Call it what it is

David S D’amato
Thursday, Feb 09, 2023

Under even the most demanding tests for an apartheid regime, Israel’s brutal subjection of millions of Palestinians to second-tier social, political, and economic status meets the test.

Settler-colonial projects like the one that led to the creation of Israel are predicated on the assumption that the colonists are superior people from a higher culture, endowed with a right to take, hold, and govern the land. The suppression of Palestinians as a people and the erasure of Palestine as a concept and a living culture have been central goals of the Israelis since well before there was a State of Israel. The moral legitimacy of their colonial project depended and depends still on the idea that there is no such thing as Palestine. Just last month, Itamar Ben-Gvir, Israel’s authoritarian Minister of National Security, ordered a new escalation in the continuous war on Palestinian culture and identity by banning display of the Palestinian flag. The West Bank is dotted with hundreds of military checkpoints and roadway barriers, where Palestinians face daily threats and abuse for the smallest perceived infraction.

It is a system of discipline and fear designed to cow and erase an occupied population. But reality persists, and there is a Palestinian people. They can’t be imagined away, and they deserve freedom from the persistent cruelty and oppression that come with their second-class status. If we say anything else, or if we say nothing at all, then we are disavowing this group of people. The conversation about Palestine in the West can no longer tolerate the facially absurd and offensive equation of the Jewish community at large with the State of Israel.

The former is a diverse, multi-ethnic, global community defined by a family of cultural and religious traditions that go back thousands of years. The latter is a colonial government entity founded in the middle of the last century and characterized by its explicit exclusion of non-Jewish and non-white people, its dual legal system, and its brutality toward an ethnic minority indigenous to the land. Palestinians have lived for generations under the constant threat of forced expulsions and violent efforts to obliterate Palestinian identity and culture.

It would be difficult to overstate “the vast asymmetry of power” in the relationship between Israel and Palestine. Though famously cagey about its nuclear weapons programs and capacities, Israel is a nuclear state and routinely ranks among the most powerful governments on earth. Structural asymmetry has been evident in the relationship since a century ago, when the Post-World War I British Mandate period began, instituting a system that recognized the nationhood of the territory’s Jews and protected their rights and place in the region, without extending the same legal recognition and protection to Arabs.

Excerpted: ‘Do We Know Apartheid When We See It?’. Courtesy: