Richard Goldstone’s op-ed in the Times today saying that it is “slander” to say that Israel practices “apartheid” is shocking at a number of levels. It is shocking that the eminent judge, who damaged his international reputation last spring by stepping away from a UN report he had co-authored in 2009 that was highly critical of Israel, would now step out as an Israel apologist, employing hackneyed and cookie-cutter arguments about a little democracy contending with hostile neighbors. And it is shocking that a judge with a former reputation for dispassionate examination of the facts would go as far as he has here to misrepresent the reality of the situation to try and make Israel look good.
That is where it is most important to take Goldstone on and do so emphatically—on the facts of the situation. A few of Goldstone’s points:
--Palestinians inside Israel are subject to “some… discrimination” but by and large they are full citizens, getting the identical treatment that Jewish people do, electing members of the Knesset. When they are separate, it is generally because they have separated themselves.
First and foremost this ignores how Israel's Jewish majority was created in the first place. To say that Palestinians "have separated themselves" is to ignore that they were driven off their land in 1948, and not allowed to return. Those who stayed inside the 1949 armistice lines where kept under martial law for the next 18 years, during which time their homes and land were destroyed and taken by the state. Today, the Israeli government, through the Israel Land Administration and quasi-state organizations like the Jewish National Fund, manages 93% of the land inside the 1967 borders, and that land is reserved for Jews only. So while yes, Jews and Palestinians live very separate lives inside Israel today, it is a gross distortion to claim Palestinians have separated themselves.
And while Goldstone says that the separation of Palestinians is not an official systematic one in Israel, which is highly debatable, he is overlooking a reality, in which Palestinian communities are the last to receive water, in which Bedouin villages are decreed “unrecognized” and then demolished.
The reality today is that there is Jim Crow inside Israel. Yes, Palestinains can vote, but Palestinian parties are never represented in the ruling coalitions--a situation reminiscent of the Democratic Party in our country not seating black delegates to the presidential nominating convention in 1964. The Jewish state requires Jewish leaders; there is no way that a Palestinian Obama would be allowed anywhere near the corridors of policy-making. .
Even in Jim Crow days, America was integrating our armed forces. Palestinians are not required to serve in the army—and with the exception of the Druze, they don’t—because they are officially mistrusted. Another example: when Israeli Yonatan Shapira was asked last year to explain Palestinian status inside Israel, he said that Israel has granted permission to Jewish Israelis to start countless new towns since 1948, but no new Palestinians town has been created.
--Goldstone says that Palestinian conditions in the West Bank are much better than the “cruel” South African apartheid system he was a witness to, where blacks could not go to black beaches, could not marry whites, could not be in white areas without a pass, and yet could bleed to death waiting for a “black” ambulance.
There is no question that the “persecution” of Palestinians as the Goldstone report characterized Palestinian conditions in the West Bank and Gaza, is of a different character than South African persecution of blacks. But this is not to say that it is not as cruel or even crueler.
Palestinians must get permits to travel from the West Bank into occupied Jerusalem and into Israel, and this pass system is the subject of bitter endless discussion—Palestinans will tell you that it is a cruel system, and they are the best judges of that. 1.5 million Gazans cannot get passes to travel outside the boundaries of a strip of land about half the size of New York City due to a policy of collective punishment that the Goldstone Report said was a war crime.
It's especially ironic that Goldstone uses the example of ambulances in South Africa when there are countless examples of Palestinians suffering under the same conditions. Many Palestinians in the West Bank have bled to death at checkpoints that Goldstone cruelly fails to mention in this op-ed. Millions of Palestinians in the West Bank cannot go to the beach a few miles away, a beach many of their parents grew up going to, because of the pass system. And as for not marrying whites, non-Jews cannot marry Jews under Israeli law, and Palestinian families are legally broken apart by legal classifications that seek to separate West Bank Palestinians from East Jerusalem Palestinians from Gazan Palestinians, all in the name of Israeli security.
It is shocking that Goldstone sugarcoats or fails to mention many conditions that he described as amounting to a crime against humanity—persecution-- in his earlier report. For instance, he refers blandly to “disparate treatment on West Bank roads.” But he is talking about Israeli roads built inside occupied Palestine that Palestinians are not allowed to drive on.
The Israeli system of control in the West Bank is all organized around the principle of separation, hafradah in Hebrew, which translates into apartheid in Afrikaans—a principle that the state enforces by granting one group higher legal status than the other. In Israel’s case the separation is enforced so as to preserve a Jewish majority inside non-Palestinian areas. And it is racial: in his recitation of Israeli freedoms, Goldstone fails to mention that more than half a million Jewish settlers who live inside Palestine have the right to vote in Israeli elections, while their non-Jewish neighbors, whose land and water they have taken, are denied the right to vote for representatives of the government that controls their lives. This explicit privileging of 500,000 Jews over the 2.5 million Palestinians they are living alongside is apartheid plain and simple. In the Palestinan case however the borders and governance of the Bantustans have just not yet been established.
People will ask, why did Goldstone shred his reputation? The judge gives a powerful signal about his thinking when he begins his piece by speaking about the threat to the two-state solution from those who would “delegitimize” the state of Israel. The plain truth is that Palestinian are enraged by the conditions we have cited above, and their support for the two-state solution has collapsed after more than 20 years of a ruthless peace process that has only extended the occupation and stolen more of their lands. Few Palestinians see a happy future for them with a Zionist neighbor, and out of solidarity for their suffering, people around the world have undertaken an honest inventory of Zionism’s actions. Many have come to the conclusion that Israel is delegitimizing itself. When Goldstone told the truth in the Gaza report he honored Palestinian voices -- and was accused of hurting the peace process and endangering the two-state solution. Now he is denying those same voices, apparently in an effort to revive the two-state solution and save the Jewish state.
But it will be hard to get the toothpaste back in the tube. That is the one good thing about the judge’s latest role. It is so at odds with Goldstone’s earlier statements that it will only draw further attention to the real cause of the end of the two-state solution, the cruel Israeli occupation.