Israel – An apartheid state?

The Palestinian/ Israeli dispute has been an intractable conflict for over half a century. There have been countless ‘road maps’ to peace and even more countless dismissals of the proposed peace plans by all parties to the conflict. What has resulted because of this is an ever increasing, shocking humanitarian situation. This humanitarian situation suffers from an endless cycle of violence, where one side ‘attacks’ and where one side ‘retaliates’. What is suffering the most though, is the endless cycle of violations of the most basic, most fundamental human rights. The right to move freely, the right to education and medical assistance. The right to decide and participate in normal human activity. The flouting of human rights and the humiliation suffered by Palestinians in the Occupied Territories is rapidly increasing.

Dr Mustafa Barghouthi, the president of the Union of Palestinian Medical Relief Committees likens life under the Israelis to living under apartheid. A bit extreme perhaps, but let’s take a look at the evidence.

Dr Bargouhouthi states, “A trip that usually takes 45 minutes from Ramallah to Sa’ir takes now approximately nine hours and you have to change the car 11 times because of the checkpoints”.

Nobel Peace Laureate, Desmond Tutu has repeatedly called for an end to the Israeli occupation, stating: “What is not so understandable, not justified, is what it [Israel] did to another people to guarantee its existence. I’ve been very deeply distressed in my visit to the Holy Land; it reminded me so much of what happened to us blacks in South Africa. I have seen the humiliation of the Palestinians at checkpoints and roadblocks, suffering like us when young white police officers prevented us from moving about. They seemed to derive so much joy from our humiliation”.

What is this humiliation that Desmond Tutu talks about? It is the absolute inability to have any say in your everyday activities or even your life. Events must be planned and postponed around the Israeli occupation. Palestinians’ lives are being wasted as their time and space is being stolen from them. Currently, leaving the Gaza Strip, for whatever reason, – to go to university, to visit a new grandchild, to go to the doctor, to attend a wedding- requires a permit, which in itself is not guaranteed.

Time is wasted filling out forms, standing in line waiting, making desperate phone calls to check if your permit has arrived, and even searching for people who may know someone with a pull on the Israelis.

It is atrocious to see that a basic right of being able to control your own life and move freely has been stripped away from innocent people. Any ounce of normal activity is undreamed of. Students do not reach universities, ailing people and pregnant women are stalled and even stopped at checkpoints, sometimes dying or delivering on the road. How is this justified? Of course the military soldiers can see a woman is pregnant and is no threat to Israel.

What the above situation constitutes is humiliation of the utmost kind. Being helpless to fulfill your right to education or medical care because a soldier is ‘defending’ his state. This is what Desmond Tutu experienced; this situation is what reminds him of the apartheid regime in South Africa.

The International Red Cross, in its most recent recommendations to Israel, (June 2003) urged that: “the Israeli authorities reconcile their legitimate security needs with their obligations under international humanitarian law,” and that, “the adverse effects of their security measures on the civilian population must be minimised, in order to allow Palestinian people to live as normal a life as possible.”

The human rights situation in the Occupied Territories as well as in Israel is increasingly getting worse. The scents of apartheid are growing stronger with the Israelis building a fence between themselves and the Palestinians on the West Bank. The fence will run for 225 miles and will encompass watchtowers, trenches, patrol roads and electronic sensors. One of these fences already surrounds the Gaza Strip, making every Palestinian feel like an animal in a cage.

The Israeli grip of control is forever tightening. In August 2003, Abir el-Sana, a Palestinian from the occupied territories was refused a permit to live in Israel with her new husband, Morad, an Israeli Arab.

Even their wedding ceremonies were split. His side could not go to Bethlehem because Israelis are not allowed into autonomous Palestinian areas; almost all of her side couldn’t come to Israel.

Due to security reasons the Israeli government has put a freeze on Palestinian requests for citizenship and residency. Obtaining a residency permit can take up to four and a half years, sometimes more, while authorities monitor the candidates’ behavior, criminal and security records, and try to determine if the marriage is genuine. They ask to see wedding pictures and ultrasounds of pregnant women. Meanwhile any person, from anywhere in the world can migrate to Israel if they are Jewish. But a Palestinian from the Occupied Territories cannot obtain residency to live with her husband in Israel.

Article 26 of the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights (ICCPR), to which Israel is a signatory, states that: "All Persons are equal before the law and are entitled without any discrimination to the equal protection of the law. In this respect the law shall prohibit any discrimination and guarantee to all persons equal and effective protection against discrimination on any grounds such as race, colour, sex, language, political or other opinion, national or social origin, property, birth or other status." Left me finish by asking, if an Israeli citizen or pregnant Israeli woman wanted to go through a checkpoint to go to hospital or deliver a baby, would they be stopped?