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Beyond apartheid: Fragments from the West Bank

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“My father doesn’t die. I only said that so that the story would end. If I didn’t, it would never end. Summer is coming in a couple of months and the sun will dry up all the piles of peels and shells, so they won’t be so heavy and then my father can move them away from on top of him and go back to the house.”

–Ghassan Kanafani, The Slope (1961)

“You’re going to Bethlehem? Isn’t it dangerous?
You’re going to Hebron? Isn’t it dangerous?
Don’t go to Bethlehem. It’s dangerous.
Don’t go to Hebron. It’s dangerous.”

According to a recent New York Times op-ed, Israel today is “nothing like” South African apartheid. As is often the case with the Times opinion pages, the message is carried by ethos: the voice of Benjamin Pogrund, a somewhat lauded South African-Israeli journalist who covered apartheid in South Africa, soothes the conscience of liberals who support Israeli state crimes. Since Clinton-style Democrats can’t even use the term “occupation” when referring to Israel, the preemptive offensive against “apartheid” is nothing but indoctrination for elite readers of the Times.

Pogrund’s recycled arguments have been disassembled elsewhere, but the controversy around Israel and apartheid does show the inadequacy of mainstream discourse about Israel/Palestine. What could be pointed to in order to “convince” the world of injustices done to Palestinians—to “isolate” the crimes and give them the proper label—when the system of Israeli domination is so entrenched and so vast, so as to be practically invisible, particularly to Israelis?

Israeli Jewish citizens, like Pogrund and me, are expected to cultivate a schizophrenic relationship to the territories controlled by Israel. On the one hand, we’re expected to have intimate familiarity with Israeli rule and its military logic, so that we can defend it at home and abroad like good hasbara agents; and on the other, pumped with fear, we must be completely ignorant of what happens in Palestinian areas.

On a recent visit to the West Bank, we passed the white-on-red signs warning Israelis not to go into the Palestinian “Area A” (“Entrance for Israeli Citizens Is Forbidden, Dangerous to Your Lives And Is Against The Israeli Law”). The signs kind of look like, and merit the same seriousness as, the signs warning Tel-Aviv beachgoers not to swim in the wintery month of April.


On the left, a sign warning Israelis that it’s dangerous and illegal to enter “Area A.” On the right, a sign warning Tel-Aviv beachgoers not to swim during the winter season when lifeguards are off duty. (Photos: Yarden Katz)

In Bethlehem, we saw Claire Anastas’s house, which is flanked by the separation wall. Although Bethlehem is in forbidden Area A, anything in the vicinity of the wall is considered “Area C” and thus under Israeli control. Area C’s boundaries are virtual and malleable. That’s why Israeli authorities prohibit residents of the Anastas house from opening the windows on the second floor or going up to the roof (both considered security threats).

Claire Anastas’s house in Bethlehem surrounded by the separation wall. The windows on the second floor must remain shut and the roof cannot be used. (Photo: Lauren Surface)

We walked through Aida refugee camp, just outside of Bethlehem, where roughly 5,000 Palestinians displaced in 1948 now live, and where homes have been frequently raided and shelled by the Israeli army. The camp has a memorial for children killed during Israel’s assault on Gaza in 2014 (around 500 Palestinian children were killed in operation “Protective Edge,” yet Israeli media has barely covered the devastation).

Memorial in Aida refugee camp for children killed during Israel’s 2014 assault on Gaza. (Photo: Yarden Katz)

In Aida: One of the villages from which refugees were displaced in 1948. (Photo: Yarden Katz)

From Aida, we traveled to Hebron’s Area “H2,” which is under full Israeli control and where Palestinian movement is restricted. It looks and feels like a ravaged ghost town. Al-Shuhada Street, where there once was a bustling market, is now a site of hollowed-out stores and rubble. After Baruch Goldstein’s massacre of Palestinians in the Cave of the Patriarchs in 1994, the Israeli military imposed curfews on residents and restricted store hours—a form of collective punishment for Palestinians for a murder committed by a settler. In 2000, during the Second Intifada, the street was officially closed by Israel. Today only settlers, Israeli soldiers, and contractors (and the Palestinian construction workers who work for them) are left to roam the streets plastered with biblical-nationalist propaganda. It’s a matter of time, it seems, until those locked buildings are reopened to Israeli settlers.

A once lively street in Hebron. The stores were forcibly closed by Israel and the area cut off to Palestinians during the Second Intifada. (Photo: Lauren Surface)

Perhaps agitated by our presence, a settler stopped her SUV in the middle of the road to ask if we’re with Breaking the Silence. She offered to give us her “objective” view of Hebron, explaining in a Brooklyn accent (which she insisted was Israeli) that her Jewish ancestors purchased Hebron’s lands legally—and that if only those Palestinians from across the way stopped throwing stones, maybe we could live in peace.

Sign in Hebron H2: “These structures were built on land that was bought in 1807 by the Jewish community in Hebron and was confiscated by the Arabs after they murdered 67 of Hebron’s Jews in 1929. We demand Justice! Give us back our stolen property! –The Jewish Settlement of Hebron” (Photo: Yarden Katz)

We ended our journey in the Gush Etzion settlement bloc. The Israeli government chose this place to celebrate the 50th anniversary of the Six Day War (1967)—a “liberation” of the West Bank, according to government officials. (Miri Regev, the Culture Minister, argued that these celebrations must remain above the fray of “any political disagreement.”) As in East Jerusalem, the disparities in infrastructure between the polished Jewish-only settlements and the surrounding Palestinian neighborhoods are harrowing.

On the separation wall in Bethlehem. (Photo: Yarden Katz)

Sophisticated apologists for state power, who frequently write for the Times, call for “nuance” in framing these observations; they’re willing to condemn the Israeli occupation, selectively, as long as Israel’s image as a “Jewish and Democratic state” (a contradiction in terms) is preserved. At best, apartheid can be used as a hypothetical threat: in 2007, former Prime Minister Olmert warned that Israel might become “apartheid-like” (Ehud Barak made similar pronouncements) and in 2014, John Kerry was still cautioning that Israel risks becoming an apartheid state if settlement expansion continues (he later apologized). Tom Friedman reinforced Kerry’s position unequivocally in the Times: “Israel by default could become some kind of apartheid-like state.”

Construction and rubble in Hebron H2. (Photo: Yarden Katz)

The Israeli state, however, runs a system that continually produces horrors, each negating the apologist’s hedging. From just the last few years: an eight-year-old girl terrorized by soldiers for crossing into a Jewish-only road; an eight-year-old boy violently dragged around the neighborhood by a gang of Israeli soldiers; detention, interrogation and abuse of children; a poet, Dareen Tatour, arrested for posting poems on social media, facing nearly a decade in prison; Israeli army patrol threatening to “gas” to death “the children, the youth, the old people” of Aida refugee camp; the spraying of putrid “skunk water” on Palestinian schools (a technique imported from Israel by Ferguson police); Israeli soldiers beating Palestinian bystanders, no questions asked; the repeated obliteration of whole neighborhoods and families in Gaza (this is why the name “Gaza” doesn’t appear in Pogrund’s Times piece). If we only dare look, we see that there’s apartheid and much more.

Yarden Katz

Yarden Katz is a fellow in the Department of Systems Biology at Harvard Medical School.

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25 Responses

  1. YoniFalic on April 17, 2017, 11:05 am
  2. Talkback on April 18, 2017, 8:34 am

    Nobody needs to read Poground’s article to know that he doesn’t refer to the Crime of Apartheid as defined by international law, but only compares South Africa’s petty Apartheid with Israel. The usual Hasbara trick.

  3. eljay on April 18, 2017, 8:44 am

    Defenders of Israel arguing that the colonialist, (war) criminal and religion-supremacist “Jewish State” isn’t exactly like South Africa is akin to defenders of the rapist arguing that he isn’t exactly like the child molester or the serial killer: It’s irrelevant to the hatefulness, immorality and deliberate criminality of the perpetrator, and it’s of very small comfort to its / his victims.

  4. Misterioso on April 18, 2017, 10:29 am

    Eminent Jewish Israeli journalist, Bradley Burston, aptly sums up the horrors Israel inflicts on Palestinians in the occupied West Bank and occupied East Jerusalem:

    “Occupation is Slavery”
    “In the name of occupation, generation after generation of Palestinians have been treated as property. They can be moved at will, shackled at will, tortured at will, have their families separated at will. They can be denied the right to vote, to own property, to meet or speak to family and friends. They can be hounded or even shot dead by their masters, who claim their position by biblical right, and also use them to build and work on the plantations the toilers cannot themselves ever hope to own. The masters dehumanize them, call them by the names of beasts.” (Haaretz, Feb. 26/13)

  5. shaun patrick on April 19, 2017, 12:23 am

    When future generations of Israeli’s look back at this tragedy they will say of Netanyahu and others; you committed terrible crimes in our name but worse you stole our conscience, the very soul of our integrity, you lied to us again and again and we believed your lies. To paraphrase William Shakespeare…Whoever steals my purse steals trash but he who steals my good name robs me and makes me poor. Israel’s good name is being stolen.

    • samibedouin on April 21, 2017, 3:23 pm

      The future generation of “israel” will be worse than the current one … the whole zionist society is heading extremely right wing with every passing day

      • Kaisa of Finland on April 21, 2017, 5:48 pm


        I’ve lived in Israel and been to Golan and West Bank and almost everywhere and I am very aware of the horrible things there are happening there. Since I am not an Israeli, a Palestinian, a Jew nor a Muslim and I did not speak arabic or hebrew then, it took me some time to learn to know the “truth about Israel”. It is some years ago now, when I left last time and as seen in the news things have just gotten worse. I would just want to ask you, do you see any kind of “peacefull” solution which could be possible??

        In my naive thinking I wish we could first “push” the settlers and the IDF out of the WB (By boycott) and maybe have some Peacekeepers in the area to try to prevent violations (like they are in Lebanon), but ofcourse that could only be a short time solution, to give Palestinians in West Bank time to breath and build some kind of life without occupation..

        But then there is Gaza, do you believe the two state solution would be possible?? And one state right now.. ?? A lot would have to change, you to be able to live and move freely with out the IDF breathing in your necks in that one state for everyone.. And being realist, Israelis are not leaving anywhere, so the “peace” should start somewhere, if not permanent solution, but lets say 5 year plan.. ?? And Jerusalem under International law??

        I know I have nothing to say to the conflict itself as being an complete outsider, but
        I would just like to hear your point of view, what kind of solution could you see possible for the Palestinians to live with (I know there are people supporting both one state and two state), if Israelis (zionists) could be “pushed” by a western boycott??

        I know it feels impossible and I don’t want to be an intruder, but what do you think, what kind of solution would you see possible ??

        (A guy in West Bank once said to me that he thought that one state could be possible, but not now, maybe after 100 years.. )

      • Kaisa of Finland on April 21, 2017, 6:02 pm

        And only after writing all that, I just feel exhausted: How did things go so wrong and is there any way to make it better??

      • Kaisa of Finland on April 21, 2017, 6:47 pm

        Sorry one more thing: When I mentioned Peacekeepers there above, I meant of course they’d only be by the border, both sides, as long as some kind of permanent solution could be found..

      • inbound39 on April 24, 2017, 2:32 am

        At some point the situation is going to explode in Israel’s face. In UK and US it is only the government members supporting Israels illegitimate acts. On the streets of both nations the people are in the majority against Israels actions and those numbers are growing daily. People find it hard to stomach Israels actions in Gaza. One more attack like the last which Lieberman has said will continue until a white flag is raised by Hamas will tip the balance in UK and US and their will be a revolt and huge marches on the street and American and UK governments will have no choice but to take action against Israel in order to save their lavish lifestyles.

      • Kaisa of Finland on April 24, 2017, 12:45 pm


        You know I have just recently realized that the problem in I/P is not Netanyhau, his government or not even the Israelis who vote for them, but the money which comes both from the government of U.S. and the private wealthy Zionists around the world (who support the occupation and the illlegal settlements).

        In Finland the issue in Palestine is rarely discussed, and when it is, it is always very fast silenced by certain politics (with this talk of anti-semistism, holocaust and Palestinians being Islamic terrorists).. And I started to wonder why it is so and after searching some time, found out that Finlands richest man, who now-a-days lives in U.K. is a Zionist Jew, friend of Netanyahu and he has financially supported many members of one of our biggest parties in our parliament.. So even if I could not point out that their standing behind of the Zionists in Israel was caused by this financiall support, it still raises questions, that how can this conflict ever be solved, in case these rich Zionists supporting certain polticians excist even in countries like Finland where we have about 2000 Jews, and we have been all living here mixed for quite a long time now, without any strong Zionist talk, if not counted the small minority of Pentecostals who I think are the loudest Zionists in Finland right now.

        Anyway, my point being, if even here the Zionist money is running inside our politics, how would it look like if we drew a map around the world.. Where is it, who speaks for it and how would Palestinians ever get treated equally, if this Zio money supports those in power almost everywhere. (And I am sure here the people who voted for those candidates, never had an idea that there could be such connections inside their politcs..)

        So it just makes me think that.. There is still a long way to Tippearary.. (sorry this just came somewhere from the back of my mind..)

      • Kaisa of Finland on April 24, 2017, 1:17 pm

        Well.. It makes me feel complitely helpless..

      • MHughes976 on April 24, 2017, 3:37 pm

        Well, I would think, inbound, that Germany is as much fully on the pro-Israel wagon as the UK is.

      • Kaisa of Finland on April 24, 2017, 6:32 pm


        I think the problem with Germany is not that they’d necessarely be pro-Israel, but the fact that since 2nd WW, each generation of Germans have been raised up with a very heavy collective quilt over what happend in the war and because of that, in Germany, it seems to be impossible to (publicly) critizize Israel in any way.. So I think if other European countries wound stand up boycotting Israel, the Germans would not resist, but because of the hístory, they can not be expected to play an active role in this matter.

      • Kaisa of Finland on April 24, 2017, 7:23 pm

        (heh heh.. so I mixed up too terms: raise and bring up so it became raise up.. But what more can you expect from a Finnish speaker trying to express herself in English.. )

      • MHughes976 on April 24, 2017, 8:46 pm

        I think that’s quite true, Kaisa. I had a very unsettlimg experience with a German who was very negative about all firms of nationalism except Zionist because as a German she couldn’t saythijg negative about Jews. However, your mastery of the English language is very impressive!

      • RoHa on April 25, 2017, 12:20 am

        Kaisa, when I can write a single, coherent, sentence in Finnish, I’ll start nagging at you about your English.

      • Kaisa of Finland on April 25, 2017, 10:38 am


        And as we just wrote about the Germans, I just saw an article in the newspage of Finnish Yle that Netanyahu has refused to meet Sigmar Gabriel, the Forgein minster of Germany, who at the moment is in Israel, since he has planned to meet memebers of Breaking the Silence and B’tselem while visiting Israel. The reason given is, that the goverment of Israel can not accept forgein politicians to come and meet these organizations acting against Israel’s best.

        So atleast the Germans seem to be doing something.. I remember our Forgein Minister Timo Soini coming back from Israel last summer with a picture of him and Netanyahu smiling, with text written under :”Finland will not boycott Israel..” And the smile on his face, it was large..

      • Kaisa of Finland on April 25, 2017, 10:43 am

        P.s. MHughes976/Roha:

        Thanks for your patience with my English :) And please ask twise, if I seem to be writing (as we say in Finnish) “Pig’s German”, meaning a language which is not understandable..

      • Kaisa of Finland on April 25, 2017, 11:08 am

        TWICE.. For some reason I never seem to get that word spelled correctly..

      • YoniFalic on April 25, 2017, 1:28 pm

        I had the problem too until I realized the rule. In English orthography generally in words of Germanic etymology, s between two vowels (even if the second is silent) tends to be pronounced /z/ if the first vowel is perceived as long by English speakers.

        To guarantee the /s/ pronunciation, the letter “c” must come between the vowels.

        Examples: rice, dice, lice, twice, thrice, nice, lace; wise, rise, daisy.

        There are apparent exceptions: mouse, house, louse, but these diphthongs are not necessarily considered long by English speakers even if they were originally long /u/s. The ‘e’ is non-historical. It was added later as a singular marker and not as length marker.

        In some cases the history was forgotten, e.g., pease = the original singular for pea. The ‘s’ was pronounced /z/.

        When I was learning English orthography, I worked out the rules.

        The endings ous/us is subject to a part of speech rule. Famous is an adjective. Genius is a noun.

  6. Ossinev on April 24, 2017, 10:02 am

    “At some point the situation is going to explode in Israel’s face. In UK and US it is only the government members supporting Israels illegitimate acts”

    The recent Al – Jazeera undercover investigation got a fair amount of exposure in the UK press which was a bonus but as with everything perceived as being detrimental to Zioland and the Zionists nothing like the exposure it would have received had it been any other foreign government plotting to “take down” a UK Minister of State. We have been told variously that there will be a Parliamentary Investigation , that there won`t be a Parliamentary Investigation. Such an investigation if it were to be held would serve the purpose of really exposing the level of Zionist lobbying and control within UK politics and I assume that all those Conservative Friends of Israel and Labour Friends of Israel must be working furiously in the background with the help of their Zio Personal Trainers to prevent an investigation.
    As a long standing Labour voter (ex) the thought of any Labour representative supporting the Apartheid monstrosity which Israel has become makes me want to puke. Watching the revolting behaviour of Labour MP Joan Ryan seriously challenged my stomach contents. The good news is that the creature has a very slim majority and is highly likely to get the boot in the upcoming UK general election. Apparently her behaviour being self evidently Pro-Semite did not merit a Labour Party Investigation as opposed to the “self evident Anti – Semitic ” remarks of Ken Livingstone.

    I had known that the Conservative Party was seriously infected with Zionism. I naively thought that this was not the case with the Labour Party so this has been a big wake up call for me. The saving grace as you indicate Inbound is that the UK populace generally find support for Israel unacceptable and are scratching their heads trying to figure out where all this supposed rampant anti -Semitism in the UK actually is. It is of course in the manufactured statistics of Zio Lobby Groups.

    In the latter context an important reminder to my fellow Brits. If you happen to be passing a synagogue or a group of Orthodox Jews do not under any circumstances break wind – your totally innocent action will be recorded as a blatantly anti – Semitic incident. In the case of the group of OrthodoxJews it will be recorded as 5 incidents if there are five in the group , 10 if there are ten etc etc.

    • Sibiriak on April 26, 2017, 10:42 am

      Ossinev: I had known that the Conservative Party was seriously infected with Zionism. I naively thought that this was not the case with the Labour Party so this has been a big wake up call for me.

      Liberal Democrats as well:

      Tim Farron sacks Lib Dem candidate for ‘deeply offensive and antisemitic’ comments

      • MHughes976 on April 26, 2017, 2:57 pm

        We sometimes comfort ourselves with the idea that accusations of anti-Semitism are losing their power from being used in such scattergun fashion, but the fate of ex-MP Ward shows how false this comfort is. That old scattergun is still scattering us far and wide – no defence oe effective counter-rhetoric has really been invented. The same day we hear that Malia Bouattia has rather massively failed in her attempt to be re-elected as Prrsudent of the National Union of Students, clearly because of her views in the same area. Also that Irina Bokova, the head of Unesco, has made a speech which treats the views on the Temple Mount in her Executive Committee – or whatever it’s called – concerning the Temple Mount, which caused such consternation a couple of months ago, as if they were little more than a silly student prank, best forgotten.
        This is not to praise Ward or Bouattia or say that the phrase ‘Temple Mount’ should be indeed be discontinued, just to note how powerful in the UK and internationally the accusation of anti-Semitism still is, how careers end and resolutions get brushed aside in face of it.

  7. RoHa on April 25, 2017, 12:57 am

    I don’t care whether it is like apartheid or not. It’s wrong anyway.

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