I don’t think I’ve ever referred to the Israeli occupation as apartheid. But now that a UN envoy who’s a South African professor of international law is saying that the Palestinians’ situation is the same as this of black South Africans in the 1970s, I’m starting to warm up to the comparison. What’s more, the envoy suggests that “Israel is imposing a policy of ‘controlled strangulation’ that is helping to give rise to a failed state on its doorstep” – in other words, that Israel is deliberately screwing Palestine’s economy to make it ungovernable.
Israel’s response is predictable: “You’re one-sided.” Israel can’t justify the occupation itself in terms that won’t make people so angry that they’ll demand sanctions. It can much less justify the specific details of the occupation – the roadblocks, the protection of settlers’ lynches of Palestinian civilians, the fence, and so on.
So, instead, when people criticize it, its best shot is to make shrill accusations of anti-Semitism, and to try delegitimizing the notion that Palestinians should have rights. The Israeli government isn’t the only organization that believes certain people’s rights depend on sufficient obsequity, but it’s the one that defends this notion the most blatantly.
Look, what Bismarck said about laws and sausages applies to liberation movements, too. Everyone likes a liberation movement, after (or right before) it achieves its goals. When it’s still not painfully obvious it’s won, it gets demonized, regardless of what tactics it uses. Even Martin Luther King was billed as a dangerous radical into the early 1960s. It then goes without saying that any political movement that isn’t blessed with fighting a relatively non-violent establishment, which can be fought non-violently, faces even greater delegitimization, regardless of whether its causes or methods are justified.
So comparisons between modern Israel and apartheid South Africa are complicated by the fact that Nelson Mandela’s success made it impolitic to defend apartheid South Africa. But in fact, once one gets over that differential, the comparison still holds. Olmert isn’t Assad or King Hussein, who slaughtered Palestinians by the thousands and myriads. South Africa wasn’t Mugabe’s Zimbabwe, either; it had no arbitrary pogroms.
Almost every regime can point to a worse regime. It’s somewhat analogous to pathological extremism, where the subsitute for radicalism is nationalism. Killing people is certainly a way of showing one’s authentic patriotism. That way, Palestinian terrorists can say they’re better than the IDF, and the IDF can say it’s better than Syria, and Syria can say it’s better than Pinochet, and Latin American fascists can say Pinochet’s better than Mussolini, and Italian fascists can say Mussolini’s better than Hitler. Nazis are sufficiently vilified that no political force needs to ever invoke them positively.
Israel isn’t Britain. The British Empire was the sort that stopped its trains when Indian independence activists lay on the railroad tracks. As Orwell noted, Gandhi could only use non-violent tactics because Britain had a conscience. Israel has no conscience; its military whitewashes its bulldozer drivers’ running over activists who stand in front of buildings that are scheduled for demolition. As such, denying human rights to all Palestinians because a small group of them commit terrorism against Israeli civilians isn’t an especially rational thing to do. And, while we’re at it, India had its terrorists, too – Subhash Chandra Bose went as far as allying himself with the Axis against Britain in World War Two.
It’s possible to typify most countries as stereotypes of people. The US used to be Vito Corleone, until Bush turned it into Sonny Corleone. In that paradigm, Israel is the annoying kid who murders someone, gets caught, and then complains to the judge, “But the terrorists are killing more people and you haven’t caught them yet!”. Yes, kid, brag about your incompetence at hiding your atrocities. When you do that, you deserve to do hard time just for stupidity.