A recent statement issued by the Movement for Black Lives, a coalition of 60 grassroots organizations, describes Israel as “an apartheid state with over 50 laws on the books that sanction discrimination against the Palestinian people." Progressive organizations from all over the world have endorsed the platform, to end state violence and genocide against Black people.
Recognizing this as a shared experience with Palestinians, what has generated the greatest backlash are the words “genocide” and “apartheid” to describe Israel’s actions towards Palestinians, and its support for BDS. This has led Jewish groups of all stripes to reject the statement outright, “We were stunned and outraged by the erroneous and egregious claims of genocide and apartheid” the Rabbinical Assembly of the Conservative movement said.
The Anti-Defamation League supposed mission statement is to stand against “all forms of bigotry, defend democratic ideals and protect civil rights for all,” CEO Jonathan Greenblatt had this to say, “Whatever one’s position on the relationship between Israel, its Palestinian citizens, and the residents in the West Bank and Gaza, it’s repellent and completely inaccurate to label Israel’s policy as ‘genocide’."
To say that occupation exists best in the dark explains the controversy surrounding use of the words "genocide" and "apartheid." It also explains what’s a simple fact to those on the receiving end of the reality on the ground, causes so much confusion and strife to those who are not.
The irony should not be lost on us that the same people opposed to the use of "genocide" and "apartheid" are the same people justifying, therefore perpetuating and complicit in, the crimes in Palestine.
Similarly in the U.S., police are not held accountable and their supporters are in deep denial of the state violence and countless crimes against Black people taking place in their name. All those making justifications and denunciations, who are outraged—not at the violence itself—but at those like Colin Kaepernick and others that choose to no longer stand for symbols of this centuries-old and ongoing oppression, are too directly complicit.
When generalities are made, distinctions are muddled, and even those with the best intentions are left to interpret meanings or are completely confused by the insidious details of the system at work. Regardless of one’s opinion on how to frame the political situation, according to the United Nations General Assembly definition under article 1: “apartheid is a crime against humanity; and acts resulting from the policies and practices of apartheid and similar policies and practices equal racial segregation and discrimination."
In other words apartheid in South Africa (where the reprehensible system originated) literally meant ‘apart’ ’hood’ and was the official policy of economically, legally and politically segregating and oppressing the non-white population. These practices can be seen from within Israel itself, where the parallels more accurately represent apartheid.
Yet in the West Bank and Gaza, a far more accelerated process is in place, more accurately reflecting a slow, but very real genocide. Under international law genocide is: "any of the following acts committed with intent to destroy, in whole or in part, a national, ethnic, racial or religious group such as: killing members of the group; causing serious bodily or mental harm to members of the group; deliberately inflicting on the group conditions of life calculated to bring about its physical destruction in whole or in part … as well as forcible transfer." All of which are routine practices, or mowing the lawn, as Israeli lawmakers bluntly put it, every few years.
Still to the outside world, they must walk the line of upholding the appearance of a democracy, while maintaining its racist nature. Thus, the conflict ultimately becomes, a war of public opinion. Perhaps Israel’s main success in battle lies in its public relations campaign.
Since 1948, Israeli leaders have engaged in the world's most cunning public relations campaign. As they must have known then, the key to success on the battlefield was how to disguise the fact that Europe's Jews facing transfer, persecution and genocide, were to flee directly to a land where they would commit transfer, persecution and genocide against millions of Palestinians to this day.
A recent public relations stunt designed to make the Israeli government appear to show compassion (for animals) and win global support, is this article titled Israel helps evacuate animals as 'world's worst zoo' in Gaza closes. A Vienna-based animal rights group Four Paws states: “Due to poor conditions and the lack of ability to continue proper care for the animals in the zoo of Khan Yunis, we were asked to assist and coordinate the transfer of these animals to zoos in Israel and around the world,” implying Palestinian savages can't even take care of animals.
Meanwhile no mention is made of the decade long completely debilitating siege, lack of access to food, clean water and building supplies, or indiscriminate bombings. Adding "All the while there were sounds of explosions in the background, reminding us where we are and what the animals had to endure," proudly prioritizing the rescue and safety of zoo animals over the besieged people of Gaza!
Even supporters of a ‘two-state solution’ point to Palestinians within Israel who are allowed to vote, as an example a functioning democracy. Adding to the profound confusion, is that from the outside it appears to be one of the most multi-racial places on earth, although violence and racism against Black Jews in Israeli society is well-documented.
Also in South Africa as with Jim Crow, the practice of racism was much easier to identify due to separate laws for “whites” and “non-whites." Yet in Israel, despite the color of your skin, your status under law is determined by if you are Jewish, whether you are religious or not, or non-Jewish.
The struggle for justice is universal and one need not be Palestinian or Black to see the truth, as documented in this debate about zionism by Israeli Rogel Alpher, "Zionism Today is an Illusion", “The problem is that most Jewish eyes in Israel are blind to the apartheid, and to the fact that the occupation and apartheid will necessarily lead to the creation of a binational state—one that is, in essence, anti-Zionist. Anyone ever expecting Israel to end the occupation, either voluntarily or via international pressure, needs to think again.”
Ultimately, under all human rights and international law standards, an occupied and oppressed people have the right to resist and fight back, by any means necessary.
After decades of waiting for a political solution that will ease the insanity they are faced with due to lack of political will, Palestinians, BLM and our supporters are done hoping for an arbitrary end to the illusion of democracy. Towards that end the Movement for Black Lives has declared its support for Boycott Divestment Sanctions. And #Arabs4BlackLives has responded affirming its unequivocal support and its will to divest economically from police terror and militarism.
It is due time for those on the front lines to define in our own terms and to claim our rights, as recognized in theory by all standards—and call for the end of the acquiescence of apartheid and genocide, in part and in full—both in the U.S., in historic Palestine and beyond.
Noura Khouri is a Palestinian in the diaspora from the Bay Area and has worked for the past two decades as a human rights activist, campaign strategist and a community organizer. Noura was born in Michigan where her parents fled after the 1967 war, and they moved to the Bay Area when she was 6 years old. She has lived in occupied Palestine and Egypt and is currently working with Just World Books and Civility NOW. She can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.