ALL STATES are oppressive, some less so and all oppression creates a state of war. Israel and Palestine are no exceptions. In the latest contribution to the debate on the Middle East, the SACP’s Solly Mapaila once again relocates the term, apartheid and the anti-apartheid struggle to the conflict being waged over land ownership in the Levant. In so doing, he undermines the struggle for human rights in his own country by joining those who seek to obliterate the memory of the struggle for freedom in South Africa by denying that apartheid ever happened.
While the actions of apartheid demagogues such as Eugene de Kock, the man responsible for Vlakplaas death squads are in the process of being whitewashed as “common criminality”, and white Afrikaners are once again excusing the apartheid system as “natural” and “good neighbourliness” both defenses of which have been accepted by the South African Labour Court, the SACP is engaging in a form of scapegoating, in effect seeking to blame the Jews for apartheid.
Calling such criticism an insult to “South Africans and our struggle against Apartheid”, Mapaila engages in an intellectual shell game, in which he juggles legalistic terms to arrive at the startling conclusion that the 1913 Land Act, Group Areas Act, Mixed Marriages Law, pass laws, and Bantu education are all Israeli inventions, or rather that these laws or similar laws, are the root of the problem in Israel and Palestine. That he is able to achieve this mental feat is due to the novel definition of the term apartheid adopted by the UN International Convention on the Suppression and Punishment of the Crime of Apartheid (ICSPCA) which applies to “similar polices” as practiced in southern Africa, and which focuses on the actions of the state security apparatus, and not race segregationist policies per se.
The manner in which the apartheid state oppressed its population through acts of state-sponsored terror and the use of excessive force and violence are well known. It is not the purpose of this piece to examine the details of the detentions, assassinations, torture, forced removals, and maltreatment of both citizens and those removed from citizenship by the apartheid state, suffice to say, that the secondary definition of apartheid reiterated by ICSPCA in general terms and without any of the particularity of the apartheid experience is what is at play here.
Apartheid is thus stripped of its historical message and particular meaning and repackaged as a general term — simply a policy or system of discrimination on grounds of race, and then redirected towards any policy or similar policy by a state targeting ethnic groups. So far as the UN act is concerned, it could have been applied to Rwanda and Serbia as well as Egypt and nearly every state where state sponsored oppression of ethnic groups exists. Today ICSPCA is used exclusively to target Israel.
Mapaila’s further contention is that we need to distinguish between petty apartheid i.e bus segregation and segregation in public parks, and grand apartheid, which as we know, involved the denationalisation of black citizens and their removal to the so-called independent homelands or bantustans. Both terms are relics of the apartheid era. Calling the Group Areas Act, Immorality Act and race segregation, “petty apartheid”, trivialises what was a gross violation of human rights. Again, the term “Grand Apartheid” seeks to provide legitimacy to the endeavour which relegated Africans to so-called independent homelands.
Irrespective of these concerns, there are indeed many reasons to question the existence of the state of Israel and to remark on the similarities in experience of Palestinians and black South African’s consigned to the homelands. There is also similarity between both of these cases and the experience of Greeks. Under the 1923 Treaty of Lausanne signed by the governments of Greece and Turkey, approximately 2 million people (around 1.5 million Anatolian Greeks and 500,000 Muslims in Greece), were forcibly made refugees and de jure denaturalized from their homelands in a population swap. Unlike the Greek example, the apartheid homelands were never recognised by the international community.
Israel is in itself, the result of a UN sponsored bantustan policy which sanctioned population and land swaps, in a series of events which were never accepted by the Arab League. The missing piece of the picture painted by the SACP is the issue of Jordan, carved out of the British Mandate of Palestine. It is not an internal homeland as such, yet received the majority of displaced Palestinians. The West Bank on the other hand, has none of the characteristics of the apartheid bantustans, unless one wants to make believe that Jerusalem is the Sun City of the Middle East. Three of the holiest sites for all three of the major religions are on the West Bank, including Rachel’s Tomb and the Temple Mount.
Israel, far from being a Zionist entity in which Jews simply practice their religion, is rather a refugee state created on the ashes of Nuremberg and the Holocaust.
Some 250,000 European Jews were displaced by World War II after 6 million were murdered by the Nazis. During the ensuing 1948 war, 700 000 Arab Jews were displaced from Arab States and in turn 400 000+ Palestinians were displaced from the newly created state of Israel. It is these refugees on both sides which form the basis for ongoing discussion in the Middle East regarding a peace plan.
Recently PLO leader Mahmoud Abbas downplayed the suggestion that he wanted to flood Israel with some 5 million Palestinians living in Jordan. The extension of Israeli citizenship to the offspring of the original 400 000 Palestinian refugees would have left only 1 million people living in Jordan in a territory more than 5 times the size of Israel. Peter Hain, a long time anti-apartheid activist, with excellent credentials as a bipartisan who has shown solidarity with both Palestine and Israel, says that after decades of failure, “a one-state solution – the establishment of binational state with equal rights for Israelis and Palestinians – must now be seriously considered.” His contention is that the land no longer exists in order for those 5 million Palestinians to return.
Whatever ones reservations about the ongoing conflict, we also need to remember that Nelson Mandela himself was a bipartisan leader. In 1990 on the Ted Koppel Show, Mandela said: “The support for Yasser Arafat and his struggle does not mean that the ANC has ever doubted the right of Israel to exist as a state, legally. We have stood quite openly and firmly for the right of that state to exist within secure borders.”
As South Africans, gifted by the Freedom Charter and a Bill of Rights guaranteeing fundamental human rights, it is incumbent upon us to raise such uncomfortable observations, as the predicaments posed by bipartisanship, to continue to oppose state terror and excessive force, and to do so in an even-handed way, one which does not scapegoat any particular ethnic group, and which does not further compound the problem by revising apartheid history in a ongoing propagandistic war that serves no-one.