Second Class Status for Palestinians is the real Problem
Opposing Israeli Apartheid is Supporting Justice
On February 5th, 2021, Khaled Nofal, an accountant and father, was shot and killed by Israeli settlers outside of Ras Karkar, a Palestinian town in the West Bank. Nofal was not armed. While an Israeli military report described the settlers’ attack on Nofal as response to a “terror attack,” a spokesperson was unable to give a reason for this accusation. Nofal’s father described him as “the pride of the family,” with the mayor of Ras Karkar, Radhi Abu Fikheidah, commenting, “Khaled was one of the best young people in Ras Karkar. He was educated, polite and hard-working.” The Israeli settlement in Ras Karkar, Mount al-Rishan, where Khaled was shot, not only violates international law, but has also been allowed to grow without the approval of Israel since its initial establishment on private Palestinian land in 2018. Fikheidah describes the growth of the Israeli settlement, “First, they put some trailers on the hilltop, so we began to organise protests for more than a year. But the settlers extended water and electricity and began to herd their sheep on our lands.”
The story of Nofal is not unique. According to UN-collected data, since 2017, there have been almost 3000 settler-related attacks and/or trespasses against Palestinians across the West Bank, with almost 100 incidents occurring in the past two months alone. Khaled Nofal and the thousands of Palestinians who have been victims of settler violence are a small piece of a much bigger picture in the Middle East. Second class citizenship is the reality for Palestinians living in the West Bank, Gaza, and in Israel proper; Palestinians are victims of an Israeli Apartheid.
Palestinian-rights activists often compare the situation in the West Bank and Israel to a more relatable and well-known issue, the South African Apartheid that occurred from the 1940s to the 1990s. Israeli Apartheid is based around the idea that the Israel strives to maintain Israeli supremacy over roughly 7 million Palestinians living between Jordan and Egypt along the Mediterranean. Activists point to the Israeli “Apartheid Wall” that separates the West Bank from Israel, the lack of rights maintained by Palestinians across Israel, the West Bank, and Gaza, the fragmentation, occupation, and settlement of Palestinian land, the denial of free movement among territories and internationally for Palestinians, among other issues. Palestinian-rights organization, B’Tselem, outlines in more detail the human rights abuses and further explains the reasoning for calling Israel an apartheid state, while Visualizing Palestine and B’Tselem also provide greater insight into the apartheid issue. The most recent form of human rights violations and Apartheid actions come in the form of denying Palestinians who live in the West Bank and Gaza the ability to get vaccines under Israel’s vaccination program.
While the situation in the Middle East remains dim for many Palestinians, the story of Palestinian oppression has a difficult time gaining traction in the Unites States. This is due to the continual censorship of pro-Palestinian and anti-Zionist ideas perpetuated not only by cultural opposition but by private groups and the United States government who push back on the right of activists to speak freely about the issue from a Palestinian perspective.
For example, the conflation of anti-Semitism and anti-Zionism has become an issue not only of anti-Palestinianism but also of upholding freedom of speech in the United States. In December 2019, former President Donald Trump signed an executive order extending a 1964 ban on discrimination based on race, color, or national origin to include anti-semitism. J-street, an anti-Zionist Jewish group, said that the order, “appears designed less to combat anti-Semitism than to have a chilling effect on free speech and to crack down on campus critics of Israel,” continuing, “we feel it is misguided and harmful for the White House to unilaterally declare a broad range of nonviolent campus criticism of Israel to be anti-Semitic, especially at a time when the prime driver of anti-Semitism in this country is the xenophobic, white nationalist far-right.” In other words, this order is a way for the federal government to prosecute those who speak out against Israeli policies on college campuses, draw attention away from the real cause of anti-Semitism in the U.S.– White Nationalism — and effectively censor critics of Israeli policy on college campuses. Anti-Palestinianism in the United States has gone beyond persecution and has delved into blatant censorship.
At Fordham College in New York City, Students for Justice in Palestine (SJP), a pro-Palestinian group often targeted by Zionists for being anti-Semitic, filed a lawsuit against the college, which had prevented them from becoming an official club–a title that allows them to hold events, receive funding, advertise themselves, and host guest speakers. Fordham denied SJP’s club status due to concerns of “polarization,” claiming the club “runs contrary to the mission and values.” As recently as December 2020, a state court ruled in favor of Fordham, spurring the censorship of pro-Palestinian rhetoric in schools.
One of the largest forms of opposition to pro-Palestinianism is opposition to Boycott, Divestment, Sanction (BDS). BDS is a Palestinian-led movement that seeks to realize three specific goals by “withdrawing support from Israel’s apartheid regime … and from all Israeli and international companies engaged in violations of Palestinian human rights,” urging “banks, local councils, churches, pension funds and universities to withdraw investments from the State of Israel” and companies that sustain Israeli apartheid, and sanctioning groups that support Israel’s apartheid against the Palestinian people. BDS seeks to make Israel end its “occupation and colonization of all Arab lands,…recognize the fundamental rights of the Arab-Palestinian citizens of Israel,” and protect “the rights of Palestinian refugees to return to their homes and properties.”
Groups like the Anti-Defamation League (ADL) claim that BDS “rejects Israel’s right to exist as a Jewish state,” despite the simple humanitarian goals of BDS. BDS does not seek to end Israel but rather to pressure the state to uphold the rights of everyone who lives under it. ADL and similar institutions have become abettors to an Israeli apartheid against an ethnic minority, ignoring Palestinians’ rights and belying Israel’s claim to be a democracy. While some people may take anti-semitic actions in the support of BDS and other pro-Palestinian ideals, these are not the large majority of supporters. Just like pointing the finger at BLM for looting and property damage that occurred during the summer of 2020, pointing the finger at BDS ignores the very legitimate concerns of pro-Palestinian activists, while blaming BDS for the rogue actions of some of its supporters.
Attacks on Israeli civilians and people are by no means acceptable, but labeling them as terrorism promotes a one-sided view of the issue.The reality is much more complex. As outlined in this Human Rights Watch (HRW) 2020 Report on Palestine and Israel, human rights abuses come from Israel on an equal if not much greater scale than from Palestinian groups. All of some 7 million Palestinians living in Gaza, the West Bank, and Israel face some form of descrimination, and there are many cases of Palestinians facing unjust treatment and death at the hands of Israel and the Israeli Defense Force (IDF). . Anti-Palestinianism is widespread and dangerous, despite lacking coverage in the United States. These conditions allow groups to push their anti-Palestinian ideals with widespread support while Palestinian advocates are attacked for comments critical of Israel.
Actions by the United States continually leave the country as an aid to the Israeli Apartheid. Former President Donald Trump’s administration over the past four years has been cozy with Israeli Prime Minister, Benjamin Netanyahu, with several actions, mostly symbolic, pointing to the advancement of Israeli domination. This includes the movement of the US embassy in Israel to Jerusalem, as well as statements declaring the Golan Heights part of Israel and calling Israeli actions in the West Bank “not per se inconsistent with international law.” Trump also had an impact in completing the Abraham Accords, which normalized Israeli relations with the United Arab Emirates and Bahrain despite Israel’s continued support of settlements on Palestinian land. Beyond the Trump administration, military aid to Israel has been a long standing US foreign policy agenda which has bipartisan support through both Democratic and Republican administrations. It seems likely to continue under Biden.
Palestinians do not reject the idea that anti-Semitism exists. It is a legitimate problem in the world today, no less and no more important than that of anti-Palestinianism. Rather, we reject the conflation of pro-Palestinianism and anti-Semitism and wish to shed light on the prevalence of anti-Palestinianism around the world. The movement against Israeli occupation and apartheid is not just coming from Palestinians. The movement is backed and spurred by groups like the Jewish Voice for Peace (JVP), J-Street, and Jews for Justice for Palestinians (JFJFP). Holding Israel accountable is not a battle of Jews versus Arabs but rather a battle for human rights. It is time for the Zionist community to stop labeling pro-Palestinian movements as anti-Semitist and for Jews and Palestinians to come together as one, acknowledging the crisis occurring in the Middle East, and work for a humanitarian cause.
As Anna Ben-Hur, a Jewish anti-Zionist attending the University of Massachusetts, said, “I see my Jewish values and my belief in collective liberation as moving me to stand with Palestinians. In building solidarity between Jews and other marginalized groups, I believe we are building community safety.”