By Bill Fletcher, Jr.
I was struck by how quickly Secretary of State John Kerry backed down when he was chastised by anti-Palestinian critics for suggesting that Israel might be on the road to becoming an apartheid state. What was so unusual about such a statement? Israeli media commentators, including some political officials, use that term to either describe the current situation or to warn of impending disaster. Here in the U.S, however, we have to fret over using such a term because it, allegedly, might offend someone.
If I am critical of anything, it is precisely that Kerry did back down, added to the fact that Israel is not on the road to becoming an apartheid state: It is already such a state. Apartheid is a term that was both used by the White South Africans to describe their system of racial separation and oppression from 1948-1994, as well as an officially recognized term by the United Nations that describes the broader system of racial suppression that can exist in any country and is not restricted to South Africa. As a result, the term “apartheid,” describing a system of racial categorization and suppression, can and should be applied to what we have seen unfold in Israel since its founding, quite ironically, in 1948.
Palestinian land has been seized, allegedly for security reasons, never to be returned. Palestinian refugees have been refused the international right of return to the homes and land that they left in the midst of the 1948-49 war. An educational system exists in Israel in which there is a differential in the resources available for Jewish Israelis vs. Palestinian citizens of Israel. And, of course, the Israelis continue an illegal occupation of Palestinian territory that commenced in 1967 whereby the Palestinians have only nominal control of a portion of their own land.
Secretary of State Kerry, out of apparent frustration with the antics of the Israeli side in negotiations, correctly noted that if/when negotiations break down, the permanent occupation of the West Bank along with Israel’s policies towards its own Palestinian citizens, will shatter any idea that Israel exists as an alleged democratic state. Kerry was, more than likely, trying to appeal to the Israeli establishment to awaken and smell the coffee.
Instead, opponents of Palestinian justice threw the coffee in Kerry’s face.
Bill Fletcher, Jr. is a racial justice, labor and global justice writer and activist. This past January he led an African American fact-finding delegation to Israel and Palestine. Subsequent to the trip he wrote “Traveling through Palestine While Black” at http://www.alternet.org/world/traveling-through-palestine-while-black-firsthand-look-slow-moving-annexation.