CounterPunch / February 9, 2022
Israel dismisses charges of “apartheid against Palestinians” as anti-Semitic propaganda, and the United States has been an enabler of Israeli racism over the years with its hands-off attitudes toward the inhumanity of Israeli actions on the West Bank and Gaza. But the tragic death of an elderly Palestinian-American on the West Bank last month highlights the worst aspects of Israeli policy. The nature of the death, directly due to Israeli brutality and negligence, amounts to manslaughter. The outrageously tepid response from the Israeli military’s central command tells us everything we need to know about Israel’s unconscionable occupation policy.
First of all, let’s deal with the issue of Israel as an apartheid nation, which Israeli information policy strongly denies. When serious human rights violations are committed by one racial group to maintain a system of prolonged oppression of another racial group, as in South Africa from the 1940s to the 1990s, international law refers to this as a crime against humanity or a policy of apartheid. South Africa’s apartheid sparked intense international and domestic opposition to that country. This hasn’t been the case with regard to Israel. Nevertheless, the fifty-years of apartheid in South Africa is echoed by the fifty-year period in Israel, starting with the occupation of the West Bank and Gaza in the wake of the Six-Day War in 1967.
The circumstances of the death of Omar Abdelmajed Assad are dispositive. The man’s village was being patrolled by the Netzah Yehuda battalion, which is manned by Ultra-Orthodox Jews, the most racist element in Israeli society. Placing any members of an Ultra-Orthodox community in a policing role virtually guarantees that crimes will be committed against Palestinians. The Israeli human rights organization, B’Tselem, has fully documented the crimes in the occupied areas and has condemned Israeli military investigations of the killing of Palestinians as whitewashing.
The Israeli investigation of this particular incident was far worse than a whitewash; it was unconscionable. The pathetic nature of the punishment of the battalion, which involved letters of reprimand and a temporary removal of command for the leaders of the battalion, is particularly ugly. The investigation, moreover, stated that the soldiers used no violence “apart from when Assad was apprehended after refusing to cooperate.” Eyewitnesses, however, stated that Assad was “severely beaten” and “subjected to harsh treatment and violence.” An autopsy established there was a traumatic brain injury as well as internal bleeding in Assad’s eyelids as a result of being tightly blindfolded. Imagine the consequences if the battalion had inflicted similar punishment on an elderly Jew who simply could not produce identification.
Israeli policy toward Gaza has become far worse, involving relentless and repetitive attacks on innocent civilians since Israel’s disengagement from Gaza in 2005. In addition to using overwhelming and immoral military force against the Palestinians in Gaza, Israel has limited their use of electricity; forces sewage to be dumped into the sea; makes sure that water remains undrinkable; and ensures fuel shortages that cause sanitation plants to be shut down. Former President Benjamin Netanyahu and now President Naftali Bennett have maintained policies of enforced desperation among the innocent civilians who live in these conditions.
Gaza is essentially an outdoor prison, and a comparison with the Warsaw Ghetto during World War II would not be far-fetched. Both Gaza and the Warsaw Ghetto point to the inhumanity of man. Living in such conditions might lead any human being to consider violent resistance as the only recourse.
B’Tselem issued a report last year that documented the violence of Israeli settler’s on the West Bank against Palestinians as well as the misappropriation of land. Over the years, Israel has built more than 280 settlements in the West Bank, now home to over 450,000 settlers. More than half of these settlements are outposts—the Israelis refer to them as “farms”—that are not officially recognized by the government. There are two tracks: the Israeli government takes the land openly, using “official” methods sanctioned by judges; the settlers, however, simply resort to violence against Palestinians. In Track One, the Israelis expropriate these lands by issuing military orders, declaring an area a “state land,” a “firing zone,” or a “nature reserve.” In Track Two, regular acts of violence include attacks on Palestinians and their property. Actually, we are dealing with a single track because the Israeli government fully supports and assists the acts of violence, witness the killing of Assad.
Israelis are particularly sensitive to the apartheid analogy that links them to South Africa, but the “system of controls” in the West Bank and Gaza are comparable to the Bantustans established in South Africa. The settler colonialism in the occupied territories with its ID system, military checkpoints, and inequities in infrastructure is familiar to students of South African apartheid. The Israeli argument against the apartheid analogy is particularly feckless, emphasizing that occupied territories are not part of sovereign Israel and are governed by the Palestinian Authority and the Hamas government in Gaza.
Human Rights Watch, Amnesty International and B’Tselem believe the “bar for labeling the Israeli regime as apartheid has been met.” I certainly agree. But the Wall Street Journal and CNN treat these charges as excessively critical of Israel.
There is no sign that the Bennett government will do anything to stop the violence against the Palestinians or the seizure of Palestinian lands. The United States, meanwhile, does nothing to put any pressure on Israel. The Biden administration recently held back $130 million in military aid to Egypt because of violations of human rights. Democratic lawmakers favor ending support to Saudi Arabia’s air force because of the killing of innocent civilians. Is it too much to ask the Biden administration to take similar steps against Israel, which receives more military aid from the United States than any other nation in the world?
Melvin A. Goodman is a senior fellow at the Center for International Policy and a professor of government at Johns Hopkins University