Apartheid(s): New and Old
The issue of the West Bank Wall, lately dubbed the Apartheid Wall got me thinking beyond my usual admittedly low-key approach to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. Below, I've tried to to contextualize the issue in a broader historic and geopolitical perspective to move the discussion beyond the usual polarities.
Bantustans & Oslo
I believe Chomsky introduced the idea of comparing the future Palestinian state to emerge from the Oslo Process (now very passe) to the Bantustans of South Africa. Bantustans were ethnic homelands modeled on the reservation system of North America. Pioneered by the white minority South African government in the 60s and 70s, the Bantustans were established on marginal, unproductive lands to serve as reserve pools of labour, as well as virtual concentration camps for the black population, again not unlike the reservation system.
Interestingly, both sides of the apartheid struggle engaged with the reservation system in their trips to Canada. I remember in high school hearing Archbishop Desmond Tutu decrying the conditions on the reserves, while Pik Botha of the South African government used our system to denounce Canada's hypocrisy in championing sanctions on his regime.
In the case of the Palestinian territories, the West Bank in particular is getting more and more fragmented as Jewish settlements grow and the Palestinian population becomes more and more ghettoized into a myriad pockets. Things indeed have moved far beyond the now dead Oslo Process. The barrier wall that is being constructed would make these cleavages permanent, and thus can rightfully be called an apartheid wall. As planned right now, the wall weaves its away across the West Bank with frequent incursions into Palestinian territory to cover some of the larger settlements. Even more destructive are the fortified highways that also cleave whole Palestinian areas, further subdividing the West Bank's remaining lands into a patchwork of isolated villages. Moreover, for those concerned with environmental justice, the remaining Palestinian lands are impoverished and resource-poor also like the Bantustans. The overdevelopment of settlements will obviously consume more resources such as water in keeping with the American lifestyles of its inhabitants.
Thus a Palestinian state carved up in such a way would hardly be viable (hence the Bush administration stress on this term), would always be dependent and subordinate like the Bantustans on the central government and its security forces. In such a case, self-government is worthless as your own people's thugs would be used to control you -- hence the corruption of the Palestinian Authority which justifies even more intransigence on the part of the hardline Sharon government.
Israel & South Africa
The use of the term Apartheid also resonates deeper than this implementation, owing to the historic ties between Israel and South Africa. In the 70s and 80s, Israel and South Africa cooperated a great deal in defense research and arms transfers, owing to their similar position as white settler societies with large hostile neighbours and their relative isolation in the international community. Both were engaged in counterinsurgency campaigns against their own native populations, as well as covert and not so covert operations against their neighbours -- Israel in Lebanon, South Africa in Namibia, Angola, & Mozambique. This even reached the level of the sharing of nuclear technologies that allowed South Africa to quietly test a nuclear device in the late 1970s. Most in the Third World knew about these ties, and were appropriately repulsed by it. On the other side, the ANC and PLO cooperated as well, with Mandela and Arafat sharing a close friendship. The historic ties can been seen in the sympathy that the Palestinian cause continues to elicit in South Africa today.
As mentioned, both countries also shared a settler ideology that has historically provided justification for some very harsh policies. The religious dissidents that eventually became the Afrikaaners saw themselves as the chosen people in search of a new homeland where they could establish their New Jerusalem. Many American Puritans also felt this way, and their religious zeal drove them to endure great hardships that today form the foundation of American mythology. Zionism as a 19th century movement also shared these ideas in establishing a permanent homeland for Jews who were then experiencing a massive surge of anti-semitism in Europe and the US -- pogroms in the East were common occurrences in the late 19th and early 20th century, while in Western Europe, anti-semitism festered as illustrated by the Dreyfus Affair in France. In the US, the growing Eugenics movement and the KKK that reached its peak in the 20s, were also targeting all "undesirable genetic stock".
Thus perhaps the darkest irony of modern history is the migration of these persecuted people into lands with preexisting native populations. Making matters worse, European and US imperialists of the day used these movements to set up their own beachheads for the colonization and control of non-European regions. Moreover, settler societies are almost always marked by extremism and violence as they inhabit the frontiers of this colonization. Sadly, settler families as vulnerable and emotive targets provide the moral force for the use of ever greater repression. Thus the fear of suicide bombers coincides quite remarkably with the old American fear of raids by "merciless savages" (incidentally one of the key gripes in the Declaration of Independence) or the South African fear of domination (and retribution) by the black majority.
Moreover, we can still see in media reporting these long lasting connections and sympathies between settler nations. The Canadian and US press are very pro-Israel with the right-wing National Post and the CanWest Global chain of papers leading the way. This contrasts sharply with the ground reality where Palestinians have died in a ratio of 3 to 1 to Israelis over the last five years of the second Intifada. This fits the dominant racialist pattern in press coverage, where sympathy is almost always expressly reserved for white people as opposed to the countless others who count only as statistics. Here, another apartheid is apparent -- the Global Apartheid between rich and poor, the colonizers and the colonized that generally falls along the colour line. For me this has become a point of extreme frustration and sadness, and oddly enough, even more visible in Canada than in the US where a long history of social movements have at least grappled with the country's dark history of genocide, slavery, and discrimination.
Ironically, dissidence to this cycle of violence emerged from similar circles in all three cases. In the US, both the Mexican and Indian wars and slavery were opposed by New Englanders such as Thoreau, Emerson, Melville, although "Manifest Destiny" carried the day in the more frontier areas of the country. In South Africa, many English of Capetown opposed the apartheid regime. Most interestingly was Joe Slovo, a Lithuanian Jew whose family escaped the pogroms of the 1920s and immigrated to South Africa where Joe joined the apartheid struggle and headed the powerful Communist Party until his death in 1995. In Israel and abroad, there is a remarkable peace movement that has withstood the intensity of suicide bombings and pace of events in the Middle East that are creating ever more animosity towards Israel. Their courage and forbearance is quite inspiring (ironically, the prophets of the Old Testament were treated with just such contempt, before being proven right by history).
In addition to all the many ways that Israel, South Africa, and even the US, Canada, Australia, Northern Ireland, etc. share similarities, Palestinian supporters also seek to stress the discursive parallels between their movement and that of the anti-apartheid struggle. This makes sense in several ways -- to restore the Palestinian struggle as a cause célèbre, to stress the role of transnational actors and solidarity, and to hold out hope for a the peaceful resolution as in South Africa where for a long time the situation looked bleak and intractable. As such, it is an important linkage, one that ironically holds out hope by clarifying the situation through a more universal lens. With this as a model, we can engage in the struggle for equity, fairness, justice rather than some indisputable a priori religious claim to the land which can only lead to domination, negation, and extirpation.