Peoples Geography — Reclaiming space

Creating people's geographies

Owen Powell: Israeli Apartheid

ICH 29 August 2006

Segregation, Control and the Creation of Bantustans in the Occupied Palestinian Territories (OPT).

The question of Israel as an apartheid state has received increasing attention over the last years as Israel has continued colonial expansion in the West Bank while simultaneously attempting to diverge itself from the Palestinians. The purpose of this article is to highlight the growing systemization of apartheid in the Occupied Palestinian Territories (OPT) with particular reference to Israel’s policy of unilateral disengagement. The need for this debate is highlighted by the effective outcomes of disengagement which has already resulted in the segregation of Palestinian communities and delineation of exclusive Jewish space by means of the segregation barrier.  Furthermore the creation of Palestinian enclaves or ghettos in the OPT bears a striking resemblance to the South African policies during the apartheid era which sought the establishment Bantustans as a means to facilitate segregation and to secure privileges for an ethnic minority.

The term “Bantustan” refers to an apartheid regime policy which set about the creation of “independent” homelands for black South Africans. These homelands possessed no genuine sovereignty and consisted of fragmented pieces of land in which the white authorities attempted to force people to live. Boundaries of the Bantustans were typically drawn to exclude valuable resources and arable land. The Bantustan policy was policy designed to facilitate the control of natural resources, exploitation of black South Africans and the delineation of excusive “white” space.

Expression of the term “apartheid” has been used to describe Israel’s policies by a variety of prominent individuals including anti-apartheid campaigner Desmond Tutu, Israeli academics, left wing members of Israel’s parliament and Palestinian human rights campaigners. Comparing the Bantustan policy to Israel’s creation of Palestinian ghettos in the OPT shows the similarity of Zionist agenda to the racist ambitions of the South African apartheid regime. Enclaves in the West Bank are defined by the segregation wall, Jewish colonies, by pass roads, Israeli military orders and land restrictions. The Palestinian ghettos like the Bantustans are designed specifically to separate the native population for their land and resources and to enable the growth of Israeli settlements. In addition to this, the creation of enclaves surrounded by Israeli territory enables enhanced monitoring while acting as captive markets for Israeli goods and services.

Origins of Israeli apartheid date back to the occupation of West Bank and Gaza. Colonization of these areas immediately raised the question of what to do with the native inhabitants who would be act as an obstacle to colonial expansion while presenting a demographic threat to Israel’s Jewish character. Up until the fist Intifada, the Zionist elite did not attempt to comprehensively address the Arab question. For instance, mass forced transfer of Palestinians was discussed but ultimately not adopted. Instead Israel preferred to ignore the presence of Arabs and continue building settlements and appropriating resources; attempting to create “positive” conditions in the OPT for the continued out migration of Palestinians particularly in East Jerusalem and along Israel’s border regions. In this sense apartheid has not been an official policy of the state of Israel. Instead it has gradually manifested in the OPT as the logical conclusion to Zionist colonial ambitions which wants the land without the people.

Israel’s unilateral disengagement is the final phase of the systemization of Israeli apartheid and adaptation to the social and political realities of occupation. The first Intifada sent a message to the Zionist elite that Palestinians would no longer tolerate occupation and the denial of their rights. More importantly it highlighted that in Palestinian areas would be difficult to control thus necessitating some form of disengagement.

Prior to the fist Intifada Israel was opposed to the creation of a Palestinian state considering all of Palestine to be rightful property of the Jewish people. However, with the emergence of resistance the two-state solution has been assimilated within Zionist colonial ambitions as a means of finally addressing the “Arab question”. The creation of Palestinian “Bantustans” has enabled Israel to appear to be appeasing Palestinians by ending the occupation and giving them an independent “homeland”. However, its ultimate purpose is to facilitate the preservation of Jewish space while increasing Israel’s territory and control over resources for the benefit of its Jewish citizens.

Despite the apparent “closure” of unilateral disengagement, by observing population and social trends, this policy will ultimately fail in addressing Israel’s security and demographic concerns. Palestinian populations in both Israel and the OPT are rapidity increasing and will continue to challenge the validity of a Jewish state where a sizable proportion of the population will be non-Jewish. Furthermore, as Israel continues colonization there is no guarantee that Palestinians will stop fighting for their rights and accept the “state” that Israel hands them. In twenty years time we might be seeing the Palestinian struggle less in terms of a national liberation movement but something similar to the black South African struggle against apartheid within a single state.

Owen Powell lives in Bethlehem, Palestine and is an assistant researcher at the Applied Research Institute Jerusalem (ARIJ).


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