Part VIIC: Analyzing the Palestinian Position: Apartheid and Antisemitism

Critics of the evictions from Sheikh Jarrah claim that the action amounts to apartheid. Israeli critics in the liberal centre view the actions as both unnecessary and provocative, but do not suggest apartheid. When more radical critics, Jewish as well as Palestinian, claim the actions are just part of a long history of creating an apartheid regime, right-wing defenders claim such charges are antisemitic because, at base in their charges that Israel is a colonial settler state, they deny the right of Jews to self-determination.

Though three-quarters of Israeli Jews reject the application of the term “apartheid” to Israel, about 25% of Jewish Israelis agree with this radical position. They come from both the left and the right, the extremists on the right endorsing apartheid and expressing a belief in the separation of Palestinians and Jews by law. 41% of Palestinian Israelis and 77% of Palestinians concur simply in characterizing Israel as an apartheid state.

In opposing the charge of antisemitism, Palestinians and others in defence have argued that this is an instance of the weaponization of the term antisemitism that has claimed both Facebook, Instagram and Twitter as accomplices because those media outlets have removed hundreds of stories related to Sheikh Jarrah on the grounds that the reports mischaracterize Israel’s policies and actions as ethnic cleansing, persecution, oppression and apartheid. Those critics argue that these media platforms have violated the rights of freedom of expression as well as the right to freedom of association and assembly.

Palestinians and their sympathizers declare that terms such as apartheid, settler-colonialism as well as milder descriptors, such as occupation, accurately and objectively describe the Israeli treatment of Palestinians. Defenders of Israel argue that the Israeli Supreme Court’s proposed compromise cannot possibly be described as “forced eviction” and that doing so even reveals an anti-Jewish animus.

For example, CJPME, Canadians for Justice and Peace in the Middle East, declares that, “Israel’s founding in 1948 was a result of premeditated ethnic cleansing campaigns across historic Palestine with the goal of displacing and dispossessing the indigenous Palestinian population of their land.” Thus, the Catastrophe or Nakba did not just take place in 1947 and 1948, but began with the settlement of Jews in Palestine and continues today with the efforts to evict the Palestinians from Sheik Jarrah and the program of building settlements in the West Bank and East Jerusalem. However, why do these critics not denounce the illegality of Gaza initiating rocket attacks against the Israeli population and instead play up the disproportionate number of Palestinian dead compared to Israeli casualties?

Further, CJPME fails to note that many of the protesters at the US Consulate in Toronto chanted:  “Israel will fall” and “from the river to the sea, Palestine will be free,” indicating the clear intention of the Palestinians to displace Jews, eliminate Israel and become the dominant ethnic entity in the area between the Mediterranean and the Jordan River. Signs read not only end the occupation but repeated the slogan, “From the river to the sea.”(Observe and listen to the recorded voices of the Palestinian protesters at the Israeli Consulate in Manhattan – https://www.dailymail.co.uk/news/article-9569037/Israeli-Palestinian-supporters-clash-NYC-Protests-place-US.html)

The focus has shifted from Sheikh Jarrah to Gaza as 35 Palestinians have been killed in Gaza as a result of IDF bombings in reprisal against multiple missile attacks by Hamas and Islamic Jihad against population centres in Israel (over 200 rockets have been fired) in which three Israelis have been killed. A senior Islamic Jihad commander was killed in the IDF strikes against a hideout apartment in Gaza City, head of the PIJ’s rocket unit, Samih al-Mamluk, as well as other senior militants, Mohamad Abu al-Atta — brother of the military commander of the PIJ’s Northern Brigade in Gaza Bahaa Abu al-Atta who was assassinated by Israel in late 2019 — and Kamal Karika.

Hamas has taken over the militant leadership of the struggle against Israel.

“Zionist settlement remains an ongoing process that seeks to remove Palestinian natives and replace them with Jewish-Zionists. In Jerusalem, the forced removals echo throughout the West Bank, throughout Gaza and among Palestinians forcibly exiled in the global diaspora…As May 15 marks the 73rd commemoration of the mass expulsion of Palestinians from cities such as Haifa, Tarshiha and Safad in 1948, let the world bear witness to Jerusalem today. This is how refugees are made, this is our ongoing Nakba. Our freedom struggle is not for a state but for belonging to the land (my italics), to remain on it, to keep our homes, to resist erasure…There’s no denying the reality: This is Zionist settler colonialism, where if one settler does not take our homes, another settler will. When will the world open its eyes to this injustice and respond appropriately? We do not need more empty both sides-isms; we need solidarity to overcome apartheid.”

Rashida Tlaib, the Palestinian-American Congresswoman, has attributed the violence entirely to the oppression by the Israelis and the practice of apartheid. The fundament principle that must be observed is the Palestinian right to return to their homes in Palestine prior to the Nakba in 1947-1948 and the additional exodus after the Six Day War. (In tomorrow’s blog, I will discuss “the right of return.”) The abstract claim is reinforced by videos of survivors. Fatima Marwan, who very recently passed away, in a widely distributed video recalled with nostalgia “the pure air,” the “secure environment,” the “indescribable feeling,” that existed in Der Yassin when she was a young girl. There were “no hardships” and her family enjoyed a “beautiful life” without suffering and full of hope.

Rashid Khalidi (author The Hundred Years War on Palestine) in a more academic and more outraged mode, has described the flight of expulsion of the Palestinians in 1948 in which two-thirds of the Palestinian population in what became Israel fled or were forced to flee. 300,000 fled before the Arab armies invaded Israel and the refugees cannot be said to have been the result of that invasion. But did they flee as a result of Arab propaganda and/or to get out of the way of the war? If Israeli officials underplay the numbers forced to flee by armed units of the Haganah and Irgun, Palestinians underplay the large numbers who voluntarily left expecting to return behind victorious Arab armies.

Rashid will write about the confiscation of “abandoned property” but underplay the expulsion of all Jews and the seizure of their property by Jordan, including Sheikh Jarrah.  He is the major figure behind the thesis of the Nakba as a continuous process of domination, expulsion and replacement beginning with the Zionist settlements in Palestine and continuing into the present, and not just an event on 15 May 1948 or even during 1947-1948.

Lubnah Shomali, head of Badil Resource Centre for Palestinian Rights, argues that 9.1 million Palestinian refugees represent the largest and most protracted refugee situation in the world. The displacement went back to the British mandatory period when 150,000 were displaced by the British. In 1947-1948 she, as does Rashid Khalidi, offers a figure of 750,000 refugees in 1947-1948, leaving out any mention that 37,000 of these Palestine refugees were Jews from territory captured by Jordan. Further, Shomali emphasizes that there were an additional 200,000 internally displaced Palestinians remaining in Israel whose villages were razed.

Israel has been unwilling to pay reparations which she claimed is required under UN Resolution 194. (See tomorrow for a discussion of the resolution.) International law, according to her, requires:

  1. Voluntary repatriation;
  2. Compensation;
  3. Restitution;
  4. Guarantees of Non-repetition.

The United Nations Relief and Works Agency (UNRWA) set up to provide emergency humanitarian aid for the Palestine refugees (including Jews) evolved into the education, health and welfare ministry for the Palestinian refugees, that is, excluding the Palestine Jews who were resettled in Israel. However, over the last two decades the services provided have deteriorated as funding has been decreased.

Umar Al-Ghubari, a documentalist for the Nakba, proudly notes that in the last fifteen years, the term “nakba,” which was not previously widely known and not broadly used by the media, has become a topic of everyday discourse, especially among the Israeli public. Umar, as part of Zochrot, an Israeli NGO founded in 2002, conducts tours, offers educational programs and initiates conferences on the Nakba. He takes Israelis – both Jews and Arabs – to visit the Arab villages demolished in 1948, and Imwas, Yalo and Beit Nuba, ethnically cleansed on 5 June 1967. The residents were expelled to Ramallah and not allowed to return. Umar has reversed the trend of making these villages invisible as he has increasingly been successful in inserting the stories of those villages into the Israeli educational curriculum in order to amend the dominant Israeli narrative. But even he would replace that narrative with occupation, displacement, oppression and replacement.

For all of these Palestinian activists, there has been a pattern of Zionist oppression and displacement that goes back to the roots of Zionism in Palestine. Further, the oppression of Palestinian history has been an integral part of repression of the Palestinian narrative. But if he and others would characterize Zionism as ridden with a replacement ideology, many of the Israeli critics sympathetic to the Palestinian cause downplay the extent and the depth in which a vengeful replacement thesis permeates Palestinian ideology. In the effort to overcome Israeli mindblindness, a contrarian mindblindness has been under construction. Thus, Mohammed El-Kurd, a poet and resident of Sheik Jarrah, will describe not only the West Bank and East Jerusalem as occupied, but all of the land between the Jordan River and the Mediterranean Sea.

The ideology of the Nakba as an ongoing event has replaced the older thesis of an anniversary date from 15 May 1948. Not only is the West Bank characterized as occupied, but so are Gaza and Haifa, even though Gaza is currently on the brink of war once again with Israel. Further, the war has been continuous. When armed struggle recedes, Israeli lawfare comes to the fore to be used to expel more Palestinians, such as those from Sheik Jarrah. What is omitted from most of the narratives told from the Palestinian side is that the land in dispute was owned for over half a century by Jews before it was seized without compensation by the Jordanians. Further, the court decision offering a compromise instead of immediate eviction is usually omitted from the narrative.

What we have is not only a war of physical violence, but a war of laws, a war of words in the narratives told and in the epithets used. Israel is labeled a colonial-settler state, ignoring entirely the history of the land as a Jewish homeland and the primary efforts of self-settlement against the interference of the British after 1937, twenty years after the Balfour Declaration. The legal system is said to be a colonial one because one set of laws apply to the colonizers and another to the colonized. But however true this is in the West Bank, it is untrue in Israel even though in practice Palestinian Israelis are often treated as second class citizens.

Thus, we have the paradox of a government being formed currently which depends on getting the support of Palestinian legislators – something unheard of and impossible in apartheid South Africa. But you do have evictions under the law that are insensitive and inconsiderate but that do have a legal basis. You do have the right of Jewish Israelis to repossess their land in East Jerusalem while that same right of repossession is denied to Palestinians, both Israeli and non-Israeli. The double application of the law and the domination of one group by another is sufficient for many to use the charge of apartheid and join the war of epithets.

Israeli defenders point out that the accusation of colonizing and occupying all of the land between the river and the sea, as a Zionist goal that must be overturned and relaced with Palestinian control, denies what was denied in 1948, the willingness of Jews as a nation to share and divide the land with the Palestinians as a nation. If not only the West Bank, if not only Gaza currently at war with Israel, but also Israel itself is referred to as occupied and requiring liberation, then we have the denial of the right of self-determination of the Jews which the major definition of antisemitism characterizes as antisemitic.

Terms of description of ideologies become verbal missiles to hurl against the other side. A democratic legal system, as imperfect as any other, is however characterized as an instrument of oppression and a tool used to deny Palestinian rights. Not only violence but law has been used by Zionism to crush the Palestinians and that oppression crushes the heads and hearts of every Palestinian, ignoring that even as some Israeli Palestinians have identified with the struggle in Sheikh Jarrah, most have stayed aside from the legal conflict and continue to carry out similar professional roles as Jewish Israelis. Yet Israeli law is characterized as racist.

There are some ways in which it is: not allowing Palestinians living under Israeli law to exercise that law, available to Jews, to retrieve property, but also in ensuring Palestinians equal access to homes and apartments everywhere. But this no more makes Israel an apartheid racist state that South Carolina celebrating Confederate Day, a day in honour of a slavery regime, makes America a slave country.

If Israel was truly practicing ethnic cleansing, it would have completed the job, but now Palestinians make up almost 20% of the population of Israel when originally they were only 12.5% of the citizens of Israel. Further, they could elect 20% of the legislators and hold even more than the balance of power in the Knessset, but in the last election their seats slipped from 15 to 12 and from 12.5% to 10%. Israel is an odd type of colonizer and an incapable ethnic cleanser compared to the Turks in northern Cyprus and the Serbs and Croats in former Yugoslavia.

Part of the reason the Palestinian narrative has not become more integrated into the Israeli Jewish narrative of Israel is because, more often than not, the Palestinian substitute ideological narrative is even more full of absences and distortions than the predominant Israeli Zionist narrative. Further, the epithets of colonizer and apartheid only reinforce a message of counter-replacement. Palestinians cite that half the population living between the Jordan and the Mediterranean are Palestinian (actually, 49.7%) and Jews constitute 50.3%. The trend favours the Palestinians in spite of the very high birthrate among the Orthodox and ultra-Orthodox.

Further, leading critics of Zionism now, such as Khalidi, denounce the Oslo Accords and insist they were a cover for more oppression of Palestinian self-determination than a vehicle of peace moving towards Palestinian self-determination. When this is attributed solely to the Zionists and the incompetence of the old Palestinian leadership, the Oslo Accords are inverted from a peace agreement to a ruse, a trick and a stab-in-the-back.

Tomorrow: Return, Restoration, Apartheid and Settler Colonial State as Epithets.

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