It is a well-known fact that two former Prime Ministers of Israel, Ehud Olmert and Ehud Barak, have in recent years warned that Israel will become an apartheid state if it does not divest itself of the Palestinian territories that it occupies. The two men are cited all the time by American commentators who are not allowed to make this judgment themselves, let alone offer the observation that this is not just a prediction, Israel is practicing apartheid now in the West Bank, with separate roadways etc.
Well, now I learn that another former P.M. also made the same prediction. Hirsh Goodman’s toughminded memoir, Let Me Create a Paradise, God Said to Himself, has a lot about Goodman’s service in several Israeli wars. During the ’67 War, Goodman got back from his Sinai to his kibbutz in time to find his girlfriend in bed with a friend. Then:
I was too exhausted to care. I flopped into bed, put ont he radio and slept and slept and slept… Then David Ben-Gurion came on with his chirpy little voice, his sentences clipped and hard.
Israel, he said, better rid itself of the territories and their Arab population as soon as possible. If it did not Israel would soon become an Apartheid State. Demography, he said, was a greater danger than not having the territorial depth the right wing was always claiming Israel needed to defend itself.
That phrase, ‘Israel will become an Apartheid State,’ resonated with me. In a flash I understood what he was saying. I had seen the results of war and the beginnings of occupation with men hunched in trucks, hands on their heads, humiliated; taxis crushed mercilessly; people’s livelihoods taken away in an instant; homes taken over and billiard cues used to extract the truth [reference to torture]. The taking of the biblical towns of the West Bank… was a miracle… But Ben-Gurion’s warning would return to me incessantly as we settled into our base in El Arish [Egypt] for what seemed to be a long time to come.
Goodman himself grew up in Apartheid South Africa, which he left for Israel. He doesn’t make the complete shift required here, toward understanding of what Israel has become. But he shows us that several former Prime Ministers now have understood the issue.
And remember, that when Jimmy Carter had the temerity to use the word Apartheid, 40 years after Ben-Gurion’s warning, Terry Gross on NPR’s Fresh Air assailed him for doing so. Our discourse is far weaker on this issue than Israel’s. Why? Because of the lobby and the non-belief in American democracy when it comes to this policy.