The Case for Israeli Apartheid


Three years ago, Students for Justice in Palestine (SJP) was formed on this campus and since that time great strides have been made in terms of raising campus consciousness about the Palestinian narrative. We would not have achieved such success, however, if it were not for the support from allied groups on campus who recognize that the struggle for human rights and dignity in Palestine is inextricably bound to the plight of all oppressed peoples. In that vein, it is with solemn pride that we announce that we will be hosting our second annual Israeli Apartheid Week starting on March 4th.  We have chosen the theme of “cross-movement solidarity” to highlight the shared values we hold with several other groups on this campus of equality, anti-racism, and anti-oppression.

The word “apartheid” is bound to elicit a strong reaction in any community with a clear memory of recent history.  Nonetheless, we, along with many respected activists and scholars, believe it is the right word to describe the state of Israel.  Because Israel differentiates between “citizenship” and “nationality”, the 20 percent of Israel’s citizens who are of Palestinian descent are not considered Israeli nationals and are therefore subjected to about 30 laws that discriminate against them. Some of these laws actively deny rights to Palestinian citizens of Israel. For instance, a Palestinian Israeli cannot transfer citizenship to his or her spouse. However, many of these laws indirectly discriminate, such as those that reserve apartments, housing complexes, and job opportunities for “veterans only.” Every Jewish Israeli is obligated to serve in the Israeli military; Palestinians residing in Israel almost always prefer not to cooperate in bolstering the occupation through Israel Defense Forces (IDF) service. Therefore, what initially may seem like a benign law that gives benefits to veterans effectively becomes a law that codifies segregated housing.

The worst aspects of the Israeli Apartheid regime, however, lie outside Israel proper in the West Bank and the Gaza Strip, where 350,000 settlers in the Occupied West Bank and 300,000 more in East Jerusalem use a system of segregated roads to navigate stolen land governed by military checkpoints. Israelis on the right; Palestinians on the left.  Separate.  Unequal.  Between the checkpoints, segregated roads, and settlements that stretch in every direction one thing is clear: the Israeli matrix of domination has left Palestinians with isolated and heavily patrolled Bantustans scattered across the land that is often portrayed as theirs.  Gaza is one of the most densely populated pieces of land on earth, and is a veritable open-air prison.

Unfortunately, this system of institutionalized oppression is not limited to Palestinians bodies and lives. Rather, Israel has a long history of discriminating against people of color, including decades of discrimination and cultural genocide against Jews from the Arab world.  Recently, it was discovered and reported by the Guardian, Ha’aretz, and the Huffington Post that Black Ethiopian refugee women are unwillingly given injections of the long-acting contraceptive Depo-Provera, explaining the decrease by 50 percent of the birth rates in the Black Ethiopian community over the past ten years.  Israel describes itself as a “Jewish state” and a democracy, but strives to maintain a strict Jewish demographic majority at the expense of another population.  Israel is not exceptional for sustaining de jure inequality among its citizens; its uniqueness lies in the fact that it is the only state that persists in defining itself formally according to ethno-religious criteria, thereby legally privileging a specific ethno-religious group and ascribing it ownership of the state.  For a point of reference, imagine that the United States defined itself as a White Anglo-Saxon Christian nation, and affixed a red crucifix on its flag.

But let’s start at the beginning, because the ties between Israel and the Apartheid Afrikaner regime stretch way back into the annals of history. Israel, in the 70s, was one of the biggest arms suppliers of the racist Apartheid State, vital to the regime’s survival. In what has been called by Israeli Historian Benjamin Beit-Hallahmi “one of the most underreported news stories of the past four decades” Israel, time and time again, was South Africa’s only supporter in the UN General Assembly.  According to the Guardian, Prime Minister Shimon Peres even offered the brutal Afrikaner regime nuclear weapons on several occasions. 

Desmond Tutu and Nelson Mandela, two of the leading figures in the South African anti-Apartheid movement, both voiced their strong condemnation of Israel’s blatant disregard for human life and international law and in several cases called Israeli policies Apartheid or worse. It is no surprise, then, that this summer the African National Council (ANC), the reigning government of South Africa, voted to make Boycott, Divestment, and Sanctions their official policy towards the state of Israel; the first country to do so. This is a resounding vote of confidence in the non-violent Palestinian struggle that we strive to emulate on this campus. 

As it stands, Israel is receiving more U.S. aid than all of Africa, Latin America, and the Caribbean combined excluding Egypt and Colombia.  It is clear that as a nation, we must get our priorities straight.

And yet, there is more to our struggle than a mutual outrage at these crimes.  There is more to our struggle than the fact that the American Prison-Industrial complex mirrors the Israeli system of detaining Palestinian men and children and bending people and families until they snap. There is more to our struggle than the fact that America sends drones to Israel to test on Palestinian bodies before it starts using them on its Southern border, or that the wall being built on our southern border is being built by the same company, Elbit Systems, that is building the separation wall in the Occupied West Bank. That something more is what can be described as a critical love ethic.  Many times in our struggle, we are accused of being more “anti-Israel” than “pro-Palestine.” We do not subscribe to this reductionist binary, and we know that the only reason we are out there holding signs, chanting slogans, and writing op-eds is because we love the oppressed for their scars and the oppressors for their weaknesses. We see that we are all united in the greatest act of resistance of all; to fuse anger with love and critically advance the world we share.  In doing so, we strive for a just and lasting peace that we believe is in the interest of both Palestinians and Israelis.

In the spirit of education, we have planned a weeklong initiative to introduce new perspectives and narratives to campus discourse.  We encourage people to take their education into their own hands, attend our events, and form their own conclusions about this issue. For more information on upcoming events, please visit


Munir Atalla is a sophomore who has not yet declared a major. He is a member of the Tufts chapter of Students for Justice in Palestine (SJP) and can be reached at