is israel an apartheid state? a south african perspective, part two

Part One here. If you plan to comment, please read that first. Again, all words are Joe Kelly's unless otherwise noted. My words are in [brackets and italics].

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Sometimes people say you cannot compare Israel and South Africa, because you are demonizing Israel.

So I want to start out by saying something about apartheid, and its conception. The architects of apartheid saw themselves as doing something beneficial, not only for whites, but also for blacks.

They had this idea: we can't live together, we think blacks want to live in their own environment, under their own control, and we will help them do that by setting up these nation-states. And we'll subsidize the economies in various ways. ... They subsidized the emergence of an elite in those homelands, as well.

In some ways, apartheid was not as draconian as people may think of it. So when one uses that comparison [i.e., when one compares Israel and South Africa], one is not saying, "That is like prime evil." One is not saying, Israel is the Nazis.

Having said that, though, apartheid was a vision they chose and decided and would enforce. The homelands were not allowed to have standing, autonomous armies or governments that were autonomous from the apartheid state. So therefore, all the decisions of what those homelands would look like, what economy they would have, came from the apartheid regime.

The only ones who were able to enforce the separation were the white South Africans. They never talked about that, that discrepancy in their utopia of separate, peaceful people – that there was one state, enforcing the whole arrangement.

I think this is important to the comparison. In the sense that people say, "We've got these separate states in Israel, we've got the West Bank and Gaza, and they can run their own autonomous state," and so on. But all the enforcement is on one side. All the power is on one side.

[wmtc: So even if one were to argue that the Palestinian people have a government and have autonomous rule, they are being given that – and its parameters and its boundaries are being defined and enforced – by Israel.]


[wmtc: At best, it's a form of colonialism.]


[wmtc: Let's talk about the parallels between South Africa and Israel. You began your talk by saying, "First of all, there is no doubt in my mind that the term 'apartheid' justly fits the situation in both white-ruled South Africa and Israel today."]

There are similarities and differences between the two regimes, but in terms of key features, there is a closer match between the two - many more similarities than differences. The differences are more what was called "petty apartheid," the visible elements, such as separate toilets, separate beaches, for blacks and white. Those were the visible, stark aspects of apartheid at its height. They are not the key political features of apartheid that maintain the system.

So what are the key features of apartheid?

One, is state control of the movements of large numbers of people - the majority of people - with the purpose of mobilizing a supply of cheap labour.

(In fact, apartheid arose in South Africa out of a crisis in the labour supply when the country went through a period of secondary industrialization ...)

Before apartheid in South Africa, there was segregation. But under apartheid, the state took control and moved people into separate reserves, into the homeland system. And this is another key aspect of the system. An apartheid system is dealing with people who are engaged in a struggle for certain rights. And in order to deal with the demands of those people, the state sets up a system, under which there are separate states that appear to be controlled by members of that community, but they are really puppets of the larger state. There are separate states with legislative assemblies and voting rights, but they have no real power. There is an elite from that community who are granted certain privileges, but their power is still circumscribed and defined by the apartheid regime.

Next, a racially exclusive welfare state, where people enjoy first-world standards - good services, clean water, large homes, beautiful landscapes - while in opposition to that, the majority lives in a third-world state.

You can look at a photograph of two beaches. One beach had a sign reading WHITES ONLY. It was idyllic – pristine white sand, lovely clean water, not crowded. The beaches that blacks could use were tiny (and so, overcrowded) and dirty. This was the "way of life" that apartheid was meant to preserve. This is another key aspect: a welfare state for whites. White South Africans enjoyed a first-world standard of living in a third-world country.

Another key feature of apartheid, crucial to the comparison, is the emergence of a militarized state obsessed with the internal security of the racial elite state who had democratic citizenship rights. You have democracy for one class of people and a dictatorship for everyone else.

And "everyone else" - those who live under a dictatorship - have been defined as "outsiders" and deemed dangerous, precisely because they are being denied citizenship rights. Thereby they need to struggle - whether by violence, peaceful protest or labour action - to win back their citizenship rights. So what is seen as a dangerous terrorist movement is, in fact, a struggle to win back citizenship rights.

Apartheid was not hatched fully formed from the architects' heads. It wasn't a grand plan, put into place all at once. This brings us to another key feature: apartheid evolved as the struggle against it intensified.

The emergence of the apartheid state after 1948 intensified what had already existed under the segregation system. Historians often distinguish between segregation and apartheid. There is not really much of a distinction, except that now the people needed to be marshaled into both the farms and the mines. Apartheid was developed to regulate competition in demands for labour between the two sectors.

After 1948, the system intensified, beginning with imposing the Pass Rules more intensively on women, for example. And then in the 1950s, the resistance to Pass Rules, women were on the forefront of those struggles.

[wmtc: When you said 1948, I assumed you were talking about Israel, but you are talking about South Africa. You'll have to pardon the gap in my history knowledge. Why 1948?]

That's when the Nationalist Party was voted in for its long-term haul for developing apartheid. Prior to that the Union Party was running South Africa, under Smuts and Hofmeyr. They were mild segregationists. What we saw in the latter years of apartheid was reverting back to the system of people like Smuts and Hofmeyr, a mild system of apartheid.

When I think about the evolution of apartheid, how the system evolved with the struggle against it, I am relating this to the whole question of security. That seems to be in people's minds when they think about the wall [the so-called "Israeli West Bank barrier"]: they think of it as simply a security thing.

But as soon as you organize people and enforce controls on their movement and where they can live, where they can own property, as soon as you forcibly remove people from their homes and their land, those people begin to look towards fighting that system of control and organization.

So they didn't necessarily have a wall under apartheid, but the more the challenge to apartheid grew and intensified, particularly from the '50s into the '60s and the '70s, the more the security aspect became a bigger thing and the more the state spent on the military and the police, etc., to enforce the system.

The basic thing about apartheid is that it is unenforceable. As modern industry developed in South Africa, industry needed black labour more and more. The white population wasn't growing, and there was a need for more skilled, stable African [black] labour. That created a contradiction within the system, and it gave people more and more of a stake in fighting apartheid. To say: we work here, we live here, and we want rights here.

During the '50s and '60s, the state managed to crack down on resistance. As the economy began to grow, there was more and more African semi-skilled labour. And once people had that, in the 1970s, there was a crack.

The earliest crack was in Durban, in what they call the Durban Strikes of 1973. This was a spontaneous strike, a mass strike, potentially of the revolutionary sort. It created a new dynamic in the situation – the whole trade union movement galvanized, and became a significant force against apartheid.

People often talk about the youth in 1976 as the starting point of the end for apartheid, but actually it was the trade union movement.

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.

Continue to Part 3.

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