Photo: ActiveStills Palestinian held at Israeli military check-point during Ramadan.
Public discourse towards the Palestine-Israel conflict has shifted. More and more, we hear the word “apartheid” associated with discussions concerning Israeli policy towards the Palestinian people. Such an analysis of apartheid makes connections between the contemporary conflict in the Middle East and the apartheid era in South Africa. It is, in part, this political tie that has mobilized grassroots networks globally in solidarity with Palestine.
U.K.-based author Ben White, author of Israeli Apartheid: A Beginner’s Guide, has just topped off a cross-country tour of major Canadian universities where he has lectured on Israeli Apartheid.
Journalist Stefan Christoff had the opportunity to speak with White for CKUT Radio to discuss his first book.
Stefan Christoff: Recently you launched Israeli Apartheid: A Beginner’s Guide. Could outline for us the main points you highlight in the book on Palestine and Israel, points which some have certainly found contentious.
Ben White: One of the reasons why people find the Israeli apartheid analysis contentious is because it implicitly makes a comparison to South Africa. This analysis that compares apartheid in South Africa and today in Palestine is an important comparison to make, [and] has been developed over decades. In reality, there are similarities, but also important differences.
A key thing to consider is that there is a international definition of apartheid, independent of what happened historically speaking in South Africa, or the situation today in Palestine. Apartheid is clearly defined in different international treaties, and one can take that definition and apply it to what is happening in Palestine and Israel to see if it matches. Myself and others believe that apartheid is an accurate way to describe to situation today in Palestine.
Another accusation about the apartheid analysis is that it is an extreme depiction for what is taking place on the ground in Israel/Palestine. But really, it just reflects the reality as to what is happening on the ground there now, and in the past. It is a one sided reality: there is an occupier, Israel, and an occupied, the Palestinians.
Palestinian people are occupied, dispossessed and colonized while Israel is a powerful military state with allies around the world, so the conflict is totally unequal. It is Israel that is confiscating Palestinian land—not the other way around. It is Israel encircling and besieging Palestinian communities—not the other way around. If the language is extreme, it is simply a reflection of the extreme reality on the ground.
Christoff: Can you outline some of the most difficult questions that you have faced on your recent cross-Canada tour? What criticism has your book faced? How do you respond to those critiques?
White: Many of the critical questions that come up focus on security, and perceived Israeli security needs. These are arguments that are trying to provide a justification for Israeli policies in Palestine.
Only focusing on Israeli security is simply an attempt to direct attention away from the apartheid reality [that exists] today in Palestine. Many of these policies, like that of the wall, Israeli settlements, confiscation of Palestinian land and restrictions on Palestinian freedom of movement – all of which have been documented by countless international and Israeli human rights organizations – are not for Israeli policies focused on security. They are policies undertaken for maintaining the domination of Israel over the Palestinians.
Christoff: What is your take on the current Canadian government’s position in regards to Palestine/Israel.
White: Obviously the Conservative government of Stephen Harper has been one of the most pro-Israel governments in recent times. However, I got the impression while touring Canada that there is a large disconnect between the policies of the current administration and many Canadians on the issue.
Think that it is generally understood that without equality and justice for the Palestinians there will never be peace for Israel. So I think in Canada and also in other countries, in the U.K. as well, there is big gap between public opinion and government policies on Palestine. There is a growing number of people who understand what is really going on.
Christoff: Can you speak about your motivations behind writing Israeli Apartheid: A Beginner’s Guide?
White: For a long time the public in the West has been exposed to a mainly Israeli version of events, so I was aiming to write something that was concise and accessible for someone who doesn’t necessarily know much about the conflict. Israeli Apartheid: A Beginner’s Guide, is an attempt to describe the reality of Israeli policies as they have impacted the Palestinian people over the last sixty years, while also clearly outlining the apartheid reality today in Palestine.
Christoff: Can you describe one of your most striking memories from Palestine that continues to motivate you?
White: I think of the Nassar family, friends who have a farm near Bethlehem and are also residents of Bethlehem. For a number of years the Nassar family has been struggling to resist a confiscation order that has been issued by Israel for their property, dating back generations.
Through different legal avenues and international advocacy the Nasser family has been resisting this confiscation, while also they are working to create their own facts on the ground by developing their farm, planting olive trees vegetables, building infrastructure, while inviting activist groups from around the world, including Israeli activists, to stand in solidarity with their struggle. As part of their struggle the Nassar family has set-up an international solidarity project called the Tent of Nations, which includes multiple programs.
The Nasser family is inspiring because they are not passively resisting—they are actively resisting by making sure that their hold onto the land is as strong as possible. Actually, the Nasser family is just one example of the Palestinian peoples greatest strengths on the ground which is described best by the Arabic word Sumoud, or steadfastness, which is the Palestinians refusal to give-up, or move away, their commitment to remain on their land and to stand-up and speak-up for their rights.
Ben White is a U.K.-based author, recently published Israeli Apartheid: A Beginner’s Guide, find out more on-line at: www.benwhite.org.uk
Stefan Christoff is a Montreal based journalist and community organizer with Tadamon!