3 July 2004

Why does this new apartheid thrive?

By Rupert Read

There is a new obscenity in the Middle East, spreading like a disease across the landscape of Palestine, systematically cutting Palestinians off from each other, blasting houses and olive groves out of its way.

It is the 'apartheid wall', four times as high as the Berlin wall, designed to keep Israelis from ever meeting a real live Palestinian person, designed to make ordinary life impossible for Palestinians in the West Bank, and designed to smash the chances of there ever being a meaningful Palestinian state.

Remember the 'bantustans' in South Africa? Pathetic microscopic enclaves, surrounded by South African border guards? There you see the future of Palestine, if Israeli Prime Minister Ariel Sharon and his armed forces get their way. Palestine's best land and its water resources will continue be stolen by the Israeli 'settlers'; the rest of the country will be divided into Bantustan-like-areas.

What a tragedy that Israel, founded as a result of the most disgusting and ruthless racism in history, is now itself a practitioner of a new apartheid. What a tragedy that the Jewish state of Israel - some of whose citizens, as Holocaust survivors, were so utterly oppressed - has now become the oppressor. What a tragedy that, under the terms of this new apartheid, there are spanking-new roads, all over Palestine, that are for 'Israelis only'. It is no coincidence that Nelson Mandela is one of the foremost international spokespeople for the Palestinian people, and against their oppression at the hands of the Israeli Defence Force (IDF) and its US backers.

Many people in Israel do not support the policies of Sharon's Likud party, yet the systematic destruction of the Palestinian people continues because the people consent by silence to these atrocities.

Our silence, too, is not just consent, but allows the Israeli apartheid state to thrive. But there is hope in a sizeable and growing campaign of non-violent resistance to this obscenity. Large numbers of Palestinians are engaged in a struggle against the building of this wall. They are supported by a number of brave and determined Jewish-Israeli people, and by a growing 'International Solidarity Movement' (ISM), a kind of non-violent version of the international brigade that went to Spain in the late 1930s. This work is not for the faint hearted - a young American, Rachel Corrie, stood in front of bulldozer which was destroying Palestinian homes - she was literally, intentionally bulldozed to death. Earlier this year, a young British photographer, Tom Hurndall died after many months in coma - he was shot in the head by a soldier whilst with a peace group in Gaza. Just last month, three British parliamentarians on a UN sponsored visit and came under Israeli army fire themselves. They later said "If the IDF treat the UN in this fashion it is scarcely surprising that over 100 Palestinians died and over 400 were wounded in Gaza in the month of May alone."

There's a direct Norfolk link - Angie Zelter from north Norfolk co-leads the 'International Women's Peace Service', which plays a leading role in the ISM. They help the local people to continue living in this hell, in Salfit, an area of Palestine's occupied West Bank. For example, olives and olive oil are by far the largest agricultural products in the Palestinian economy, but due to violence and intimidation from Israeli settlers and army, it has been impossible for farmers to complete their harvest. The presence of the IWPS women observers helps reduce tension and intimidation so the villagers can make their harvest. (Such Palestinian Olive Oil may be bought locally - call 01603-722898.)

Non-violence works - take Gandhi's peaceful resistance in India; Martin Luther's King's defeat of racism in the American South; the struggle against apartheid in South Africa. These peaceful campaigns worked because they had wide popular support. This campaign too needs your support.

Don't just take my word for it; check out the graphic pictures of the apartheid wall, and bear witness to the video clip showing the gassing of elderly Palestinians who lay down in front of a bulldozer just two weeks ago, at http://www.iwps.info/.

Unfortunately, sometimes it seems as though the mainstream media are only interested in violent resistance to Israeli violence. The occasional suicide bombing gets huge coverage; the brave and difficult day-to-day campaign of non-violent resistance to the Israeli bulldozers gets very little. What's worse, the Israeli army seems to speak no language other than violence. So there's one more thing you can do, to support the oppressed people of Palestine. Write in to the media, why not start locally with this newspaper - and tell them that you want to hear more about the ISM and about the Palestinians' struggle against the apartheid wall.