Apartheid in Israel

"The aim of the Zionist project has always been to construct and then defend a Western/'white' fortress in the Arab/'dark' world. At the heart of the refusal to allow Palestinians the right of return is the fear of Jewish Israelis that they will eventually be outnumbered by Arabs in Israel . . .

Israeli governments have failed in their attempts both to encourage further Jewish immigration and to increase Jeswish birth-rates within the state . . . The American goal of democratising the Middle East somehow doesn't make life inside the 'white' fortress any less anxious. Levels of violenece are still high and the standard of living of the majority is constantly dropping. These concerns are not dealt with: they are almost as low on the national agenda as the environment and women's rights. What matters is that we - I include myself, since I come from a German Jewish family - constitute a majority of 'whites' on our enlightened island in a sea of 'blacks.' "

Ilan Pappe - Fortress Israel, LRB 19 May 2005

Letters published in the London Review of Books, summer 2005, on the question of apartheid in Israel ... (and the 'likes of Luttwak')

From Edward Luttwak
Chevy Chase, Maryland

published 23 June 2005:

Ilan Pappe writes of ‘white’ Israelis and ‘dark’ and then ‘black’ Palestinians, implicitly to suggest a comparison with apartheid South Africa, as Palestinian propagandists frequently do these days by referring to the ‘Apartheid Wall’ and so on (LRB, 19 May). As it happens, the Israeli of median coloration has a darker skin than the median Palestinian. Of substantive importance – unlike pigmentation silliness – is the continuous exercise of democratic representation on the part of Israeli Palestinians whose votes elect the many Israeli-Palestinian mayors, town and regional councillors, and members of parliament. If that had been true of apartheid South Africa, with one-man-one-vote representation at the local, regional and national level, the word ‘apartheid’ would signify the accomplishment of political equality, instead of its opposite. Moreover, a few brave and very imperfect experiments aside, Israeli Palestinians remain the only Arabs anywhere who do have civil rights and democratic representation.

From Nick Cheel

[original version, July 2005]; (right) as published 4 August 2005:

Edward Luttwak writes, in response to Ilan Pappe, of the "substantive importance" of "democratic representation" of Israeli Palestinians to claim that apartheid does not exist in Israel ('No Apartheid in Israel', LRB 23 June 2005). Self-evidently, his assertion depends on the 'gerrymandering' - and this is a euphemism for a 'Group Area Act' par excellence - that has deprived over four million Palestinian refugees of their legal, political and human rights for over half a century.

To preserve the democratic eulogy, we also need to wish out of existence the three-and-a-half million Palestinian inhabitants of the occupied territories, whose polity - or such part that is left to them after illegal appropriation for Israeli settlement - can only be categorised as arbitrary military dictatorship. The martial law applied to the OPT, as Archbishop Tutu has famously remarked, is more exclusionary and brutal than that experienced in apartheid South Africa.

Luttwak wants us to concentrate on the state of Israel itself, where civil rights as understood in the West exist to differing degrees a priori, but in practice there is a different story to tell. Ethnic segregation is enforced through planning politics (in housing, education and public services, for example); perennial expropriation of Palestinian land is ongoing; Palestinians are proscribed from leasing 'state' lands; citizenship laws restrict rights of indigenous spouses of Palestinian Israelis, while reserving full immigration and residency privileges for ethnically-selected non-Israelis ... and so on. The pervasive theme is clear: such rights as exist do so at the discretion of an institutionalised ethnic hegemony, provided that they may be overridden to preserve that hegemony's ethnic, arithmetic majority.

It is doubtful that many would agree that democracy has evolved as a political system of popular preference to be applied in this way. In any case, the foregoing, under United Nations' deliberations on supremacist regimes, constitutes apartheid.

Dear LRB LRB 4 August 2005

From Edward Luttwak
Chevy Chase, Maryland

published 1 September 2005:

Nick Cheel (Letters, 4 August) is exuberant with his numbers, or else reproduces somebody else's extravagance when he counts 'more than four million' Palestinian refugees and 3.5 million inhabitants of the West Bank and Gaza in addition to the one million Arab citizens of Israel (still the only Arabs anywhere in the Middle East, with the partial exception of Lebanon, who freely and equally choose their parliamentary representatives). His total comes to 8.5 million people, which must include chiropractors in Toronto, shopkeepers in Paraguay and many residents of Jordan and other Arab countries who are no more refugees than Andrew Grove of Intel or Lord Weidenfeld, and indeed very much less so, because most were born where they reside. Cheel writes of the 'gerrymandering that has deprived Palestinian refugees of their legal, political and human rights'. They were not 'gerrymandered', they were defeated, and if Cheel now wants to undo the consequences of all contemporary victories (and why only those?), he must want to return Ukrainian Lviv to the Poles, western Ruthenia to the Czechs (or to the Slovaks?), Koenigsberg to the Germans and so on. Or does Cheel have his own, no doubt excellent, reasons for confining his revisionism to just one country and just one people?

That Palestinians are deprived of their rights is not in doubt, but their deprivation is shared by the inhabitants of all Arab states except Lebanon, although even there special legislation was enacted to deny Palestinian refugees the right to work or to vote. Other Arab countries mistreat Palestinians in ways large and small, while Kuwait simply expelled them in 1991 because Arafat sided with Saddam. Perhaps Cheel can find a cause for himself in that direction: he could demand that Palestinians living in Arab countries should enjoy the same rights as Israeli Arabs, which would be an exceedingly modest demand if they are as terribly deprived as he insists. To be sure, Israeli Arabs do suffer from specific if constantly diminishing inequities, but most arise from their non-participation in compulsory military service, which they could instantly overcome by volunteering to serve in the Israel Defence Forces, as an increasing number (thousands, not a few oddballs) of Muslim Arabs are already doing (Arabs of the Druze have always served; some are now senior officers).

I cannot ignore Cheel's most powerful argument, that the situation in Israel is tantamount to apartheid when judged by the standards of the 'United Nations' deliberations on supremacist regimes', the same human-rights committee that has never had the time to deliberate on the rights of some two billion Chinese, North Koreans and Saudis, among others, because it, like Cheel, was preoccupied by one very much less populous state. Also, I forget: was the chairperson of that committee the representative of Libya? Or of Sudan, where I am told the price of decent house slaves has dropped in these Darfur days?

From Nick Cheel

1 September 2005:

While ignoring the mischievous innuendo and some hopeful diversions, I point out in response to Edward Luttwak's affected curiosity (Letters 1 September 2005) that it was he who stirred up the issue of apartheid in Israel (LRB June 23 2005). Statistical inference, however, is not his subject. Although clearer in my original letter than that edited for publication in these pages, the headcount figures cited (from UNRWA, PCBS*) are not offered as components of a global Palestinian population census. They are snapshot indicators, rather than additive terms, of the significant scale and scope of an Israeli specialism in the Middle East: the relentless process, extending over decades, of marginalisation and bantustanisation of indigenous communities in the historic Palestine Mandate area. This record could well be a major explanatory factor as to why such a heavily financially-aided country finds itself so often picked out under the human-rights abuse spotlight.

Use of the term 'gerrymandering' to refer to the de facto expulsions from what became Israel after 1947 is of course euphemistic. The refugees (whether in diaspora or confined in the later occupied territories) retain an inalienable right of return that has been persistently frustrated by successive Israeli governments through policies of disenfranchisement and frontier-shift (as far as exiled Palestinians are concerned), each applied to entrench an exogenous, ethnic demographic majority.

While on the subject of war crimes (cf IVth Geneva Convention, art. 49, 147), Luttwak's concept of 'defeated' refugees touches on another reason why Israel is harshly criticised. Civilian populations are not engaged in warfare, and should enjoy protection against combat manoeuvres under international law, although it is a matter of public record that Israeli armed forces have had recurring difficulties over the years with this distinction.

As Luttwak seems to concede eventually, Israel's failures regarding Palestinians in exile, the occupied territories and the recognised state of Israel classify it as an apartheid state under international norms. Those having spent more than five minutes researching 'the situation' in the occupied West Bank (e.g. http://www.euromission.blogspot.com/) will not be able to take his jibes at Arab nations too seriously.

* UNRWA: United Nations Relief and Works Agency; PCBS: Palestine Central Bureau of Statistics.

From Alistair Dixon
London N7

published 22 September 2005:

Edward Luttwak claims not to be able to understand why so much fuss is made about the plight of Palestinians in the Occupied Territories by people who don't make a fuss about the rights of 'some two billion Chinese, North Koreans and Saudis' (Letters, 1 September). The difference is that the oppression of Palestinians by Israel is directly condoned, endorsed and funded by the government of the United States of America. If the amount of attention given to the Israel/Palestine conflict in the West is indeed disproportionate, the likes of Luttwak are at least as responsible for the imbalance as supporters of the Palestinians.

From Michael Debbané
Montreal, Canada

published 22 September 2005:

If the perspective of the UN committee on human rights is not good enough for Edward Luttwak, then how about the experiences of Archbishop Desmond Tutu? He not only knows a great deal about apartheid, but has travelled throughout Israel and the Occupied Territories and has on several occasions drawn an explicit analogy between apartheid as practised in South Africa and Israeli policies, citing the Israeli Lands Law that prohibits not only the purchase of land by non-Jews but the leasing of most agricultural land to non-Jews. So, too, has Nelson Mandela and a group of prominent South African Jews in a letter entitled 'Not in My Name' (2002). To those who have hesitated in condemning Israel because of the way Arab-speaking countries treat their own citizens, Tutu has responded that black Africans were treated in at least as brutal a manner by the black regimes of many African countries, such as Mobutu's Zaire, as by the white apartheid regime in South Africa, but that that did not mean South Africa should have been excused from condemnation.

From Jonathan Cook
Nazareth, Israel

published 6 October 2005:

Edward Luttwak’s misunderstandings concerning employment in Israel’s security industry should not be allowed to stand unchallenged (Letters, 1 September). Apart from the small but loyal community of Druze who serve in the army, a few thousand Arab citizens work in lowly positions within Israel’s security forces. The overwhelming majority of them, however, are not Muslims but Christians, employed as junior-ranking policemen inside their own Arab communities, taking orders from Jewish officers. There are hardly any Muslims in security positions; by law they are excluded from such service, whether in the army, police, Shin Bet, prisons, airports or many other areas of the Israeli economy. Unlike Christians, Muslims are not offered the chance to volunteer. The only exception to this rule is the small community of Bedouins, who despite being Muslims are treated, according to a well-established state policy of divide and rule, as a separate population group. They are allowed to volunteer for the army, mainly because Israel needs desert trackers to work in the Negev.

From Ira Katznelson
Columbia University, New York

published 6 October 2005:

There is something dispiriting in reading, together in the same issue, the letter by Edward Luttwak and the article by Saree Makdisi. Luttwak stresses the hypocrisy both of Arab states and of disproportionate criticism of Israel while minimising Israel’s responsibility for conditions in Palestine. Makdisi reduces the withdrawal from Gaza to yet one more act of Israeli victimisation, but is silent about the relationship between harsh Israeli policies and Palestinian strategies and tactics before and during the second intifada, including the failure to create a non-corrupt public authority with a monopoly on force. It is not so much Luttwak’s or Makdisi’s rendition of ‘facts’ that rankles – each has hold of real and doleful, if partial, aspects of reality – but their shared taste for single-vantage morality tales and their failure to treat the conflict’s complex history as one of interaction between responsible actors. As a result, neither helps us to move beyond a pathless politics, widespread insecurity and wasted suffering.