THE ISRAELI REGIME IS RARELY described for what it is: a settler, colonial state that practices apartheid against Palestinians. Palestinians have been saying this for decades. Human rights organisations, such as Al Haq, Amnesty International, Human Rights Watch and B’Tselem attest to it.
During and prior to 1948, Zionist militias ethnically cleansed Palestinians from their native lands in the Nakba (catastrophe). They did this in accordance with their strategy to create a Jewish state with a Jewish majority, at the expense of the native Palestinian population. The upheaval resulted in the displacement of 750,000 Palestinians, destruction of 531 villages, and more than 70 recorded massacres against innocent civilians. More than fifteen thousand Palestinians were killed between 1947 and 1949.
The legacy of the Nakba is that about two-thirds of Palestinians became refugees. A quarter of those who remained within historic Palestine were internally displaced and denied their right to return to their villages, towns, and cities of origin. The Nakba of yesterday is the ongoing reality of today.
The Nakba is not a memory; It is a continuous uprooting. – Mahmoud Darwish
Outpost of imperialism
Israel was, from its inception, set up as an outpost of Western imperialism. Britain’s military governor of Jerusalem captured this when he said Israel was to be a “loyal Jewish Ulster in a sea of potentially hostile Arabism”. The creation of a Jewish colony in Palestine was seen, in part, as a way of solving the “problem” of Jewish refugees seeking sanctuary in Britain. At the same time, it colonised Palestine at a time of growing anti-colonial (Arab) opposition to the British empire in the region. For the British, the Zionist colonisation of Palestine became an important adjunct of British imperial strategy in the Near East. It bolstered their strategic influence and enhanced colonial plunder in the area.
The control of the Middle East was necessary for the imperialist powers to secure an important trade route and get a hold over the sources of raw materials, such as oil and gas. It also ensured an important market for manufactured goods, a field for capital investment and a lucrative arms trade. In 1956, the Israeli military played a key role in the Anglo-French military operation to regain control of the Suez Canal, after it was nationalized by Egypt.
Military aid to Israel today is estimated at nearly $4 billion per year. Describing Israel as a “strategic asset”, Ronald Reagan commented, “if there were no Israel with [its military] force, we’d have to supply…our own, so this isn’t just altruism on our part”. Joe Biden summarized the importance of Israel to the West when he said, “Israel is the best $3 billion investment America makes”, and “if Israel didn’t exist, we’d have to invent one.”
Acting as a garrison state, Israel has intervened on behalf of imperialism militarily in neighbouring Arab countries numerous times. It has also acted as a conduit for the US to sell weapons to countries and forces the US couldn’t openly be seen to support, including apartheid South Africa, Guatemala, and Nicaragua.
Although Israel acts in its own self-interest (as the sub-imperial power in the region), that self-interest is inherently bound up with the interests of the USA, EU, UK, and other imperialist powers. That’s why it is characterized as a policeman in the area.
Israel launched repeated airstrikes in Syria and provides cover for the US and its allies who loot an average of 66,000 barrels of oil per day in that country. That’s about 80 percent of Syria’s oil production. This reinforces Israel’s local sub-imperial credentials and emphasises its continuing relevance to the US as a watchdog state for imperialism in the Middle East.
There is no shortage of politicians from the US, EU, UK, and their allies to describe Israel as the “only democracy” in the Middle East, ‘‘sharing Western values that make it a beacon of progressive politics”, in an otherwise despotic, authoritarian region. Israel has indeed been a relatively vibrant democracy for its Jewish colonial settlers. But at the same time it has maintained a brutal regime of oppression over the indigenous Palestinian Arabs, including refugees. It is a “herrenvolk democracy” for colonial settlers, according to Pappe, and a system of colonial fascism for the Palestinians.
Last year, Israelis elected their most brazen, racist, right-wing, authoritarian, sexist, openly corrupt government in history. This is not an aberration or an outlier. The myth of the liberal, progressive, democratic society is now shattered. Israel now has become a byword, internationally, for apartheid and Jewish supremacy.
Israeli government minister, Bezalel Smotrich, a self-declared “fascist,” supported the recent pogrom by fascist Jewish-Israeli militias against Palestinians in Huwara near Nablus: “I think Huwara needs to be erased. The state should be the one to do that.” Smotrich follows of course in the footsteps of David Ben Gurion, former Israeli Prime Minister, who supported the “wiping out” of Palestinian villages during the 1948 Nakba.
While Israeli apartheid is more ruthless and defiant of international law than ever, it has yet to be held accountable. In the EU and UK, the governments remain loyally pro-Israel, while criticism of Israeli apartheid is almost taboo. In the US, Democratic Party politicians find it increasingly difficult to square support for Israel with “liberal, progressive values.” Yet still they manage to endorse military aid and arms deals between the US and Israel. Like apartheid South Africa before it, apartheid Israel derives its power and impunity from the US and Europe.
At the same time, major cities around the world have witnessed demonstrations of support for the Palestinian cause and a clear repudiation of the actions of the terrorist state of Israel. The Palestinian resistance continues to expand throughout the Palestinian territories, including in the West Bank and areas assigned to Israel in 1948.
The weekly protests
There is also a significant internal crisis brewing within Israeli society that has intensified with the formation of a far-right government, led by corrupt Benjamin Netanyahu and fascist ministers. The draconian authoritarianism has far-reaching plans for judicial, social, and cultural “reforms” affecting Jewish Israeli society. This has caused outrage among many Jewish Israelis, who have taken to the streets in weekly protests. The protesters however appear oblivious that the real, overarching goal of this Israeli government is to entrench settler colonialism by accelerating the annexation of more of the occupied Palestinian territory.
These attacks on a sitting Israeli government from within the Israeli establishment reflect genuine fear that its “irrational” and “irresponsible” plans may expose the foundations of Israel’s regime of settler-colonialism, apartheid and military occupation to wider audiences worldwide.
The judicial reforms are also a matter of grave concern for the protestors, who say they will severely undermine the country’s democracy by weakening the judicial system. This is the only source of checks and balances on the government’s use of its power. As far as the Palestinians are concerned, Israel’s Supreme Court has consistently been a pillar of the settler-colonial system that provides an indispensable “legal iron dome” shielding Israeli war criminals from international arrest. For instance, the High Court in 2021 upheld the 2018 Jewish nation-state law, which declared that “the right to exercise national self-determination” in Israel is “unique to the Jewish people”. In 2022, the High Court greenlighted the forced expulsion of 1,000 Palestinians from their homes in Masafer Yatta in the occupied West Bank.
Investigate and dismantle apartheid
In these times, given our own history of apartheid, South Africa has a political, ethical, and moral duty to stand with the people of Palestine who are having to face Israeli State terror on a daily basis, as was the case in South Africa during the apartheid era, it is also our duty to stand with the Palestinian resistance against Israeli settler-colonialism.
In January 2023, a call was made for a Global Front to Dismantle Israel’s Regime of Settler-Colonialism and Apartheid. Launched by Palestinian civil society organisations and supported internationally, this global Palestinian-led anti-apartheid effort is directed towards activating UN mechanisms to investigate and dismantle Israel’s apartheid regime by mobilizing grassroot efforts.
Palestinians are now facing the worst onslaught of violence and ethnic cleansing under this extremist Israeli government. It is time to put these reports into action, to heed the Palestinian call and mobilise for a global Anti-Apartheid Movement, as we have called on the international community to do, in support of our struggle against apartheid.
A South African Steering Committee, consisting of representatives of Palestine solidarity groups, faith communities and the labour movement, among many others, has been established under the leadership of Reverend Frank Chikane and is working towards a launch conference. Let us heed this call for solidarity and action with the Palestinian people’s liberation struggle.
Usuf Chikte is a co-ordinator for the Palestine Solidarity Campaign (Cape Town).