The Movement Against Israeli Apartheid in Palestine



The political awareness that Israel was an apartheid state existed for many years among most anti-Zionists in Israel.  But in the wake of the breakdown of the Oslo Accords, before the eruption of the second Intifada, that awareness began to spread beyond the circles of committed anti-Zionist activists and academics to circles that would not necessarily identify themselves as anti-Zionist.  By the year 2000, a loose coalition of activists based primarily in Jerusalem and Haifa had begun a campaign under the slogan “No Apartheid.”  Although their work was cut short largely due to the Intifada, they left their mark on society and were a catalyst in spreading the understanding of Israel as an Apartheid state.

Scholarly interest in the parallels between Israel and South Africa dates back to immediately after the June 1967 war and George Jabbour’s seminal work in 1970, Settler Colonialism in South Africa and the Middle East.  In 1976 Richard Sevens and Abdelwahhab Elmessiri wrote Israel and South Africa: The Progression of a Relationship.  In 1986, Jane Hunter wrote Undercutting Sanctions: Israel, the U.S. and South Africa, and Benjamin Joseph wrote Besieged Bedfellows: Israel and the Land of Apartheid in 1988, and Israel: An Apartheid State in 2001.

Israel’s Democracy at a Crossroad:

Ariel Sharon was elected prime minister of Israel in 2001, in 2002, his government’s priorities came into sharp focus with the re-occupation of Palestinian territory in March.  Effectively endorsed by the United States, Israeli tanks rolled into almost every Palestinian city and refugee camp in the West Bank and Gaza wreaking havoc and mass destruction, in blatant violation of the Oslo Accords and international law.  The main commitment of the Sharon government-its coalition with the Labor Party notwithstanding-is to maintain, expand, and defend the illegal Israeli settlements in the post-1967 Occupied Territories.  To this end, a Sharon-led government would not only smash the Oslo Accords and illegally attempt to dismantle the Palestinian Authority (PA), but would attempt to perpetrate a mass expulsion of the Palestinian people from the geographic territories of Palestine under the cover of another war, a process referred to in current Israeli political parlance as “transfer”.

Such a plan, however, is costly.  The Sharon government is already burdened with a deficit of 14 billion Shekels, approximately $2.7 billion.  In a desperate attempt to plug the fiscal hole, Israeli Finance Minister Sylvan Shalom declared the Israeli economy on the verge of collapse.  The treasury cobbled together a draconian emergency plan that caused a major government crisis.  The weakest and already much pauperized sectors of the population in Israel-the Palestinian Arab citizens-would be the first victims of the economic costs of the government’s war policies.  Impoverished Jewish development towns such as Ofaqim will also suffer.  Strikes and mass protest will flare up in Israel.  Tires will be set on fire, roads and key highways will be blocked, and police will be overrun by an angry public unable to meet the basic costs of shelter, clothing, food, and education.  Faced with this, the government will not hesitate to set itself up as an emergency government or a military council, suspend the Knesset and send in the army.

The deterioration of Israel’s party political system and the demise of parliament is already well advanced, as is evidenced by the nullification-for the first time in the history of the Knesset-of the parliamentary immunity of one of its members.  His Immunity was lifted in order to permit his prosecution for political utterances delivered in the course of the execution of his political work, rather than for criminal actions.  It does not matter that the Member of Knesset (MK), in question, Dr. Azmi Bishara, is a Palestinian Arab citizen of Israel.  The demise of the Knesset is further underlined by the recent passage of the government-sponsored laws against incitement to violence or terror and the law preventing those who support an armed struggle against the state from participating in Knesset elections.  The proceedings directed against Bishara today will be directed against MK Yossi Sarid tomorrow.  The Israeli sharpshooters brought into Umm al Faham to shoot-to-kill civilian protesters in Habbat al-Aqsa in September 2000 will also be brought to quell disturbances in Ofaqim.

The Movement Against Israeli Apartheid in Palestine (MAIAP):

In this context, and underscored by the United Nation World Conference Against Racism (UNWCAR) that celebrated the transformation of South Africa from an apartheid state to a constitutional democratic state, the political awareness that Israel is also an apartheid state-namely, a state which regulates racism in law through Acts of Parliament-is spreading among both Palestinian solidarity constituencies worldwide and Hebrew and Arab democracy constituencies committed to the values of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights.

Against this backdrop, frustrated by the failed attempts to form a coherent anti-apartheid organization in Israel and empowered by the UNWCAR, the Movement Against Israeli Apartheid in Palestine (MAIAP), was launched on 9 August 2001.  Its founding conference was held in Jerusalem at the Qaddumi Building, next to the Ram checkpoint separating Jerusalem from the central and northern West Bank on 22 March 2002.  By then, MAIAP had the UNWCAR non-governmental-organization (NGO) forum declaration as a reference.  As difficult as it was to convene the founding conference in the current circumstances, participants believed that their initiative represented a meaningful contribution to the defense of the occupied and dispossessed Palestinian people.  MAIAP provided a sound platform to develop the strategies needed to limit the capacity of the Israeli occupation forces to further destroy Palestinian society and polity.

MAIAP’s Founding Document:

MAIAP takes as its point of departure the values of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights and their articulation in international law and

the struggle of the peoples of South Africa against apartheid and their work for democracy and reconciliation.

MAIAP aims to work toward democratic solutions in geographic Palestine-defined for the British Mandate by the Council of League of Nations in 1922 as being between the river Jordan and the Mediterranean sea-to ensure the implementation of equal rights for all residents and refugees of this area.  MAIAP is committed to work democratically to promote the welfare and the right of self-determination for all people in the area including refugees, internally displaced persons, and residents in opposition to the bantustanization of Palestine and against Israeli apartheid.

MAIAP intends to expose the legal and other structures of Israeli apartheid within both Israel and the Occupied Territories; work toward the classification of Israel as an apartheid state in relevant international forums including the UN; work with the public to understand, resist, and defeat Israeli apartheid; educate the general, local, regional, and international public to appreciate that under the prevailing conditions, alongside an apartheid, Zionist Israel, even an independent Palestinian state will remain part of, and continue to be victimized by, Israeli apartheid.

Future Action:

MAIAP’s immediate priorities include organizing lecture tours across Palestine of prominent South African anti-apartheid activists.  MAIAP will add its voice to campaigns calling for international sanctions against Israel and business divestment from Israel until the Israeli government complies with UN Security Council resolutions, most notably resolutions 242, 338, and 194.  MAIAP will also lobby for the revocation of the tax-exempt status of Zionist fundraising in the West.

Just as the international anti-apartheid solidarity movement made a critical contribution to the success of the struggle against the apartheid regime in South Africa,  MAIAP’s goal is to mirror that success against the apartheid regime in Palestine.

Uri Davis is Chair of AL-BEIT: Association for the Defense of Human Rights in Israel.