‘Superland’ and the normalization of segregation in Israel

An Israeli amusement park found itself in hot water after being caught segregating Jewish and Arab school groups. But instead of being an aberration, the incident is reflective of the dominant culture of segregation and discrimination that permeates Israeli society from the bottom up.

Israeli children on a ride at ‘Superland’ (Photo: Superland website)
Israeli children on a ride at ‘Superland’ (Photo: Superland website)

“Superland” – the Israeli amusement park exposed for segregating Arab and Jewish citizens this week – is the most fittingly tragic and ironic title for how I see the current Israeli zeitgeist. No screenwriter or playwright could have come up with a better concept for a tragic comedy about this place.

It captures the two most dominant concepts of politics and life here: that land is the most precious, contested and painful commodity around which the conflict revolves, and that there is nothing “amusing” about the situation we find ourselves in. It’s not all that “super,” despite the most earnest attempts to sell it as such by Israeli government and PR professionals.

While the Israeli government continues to try and “super-size” the land of Greater Israel beyond the pre-1967 borders, the story of segregation at Superland is a perfect indicator that no matter what your politics are, no matter your position on settlements, your notion of security, how you judge Palestinian resistance or any other issue, the political reality remains undeniably the same. Everyone living on this tiny piece of land — Arabs and Jews, Palestinians and Israelis — is in a perennial situation of state-sponsored division, segregation and separation that trickles down — not just in Hebron’s Shuhada Street, or in East Jerusalem, but everywhere.

After the Jaffa school teacher was unable to make a reservation for a class trip to Superland because they are Arab, management explained that many schools – both Arab and Jewish – request to visit the park on days when only other schools of the same ethnic group will be there. According to a statement by the park’s management, this makes sense for them considering they are interested in ensuring the safety of all visitors:

This is an amusement park and there is special importance to preserving order and preventing violent incidents in the park. As a result, Superland’s management took the requests it received into consideration, and during June 2013, set aside a few separate days for schools from different sectors.

This is the same argument that was made in pre-civil rights America about the utility of separating blacks and whites. It is the same argument that Ivy League university deans in the U.S. used to try and justify the quotas that up until the 1960s, limited the number of Jews accepted to a school; they explained that it is better for the Jews if there aren’t too many of them in any given department, since then they would surely experience greater incidents of anti-Semitism.

Instead of combatting anti-Semitism and racism at its core, this kind of backwards logic gives in to the unjust system, trying simply to manage a racist and discriminatory status quo. This is exactly the case of Superland.

It is a weird coincidence that on the same day this story broke, American author and BDS activist Alice Walker wrote an open letter to singer Alicia Keys, urging her to cancel her July concert in Israel because of the country’s segregation policies. In the letter, she specifically refers to the struggle she waged to bring an end to “apartheid America,” which she calls “less lethal than Israel’s against the Palestinian people.”

You can argue all you want that there are differences between America and Israel as far as racism goes, just as there are differences between Israel and South Africa when it comes to Apartheid. But the reality remains the same in all places: Palestinians living on the same land as Jewish Israelis are denied the dignity and equal rights they deserve because of the dominant ethnic group.

“Superland” perfectly expresses the “super segregation” we live in. Its policy isn’t a law that was handed down from above, or a specific manager who hates Arabs. It has simply become the norm.

Related:
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A year in review: Anti-African racism and asylum seekers in Israel