The worst argument against the Apartheid analogy

Palestinian workers queue at a checkpoint to enter Israel. (photo: Anne Paq, Activestills)
Palestinian workers queue at a checkpoint to enter Israel. (photo: Anne Paq, Activestills)

A senior employee at right-wing organization NGO Monitor penned an interesting op-ed in Israeli daily Yisrael Hayom this morning (Sunday).

NGO Monitor, which targets organizations and people who actively oppose the occupation, is obsessed with use of the term Apartheid. The piece by NGO Monitor’s deputy director of communications, Lena Abayev, is a longwinded attack on those who compare the situation in the West Bank to that of Apartheid South Africa.

Interestingly enough, there are only two sentences in which the author actually addresses reality on the ground in the West Bank. Sadly, they work against her argument:

Israel is guided by the rule of law and has not imposed any form of apartheid on its citizens or on its Palestinian neighbors. The residents of the West Bank cross the border into Israel every day for their livelihood, and their movements within Israel are not restricted.

Those mildly familiar with South African history know that the permit regime (aka Pass Laws) for blacks in South Africa was one of the most notorious aspects of Apartheid. Similar (but by no means identical) procedures are an inherent part of the regime to which millions of Palestinian non-citizens are subjected.

Israel controls all population registration in the Occupied Territories. All Palestinians must carry Israeli-issued ID cards and their identity is subject to verification by the Israeli army at all times. A complicated system of permits and regulation of movement exists both within the West Bank and travelling in and out of it. A Palestinian’s degree of cooperation with the army is directly correlated to his or her ability to travel freely, and only a tiny portion of the population – tens of thousands out of over two million – have permits to work west of the Green Line. (Contrary to what Abayev says, even those workers are not permitted to travel freely within Israel. But getting facts straight was never a big priority for NGO Monitor).

Personally, I don’t care much for the Apartheid analogy because it misses some of the unique characteristics of Israel’s military regime in the Occupied Territories (and for several other reasons). It could, however, be useful in illustrating certain aspects of the occupation, particularly the separate legal systems for Israelis and Palestinians; I have previously used the term in this context. It is therefore interesting to note that NGO Monitor actually finds the Israeli permit system to be proof that Apartheid doesn’t exist in the Occupied Territories. I wonder what other name they would suggest for describing the regime that is in place there.