How racist laws imprison a nation
Symbolically, the next meeting of the Russell Tribunal on Palestine, dedicated to the apartheid imposed on the Palestinians by Israel, will take place in Cape Town.
Like apartheid in South Africa, the one practised against Palestinian citizens inside Israel and Palestinian non-citizens outside the Israeli borders, in the occupied territories of Palestine, is legal and supported by laws.
Only this year more than 16 racist laws were issued by the Israeli Knesset. Among others the law against mourning on Naqba day; the law that permits screening committees to accept people selectively to Jewish settlements inside Israel; the law allowing the Jewish National Fund not to lease land to Arab citizens; laws that limit to an appalling minimum Palestinian movement inside the occupied territories – from Ramallah to East Jerusalem, for instance; laws that allow highways to be restricted for Jews only, leaving the Palestinian traffic confined to old, narrow and extremely dangerous roads that take their toll of human life almost every day; the law that separates Palestinian families if one parent was born in Jerusalem and the other wasn’t, leaving children without mothers or fathers; the law that does not allow Palestinians to boycott goods from Jewish settlements that prosper on Palestinian lands; and the law that will cancel Palestinian ownership on their lands if these lands happen to be in a Jewish illegal settlement, legalising colonialism and the violent seizure of private property.
Apartheid inside Israel is expressed in very low budgets for Palestinian education and municipal services, poor access to jobs and opportunities, and total lack of building licences which turns all Palestinian construction inside Israel illegal.
Palestinian citizens and Bedouin citizens are evicted from their homes, and all this is legal. The victims cannot appeal to any court, except maybe to the Russell Tribunal.
But apartheid is also expressed in the day-to-day management of life, in the permissible rude behaviour of policemen, who can inspect and humiliate anyone who looks “Arab” and approaches affluent neighbourhoods in Tel Aviv or Jerusalem; in the racist expressions of ministers such as Minister of Interior Security Aharonovich who summed-up the problems of south Tel Aviv by saying the place is “infested with whores and Arabs”; in expressions of chief rabbis and ex-chief rabbis, both civilian and military, encouraging soldiers to kill the “enemy” wherever and whenever they can, even if the enemy is a baby.
In the constant talk of politicians about the demographic demons that are the Arab citizens; in maintaining Arab quota in high education institutions; and most of all in the curious fact that no torturer or killer of Palestinian children has ever spent any meaningful time in jail while Palestinian children of 12 or 15 spend illegally long periods in prison without cause, without seeing a lawyer or their parents and without hope.
Palestinian blood is dispensable with impunity in Israel and in the occupied territories. Palestinian every day existence is impossible. Cruelty, humiliation, starvation, torture and death define their relationships with their masters, their occupiers, and their governors.
The question that has been bothering me for a long time is how do Israeli citizens, including the children who at the age of 18 join the torture machine – the IDF – cope with such a discrepancy between the values they are raised on and the practices of oppression against their neighbours?
The answer to this question lies in education. Because apartheid is not only a bunch of racist laws, it is a state of mind, fashioned by education.
Israeli children are educated from a very tender age to see “Arab” citizens and “Arabs” in general as a problem that must be solved, eliminated in one way or another.
They can go through life without ever meeting a Palestinian child or talk to one. They know nothing of the life of these people who live 100m, from them, sometimes in the same street as in Abu-Tur in Jerusalem.
Israeli education succeeds in building mental walls that are far thicker than the concrete wall that is being constructed to incarcerate the Palestinian nation and hide their existence from our eyes.
That is why Israelis never protest against the apartheid wall. Most Israelis, including leftist Zionists, see the wall as an appropriate solution to the “problem”. They don’t consider Palestinians as human being like themselves, but as an inferior species, that deserve much less.
This can also explain the concern and the ecstasy over the captured soldier Gilad Shalit, who was renamed “a kidnapped child”, and the complete indifference towards the hundreds of Palestinian children, who are literally kidnapped from their beds by fully armed soldiers and thrown into jail for throwing stones, being where they shouldn’t be, or speaking impolitely to soldiers, or merely existing.
Apartheid in Israel and Palestine, imposed and practised by the Israeli security forces, is enabled by the most profound racism, practised every day, in every domain of life, in every encounter or action, in education and in the media that are wholly dedicated to the production and reproduction of fears and heterophobia.
Let us hope the Russell tribunal on Palestine can raise international awareness to this horrible mind infection and find ways to cure us all.
* Peled-Elhanan is laureate of the 2001 Sakharov Prize for Human Rights. She is one of the initiators of the Russell Tribunal on Palestine.