Monday, 3 December 2012

Apartheid, Analogy and Disanalogy.

"Our freedom is incomplete without the freedom of the Palestinians." - Nelson Mandela
The analogy between Israel and South Africa is often drawn when it comes to the question of the occupied territories and the Palestinians. There are good reasons for making this analogy, as well as serious differences between the cases that would mean the analogy is dubious. The problem of a Palestinian state is innate to Israel in the same way that racial equality is a problem innate to South Africa. The creation of nation-states out of the processes of European colonialism comes with the brutality of expansionism and war. South Africa was a principle aggressor in Southern Africa in its role as a counter-revolutionary force it slaughtered over a million people in neighbouring states in the 1980s. By comparison, Israel has been at war almost constantly for most of its existence and it serves the US as a "cop on the beat" in the Middle East. This is well demonstrated by the worrying tensions between Israel and Iran. I don't think I will be able to settle this matter in just one article, so I'm only going to go over a few points about the comparison.

The network of roadblocks and checkpoints which regulate the daily lives of Palestinians has been compared to the Apartheid rule of South Africa. Though it is worthy of condemnation even if we dismiss the comparison as a disanalogy. After all it's a system which has left pregnant women to give birth in the street only for their newborn babies to die in the heat, all in the name of Israel's national security. There is even a segregated highway system, roads on which only Jews are allowed to travel. This highway system was established on the pretext of counter-terrorism.  Actually this has nothing to do with counter-terrorism. Instead it is a part of the maintenance of the occupation of the West Bank, where the Israeli government supports (directly and indirectly) the settlements which hold 60% of the land. To this end the Israeli government are busily constructed a wall of annexation in and around the West Bank to snatch the major concentrations of resources and water from the Palestinians. This wall is called a 'defensive barrier' in Israel, which is what the Berlin Wall was called in East Germany. But the West Bank wall is longer than the Berlin Wall.

It's clear that the Israeli government is not too comfortable with the prospect of a Palestinian state. The continued encroachment into and domination of Palestinian territory has the potential to reduce the possibility of a free Palestine to a Bantustan at best. This isn't an accident of history. As Noam Chomsky would remind us Moshe Dayan's recommendation to his colleagues shortly after the 1967 conquests was that we must tell the Palestinians in the territories "You shall continue to live like dogs, and whoever wishes may leave, and we will see where this process leads". This is not the last of the ugly words spewed over Palestinian territory. Almost 30 years later the Director of Communications and Policy Planning David Bar-Illan who said in 1996 that "the Palestinians can have a state if they want, or they can call it fried chicken". And that's when the Israeli establishment talks peace. The establishment is aware of the situation on the ground, the need for a two-state settlement. It's just that there is no reason for the Israeli government to seek out peace.

It would seem that the Israeli elite are for a peaceful solution, whereas the more economically deprived and zealous Israeli citizens - particularly Mizrahi Jews and refuseniks - are much more hawkish. The ruling-class have been busily eroding the civic institutions and welfare state of Israel in recent decades. The neoliberalisation that the Israeli economy has undergone is another point of fair comparison with South Africa. Israel was once a quasi-socialist state with a significantly slim gap between the rich and the poor. Today it is one of the most unequal countries in the world. This is what comes with expanding a state by force and creating a country out of thin air. The apparent abnormality of Israel by world's standards today is exactly what makes it normal in historical standards. The very same process of aggressive expansionism was carried out in North America to a much more genocidal degree. And the founding of the American Republic provoked a desperate resistance from the likes of Geronimo.

"We are benefiting from one thing, and that is the attack on the Twin Towers and Pentagon, and the American struggle in Iraq." - Benjamin Netanyahu

There are good reasons to suspect that the Israeli ruling class is well aware of the consequences of their actions. In an interview with Gideon Levi Prime Minister Ehud Barak said "If I were a Palestinian at the right age, I would have joined one of the terrorist organizations at a certain stage." By the way, everyone should know that Nelson Mandela was officially listed as a 'terrorist' in the US until about 2009. This isn't to say that by analogy Hamas are the Palestinian version of the ANC. Sadly the picture is much more complicated than that. The concept of 'terrorism' really designates the use of violence to achieve goals of a political, religious or ideological nature. That would certainly include all of modern warfare. So it could be that the notion of 'terror' lacks any weight in terms of moral condemnation. When the US shoots down an Iranian civilian airliner, it's an accident and not an act of terror. So it might be better to talk about specific forms of violence. For instance, in his years as 'terrorist' leader Nelson Mandela argued against car-bombing as a tactic. This wasn't a rejection of violence, rather it was about scale.

Christopher Hitchens observed the similarity of the theological justifications of Apartheid in the dogma of the Dutch Reformed Church. The Church adhered to a variety of Calvinism that enshrined a strict separation of white and black in holy design. Its presupposition was racial inequality, for the white man shares the bodily form of Christ. The ravings at the pulpit spewed forth its own blood myth of a Boer Exodus and in what Hitchens describes as an "Afrikaner permutation of Zionism" awarded the whites exclusive rights in a promised land. It should be no surprise that the National Party had an appalling record for anti-Semitism and took the side of Hitlerism in the Second World War. The end result was a pariah state where the rights of non-whites were nonexistent, in fact the people were confined to open prisons with boundaries defined by pigmentation. The state exercised its monopoly on violence to maintain this system for as long as it could. But the justifications were not simply theological.

Apartheid justified itself further as a separation which protected African culture from being drowned in white civilisation. Earlier in the 20th Century Jan Smuts formulated a holistic philosophy to justify British colonialism. This holism took the world to be composed of wholes, each together constitute a grand system while each can sustain and stabilise themselves. The stability of the system was guaranteed by the arrangement of wholes, provided each whole remained in the right place the system could be maintained. Every whole is made up of small wholes which are evolving and will inevitably come together to form larger wholes until finally becoming part of a single unified whole. This was the beginning of what would become Apartheid. South Africa further justified its brutal methods of repression in its claim to be an outpost of freedom fighting against Communism. Although Israel does not have the same kind of racial mythology as South Africa, its government often claims that the country is an outpost against radical Islamism.

No wonder then Israel and South Africa entered into a pariah's pact in 1975 to trade in weapons of mass-destruction. The end of Apartheid might actually signal how the occupation might end and Palestine might actually be established as an independent state. It was almost inevitable that the Apartheid system would undermine the future possibility of survival of the state. So the Afrikaner business elite began meeting with the ANC in neighbouring countries in the late 1980s. By then a campaign of sanctions and boycotting had done its damage on South Africa's economy and body politic. Around this time the Priests had a 'revelation' regarding racial equality. The fate of the regime was settled before the National Party goons even knew it. South Africa had been significantly isolated in the international community by that point. It was when the US started to withdraw its support for Apartheid that the Botha government started to cave. But this came after decades of struggle in spite of extreme violence and rejectionism.

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