One of the most commonly used terms of abuse by ‘right on’ progressive wannabes is that Israel is an “apartheid state.” Images are more powerful than reason, the word ‘apartheid’ conjures up mental pictures of the Sharpeville massacre, signs saying ‘Whites Only’ and police armoured cars belching tear gas as they toured townships. Connecting the adjective with Israel immediately makes the mob assume that the poor Arabs are treated in the same manner in Israel as non-whites were in South Africa.
As someone who remembers being punched by policemen at a demonstration against the Springboks at Murrayfield forty years ago the connection is a powerful one. But when we leave an emotional reaction aside and look at the facts perhaps reason should lead us to conclude that there should be a different destination for the label ‘apartheid.’
In Israel Arabs are entitled to the same protection under law as Jews. Arabic is an official second language in Israel. Arabs serve in the Israel Defence Force, it is possible for an Arab Muslim to become a commissioned officer in the IDF. It is possible for a Christian Arab female to become a combat soldier in the IDF as Corporal Elinor Joseph has shown. In 2003 the number of Muslim volunteers was 64.5 % higher than in 2000, while the enlistment of Christians increased by 16 % over the same period. A senior source at the IDF’s Personnel Directorate notes that incomplete figures for 2004 show a further increase, at a rate of some 20%, in the enlistment of youth from both sectors.
Jamal Hakroush is a Muslim Israeli, who is also a Deputy Inspector General in the police.
Arabs can be, and are, elected to the Knesset. The Deputy Speaker of the Knesset is Majalli Wahabi, a Druze, who briefly served as president of the state of Israel when the President and Acting President were indisposed.
Although most choose to live within their own religious and cultural communities, pretty much as elsewhere, Israeli Arabs are free to live anywhere in Israel. Arab students gain entrance to Israel’s universities on the basis of ability, not ethnic origin. Arabs are represented in every area of Israeli professional life.
It is difficult once we look at the facts to discern how Israel can be described as an apartheid state. When we come to what is colloquially termed Palestine we find a different situation.
Mahmoud Abbas, Palestinian President, has stated that Jews will not be allowed to live in a Palestinian state. The Hamas government permits only one Jew to live in Gaza, Corporal Gilad Shalit an Israel soldier kidnapped and held captive for the last five years. Jews are not allowed to own land or have any part in public life.
Since the Palestinian Authority took over the West Bank eighteen years ago the
Palestinian Christian Arab community has shrunk drastically. Beit Jalla was
once a Christian town outside Jerusalem, today it is without a Christian
population. Even Bethlehem has a Muslim majority population.
If apartheid signifies ethnic based law, forced segregation and outright exclusion on religious, ethnic or racial grounds then the label fits Palestine very neatly. ‘Apartheid’ is an appropriate appellation for a state in the Middle East, and its not Israel.