Apartheid, Palestine, and Human Rights

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The humanitarian crisis in
Palestine is
not something you hear much about these days. It didn’t come up in the presidential
policy debate
on Monday, though of course Obama and Romney spent a long
time talking about Netanyahu’s “red line” with Iran. G8 nations were similarly
silent on Palestine during the group’s
conference back in May, although Israel’s
ongoing blockade of Gaza
was a major
G8 talking point
just two years ago, as was the peace
a year later.

When we do see Palestine in the news, it’s
mostly about why and how the two-state solution is dead–a theme that’s been
driven home repeatedly over the last year by the likes of Jimmy
, Atlantic senior editor Robert
, and Haaretz journalist Gideon
. Not that there’s much reason to believe otherwise. In fact, the
crisis there only seems to be getting worse.

For one thing, Jews are
now a minority in Israel and
the Occupied Territories, raising serious questions about
minority rule and apartheid. Last week, Israel
officially declared that of the 12 million people living between the Jordan and the Mediterranean,
Israeli Jews represent about 5.9 million (a fact Israeli demography expert
Sergio Della Pergola had already
pointed out
in 2010). “Apartheid
is here
,” says Haaretz columnist
Akiva Eldar. “The Jewish majority is history.”

And apartheid is not
a subjective term
, says UC Irvine professor Mark LeVine at Al-Jazeera. Since its formal
implementation in 1948 in South
Africa, a series of international treaties like
International Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of
Racial Discrimination of 1966 and the 2002 Rome Statute have defined apartheid
in no uncertain terms. Despite cosmetic differences in how it’s implemented, Israel’s policies toward Palestine
fit the international definition–as Rome
calls it, an “institutionalised
of systematic oppression and domination”–to a bill, says LeVine. Arabs in Israel may have some basic political rights like voting and holding office, he says, but it’s hard to ignore the widespread economic discrimination they face, “as well as in access to land and most components of social citizenship
(education, healthcare, language and access to upper echelons of political
life).” Not to mention the entangling maze of checkpoints, settlements, and walls dotting and dominating Palestinian territory.

Of course, the charge has been raised
before, most famously by Jimmy Carter in 2006. A year later, John Dugard, a South African international law professor and UN human
rights envoy to the Occupied
Territories, echoed the same concern. “It
is difficult to resist the conclusion that many of Israel’s laws and practices violate
the 1966 Convention on the Elimination of all forms of Racial Discrimination,”
he wrote at the time. And late last year, Dugard reiterated his
point, writing in Al-Jazeera that,
“Most South Africans who visit the West Bank are struck by the similarities
between apartheid and Israel’s
practices there.”

But whatever we choose to call it, human
rights abuses in Palestine
are only escalating, whether our political leaders discuss it or not. Last
week, Israel released its “red lines” document,
which spells out some of the tactical specifics of the Gaza blockade, and their intended impact on
Palestinians living there. (The revelation was almost totally ignored in the U.S. media.) The
idea, reports Amira Hass in Haaretz,
was to allow Gazans access to only the minimum
number of calories
each day to avoid outright starvation. Despite the fact
that the blockaded Gaza is almost entirely
dependent on outside resources, Israeli government attorneys defended such “economic
warfare” as entirely within Israel’s
rights, while also attempting to prevent the document’s disclosure.

So what’s the minimum number? 2,279 calories
each day for each person, or 131 truckloads entering Gaza, says Hass. (To put that in perspective, the average American has access to about 3,800 calories each day.) But, says Hass, UN data show the
actual number entering the territory has been far less. And Israeli prohibitions
on seeds and agricultural technology served to make food insecurity even more
of a serious problem for Gaza’s
1.7 million residents.

Though the specific policies outlined
in the “red lines” document officially ended in 2010, the blockade continues to
enforce a real and growing hunger crisis in Gaza. A report by the United Nations Relief
and Works Agency, released in August of this year, finds that in a territory where
a majority are under 18, three
out of five families
face, or are at risk of facing, food insecurity. The report
went on: With unemployment now nearing 30 percent, and Palestinians there
already facing a severe shortage of schools and medical care, Gaza’s future looks grim unless serious
changes can be made. By 2020, it concluded, by which time Gaza will grow by half a million residents, the
territory may be completely uninhabitable, unless serious steps are taken to
reverse the humanitarian crisis.

This is a bleak portrait, but a more
humane future for Palestine
is certainly possible. The work the Middle
East Children’s Alliance
has been doing for 25 years gives us an inspiring
vision of what that humane future could look like, as do the flotilla movement’s ongoing efforts to break the Gaza siege. If a two-state solution is
indeed finished, writes Gideon Levy, the real fight is for human rights. And
that fight has much to do with us: because crimes like the blockade are so
dependent on U.S.
aid and support, Americans have enormous influence on the future of the crisis.
Human rights in Palestine
may not be a campaign issue this year, but neither was South African apartheid
in 1984. It was only through popular struggle–here and in South Africa–that
more humane alternatives became politically possible.

Image by Paolo Cuttitta, licensed under Creative Commons.

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