years on South Africa Independence Day without participants, in 1994
there were over 1,000 people there, including prime minister Yitzhak Rabin,
foreign minister Shimon Peres, and president Ezer Weitzman.
It was very
emotional to see the Afrikaner ambassador stand tall (he was a big man anyway)
with his fist in the air singing the new South African national anthem and
watching President Nelson Mandela being sworn in. There was a sense in the air
that the impossible was possible – and even we in Israel could, would someday
MY ANSWERS to the questions about Israeli apartheid were
that inside of Israel proper, within the borders of the “green line,” the one
million Palestinian citizens of Israel (20 percent of our population), in
principle enjoy equal rights, citizenship, participation, the right to vote and
be elected. This is not apartheid.
I said that there is discrimination
against them, some of it societal and some of it political and structural. In my
mind there is no excuse whatsoever after 65 years of independence for the
continued existence of discrimination against the Palestinian citizens of
Israel. This should not even be part of our discourse.
The State of
Israel must eliminate all forms of discrimination and ensure full and absolute
equal rights and opportunities for all of its citizens. Our discourse regarding
the Palestinian citizens of Israel should be focused on the challenge of how to
create a greater sense of shared citizenship in our state.
continuation of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict makes it more difficult, but we
must rise to this challenge. I believe that this will also require us to
come to terms with Israel as the nation state of the Jewish people and all of
its citizens. This will require us to define collective rights of a national
minority in our state.
Thinking is terms of a possible Jewish national
minority in a Palestinian state in the future may assist us in defining what
this means, when we would also consider what could be the collective national
rights of the Jewish minority in Palestine, as well. My answer did not
WHAT ABOUT the West Bank – isn’t there apartheid there? It
was difficult for me to say no. There are two populations living there, each
under a different legal status – one with political rights, and one without
One group lives in modern planned communities with infrastructure
matching the wealth of Israel, and the other lives with backwards underdeveloped
One group lives under civil law, the other under military
law. One group has total freedom of movement, the other cannot move without
permits and permissions. One lives under an economic system with a GDP per
capita of almost $30,000 the other under $2,000.
How is this any
different than a form of apartheid, ethnic/ national/religious separation rather
than racial separation? Yes, we rule the West Bank as a form of
Our stated policy is that we hope that there will be a
Palestinian state and that the Palestinians will live in their own country and
not under our control. But after 45 years of our control, no one is fooled by
the idea that this is not an apartheid system because the majority of
Palestinians live under the rule of their own Palestinian Authority. The PA is
not a free sovereign party. It is under the direct control of
Even the Palestinian president and prime minister requires a
travel and movement permit from Israel. Israel controls their borders, their
economy, their land and population registry. The PA is basically equivalent in
its power to a municipal government in Israel, not much more than
How then is this not a form of modernized apartheid? It is very
poignant to think this and to hear this in South Africa. For some in the
audience, especially the young people, the next question is, “So why not adopt
the South Africa solution? Why not just grant everyone citizenship and allow
them to vote?” The answer is because both we, the Jewish people, and the
Palestinian people, want a state of their own. We both want a territorial
expression of our national identity and we will not be prepared to be ruled over
by the other side.
Therefore, there is no one-democratic-state solution
to this conflict. There is no avoiding this conclusion if our Jewish senses and
values effect our decision making and policies.
How can we Jews, with our
history and heritage, allow ourselves to be the 21st century perpetuators of a
modern form of apartheid? We were strangers in Egypt and now we are free. This
is for me the central thread of our identity and the most important lesson of
Judaism to humanity.
THERE ARE challenges, dangers and risks involved in
making peace with the Palestinians, no doubt.
We know what they are and
we have the intelligence to mitigate them and to come up with solutions to the
The challenges, dangers and risks of the continuation of the
status quo are far more detrimental to our state and our identity.
must rise to impetrative of our Jewish values and experience and relieve
ourselves of our apartheid status. We must be a free people in our land and in
order to do that the Palestinians must also be a free people in their
The writer is the co-chairman of IPCRI, the Israel Palestine Center
for Research and Information, a columnist for The Jerusalem Post, a radio host
on All for Peace Radio and the initiator and negotiator of the secret back
channel for the release of Gilad Shalit.