The bloodshed in Gaza on Nakba day 2018, the centenary celebration of Israel’s ‘colonial arrogance’, Trump’s dalliance with Netanyahu and the successes of the Boycott Divestment and Sanctions campaign are converging on one point and working to erode the pro-Israel consensus. But what could this mean for Palestinians living under Israel’s apartheid regime?
Ben White’s latest book Cracks in the Wall: Beyond Apartheid in Palestine/Israel, is a sharp analysis of the widening cracks in Israel’s traditional pillars of support, in this blog, he explores growing opposition to Israeli policies and critiques of Zionism emerging in Jewish communities, as well as amongst Western progressives.
The events of recent weeks have served as a grim reminder of how bleak things are for Palestinians living under Israel’s apartheid regime.
In the occupied and blockaded Gaza Strip, Palestinian demonstrators have been met with lethal violence from well-protected Israeli snipers the other side of a fortified fence; more than 100 Palestinians have been killed since 30 March, and more than 3,00 injured by live fire alone. The majority of Palestinians in the Gaza Strip are refugees and their families, expelled by Zionist paramilitaries and Israeli state forces from their homes and villages in the Nakba, 70 years ago.
While the horrendous bloodshed in Gaza has, understandably, dominated headlines, in the occupied West Bank, ‘normal’ life for Palestinians continues to mean settlement expansion and settler violence, land expropriation, home demolitions, forced displacement, freedom of movement restrictions, water shortages, violent night raids, and systematic military detention. In Jerusalem, which of course now hosts the US embassy, Palestinian residents of the occupied, and illegally-annexed, East confront ongoing discrimination, demolitions, and evictions.
Meanwhile, for Palestinian citizens of Israel, long-standing systematic discrimination continues to impact on their everyday lives when it comes to land and housing, education, political expression, family life, and more. If anything, the trajectory is going in the wrong direction. Umm al-Hiran, a Bedouin Palestinian village in the Naqab/Negev is set to be destroyed so that a new Jewish town can be built in its place. Meanwhile, in the Knesset, politicians continue their efforts to advance ‘Jewish nation state’ legislation, that would further cement the ‘separate and not equal’ status quo.
Surveying modern day Israel and the occupied Palestinian territory (oPt) – East Jerusalem, the West Bank, and Gaza Strip – it is clear that what has emerged, in practical terms, is a de-facto, single state. Since 1967, Israeli authorities have pursued a number of steps designed to colonise Palestinian land in the West Bank, practical policies shaped by an absolute rejection of Palestinian self-determination and sovereignty. The Likud party of current Israeli prime minister Benjamin Netanyahu certainly gave the settlements in the oPt a turbo boost – but it was Labor which kick-started the colonisation of the West Bank in the first years after 1967. Today, neither the Israeli right nor ‘centre/left’ are offering the Palestinians a package that gets anywhere close to the minimum they can accept.
In terms of what this Israeli government or any conceivable future coalition can offer the Palestinians, the options are grim: more of the status quo (Netanyahu), formal annexation (Jewish Home and parts of Likud), or a Bantustan state in the name of ‘separation’ (Labor, Yesh Atid). Palestinian self-determination and basic rights – like the right of refugees to return – are rejected out of hand by all the main Israeli political parties. This is not new – but years of negotiations, and talks about talks, under the auspices of the US-supervised ‘peace process’ helped obfuscate the fundamental issue at hand. In the last few years, however, it has become harder to ignore the de-facto, single state reality on the ground, as Benjamin Netanyahu’s government has enthusiastically pursued measures designed to cement Israel’s hold on the oPt – the West Bank in particular.
My new book begins with an unflinching look at this reality – one where Palestinians are either excluded from their homeland entirely, or, are subjected to varying degrees of segregation and brutality under Israeli – de jure or de facto – rule. Israel has erased the ‘Green Line’, both in practical and political terms, and Palestinians on either side – whether under military rule in the oPt or as second-class citizens inside the pre-1967 lines – are subjected to the same regime of control, exclusion, and discrimination. If this is a de-facto, single state, it is an apartheid one.
Internationally, however, there are hopeful signs – developments that are already starting to produce cracks in Israel’s traditional pillars of support. Should these cracks widen, they will play an important role in the transformation of this de-facto, apartheid single state into a democratic one.
One such important development is the growing opposition to Israeli policies amongst American Jews, especially the younger generation. Indeed, for many, the dissent is not just about specific issues such as West Bank settlements or war crimes in Gaza, but about Zionism itself. In an era of Donald Trump and Netanyahu, there are a growing number of young American Jews rejecting hard-right nationalism and support for an ethno-state at home and in Palestine/Israel.
The Trump-Netanyahu mutual embrace is not just impacting on the American Jewish community’s approach to Israel, however; it is also both a symptom and accelerant of another longer-standing trend – the end of bipartisan support for Israel. The nomination of – and opposition to – now US ambassador to Israel, David Friedman, was a perfect illustration of a trajectory that has the smarter Israelis worried. Friedman, a supporter of West Bank settlements and contemptuous of even liberal-minded Zionists, found the path to his nomination strewn with opposition from Democrats and a number of American Jewish groups. This was a new phenomenon; ambassadorial appointments are typically a formality. But while explicit criticism of Israel is still a rare phenomenon amongst Democrats on Capitol Hill, polls have long shown that there is a yawning disparity between the position of the party’s leadership and politicians, and that of the grassroots.
Meanwhile – and these developments, of course, are related to and overlap with each other – the Palestinian-led Boycott, Divestment, Sanctions (BDS) movement continues to attract growing support amongst Western trade unions, student unions, faith communities, cultural workers, academics, and others. Since its launch in 2005, this call for boycott has resonated with those who see Israel committing systematic violations of international law and human rights with impunity. The BDS campaign’s focus on political education, rights, and especially on accountability, has made it a serious threat in the eyes of Israeli authorities, and the backlash has been significant. The Israeli government has legislated against BDS at home, and supported efforts internationally – spearheaded by pro-Israel advocacy groups – to undermine BDS campaigning, and indeed to smear BDS and Palestine solidarity activists as ‘antisemitic’.
As these ‘cracks in the wall’ continue to widen, spaces are opening up to discuss an alternative future in Palestine/Israel, one that is not characterised by institutionalised discrimination, segregation, walls, state oppression – a post-apartheid future, in other words. In my book, I argue that attempts at partitioning Palestine have failed, and that a way forward can be found in the form of a single, democratic state. There are, of course, serious questions to be considered about such a framework – including the refugees’ right, a democratic constitution, and what this means for Palestinian and Jewish Israeli self-determination – and I try to address these in the concluding section of the book. But, in essence, what I argue is that it can only be through a radical transformation of Palestine/Israel’s political structures that a de-facto, apartheid single state can become a truly democratic one, the Palestinian people’s rights can be realised, and Jewish Israelis and Palestinians can live as ‘equal citizens of a shared home’.
Ben White is a journalist and analyst. His books include Israeli Apartheid: A Beginner’s Guide and Palestinians in Israel: Segregation, Discrimination and Democracy. His articles have been published by the Guardian, Independent and Al Jazeera.
Cracks in the Wall: Beyond Apartheid in Palestine/Israel by Ben White is available to buy from Pluto Press.