Israel is not an apartheid state

2016-05-31 10:25

I was part of a study tour undertaken by eight South African editors, policy analysts and scholars to Israel and Palestine from the 6 to 15 February 2016. The purpose of the trip was to investigate the impact of innovation and technology on socio-economic development. It is on this premise that, amongst others, we visited and interviewed people at the following places: Start-Up Nation Central, Save-a-Child’s Heart in Holon Hospital, Be’er Sheva Cyber Park, Rahat Industrial Park, Jerusalem Venture Partners, and Shafdan Water Works. In the Palestinian territory (West Bank) we visited Portland Trust in Ramalla and Rawabi (the first planned city built for Palestinians outside of Ramallah). The remainder of this essay will deal with the following: funding of the tour, perceived generosity of Israel towards the Palestine territories (Gaza and the West Bank), why I think Israel is not an apartheid state, and the faltering boycott Israel movement.

Funding of the tour

In its article written by Eliana Rudee and entitled “South African scholars, journalists get unvarnished look at Israel’s complexities”, The Times of Israel wrongly asserted that our trip was funded by the South African Zionist Federation and the World Zionist Organisation. The truth is that the aforementioned organisations did not contribute any money towards the study tour. It was funded by South African philanthropists. The abovementioned article correctly quoted my words wherein I said: “I don’t understand why Israel is giving so much to the Palestians, especially Gaza”. Back in South Africa, a radio journalist asked me if I was not biased in favour of Israel due to the fact that the tour was funded by Zionist organisations. I objected to this insinuation; there was no way I would have allowed any person or organisation to ‘buy’ me and tell me what to say. A few days before we left to Israel, I asked the organisers to send me the whole itinerary of the trip. I was glad to note that we would visit parts of the West Bank and that we would interview senior leadership of the Palestinian National Liberation Movement (Fatah). Had anybody decided to treat me as a puppet of Israel and the Jews, I would have refused to go or I would have returned to South Africa before the end of the tour.

Is Israel generous to Palestine?

Although the study tour was biased towards the role of technology and innovation in socio-economic development, it was very apparent that we would never fully comprehend this if we ignore political dynamics in the region (Israel and the Palestinian territories of Gaza and the West Bank). Unfortunately, due to security concerns it was not possible to visit Gaza. We did, however, go to Eshkol which is close and overlooks the Gaza strip. Despite the tensions and sporadic battles between Israel and the two Palestinian territories, Israel is still delivering essential services to both the West Bank and Gaza. These include water and electricity. This is happening even though the Palestinian territories owe millions of American dollars to the Israel Electric Corporation and Mekorot, the national water company of Israel. Exports from Europe are delivered to Gaza through Israel’s roads and the Kerem Shalom border crossing. I was shocked to note that Israel is more helpful towards Gaza and the West Bank than any of the Arab and Muslim countries in the Middle East. Egypt has completely closed the Gaza-Egypt border at the Rafah Border Crossing. Moreover, there is no Arab country which provides either financial or material assistance to the West Bank and Gaza. But still, the governing parties of Fatah and Hamas in the West Bank and Gaza respectively are quick to criticise Israel for all their misfortunes.

Israel has on several occasions advanced millions of American dollars to the West Bank after severe overspending by the Palestinian Authority. At some point Israel tried to apply for an International Monetary Fund loan on behalf of the Palestinian Authority of $1-billion. Israel is aware that peaceful solutions cannot be achieved when Palestinians live in poverty and has therefore undertaken several initiatives to boost economic growth in Gaza and the West Bank. Despite persistent provocation and violence towards the Jews by Hamas, thousands of Gaza residents have been going to Israel to receive medical care. Other than providing substantial medical care to Palestinians, Israel has facilitated the building of schools, hospitals, and sanitation in Gaza. Palestinians and Muslims also have access to their sacred and religious sites in Jerusalem.

Is Israel an apartheid state?

To gain a better understanding of political dynamics, we interviewed members of the Israeli Knesset (Parliament), as well as scholars, editors and authors. Some of the Palestinians and Israeli-Arabs we had discussions with were Mohammad Darawshe (activist and community builder), Khaled Abu Toameh (journalist, lecturer and documentary filmmaker), Bassem Eid (political analyst) and Ali Salam (Mayor of Nazareth). The Members of Knesset and intellectuals whom we engaged categorically denied that Israel is an apartheid state. There are no discriminatory laws in Israel and the Jews are not oppressing the Israeli-Arabs. Be that as it may, in the past there were some practices that were discriminatory towards the Israeli-Arabs, such as being the only people subjected to a security search at the Ben-Gurion Airport, or the fact that all meals served by El Al Israel Airlines are kosher. This has now changed – both Jews and Israeli-Arabs are subjected to the same security vetting in the airport, and airline catering is now also procured from Israel-Arab entrepreneurs. As another example, the family of Jewish industrialist Stef Wertheimer donates to Israeli-Arab communities more than all the donations of the Arab philanthropists combined.

At face value, there are certain practices that may be interpreted as segregation, but in fact they are not. One of these practices is the schooling pattern whereby the Israeli-Arab and Israeli-Jewish children go to different schools. Although this is not ideal, it is important to note that the government is not preventing Arab children from attending the predominantly Jewish schools. It seems there is tacit acceptance of this arrangement amongst both the Israel-Arabic and Jewish communities. It may be that this enables the Muslim children to attend Friday prayers and the Jewish children to observe their holy day of Shabbat on Saturday.

In the Israeli Knesset the official languages are Arabic and Hebrew, but interestingly, even the Israeli-Arabic Members of Knesset mostly address the House in Hebrew. This is an indication that there are no major racial divisions in Israel.

The Boycott Israel movement

Whereas the Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions (BDS) campaign against Israel appears to be gaining some momentum in South Africa and certain parts of Europe in terms of rhetoric, Palestinians in Gaza and the West Bank did not appear to be taking it seriously. The intellectuals we spoke to indicated that it was impractical for the Palestinians in the West Bank to embrace it because most of them work in Jerusalem, Tel Aviv, and other parts of Israel. If Palestinians were to adopt the BDS, they would have to boycott their employment and leave their jobs in Israel and the Jewish settlements that are based in the West Bank. Moreover, they would have to stop buying groceries and other household products from Israel. At the political administrative level, both Gaza and West Bank would have to boycott water and electricity from Israel. Gaza may also have to refuse permission for their exports from Europe to pass through on Israel’s roads. We were also informed by intellectuals that most Palestinians do not actually know what BDS does.

In conclusion, it is important to emphasise that after embarking on the study tour, my opinion is that firstly, Israel treats both its Arabic and Jewish citizens equally. Secondly, Israel is generous towards the Palestinian territories. Thirdly, Israel is not an apartheid state. Finally, the BDS movement is not effective in the region.

Dagada is a South African academic, analyst and consultant. He is on Twitter: @Rabelani_Dagada

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