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Why I believe Israel is not an apartheid state

Israeli Apartheid Week (IAW) is an annual campaign that raises awareness about the unequal living conditions of Palestinians. Although The Daily Vox believes that Israel is an apartheid state, DANIELLA HOVSHA, the national chairperson of the South African Union of Jewish Students (SAUJS), says the term “apartheid” is both unfair and an inappropriate way of describing Israel.

Daniella HovshaI’m a student and an activist, I got involved with SAUJS in my second year of study and I did a lot of interfaith work between Jews, Muslims and Christians. I’m currently the national chairperson of the organisation.

Israel is a democracy in a very difficult situation. I’ve been to Israel and Palestine and met with leaders from both states and I really believe that Israel is a country going through a lot of complexities but at its core, it’s just a democracy that wants to exist peacefully beside its neighbours.

The biggest misconception about Israel is that it’s an oppressor and a one-sided conflict. Israel is a Jewish state and it’s also a Jewish democracy.

Originally in 1947, when the UN approved the formation of the Israel state, they created a partition plan that would have an Israeli state and Palestinian state. Israeli state accepted this but the Palestinian state didn’t.

I think if the situation had been different then, we wouldn’t have the situation we’re in now. There wouldn’t have been conflict. If there was, it would have been a war that the international community could control better. The conflict is about two peoples’ need for self-determination within a very small space of land that was divided unfairly under British colonialism in the 1800s and early 1900s.

Israeli Apartheid Week is not an appropriate way to put it. I call it the Israeli-Palestine conflict. We wish it wasn’t an issue and that everything was peacefully negotiated. The word apartheid is completely inappropriate.

Apartheid was a system of segregation in South Africa, divided along race and created out of very specific laws to deny South Africans a right to their citizenship. In Israel, you have two different peoples, with competing narratives for the land. You have Palestinian people who want a Palestinian state and Jewish people who want an Israeli state. We’re working all the time to ensure that both these states exist side-by-side, and it is possible.

I think there have been groups in South Africa that have taken this topic and hijacked South African issues with it. They’ve taken the Israeli-Palestine conflict and decided that it’s the only thing that matters.

They’ve used words such as apartheid which don’t apply to the situation, to get into the hearts and minds of citizens and take emphasis away from issues that we should be dealing with. All issues are important but there’s no reason why there should be a group grounded here that discusses a conflict far away from us, and nothing about South Africa.

They’re pushing an agenda that suits them and the people employed by them make a lot of money.

This country is moral place, we have a moral justification and we have the ability to say “look what we did, peacefully, 21 years ago” and we can have an impact. But I don’t know how much talking here, has an impact on the situation. We shouldn’t condemn one and completely say the other is fine. We need to embrace the complexities.

I’m pro-Palestine, I’m pro the right of Palestinian people for self-determination and I’m pro-Israel. They’re not mutually exclusive and I think that’s a huge misconception. I believe that the Palestinian people have been put through a lot and the way they live isn’t okay. I think it’s because of the constant state of flux and they don’t have a nation because Hamas is oppressive and there have been mistakes on all sides.

I would love nothing more than to have a Palestinian state right beside a Jewish state. I love Israel and I support the notion of a need for a Jewish state and it exists already and should continue to exist so that the Jewish people have a home. They need to live there with secure borders without fear of terrorism. The Palestinian people need a government and they need a state with authority and the right to freedom of expression, to vote and to a homeland. It kills me that they don’t. They need this home to be fully under their own autonomy but they need better leaders, they haven’t had elections for years. Mahmoud Abbas, who is the head of Palestinian authority has been in power for years.

We all want two states for two people and there needs to be a place for open dialogue and discussion. We should all try to engage on all fronts and see that we’re all human beings. It should never be us versus them, it should be we, as a human race. It’ll be difficult but it’s possible. We were very close to achieving this in 1996. Israel did it with Egypt when they threatened to drive every Israeli into the sea and drown them. We now have peace there. Israel has peace with Jordan. It can be done again and it takes a lot of courage.

Zionism is a political movement that believes that Jewish people have a right to a homeland. It’s rooted in the Bible in the Old Testament, there’s a notion that Zionism means Israel. That’s where it is.

We have a 5, 000-year-old claim to the land that goes back to that time. Judaism is a religion; it also doesn’t necessarily need to exist in Israel but it’s very close to the land of Israel. It’s a way people identify themselves. They’re intertwined but they’re distinct. It’s possible to be Jewish and not be Zionist – a person doesn’t need to do the one with the other because every individual has the right to choose how they self-identify. We see it as more connected because it’s entrenched in our belief as a people that there is a homeland and that is the idea that we have been persecuted for, for thousands of years and that there is a place where Jews are safe.

I think there needs to be a general consensus in the international community that we need to be able to set ground rules as a basic, then open and clear the table and take away preconceived notions of who is backing who and where are we going, and say, we are starting from scratch today. If this was in 1947 and the partition plan was on the table for the first time, what would leaders of the Palestinian authority do and what would leaders of the democratic state of Israel do? I think we need to be aware that Hamas is a terrorist organisation, who in their charter, have the wording to kill every Jew and that’s a person who is impossible to negotiate with. It’s a difficult person to work with. There needs to be greater accountability. This is not a religious issue, I know people frame it as that but we’re talking about competing narratives and not competing religions.

As told to Mbali Zwane

This is part of a special series called Apartheid 2.0, which The Daily Vox is running this month in partnership with Al Jazeera’s Palestine Remix.

Feature image by Muhammed Abraar Khan
12 Comments
  1. TheRealMidnite says

    You say you want a “Palestinian state right beside a Jewish state”. What I don’t see in this wonderful idea is the guarantee Palestinians have that Israel simply won’t turn it into another bombed-out Gaza the minute this hypothetical Palestinian state actually shows any real independence from Israel.

    1. Flattery not says

      Gaza is only “bombed-out” because of it’s murderous government who constantly attack Israeli civilians and who thrive on death, hatred and destruction. Hamas are evil and care nothing for building-up Gaza and making it a better place. Look how they let wonderful infrastructure left behind by the Israelis go to waste! “TheRealMidniteYou”, you glorify the criminal Hamas.

      1. TheRealMidnite says

        “Building-up” Gaza? Which part? The two square meters of it not laden with Israeli cluster bombs?

  2. Surina says

    What about the fact that Netanyahu said when elected he will make sure there is no Palestine? Time and time again, it’s said that hamas doesn’t want a 2 state solution but I think you will find that recently, Israel and its sympathisers voted against ie Uk and US only

    You say Hamas is a terrorist but what about the Knesset minister who said they must kill all Palestinian boys and their mothers? Hamas exists because of the oppression. Hamas is new, the oppression is not.

    And what is this 5000 year old moral claim? Sounds very much like ISIS justifications. Face it, Israel invaded and waged terrorist attacks on Palestine to claim the land. Of course now its called the war for independence. Ok fair enough, they got half the land, but how is it that they control over 2/3?

    1. ProudZionist says

      “Every drop of blood spilled in Jerusalem is pure, every martyr will reach paradise, and every injured person will be rewarded by God,” – This ia a quote from Mahmoud Abbas. While I acknowedge your comment of Netanyahu, understand this is the primary negotiating partner. Can you honestly and truly justify the leader of the “moderate” PA justifying spilling innocent people’s blood?

      While Netanyahu’s comment certainly does not pave the way for a 2 state solution, his is not the opinion of all Israeli sociecty. When this comment was made he received much backlash from many citizens of Israel. Even this being the case, it does not show Israel to be an apartheid state. If it was as you seem to claim, how could it be that in the last election, the party getting the third largest number of seats was the Arab Joint List?

      Who is this Knesset member you speak of?

      Furthermore regarding your narrative of Israel waging war on Palestine in 1948. Firstly, the Palestine of that time was the British Mandated Palestine. Under the auspices of the UN the Partition Plan was established. Israel accepted and the Arab leaders rejected as mentioned in the article. The day after David Ben-Gurion declared the state of Israel, 7 Arab nations attacked the day old state with the intention of driving them into the sea. Fortunately that didn’t happen and that is how Osrael got half the land.

      As to why Israel now has 2/3 of the land is very simple. In 1967 during the 6 day war Israel captured those lands from the 7 Arab Nations attacking her. Of the land conquered, some was negotiated in Peace deals with Jordan and Egypt. Ehud Barak and Ehud Olmert both propsed deals in which a Palestinian state could be established in which 97% of land conquered in 1967 would be used to establish the Palestinian state- yet both offers were rejected.

      I will agree that Israel like any country is far from perfect. However, it is a thriving democratic society. To call Israel an apartheid state, in truth deminishes the struggle of so many South African people.

      1. surina says

        1. is that quote from Mahmoud in the right context? It could easily mean that those who are killed by Israel are martyrs – 1,492 civilians lost their lives. How does that justify the person in charge explicitly saying he wants to kill all Palestinians? Backlash and yet he is in charge??! He is the Prime Minister, whatever the opinion he executes what he wills! and since most voted for him – that’s most views!

        2. because they are an alliance! otherwise they’d never cross the threshold! that does not mean it’s not an apartheid state. how much influence have they got really???

        3. Ayelet Shaked – http://www.dailysabah.com/mideast/2014/07/14/mothers-of-all-palestinians-should-also-be-killed-says-israeli-politician

        4. What gave the British the right in the first place?? They should have been no conquering! there are borders and yet all we see is an apartheid wall and illegal settlements. when Palestine defends itself, they are called terrorists.

        as to why Israel more than meets the definition of Apartheid: http://itisapartheid.org/Documents_pdf_etc/outlineapartheidproofedbyc8.15.12.pdf

      2. Jon Low says

        Well said. In an “apartheid state” the bulk of the population could not vote. In Israel, every adult citizen can vote regardless of their religion or ethnicity. The state of Israel was the creation of the new United Nations, not Britain — who merely governed it under the old League of Nations mandate and were very keen to give it up as a waste of money and effort. The UN saw it as a tangible recompense for Hitler’s holocaust.

  3. Mark says

    Yes, Israel IS an Apartheid State

    We cannot ignore it any longer. Israel may vehemently deny accusations of practicing a form of apartheid, yet an entire population within the country suffers at the hands of an awful policy of discrimination.

    One need not subscribe to any specific political ideology in order to admit the failure of the Israeli government to rid the country of this abhorrent partiality whereby basic rights of a particular population of citizens are trampled on daily. The time has come to note these injustices in order that we may begin building toward a brighter future.

    So let us speak of the real discrimination the Jewish population of Israel suffers daily. And just as South Africa’s apartheid policy involved the majority suffering at the hands of the minority, so too Israel’s majority of Jewish citizens continue to suffer at the hands of a minority Arab population. The discrimination is manifest in numerous ways. Here are but some examples:

    • While the Jewish sector is required to fulfill its civil obligations, the Arab sector simply does not. The government is all but silent as the Arabs of Israel consistently avoid paying income and city taxes. Knesset Member Faina Kirschenbaum described the reality as such: “The Arabs are an economic burden on the state. They barely pay taxes and yet receive huge budgets from the state.” Additionally, as a result, many positions and full industries have come to be dominated by Arabs, with Jews unable to compete. What could be more discriminatory than imposing a tax on Jewish citizens while sanctioning wide scale tax evasion on the part of Arab citizens?

    • While Israeli law requires Jewish towns and their businesses and institutions to employ and admit Arabs, Arab towns are virtually Jew-free. Additionally, while these same towns are never the focus of international accusations of illegal building, Arab residents (who, unlike Jews, are offered free professional government assistance to aid with housing permits) rarely seek permits before proceeding to build.

    • While Jewish citizens of Israel are required to serve the state in the form of military or national service (unless contributing in some other form), the Arab citizen is free from any service or contribution to the country that provides him enormous benefits. As the Jewish citizen gives years of his life for his country, the Arab citizen uses this time to pursue his personal education, obtain a job, and advance his own career early on. When national and military service veterans are offered benefits that are hard earned, the Arab fights these with legal claims that they discriminate against the Arab community (which does not serve), often winning.

    • Jerusalem is the most precious city to the Jewish people, with the Temple Mount at its center regarded as the holiest site on earth. While Arabs are free to visit and pray as they please, Jewish citizens of the Jewish state are not as privileged. Visits for Jews must take place at restricted hours with constant and humiliating supervision by Muslim religious council officials and accompanying Israeli security. Any prayer on the part of a Jew in this part of the Jewish capital will land him in police custody.

    • While Jewish citizens are prohibited from even whispering their prayers on the Temple Mount, the Arab is free to sound his prayers throughout the day and at untimely hours (including pre-dawn) on loudspeakers that can be heard for miles. Additionally, the Arab community regularly blasts loud music, sets off firecrackers and performs festive shootings at late-night celebrations. While anti-noise legislation pursues Jewish car alarms, leaf-blowers, and even ill-timed piano lessons – so as not to disturb the peace – the Arab communities are immune to prosecution due to fears of escalating tensions.

    • While Israel’s Supreme Court continues to allow Arab political parties – which openly support terrorism against Jews and reject Israel’s right to exist – to run for and sit in parliament, Jewish parties with far milder stances remain disqualified.

    • While a Jew accused of murder will likely sit in prison for several decades to life, Arab murderers of Jews are likely to be released every so often as part of goodwill gestures or political agreements.

    • Lastly, the most basic right of any citizen is that to live freely and securely. ‎While Jewish citizens are stabbed, run over, and gunned down in any and all areas of the Jewish state, Arab citizens are essentially free of fears of Jews doing the same to them. While an Arab child may go skipping through any Jewish section of the Jewish state at any hour without a care in the world, Jewish adults are fearful in broad daylight to stroll in vast areas of the Jewish state, with Arab areas being genuine danger zones for Jews at any hour. In fact, Jewish firefighters have been attacked countless times by Arab residents in Arab towns as they were in the midst of saving Arab families from flames. And while Jewish citizens are privileged to live with security guards at bus stops, malls, restaurants, and public venues throughout the country, the Arab citizen does not know of any of these precautions in his towns, for he does not need them.

    These are just some of the discriminatory policies of the state of Israel. Many more injustices are overlooked on an unofficial level, lest the Arab community become “aggravated.”

    So tell your friends who have been raving about Israeli apartheid that they are right. Israel is guilty of inexcusable discrimination. But let us understand just who the victims are.

    About the Author: Mark Cohen made aliyah nearly 15 years ago from the United States and currently lives and teaches in the heart of Jerusalem.

    1. Re says

      So Mark your contention is that as a immigrant to a land you were not born in, you have more right to the land than those born there? Who’s family have lived there and farmes there for generations?

      And you get this right because you were born a Jew? Yeah. Thats apartheid right there.

      1. Mark says

        Jews have been there long before Islam ever existed. They were thrown out by the Romans and never missed a day to pray and hope for their return. Did you know that the Temple Mount is called so after the 2 JEWISH Temples that once stood there? Did you know that Nablus is called so after the roman city of Naples of which they named it? Did you know that the name Palestine came from the Roman Hadrian’s renaming of the Judean country of the Jews to Philistina after the Philistines – who were the arch enemy of the Jews? In short, do you know anything?

        1. TheRealMidnite says

          My heritage is Anglo-Saxon. That doesn’t give me an automatic right to a piece of the Netherlands or Germany. And that’s a bare three-hundred year separation. Why should the Arabs pay taxes to Israel? Should they pay for the artillery shells and bombs that slaughtered people in Gaza recently? And you complain about Arabs not serving the military? LOL! That made me laugh. Go ahead. Arm them. I’m sure they’ll prefer Galil rifles to rocks and kitchen knives.

      2. Jon Low says

        Any immigrant — once naturalised as a citizen — enjoys each and every right as those that are enjoyed by anyone born there. Birthright allows no special privileges.

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