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Israeli Apartheid And Terrorism:
Part 1, The Reality

By Edward S. Herman


If Jews in France were required to carry identification cards designating them Jews (even though French citizens), could not acquire land or buy or rent homes in most of the country, were not eligible for service in the armed forces, and French law banned any political party or legislation calling for equal rights for Jews, would France be widely praised in the United States as a "symbol of human decency" (New York Times) and paragon of democracy? Would there be a huge protest if France, in consequence of such laws and practices, was declared by a UN majority to be a racist state?


The Apartheid Reality

In Israel, Arabs dwelling within the pre-1967 boundaries are subject to these forms of discrimination, and those in the occupied territories are treated far more harshly. Inability to serve in the military might appear superficially as an advantage to non-Jews, but it is evidence of less than complete citizenship, and important state benefits are attached to military service in Israel. The doctrine that Israel is the state of the Jewish people in Israel and abroad, not of its citizens, is now part of the Basic Law of that country, and one Supreme Court Justice stated publicly that "it is necessary to prevent a Jew or Arab who calls for equality of rights for Arabs from sitting in the Knesset or being elected to it."

In the mainstream Israeli press there have been a number of articles comparing Israel's discriminatory policies with those in South Africa, sometimes unfavorably to Israel. It has been noted, for example, that while South African land was divided into two (very unequal) parts, the division is at least stabilized, whereas the Israeli state keeps buying land and houses for the exclusive use of Jews. This racist process is referred to by the World Zionist Movement as the "redemption of the land," with land owned by non-Jews implicitly impure and polluted, until "redeemed" (Gabi Baron, "The Mysterious Redeeming of the Lands," Yediot Ahronot, April 24, 1990).

The ownership of land in Israel is under the jurisdiction of the Israel Land Authority, which applies as a "fundamental criterion" of land use, religion and nationality. As noted by Professor Uzi Ornan, "Those registered as `Jews` have full rights in regard to most of the land, cities, and settlements; those who are not registered as `Jews` are barred from owning real estate in most sectors of the country" ("An Amazing Resemblance to South Africa," Ha'aretz, Feb. 10, 1991). These restrictions apply to over 90 percent of Israeli land, within which, as Israel Shahak states, "the non-Jewish citizens of Israel--and of course all the non-Jews of the rest of the world too--simply cannot live; they cannot rent a house or an apartment, or open a business, unless they surreptitiously sublet it from a Jew." Shahak goes on to say: "One can imagine what a storm would be raised if such official policy of discrimination was practiced against Jews" (Lies of Our Times, May 1991).


The Land Robbery

In the occupied territories, land is acquired for Jews partly by purchase but mainly by large scale confiscation. Much of the land within the present boundaries of Israel was seized many years ago at the time of the great, forced exodus of Palestinians in 1948-1949, based on tactics that "ranged from economic and psychological warfare to the systematic ousting of the Arab population by the army" (Simha Flapan). After the 1967 war, the process of confiscation was renewed in the occupied territories, as the Israeli state took advantage of its position and used military force to implant Jewish settlements at the expense of the Palestinians, some now subjected to removal for a second time. This great land robbery has all been done according to careful plan, implemented at different rates and by marginally different tactics by all the leaders of the Israeli state, Rabin and Labor as well as Shamir and Likud. (Construction in the territories continues even today at about the pace pre-Oslo.) And this looting of the occupied territories, slowly uprooting the Palestinian population, stripping away its assets, and making life more and more precarious, has been and continues to be done with U.S. aid and under U.S. protective cover, very much needed as the robbery has been carried out in violation of numerous UN resolutions as well as international law. (The last formal State Department legal opinion on the status of the settlements, by the Department's legal adviser Herbert J. Hansell, in April 1978, concluded that they were "inconsistent with international law.")

When the 1967 war ended, Israel quickly seized and incorporated East Jerusalem within its own territory, in defiance of UN resolutions. Palestinian families in the old Jewish quarter were ordered to leave and their houses and nearby mosques bulldozed; and all 6,500 Palestinians were soon pushed out of the quarter. In the West Bank and Gaza Strip, Israeli moves were quick, brutal and extensive. Even before 1971 a UN Special Committee to Investigate Israeli Practices in the Occupied Territories documented the complete or partial destruction of 48 Palestinian villages (on the alleged ground of "military necessity"). In 1974 the Red Cross reported that 19,152 Palestinian homes had been destroyed since 1967. By 1992 more than 200 Jewish settlements had been built on expropriated Palestinian land, and these plus the land taken to build the accompanying infrastructure of roads, electrical grids, and military encampments totalled nearly 70 percent of the West Bank and 50 percent of the Gaza Strip.

While subsidizing Jewish settlements, the occupying authority has been extremely stingy about allowing Palestinians to build houses, plant trees, or open businesses. A new Palestinian shopping complex, almost completed in Baqa Sharqiya on the West Bank, was demolished by Israeli army bulldozers on July 25, 1991, without notice to the investors. Palestinian houses may be destroyed by the army for "security" reasons, in retaliation for acts of individuals like throwing stones at a protest, even if the home owner did not commit the act. Well over a thousand Palestinian homes have been demolished on these grounds. Many thousands of olive trees on Palestinian property have been uprooted and destroyed for reasons of "security" or the convenience, need, or arbitrary desire of the occupation. On November 24, 1991, an Israeli army squad drove a bulldozer through an olive grove to the top of a hill overlooking the West Bank village of Beit Sira, to build an army camp. No notice was given or compensation paid the owners of the grove who lost 30 trees. A few months previously the army had destroyed several dozen trees in the same village, at a place from which stones had been thrown shortly before; and before that settlers had come without warning, under army protection, and destroyed 30 more trees, while the villagers watched. The Jerusalem Media and Communication Center, a Palestinian organization that tracks tree destruction, says that some 122,500 trees, 80 percent olive, were uprooted or cut down by the army or settlers in the period January 1988 through 1991.

The settlements are, of course, confined to Jews, and occupation authorities (with U.S. financial aid) have built a grid of roads serving the settlements, and provided them ample water supplies. The water resources of the occupied territories were quickly placed under the control of the Israeli Water Authority and some 85 percent of the water resources have been diverted to Israeli settlements and Israel proper. It has been estimated that on average the settlers use ten times as much water as the Palestinian inhabitants.


The Racist Underpinning

The occupation and settlements have contributed to a steady growth and institutionalization of racist attitudes and practices, as the Palestinian population is poorer, is militarily weak and has been deprived of any legal or political rights, and because the occupying power regards them as standing in the way of Jewish settlements. Israeli planner Elisha Efrat has pointed out that a "minor difficulty" in settling the occupied territories is that the Palestinian inhabitants "are not prepared to leave any place of their own free will." Thank God for the powers of the occupation authority and the army, and for the West's understanding that mistreatment of the Palestinians is of little moment!

The attitudes and practices are not new, however, and trace back to the very concept of a Jewish state and vision of a land for Jews. From the beginning there was no place for non-Jews, and the Palestinian inhabitants were dealt with accordingly from 1947 onward. Given their status and treatment in the occupied territories, the Palestinians have necessarily fought back, even if episodically and from positions of extreme weakness, which of course has made them "terrorists" and a "security threat," conveniently providing the basis for further expulsions and expropriations.

In the wake of the Hebron massacre of Muslim worshippers by settler Baruch Goldstein in late February 1994, even the New York Times mentioned Rabbi Yaacov Perrin's statement at Goldstein's funeral service that "One million Arabs are not worth a Jewish fingernail," and termed it "the language of terrorism and of ethnic cleansing" ("Hatred Stalks the Settlements," March 1, 1994). But ethnic cleansing and racial hatred and discrimination have been operative for a long time--blatantly under the occupation and settlement program, which is grounded on the confiscation and marginalization of the Palestinian population--with the assistance of the U.S. government and New York Times. For years Israeli leaders have openly called the Palestinians "grasshoppers," "two-legged animals," "insects," "drugged cockroaches," and worse (suffering much less criticism for this than Jesse Jackson did for using the phrase "hymie town"). The New York Times itself has frequently used racist language, as well as steadily framing news in ways that dehumanize the Palestinians. Its long-time Middle East correspondent, Thomas Friedman, in a 1988 interview in the Israeli press, used the word "Ahmad," with similar connotations to "Hymie," in his line "I believe that as soon as Ahmad has a seat in the bus, he will limit his demands." As an example of the use of racist language in the "news," in an article "Hijacking Suspect Arrested By Bonn" [Jan. 16, 1987], Times reporter James Markham noted that the suspect was a Lebanese, but kept referring to him thereafter as an "Arab." In a class on Media Bias at Penn, I experimented with this article by translating it into one involving an Israeli, thereafter identified as a Jew. In two successive classes, the students were unanimous that the article was blatantly anti-Semitic.)

But the most important evidence of racism is the actual practice, as in the apartheid system of housing and land ownership, the subsidies and encouragement for Jews and confiscation, brutal treatment, and deportation for Palestinians. It was the present head of government, Yitzhak Rabin who, as Defense Minister, issued the instruction to the Israeli army that they could freely enter Palestinian homes and "beat" men, women and children, without fear of prosecution.


Moderate Torture

Perhaps most notable in Israeli practice is the institutionalization of torture as a normal part of the interrogation process in dealing with Palestinians (not Jews). This was well established in a London Times investigation back in 1977, but it has been maintained and eventually enlarged in response to the Intifada, and given open, official legal status. A report of Justice Moshe Landau in October 1987 concluded that "moderate physical pressure" is legitimate when interrogating Palestinians, which led one Israeli Knesset member to ask: At what voltage does an electric current applied to one's testicles stop being "moderate physical pressure?" This gross perversion of human and civil rights became Israeli law and legitimized torture, without any reaction whatever from the West.

It is now standard practice to handcuff, blindfold, insult and beat, and often further torture Palestinian prisoners, including small children, many of whom are psychologically shattered by their experience in the hands of security police (Shin Bet, also called Shabak) interrogators. An April 1992 report by the Israeli human rights group B'Tselem estimated that 5,000 Palestinians had been tortured in the prior year, or some 420 per month. Every few months there is a small back page article about another Palestinian prisoner who died in jail during or after "interrogation." In one case in 1992, a young man named Al-Akawi, brought to court after "moderate physical pressure," looked so badly beaten and unwell that the judge took the "unusual step" of giving the Shin Bet only eight more days for interrogation. But by 5 PM the next day the authorities summoned Al-Akawi's father to come and remove his son's body.

Israeli analysts Haim and Rivca Gordon, who did a study of Israeli interrogation and torture, claim that "the Shabak interrogators of the Palestinians are legalized sadists [many of whom] attain much personal and physical gratification from brutally beating the Palestinians [as it] is part of the interrogators vocation. How could it be otherwise?"

It should be noted that Israelis in general do not disapprove of these practices. Of a random 100 Israelis queried by the Gordons who were willing to give their opinions on the activities of Shabak, 90 were fully satisfied with its performance, 9 expressed some doubts on the adequacy of oversight and information, and only 1 person clearly condemned Shabak operations on grounds of human rights and democracy.


Other Violations of Dignity and Human Rights

The occupation has allowed a suspension of due process--for Palestinians; the Jewish settlers are subject to a different system--under which torture and other abuses can grow like cancers, although media eye aversion is necessary for their full flowering. The occupation authorities can at their discretion arrest and keep in "administrative detention" any Palestinian, without giving any reason to family or court. The arrests are often made in the small hours of the night, and are often accompanied by serious mistreatment, in procedures reminiscent of those of the police and death squads in El Salvador or under classic fascist regimes. The numbers held in administrative detention without trial have hovered between 9-11,000 in the early 1990s, but many times this number have passed through the process.

The victims may be educators, labor leaders, journalists--anybody who lifts a finger for the Palestinian cause is vulnerable as a "security threat," although there is an element of capriciousness in the ongoing system. An enlightening case was that of Faisal Husseini, an academic who headed an Arab Studies Center in Jerusalem (now shut down), and a prominent Palestinian spokesperson for dialogue and negotiations. He was arrested on July 30, 1988, in a 2 AM raid by 15 plainclothes police, who scoured his house "going through everything from personal letters to the school report cards of his children," in a search for his PLO connections and proof of his "terrorism!" This arrest--and six months sentence, imposed without trial--came three days after he had addressed a meeting of Israel's Peace Now organization in which he once again appealed for dialogue and mutual understanding and concessions. It has been a long-standing pattern for Israeli authorities to arrest and treat with special harshness Arab moderates and especially those reaching out to Israeli peaceniks.

Deportation complements imprisonment and torture as a method of occupation control over any independent Palestinian cultural or political life. Hundreds of Palestinians have been deported without hearings or trial, and in violation of international law. (Article 49 of the 1949 Fifth Geneva Convention prohibits individual or group transfers to another country "for whatever motive." Article 13 of the 1948 Universal Declaration of Human Rights includes a right to return to one's country, a right of the Palestinians expelled from Israel that was at least formally recognized by the U.S., until a Clinton administration vote to the contrary in December 1993.) The case of the 415 alleged Hammers "leaders" and "terrorists" pushed into the desert in December 1992 was only the most dramatic in a continuing series of acts that are cruel, illegal, and violate western rules of due process.

In 1988, in response to the Intifada, the occupation authorities closed down West Bank schools and universities, some for several years, allegedly on security grounds, but incidentally inflicting damage on the Palestinian community for resistance to the occupation. The punitive objective is evidenced by the fact that during school closings even in-home teaching of young children was considered a crime punishable by imprisonment. The authorities have also engaged in extensive censorship of the press and intellectual activity in general, imprisoning and deporting journalists and educators, closing down newspapers and news services, and cutting off telephone communication and the distribution of printed materials to control information. A Palestinian artist was arrested for painting a picture using the colors of the Palestinian flag; union leaders have been imprisoned for distributing pamphlets notifying Palestinians of their rights as workers (for extensive documentation, see Chomsky's Necessary Illusions, pp. 337ff). The Israeli treatment of the Palestinian media and cultural organizations in general has been vastly more arbitrary and oppressive than that of the Sandinistas in Nicaragua in the 1980s, but only the Sandinista abuses were newsworthy in this country. The greatest U.S. media hysteria over Sandinista suspension of La Prensa, which followed a congressional vote to renew contra aid, only a few days after the World Court had found U.S. actions in Nicaragua unlawful, coincided with Israel's permanent shutting down of two Palestinian newspapers on grounds of alleged PLO support. The closings by Israel were of no interest whatever to the Free Press.


"The Problem"

We see in Israel a remarkable system of racial discrimination and apartheid, institutionalized in law and practice, and making steady advances, and an Israeli occupation that has used great brutality in a system of ethnic cleansing and associated expropriation and robbery that, again, proceeds apace. This is done in the occupied territories in brazen disregard of a stream of UN resolutions ordering Israel to respect the 1967 borders, stop oppressing and discriminating against the non-Jewish population, and to get out; and in violation of international law on settlements, deportations, and other matters. The use of torture against the non-Jewish population has been made standard operating procedure and is used extensively.

It is true that there are more horrible cases of ethnic cleansing that we can point to, but the special features of the Israeli-Palestinian case are that it has gone on for decades, is openly aided with money and diplomatic support by the U.S. and other western powers, and the oppressors, law violators, and robbers are portrayed as model democrats whose "security" is being threatened by those being robbed and tortured. When the victims rose up in anguish and fought back, sometimes with stones, they were not seen as having a just cause; aid to their oppressors was not cut back at all, and the violent response to the uprising has been treated in low key, as the West even assists the oppressors' efforts to return the victims to a proper state of apathy.

The problem then is why and how is this done? In a follow-up article I will examine the intellectual devices that have made the victims unworthy and their oppressors virtuous in their racism, robbery, and terrorism. In a third article I will look at the institutional and political forces that underlie the Free World's intellectual cover and positive support for a worthy terrorism.

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