Israeli Heritage Minister Eliyahu: The Palestinians aren’t under Apartheid, they’re just in a prison camp

Juan Cole

Informed Comment  /  August 28, 2023

Ann Arbor – Other members of the the extremist Jewish Power Party are adding fuel to the firestorm that broke out last week when the party’s leader and Minister of National Security Itamar Ben-Gvir asserted that Israeli rights to move around the Palestinian West Bank took precedence over Palestinian rights to freedom of movement in their own land. Minister of Heritage Amichai Eliyahu tried to uphold Ben-Gvir’s supremacist assertions and to defend Israeli policy toward Palestinians, rejecting the label of Apartheid for it.

According to The Times of Israel, Eliyahu said, “As soon as someone threatens my rights to live, I slightly reduce his civil rights and enable the law-abiding person to continue to operate … In a prison, I take someone and revoke their civil rights so that the rest of society can live in a better way. Is that apartheid?”

“We need to help the good Israeli Arabs [Palestinians] and also the good Israeli Arabs [Palestinians] … to travel freely, and impact their lives as little as possible in order to allow us a normative life.”

“But whoever throws stones, whoever throws Molotov cocktails, whoever lowers our possibility to live, whoever incites against us in the education system or in mosques — we will be forced with great sorrow and great pain to reduce his possibility to move.”

The Times of Israel observed, “Eliyahu offered no explanation as to how he would differentiate between the two groups of people.”

Neither Ben-Gvir nor Eliyahu is actually speaking merely about Israeli rights of movement. They are annexationists and wish to defy international law and US policy by forcefully incorporating the Palestinian West Bank into Israel permanently. This process also entails stealing the property of the indigenous Palestinians. What Eliyahu is saying is that those Palestinians who object to this armed robbery must be put in the equivalent of a prison camp. He earlier compared Palestinians to inconvenient flies that need to be killed.

Haaretz writes, “Earlier this year, a senior defense source told Haaretz that there had been “hundreds of cases of nationalist crime by Jewish settlers” since the deadly shooting attack at the Eli Jewish settlement on June 20, and Israel’s security services “don’t have any control over the mob of settlers, who do whatever they want in [the West Bank].”

Eliyahu denies that there is any violence by Jewish squatter-settlers.

Jordan News reported in early August that Eliyahu had said, to Israeli Army Radio, “I don’t really think there is a Green Line. It’s a fictitious line. This is our homeland. This is where the Jewish people arose. The attitude of the State of Israel that there are two states here is a mistake. We should impose sovereignty on Judea and Samaria.”

The Green Line is the border between Israel proper and the Palestinian West Bank established by the 1949 armistice.

He used the ancient term for the Palestinian West Bank, Judea and Samaria, to normalize the process of modern Israeli invasion, colonization and annexation. As I have pointed out, this move is common in colonialism and nationalism, where ancient claims are invoked to justify modern aggression. The French colonial empire in North Africa was justified in part by claiming that the French were a successor state to ancient Rome, which had ruled those regions.

Eliyahu continued his verbal Blitzkrieg: “We should advance this as quickly as possible, as smartly as possible. We should begin to say this everywhere, to create international recognition that this place is ours. In Judea and Samaria, everyone understands that our roots and history are there, and therefore, I think that the entire Green Line is just an abnormality. There is a distorted reality that we need to erase,”

Eliyahu’s father Shmuel is the chief rabbi of Safed and a major purveyor of QAnon-style conspiracy theories. He once accused the Catholic Church of arranging tours of the Auschwitz Nazi concentration camp for Lebanon’s Hezbollah members so that they could learn how best to kill Jews. He led a campaign to convince Jewish Israelis not to rent to Israelis of Palestinian heritage (20% of the population). He saw this year’s massive earthquake in Syria as divine retribution for Syria’s wars against Israel. Shmuel Eliyahu is not permitted to come to the United States.

So the long and the short of it is that Amichai Eliyahu says that Palestinians in the West Bank are not under Israeli Apartheid, they are just in a big prison camp, which prevents them from interfering with the Israeli theft of their land and homes.

Good to know. Years ago British Prime Minister David Cameron described besieged Gaza as a prison camp, and was accused of being “deeply hostile” to Israel as a result.

But I guess a member of the cabinet in the current Israeli government says it’s all right for us to use this diction.

Eliyahu doesn’t seem to realize that for Israel to keep a substantial number of occupied Palestinians in the equivalent of prison for the convenience of Israeli squatters on stolen land is a pretty good definition of Apartheid.

Juan Cole is the founder and chief editor of Informed Comment ; he is Richard P. Mitchell Professor of History at the University of Michigan and the author of, among others, Muhammad: Prophet of Peace amid the Clash of Empires and The Rubaiyat of Omar Khayyam