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Naming apartheid: Palestine, media coverage and the history of a term

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Israeli West Bank barrier. Image credit: Montecruz Foto/Flickr

On January 12, the Israeli human rights organization B'Tselem made headlines when it released its report, "A regime of Jewish supremacy from the Jordan River to the Mediterranean Sea: This is apartheid."

This built on its January 28, 2020 statement where B'Tselem had already used the "A" word, describing former U.S. president Trump's "peace plan" as amounting to apartheid, not peace.

Over the last week, mainstream media including the Washington Post, The Guardian, the Jerusalem PostCNN, NBC and others have covered  B'Tselem's new report.

In Canada, media including the Toronto Star and Globe and Mail reported on B'Tselem using an Associated Press wire story. However, Canada's public broadcaster, the CBC, did not cover B'Tselem's report.

The report states that "all Palestinians living under Israeli rule are treated as inferior in rights and status to Jews who live in the very same area." Previously focused only on the occupied territory, B'Tselem demonstrates in this report that apartheid also applies to "Palestinians who live on land defined in 1948 as Israeli sovereign territory," outlining that they "do not enjoy the same rights as Jewish citizens by either law or practice."

This is not new information, and in fact many would suggest the term apartheid is too mild, but it is encouraging that a leading Israeli human rights group has named "apartheid" in historic Palestine.

Israel's vaccine apartheid

On January 6, Saleh Higazi, deputy regional director for the Middle East and North Africa at Amnesty International, said in a statement on the Israeli COVID roll-out -- under which the vaccine is not available to Palestinians in the occupied territory -- that "there could hardly be a better illustration of how Israeli lives are valued above Palestinian ones."

As I have written previously, evidence of Israel's COVID-19 vaccine apartheid has been getting much attention.

International humanitarian law, as Article 56 of the 4th Geneva Convention indicates, requires an occupying power to provide public health to the populated in its occupied territory, with "particular reference to the adoption and application of the prophylactic and preventive measures necessary to combat the spread of contagious diseases and epidemics."

CBC ignores international law

CBC Radio's The World This Weekend interviewed Amnesty International's Saleh Higazi on January 10 about Israel's obligation under international law to ensure Palestinians are vaccinated against COVID-19.

On January 17, the program referenced the earlier interview with Higazi. News presenter Idil Mussa stated:

"We should have included Israel's perspective... Israel's position is that the Palestinian Authority is responsible for vaccine distribution in the territories, since it negotiated control over administering health care, as part of the Oslo Accord signed with Israel in 1993."

Mussa went on to declare that "Israel has delivered a hundred doses of the vaccine to the Palestinian Authority" and "another shipment will be delivered in the coming weeks," adding that the Palestinian Authority negotiated its own purchase of COVID-19 vaccine that will be delivered by March.

In making this statement, the CBC has once again disregarded rights under international law for the people of Palestine, centring the narrative of the occupier and colonizer, and ignoring the apartheid named by B'Tselem.

In the summer of 2020, Canada's public broadcaster erased the word "Palestine" from a live interview before it was rebroadcast across the country, and the following day apologized for the initial use of the word. Over 2,000 letters were sent to the CBC asking for the CBC to apologize for erasing Palestine, and about 800 to the Canadian heritage minister who has responsibility for the CBC.

Apartheid is not new or news

The pronouncement of apartheid in Palestine is not new.

In 1972, Rev. Dr. A. C. Forrest, editor of the United Church of Canada Observer said in his book, The Unholy Land:

"Twice I have been in South Africa within a few days of being in Israel. I know no two countries in the world with so much in common, unless it is Rhodesia and Israel.

But the Israelis make the South African whites look like babes in the wood when it comes to practising apartheid and keeping another race in its place and misleading the world about it."

Forrest continues on to write that if the "practise of racial discrimination" remains, the situation will lead to a continued "practise [of] racism and apartheid." He cautioned that "such policies and practices nurture the seeds of antisemitism in the Middle East and abroad and make a just peace impossible."

Forrest indicated that:

"Little was actually known about such Arabs, even in the Arab world, until the publication in Haifa in 1966 of an astonishing book, The Arabs in Israel, written in Hebrew by a young Christian Arab lawyer named Sabri Jiryis. It very quickly disappeared. Arabs say it was 'suppressed by the Israeli authorities.' Copies were smuggled out of Israel in 1966 and translated first into Arabic and later into English and French."

Forrest had learned about Jiryis' work and found a copy The Arabs in Israel in 1968.

Steps were taken to shut down A.C. Forrest's writing about Palestine in the early 1970s.

Perhaps if that had not occurred, organizations such as Forrest's United Church of Canada would not continue to say, 50 years later, that the "charge of apartheid applied to Israel shuts down conversation, disempowers those who desire and work for change in Israel, and does more to harm than to help the potential for successful peace negotiation" and "should be avoided." 

Instead, perhaps the research that Jiryis provided on the first quarter-century of life for Palestinians since the establishment of Israel -- which described Palestinians living in Israel as "different citizens" under conditions that had affected "every aspect of Arab life" -- could have been heard more clearly in the institutions of the day.

As Sam Bahour described it in a Mondoweiss article in July 2020,"the horrendous reality of the Palestinian communities inside Israel -- in places like Akka, Haifa, Nazareth, Jaffa, and the Negev -- is not about being regulated to sit in the back of the bus; they could only wish for such blatant racism. Here, racism is multilayered, ideological, well-camouflaged, state-sponsored, and non-stop." This is not a new message, but a message that we have a responsibility to hear -- and not let it get shut down over and over again.

Let's not repeat the mistake of 50 years ago, when A. C. Forrest aptly used the word "apartheid."

Karen Rodman is director with Just Peace Advocates, and a retired senior manager with 30-plus years with the Ontario Public Service, and was ordained by the United Church of Canada in 2015.

Image credit: Montecruz Foto/Flickr

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