For the better part of 50 years, the world watched in horror as South Africa and its all-white government enforced policies of racial segregation in what became known as apartheid. Under that policy, non-white South Africans (a majority of the population) would be forced to live in separate areas from “whites” and use separate public facilities and contact between the two groups was very limited.
A similar scenario has been playing out in Israel’s occupation of Palestinian lands as Israel in an apparent show of strength continue to bombard Palestinians in the Gaza Strip with air raids recently hitting a refugee camp, flattening buildings and killing over 140 Palestinians, including 39 children. Except for some pro-Palestinian demonstrators in places like Doha, London, Paris, US, Canada and Iraq, calling for an end to the attacks and showing support for the Palestinian people, the international community remains mute.
The situation that has led to the continued bombardment by Israeli forces began earlier this month when Palestinians began protesting in Jerusalem over a forthcoming decision of the Israeli Supreme Court regarding the eviction of some Palestinian families from Sheikh Jarrah, a neighbourhood of East Jerusalem. House confiscation and demolition has been a method Israel often employs in the Israeli-occupied territories as a punitive measure or as a result of military operations.
Over the years, in order to maintain Palestinian acquiescence, the Israelis have devised a “system of control” method in subduing Palestinians in the occupied territories. The system includes an I.D system where Palestinians are meant to carry one, the pattern of Israeli settlements encroaching into Palestinians lands, separate roads for Israeli and Palestinian citizens, Israeli military check points, the West Bank barrier and disparities of access to land and resources between Palestinians and Israeli settlers.
A typical example of Israel’s “system of control” is using the Al-Aqsa Mosque (Islam’s third holy site) to control the Palestinian people. Historically, anytime the Palestinians start to protest or rebel against the Israeli government, Israel attacks the Al-Aqsa Mosque, thus, sending a message to the Palestinian people that if they keep protesting and rebelling, the Al-Aqsa Mosque will be taken over. Apparently, Israel knows how important the mosque is to Palestinians and has been using it as a control tool since 1967 when they illegally took control of East Jerusalem where the Al-Aqsa Mosque is located.
To get a better understanding of this, the old city of East Jerusalem is a huge enclosed city with a massive fort and only a handful of doors to get in and out. It has housing, market places, alleyways and religious spaces. Legally Palestine has ownership of Al-Aqsa Mosque since it is in East Jerusalem. But in 1967, Israel took control of East Jerusalem and the Palestinian territories which include the Al-Aqsa Mosque. So because Israel has control over East Jerusalem, Palestinians in Palestinian territories don’t have access to the Mosque.
In fact to gain access to the Mosque, Palestinians have to apply for a special permit from Israel to visit the Mosque and most of the time Israel rejects this request. Many Palestinians who were born and raised around the Mosque have never entered the Mosque due to this measure. Even Christian Palestinians do not have access to their holy sites due to Israel’s domineering control of the area. And when Palestinians began to protest recently, Israel began to attack worshippers at the mosque with riot police during the last 10-days of Ramadan, desecrating the Holy site with the aim of forcing the Palestinians against protesting.
Under the Israeli citizenship system, a Jewish person even if he/she has never set foot in Israel, can claim citizenship. But over six million Palestinians whose origins are in what is now called Israel do not have that right. This is one of the major reasons Palestinians are in dispute with Israel because they have been denied the right to return to their homes, lands and villages.
They are aggrieved that those who don’t have any connection whatsoever with the lands are given that right. Under international law also, the Palestinians have a legitimate claim to the land but the Israeli’s have consistently denied them this right. Palestinians are simply requesting for the lifting of the siege of Gaza. They wish to be independent and have territorial sovereignty of their lands. Is that too much to ask for?
Oddly enough, the current oppressive situation Israelis are inflicting on Palestinians is similar to what the Jews, themselves, underwent under the hands of Nazi Germany. Since Israel’s occupation the treatment of Palestinians can best be described as oppressive, discriminatory and as second class citizens, similar to how Nazi Germany treated the Jews.
In Nazi Germany Jews were meant to wear an I.D badge. This is similar to the I.D system currently in place in the occupied territories. The Jews businesses and source of livelihood were confiscated, similar to the confiscation of Palestinian lands and ancestral homes. So why inflict such treatment on others having experienced such?
Israel’s repression of Palestinians in the occupied West Bank and Gaza is legendary and has become more brutal over time. No wonder the continuous systematic ethnic cleansing, land seizures, home demolition, military occupation and bombing of Gaza, have led the likes of the esteemed Archbishop Desmond Tutu to declare that the treatment of Palestinians reminded him of apartheid South Africa, “only worse.”
The same scenario plays out in the occupied territories. At checkpoints going into the West Bank, there are different channels for Israeli’s or Europeans and there is a separate channel for “Arabs” similar with what was happening in apartheid South Africa.
Just imagine being discriminated or segregated just because you are of a particular race, tribe or ethnicity? I guess black Americans can relate to this. The Israeli prime minister, Benjamin Netanyahu, recently said: “Israel is not a state of all its citizens … Israel is the nation state of the Jewish people – and them alone.” Similar discriminatory and racist utterances were common in apartheid South Africa.
The apartheid policy of the State of Israel is gradually gaining recognition and support for its abolition though. For instance, In January this year, Israeli human rights organization “B’Tselem” issued a report outlining the considerations which led to the conclusion that “the bar for labelling the Israeli regime as apartheid has been met.”
Last month also, Human Rights Watch became the first major international human rights body to claim Israel had crossed the threshold, after decades of warnings, and accused Israeli officials of the crimes of apartheid and persecution under international law and have called for an International Criminal Court investigation, becoming the first major international rights NGO to do so.
Now what is the solution to the Israeli Palestinian situation? The United Nations in 1974 came up with a solution – a two state solution and in November 2013, passed a resolution 165 to 6, with the United States (an ally of Israel) vetoing it. On its part, the Palestinian leadership since the Arab Summit of 1982 has embraced this solution. Now, why is Israel against a two-state solution?
Sadly, it is always the civilian population, that bears the burden of war and the most vulnerable are the ones at greatest risk of suffering. The international community needs to speak up and take action like it did with apartheid South Africa, towards avoiding a descent into chaos, with the massive casualties and immense damage to civilian infrastructure and casualties that would result.
The cycle of violence might just end with the realization of a two-State solution. Until recently, international consensus held that the two-state solution was the only path to resolving the Israeli-Palestinian situation. Even the Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu in 2009, felt the need to embrace (albeit reluctantly) the “two states for two peoples.” The two-state solution remains the preferred (if not the only) possible route for ending the situation as such must be revisited and pursued vigorously.
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