Who says Israel is guilty of Apartheid?

People often argue that “this and that were so in South Africa” and because “this and that are not so” in Israel, Israel is not an apartheid state. But such logic holds no water.


What is apartheid?

An article in the newspaper Star (13 March 2014, by Solly Mapaila ) correctly argues that the Jewish democracy’s laws and practices fall squarely into the United Nations’ definition of apartheid. In other words, Israel’s oppression of the Palestinians is not defined in terms of the former South African situation, but in terms of international law which calls apartheid a crime against humanity (Rome Statute of the International Criminal Court 2002). The International Criminal Court’s definition of apartheid is

“the systematic oppression and domination by one racial group over any racial group or groups and committed with the intention of maintaining that regime” (2002:6).

Who says Israel is an apartheid state?

In 2012 the United Nations Committee for the Elimination of Racial Discrimination found Israeli policies in the occupied Palestinian territories “tantamount to Apartheid” and that

“many state policies within Israel also violate the prohibition on Apartheid as enshrined in Article 3 of the Convention.” (Erakat & Madi 2012)

Prior to that, in November 2011, the Russell Tribunal in Cape Town articulated similar findings.

Human Rights Watch in turn published a report titled “Israel/West Bank: Separate and Unequal” (2010) which details Israel’s discriminatory practices against the indigenous Palestinians.

And in 2009, the South African Human Sciences Research Council (2009:277) concluded their in-depth report as follows:

“Both colonialism and apartheid are prohibited by international law. This Report has found strong evidence to indicate that Israel has violated, and continues to violate, both prohibitions in the occupied Palestinian territories.”

An international team of scholars and practitioners of international public law from South Africa, the United Kingdom, Israel and Palestine conducted the study.


Surely most South Africans recognise Israel’s crimes, right?

As we benefitted from the world’s active support in demolishing apartheid, one would imagine that South Africans would now keenly respond to a plea to the international community for  non-violent resistance against Israel’s discrimination, oppression and occupation of Palestinians.

What is so shocking, is that so many South Africans do not know, or are not willing to acknowledge Israel’s apartheid crimes. The very people who suffered under apartheid and those who used to support apartheid, but say they have since changed, are now focusing on their own lives, their own comfort and their own problems and they turn a blind eye to another people who also suffer under apartheid. They forget that Palestinians helped to campaign for justice in South Africa during the apartheid struggle.

Does it mean that our transition to a post-apartheid psyche has only been cosmetic? In other words, is the change in our society superficial and not principled? Are we settling for pragmatic changes? Or perhaps we are ignorant about Israel’s crimes against humanity? Are we too comfortable to rock the boat?

Why do we turn away and continue to romanticise Israel? Why do we confuse the modern state with the Biblical entity? Why do Christians travel to the Holy Land and then ignore the descendents of the first Christians in the old city of Jerusalem, in Bethlehem, Jericho, Nablus, Hebron and elsewhere in Palestine? For how long must these people suffer while we, post-apartheid South Africans, look away and/or support Israel as some hero?  Can we really be happy, content and fulfilled as a new nation if we ignore a repetition of apartheid?  Is it fair to hide behind our own national issues and forget the world’s (and the Palestinians’) support in demolishing apartheid here?

A chance to know more…

If you want to know more, make sure to attend and participate in this year’s Israeli Apartheid Week. Our national initiatives from part of a worldwide campaign.


Find the schedule of activities in more than 45 cities and towns here.


Erakat, N. & Madi, R. 2012. UN Committee 2012 Session Concludes Israeli System Tantamount to Apartheid. [Online]. Jadaliyya. Available: [2014, 13 March].

Human Sciences Research Council.  2009. Occupation, Colonialism, Apartheid? A re-assessment of Israel’s practices in the occupied Palestinian territories under international law.  Cape Town: HSRC.

Roadmap to Apartheid. 2012. Dir.: Ana Nogueira, Eron Davidson, Nathaniel Cunningham. Cinematography: Ana Nogueira. Narrator: Alice Walker. United States of America. ? ? min. English. Prod.: Ana Nogueira & Eron Davidson. Studio??

Russell Tribunal on Palestine. 2011. Executive summary of the findings of the third session of the RToP. A systematic and institutionalised regime. [Online]. Available: [2013, 21 September].

United Nations. 2002. Rome Statute of the International Criminal Court. [Online]. Available: [2012, 11 October].


6 thoughts on “Who says Israel is guilty of Apartheid?

  1. Jake Gerber says:

    All of the references from above (except the one from the UN – and that was not definitive) are from sources that have a clear bias. If you want to engage honestly on this matter, you should at least try to give a truly critical and intellectually rigorous analysis of the issue.


    • MM says:

      Sure, all these sources are in favour of international law and human rights. If you are a scientist you will know that in general we no longer pretend that positions are objective. More specifically to this context I cite Anne de Jong: “if one approaches a conflict in an academic matter (read: objectively), one is expected to give even space and consideration to both ‘sides’ of the conflict. This obsession with even-handedness and balance, brought forward within the unquestioned ‘conflict paradigm’ successfully evaded pressing questions on power, practices of oppression and the nature of Israeli society and polity.” (De Jong 2012:198-1999).


  2. Dankie Marthie. Most of us who watch this situation closely would say that what is happening today in Israel and Palestine is “worse than apartheid”. Therefore strong action has to be taken against Israel, the occupying power. I do not think one can explain the silence of (most of) the world when so many civilians gets killed in Gaza simply by the effectiveness of Israeli propaganda. There is a deeper issue at play here, one that plays on people’s religious sensitivities, their “culture” (what is normative and what is not) and that certain things are seen as “violence” and others not. Invading Iraq and killing thousands of people there, was one of the most violent and brutal acts but yet Tony Blair is still feted around the world (notice the normalization?) despite destabilising Iraq and making space for groups like ISIS to emerge. Deception seems to have become stronger than Truth, but those of us who have a Christian spirituality or even just a humanity, knows that deception will never have the last word. This is where the hope lies in this situation….


  3. PAUL HENDLER says:

    In response to Naomi Williams and Jake Gerber:

    The HSRC Report is over 300 pages long. It is a document which lays out its assumptions and presents an argument. Then it marshalls evidence to demonstrate the validity of that argument. This is about as objective as one can get.

    Ms Williams and Mr Gerber are able to download this document (just google it) and then read it and provide a rational refutation of its argument as well as the evidence.

    The Zionist response to scholarly works like this is to simply rubbish it as being biased without refuting the argument and evidence and also demonstrating precisely where this bias lies. This is propaganda not knowledge of truth. Zionists have been doing this for over half a century – I know because I encountered it as a young Zionist myself in my teens and again on occasions when I publicly challenged the propaganda with clearly articulated argumentation plus evidence, after I ceased being a Zionist.

    This propaganda functions to malign and undermine the truth, while muddying the waters of (i.e. reinforcing ignorance). But the truth is incontrovertible. To quote Winston Churchill who in referring the truth, spoke that after all is said and done, there it is……..


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