Palestinians are forced to pass through checkpoints, carry permits and face the indignity of a wall that turns the West Bank into an open prison, says the writer. Picture: Mussa Qawasma/Reuters
Israel’s discrimination is institutionalised discrimination, settler-colonialism and occupation, writes Azad Essa.

It is the analogy that burns Israelis more than any other: Israel is an apartheid state. It is not hard to understand why. Apartheid was recognised in 1973 as an international crime and in 1998 as a crime against humanity. By definition, apartheid is the “policies and practices of racial segregation and discrimination as practised in southern Africa committed for the purpose of establishing and maintaining domination by one racial group of persons over any other racial group of persons and systematically oppressing them”.

Israel’s discrimination is institutionalised discrimination, settler-colonialism and occupation.

Here’s what you need to know this Israel-Apartheid Week:

Israel has some 50 laws that discriminate against Palestinian Muslims and Christians. It defines itself as a “state of the Jewish people”, but boasts of being a democracy. From the inception of the state in 1948 until 1966, Palestinian citizens of Israel lived under a harsh military rule; they were treated as enemies of the state, had curfews and were not allowed to leave their towns. Today, Palestinian are discriminated against in terms of education, healthcare and legal services. For instance, since 1948, about 600 new towns for Jews have been built while not a single new Palestinian town has been recognised or developed. Palestinians are refused building permits.

In the territories it occupies, Israel runs a sophisticated system of segregation. It has built more than 100 Jewish-only housing colonies on stolen Palestinian land in the West Bank. The half-a-million Israelis who live there enjoy citizenship rights, Jewish-only roads and infrastructure, while the three million Palestinians live under military law. Palestinians are forced to pass through checkpoints, carry permits and face the indignity of a wall that turns the West Bank into an open prison.

In 2012, the UN Committee for the Elimination of Racial Discrimination (CERD) found there were discriminatory laws on land issues which affected non-Jewish communities. It said there were two systems of education: “One in Hebrew and one in Arabic, which except in rare circumstances remain impermeable and inaccessible to the other community Such separation is an obstacle to uniform access to education and empowerment.” It also found separate municipalities.

Palestinians have suffered disenfranchisement and forced removal under Israeli policies, but there have been other populations, including Ethiopian or black Jews and Mizrahi Jews, hailing from Arab countries, who have endured discrimination. As a religious-colonial-settler state, this is a country that was built to the needs and whims of Jews of European descent, in much the same way Afrikaner Christian nationalism was used to shape apartheid South Africa. Israel is founded in racism and, like South Africa under apartheid, it is the narrative of fear that has kept its nation’s consciousness at bay.

In 1948, more than 500 villages and localities were ethnically cleansed and destroyed as part of the occupation of Palestine. Some 750000 Palestinians were forced off their lands. Today, their descendants number some 5million and are scattered in some of the worst conditions in refugee camps across neighbouring countries. Israel has taken over 78% of Palestine since 1948. In the West Bank, at least 20% of the territory is recognised by the government as private Palestinian property.

Apartheid South Africa sold itself to the Western world as a bastion against communism in southern Africa. The ANC were communists and terrorists in much the same way Hamas are Islamists and terrorists. South Africa had a vested interest in instability around it. In much the same way, Israel benefits from instability in Syria, Lebanon and Egypt, and continues to interfere so that it may appear as the modern, democratic and progressive state in a savage neighbourhood. The instability justifies its brutality and ambition to exist as a state facing an existential threat.

Israel was one of the key countries that propped up apartheid South Africa. While it was agreed at the UN in 1962 that South Africa ought to be boycotted, Israel became one of South Africa’s biggest economic partners.

Following an arms embargo on South Africa, Israel also became the biggest foreign arms supplier to our country. Granted, supporting South Africa during apartheid was the reserve of many in the Western world.

But there was a difference: Israel saw in white apartheid South Africa an image of itself.

* Azad Essa is a journalist at Al Jazeera. He is also co-founder of The Daily Vox.

** The views expressed here are not necessarily those of Independent Media.

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