A recent upsurge in analysis of Israel as an apartheid state has peaked again with Amnesty International’s February 2022 report, “Israel’s Apartheid Against Palestinians: Cruel System of Domination and Crime Against Humanity.” The willingness of mainstream non-governmental organizations to use the language of apartheid marks a shift in the terms of the debate—one that builds on a long history of analysis and activism. MERIP’s coverage of Palestine demonstrates how the South African struggle against apartheid has been an important reference point in that history. MERIP articles examine parallels—and distinctions—between Israel’s system of control and that of apartheid South Africa. They also illustrate how activists and those in solidarity with the Palestinian liberation struggle have recognized the similarities between South Africa’s racist regime and Israel’s settler-colonial project, and between modes of resistance to them.[Many more articles can be found on our website by using the search page or browsing by topic. Click here for a list of all articles about Palestine and here for articles about the Israeli-Palestinian conflict.]
Ian Urbina, “The Analogy to Apartheid,” Middle East Report 223 (Summer 2002)
Urbina describes how the Israeli state’s actions and policies resemble the South African apartheid regime and what Palestine activists can do to deploy the same anti-apartheid tactics of divestment and boycott, despite the “far more complicated financial scene” today.
“Nevertheless, the globalized economy offers potential points of grassroots pressure. Arms contractors always make good targets. Divestment from weapons manufacturers and popular pressure on governments to implement a freeze on military sales is a tactic that was used with good effect against apartheid South Africa. Many European countries are considering this approach toward Israel. After selling an estimated $170 million worth of military equipment to Israel in 2000, Germany announced that it will suspend further arms sales.”
Monica Tarazi, “Planning Apartheid in the Naqab,” Middle East Report 253 (Winter 2009)
Tarazi explains the history of Israeli expropriation of Bedouin land in the Naqab (Negev), which continues to this day. She details how Israel’s discriminatory legal system and government planning policies have created a “desert apartheid” cementing shocking socio-economic gaps between Bedouins and Jews.
“Spatial planning can be a force for reform and emancipation or a mechanism of control and subordination. In Israel, national planning goals are rooted in Zionism’s agenda of nation building and ‘Judaization’ of territory. In the southern desert, known in Arabic as the Naqab and in Hebrew as the Negev, those priorities have led to the expropriation of more than 90 percent of the historical lands of the Palestinian Bedouin for the establishment of Jewish towns. The result is one of the clearest examples of apartheid in Israel.”
Oren Yiftachel, “’Creeping Apartheid’ in Israel-Palestine,” Middle East Report 253 (Winter 2009)
Yiftachel describes, in historical and political detail, “the existence of legal and political differences between the various Arab areas under Israeli control.” He shows how the incremental process of cementing a system of rule has entrenched separate and unequal ethnic relations between Jews and Palestinians in Israel and the occupied Palestinian territory.
“In place of movement toward two states or one, there is a process of ‘creeping apartheid’—undeclared, yet structural—reordering the politics and geography of the country between the Jordan River and the Mediterranean Sea. The colonized West Bank, the besieged Gaza Strip and Israel proper, each with its own official set of rules, are in fact merging into one regime system, ultimately controlled by the Jewish state, which increasingly appears to bear the characteristics of apartheid, and inhabited by people with citizenship status akin to ‘blacks,’ ‘coloreds’ and ‘whites.’”
Noura Erakat, “BDS in the USA, 2001-2010,” Middle East Report 255 (Summer 2010)
Erakat records the increasing influence of the boycott, divestment and sanctions (BDS) movement in the United States, a movement that draws inspiration from similar efforts aimed at apartheid South Africa in the 1980s.
“In the US, BDS is associated with the solidarity movement aimed at ending apartheid in South Africa. That movement is widely credited with helping to topple apartheid and free Nelson Mandela, a political prisoner for 27 years, who became the first Black president of South Africa. The African National Conference of which Mandela was a part called upon the world to boycott, divest from and sanction apartheid South Africa in 1958. Due to the South African experience, BDS is seen as a grassroots strategy that works.”
Loubna Qutami, “Moving Beyond the Apartheid Analogy in Palestine and South Africa,” Middle East Report Online, February 3, 2020
Qutami gives an account of a Palestinian youth delegation’s visit to South Africa and what they learned of the parallels and differences among the experiences of Black South Africans and their own. They explored the similar ways that colonialism, racial capitalism and apartheid functions in Palestine and South Africa and also discussed the crucial distinctions in the two struggles and their liberation strategies, including differences in the role of labor.
“Understanding the parallels between the Palestinian and South African liberation struggles has been galvanizing and productive for activists, but many Palestinians are questioning both the utility of the apartheid analogy and its limitations. They are not concerned with questions of whether or not apartheid currently exists in Palestine. They have accepted apartheid as a critical characteristic of Israeli occupation. Rather, they are examining whether or not apartheid adequately explains the Palestinian condition in its totality and if the analogy is helpful in mapping out the terms and strategies of their own liberation.”
Nimrod Ben Zeev, “Tracing the Historical Relevance of Race in Palestine and Israel,” Middle East Report 299 (Summer 2021)
Ben Zeev provides a fascinating account of the history of racial thought among Palestinians and Zionists and their changing preoccupations with the color line as a theme of global politics.
“Against this backdrop [of protests against the police killing of Michael Brown in Ferguson, Missouri], activists in Palestine and in the United States increasingly began invoking each other’s struggles. This wave of solidarity, focused at first on Gaza and Ferguson, publicly reinvigorated a host of ongoing and deep historical ties between Black American and Palestinian struggles against oppression… It is perhaps fitting that one of the most reviled manifestations of the color line in the twentieth century, apartheid South Africa, remains one of Zionism’s most consistent demons to the present day. Indeed, even prior to the institutionalization of apartheid and Israel’s establishment, both in 1948, South Africa’s racial regime loomed large in the thinking of some Zionist figures.”
Akram Salhab and Dahoud al-Ghoul, “Jerusalem Youth at the Forefront of 2021’s Unity Intifada,” Middle East Report Online, November 10, 2021
Reporting from Jerusalem, Salhab and al-Ghoul describe renewed efforts by Palestinians to creatively unite against Israeli policies of dispossession and to do so outside the traditional political structures that have failed to represent them.
“The Palestinian uprising of April, May and June 2021—known as the Unity Intifada—is part of a long tradition of revolutionary political activity in which Palestinians have organized, with great courage and creativity, to fight Israeli colonization and apartheid.”
Zvi Schuldiner, “Israel’s ‘National Unity,’” Middle East Report 129 (January 1985)
Schuldiner provides a snapshot of the state of Israeli politics around the elections for the eleventh Knesset in 1985, in which Meir Kahane’s fascist Kach movement secured a seat in the parliament, indicating increased support for his racist program to “expel the Arabs” who he accused of “taking jobs away from Jews.”
“On the other side of the spectrum there is the emergence of Kahane, with his ability to make even Eitan and Sharon look ‘moderate.’ This indicates how far the Israeli political spectrum has shifted to the right, and the dangers posed by the confluence of this growing chauvinism with the severe crisis of the economy.”