"they didn't build a wall": is israel an apartheid state? part three

Part One.

Part Two.

All words are Joe Kelly's unless otherwise noted. My words are in [brackets and italics].

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... which reminds me of the key difference in the Israel-South Africa comparison: Israel has been more successful in separating Palestinian people out of the economy.

I saw a New York Times article last month about Israel's exploitation of immigrant [Asian, mainly Chinese] labour, who do not have rights. The Israelis have drawn in immigrant labour who do not have rights, because they can't be Israeli citizens, ethnically, but they are seen as preferable to Palestinians from the so-called "security" point of view. But they are exploited as cheap labour in the same way blacks were exploited as cheap labour in South Africa. They do all the jobs that Israelis won't do.

So what's important in terms of the comparison – in terms of the security issue – and how it is possible for Palestinians to challenge Israeli apartheid is this: the difference is that South African workers managed to build a stake into the system, by organizing and challenging the system from inside, that actually broke the extent to which the apartheid state could control. So in some ways – and in a very serious way – the situation for Palestinians is worse. That is an important point.

[wmtc: So the crucial role that the labour movement played in bringing down apartheid in South Africa is not available to the Palestinians as a potential tool, because they have been so totally excluded from the economy. The one power workers have – the withholding our labour – is not available to them.]

Right. And in looking beyond labour, apartheid in Israel is more intense in another crucial way. Even with the Pass System in South Africa, even with the extent to which the state sought to control the situation was not as intense as it is in Palestine. They didn't build a wall. A massive wall that is, to me, one of the most dehumanizing symbols of apartheid.

When I talked about growing up with those factories around me, then seeing how across the way, in a white neighbourhood, they didn't have all these factories - the physical presence of those factories stifled one's sense of humanness. And the wall itself – as a physical presence – has a symbolic effect of people's sense of themselves. I think that is forgotten. It is as dehumanizing as it gets.

With the Pass Laws, for example, people could evade them in various ways. They resisted silently by whatever means they could. Perhaps you were a domestic worker, and you had an arrangement with your employer not to tell anyone that you don't have a pass – and you could get to the townships and disappear. People did manage to find ways to evade the system. Where [for the Palestinian people], you are talking about something you can't evade. It's a wall.

And you don't do labour, so the only strategy that you can use is one of absolute frustration, and that is why people turn to the sort of violence they do. We should understand where that comes from.

Another note of comparison between the two regimes is the actual links between apartheid South Africa and modern-day Israel.

There were active links between the apartheid state in South Africa and the Israeli regime, in terms of sharing security ideas and sharing security technology. One of the apartheid vice presidents visited Israel in the 1970s. Israel was one of the few nations to support South Africa during the height of the boycotts.

The irony is that the architects of apartheid, the early figureheads who dreamed up this idea, had been influenced by the Nazis. In the 1940s, there was opposition to allowing Jewish immigrants into South Africa. It did change afterwards, as increasingly South Africa needed more allies in the world, and one of the things was to ally with Israel, under the cold-war framework.

In the 1970s, the anti-colonial struggle was going on all over the world, and the Palestinian movement emerged as well. So a line was drawn between anti-colonial movements, some of them that were backed by Moscow, and so on. It became part of the whole cold-war framework, and Israel and South Africa fitted in that framework, on the side of the US, against Cuba, etc.

These links are important, because it's a moral question. People say, we are different from them, don't compare us to them. But it actually goes beyond comparison. They actually shared ideas about controlling segregated populations.

Finally, there is a myth that apartheid ended peacefully. But it was far from that. There was extreme violence, coming from the regime – massacres, tortures, assassinations. Armed resistance was a key component of the struggle against that. Apartheid could not have ended without it.

No one expected to win the fight militarily. No one expected that armed resistance was necessarily going to bring down the apartheid regime, but it was a key component in giving people the confidence to commit to the struggle.

The armed struggle in South Africa didn't occur in the way one would usually think. It focused on blowing up a rail link here, a factory outlet there. The whole idea was to attack economic installations, rather than to engage in any sort of combat activities.

But symbolically, it meant something. For most black people in South Africa, Umkhonto we Sizwe, ANC's military wing, was seen as giving them the confidence to fight apartheid. So even though in the every day, they were fighting apartheid by building organizations without engaging in military activities of any sort, they still felt that that armed presence gave them confidence to continue that work of building those organizations. And I think in that sense, it was important.

But in terms of the violence as a whole, though, people forget how violent apartheid was, particularly towards the end.

On the surface, there was a thaw. A "loosening of restrictions," as you will hear. People were allowed to go to the same restaurants, or the movie houses, the beaches. This is in the early '80s. Allowing more black kids into white schools - they had a system called Model C, which allowed black kids of middle-class backgrounds to enter white schools under certain conditions. I went to a white university myself, but I had to get a permit. You couldn't go to a white university which said that the "appropriate ethnic university" you were supposed to go to didn't have a certain course. You had to make that excuse, then you could get a permit.

That is the sense of reform that there was in the system. But at the same time, the struggle was intensifying. The state that would ease up in certain ways on petty apartheid, while at the same time, it became more violent.

[wmtc: So it eased up on the surface in a reformist mode. It appeared to the outside world to be better - desegregated beaches, for example. But the machinery, the underlying structure, is becoming more and more violent and repressive.]

Right. And divide-and-rule is used as a tool in this. When they were negotiating, when they decided to release Mandela – and I remember it very well – all through the 1980s, in the KwaZulu-Natal province there was an organization called the Inkatha Freedom Party, whose leader had linked himself to apartheid. They attacked trade unionists – this was not the government itself, this was the Zulu nationalist movement, Inkatha – they attacked people, particularly in rural areas, where they had no protection.

And the apartheid state turned a blind eye to what they did. For example, nobody else was allowed to openly carry weapons, but the Inkatha Freedom Party was the one black party that was allowed to carry knives, guns, whatever they had. The whole purpose was to smash the opposition to apartheid. The state used them as force, by proxy, through puppets.

And when Mandela was released and DeKlerk started to make open negotiations – I think this is forgotten – the apartheid state continued to use Inkatha as a force. At the time, newspapers reported on a "slush fund scandal," where the military was funding the activities of the Inkatha Freedom Party to pursue its violent course.

In Johannesburg, people were attacked on train – there were massacres. Carloads of people were shot and killed. Whenever the Inkatha Freedom Party marched, people were beaten up or killed. The police, the army, all of them were there – but they did nothing to stop what was going on.

When you look at the Truth Commission, for example, it glossed over anything that happened during a certain period of time. Anything that happened in the 1990s, during the negotiation period, any atrocities that happened then, were cut out of the Commission's points of reference of what it was investigating.

For me, the important thing is that peace did not come peacefully.

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Continue to Part 4.

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