Sunday, May 04, 2008

West Bank apartheid: 2008

Maclean's magazine has just published a lengthy account of life on the West Bank, putting before its readers the proposition: Israel "can be Jewish or democratic--but not both." It will be interesting to observe the reaction of pro-Israel cheerleaders to this starkly-posed choice.

This paragraph in particular stood out for me:

Israeli settlements and Palestinian villages are already so enmeshed throughout the West Bank that keeping the two peoples apart is virtually impossible. There are roads for settlers and roads for Palestinians — easily distinguishable by quality — but often the highways are shared. Different-coloured licence plates allow soldiers manning checkpoints to tell who is who. In the fields surrounding some Arab villages, hundreds of olive tree stumps stick out of the ground. The groves have been cut down by Israeli settlers....

The word "apartheid" means, literally, "apart-ness." The pro-Israel crowd doesn't like to hear the word, because of the baggage it carries. But what else can we possibly call the enforced separation of two peoples in the West Bank (and the continued brutal oppression of the majority by the minority)? From a "Jews-only" policy in the Hebron enclave surrounding the sacred site of the Cave of the Patriarchs, to the relentless guzzling of 80% of the water in the West Bank by settlers (some of it used for swimming pools while Palestinian farmers watch their livestock die of thirst),* "apartheid" is the only accurate and fair description of what's going on. (Separate licence plates? Why not yellow armbands with the stars replaced by crescents?)

Of course, keeping the two populations entirely isolated and apart proved impossible in South Africa as well. There was a good deal of "enmeshing" there, too, as the majority Black population served as an endless supply of cheap labour for the white elite, and was too populous in any case to be banished holus-bolus to the bantustans.

Settlers are calling for the outright annexation of the West Bank, and the ethnic cleansing of the Palestinian population, whose comparative demographic promises to make them outnumber Israeli Jews in the next few decades. On the other side of the divide, at least one Palestinian, possibly a supporter of the extremist Islamist formation
Hizb-ut-Tahir, wants an Islamic state, with the Jews as dhimmis.

"You want to know why I think this?" he asks. "I sit on my chair right there at the front of the shop, my neighbour beside me. Every day, the settlers walk in front of me and draw their fingers across their throats."

The famous border wall
has added considerable Palestinian land to Israel proper. It appears, in fact, to be more about further annexation than security:

Mohamed doesn't think the wall has much to do with security because, he says, he's able to cross it at will. Doubtful, I ask him to show me where. We soon pass a ladder that has been thrown up against the wall. Palestinians will use it to jump the fence when it gets dark. A little farther on, a large drainpipe, about five feet in diameter, runs beneath the wall. Within the space of two or three minutes, a woman emerges from the Israeli side, and an old man and boy cross in the opposite direction.

Sensible people on both sides--I suspect they are in the majority--want a two-state solution: guaranteed secure pre-1967 borders for Israel, and a Palestinian state in the West Bank and Gaza. But in the meantime the state of Israel has swallowed more than it can digest: and it's continuing to eat.

Paul Koring, Globe and Mail (Saturday, May 18, 2002) p. A15 [no longer on-line]


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