The right of the Palestinian refugees expelled in the 1948 war to return home was acknowledged by the UN General Assembly in December 1948. It is a right anchored in international law and in accordance with notions of universal justice. More surprisingly perhaps, it also makes sense in terms of realpolitik: unless Israel agrees to repatriate the refugees, all attempts to solve the Israel-Palestine conflict are bound to fail, as became clear in 2000 when the Oslo initiative broke down over this issue. Yet only a handful of Jews in Israel are willing to support it, in part because most Israeli Jews deny that ethnic cleansing was carried out in 1948 by Israel.
Vol. 27 No. 12 · 23 June 2005
Ilan Pappe writes of ‘white’ Israelis and ‘dark’ and then ‘black’ Palestinians, implicitly to suggest a comparison with apartheid South Africa, as Palestinian propagandists frequently do these days by referring to the ‘Apartheid Wall’ and so on (LRB, 19 May). As it happens, the Israeli of median coloration has a darker skin than the median Palestinian. Of substantive importance – unlike pigmentation silliness – is the continuous exercise of democratic representation on the part of Israeli Palestinians whose votes elect the many Israeli-Palestinian mayors, town and regional councillors, and members of parliament. If that had been true of apartheid South Africa, with one-man-one-vote representation at the local, regional and national level, the word ‘apartheid’ would signify the accomplishment of political equality, instead of its opposite. Moreover, a few brave and very imperfect experiments aside, Israeli Palestinians remain the only Arabs anywhere who do have civil rights and democratic representation.
Chevy Chase, Maryland
Vol. 27 No. 15 · 4 August 2005
Edward Luttwak cites the ‘democratic representation’ of Israeli Palestinians in support of his claim that apartheid does not exist in Israel (Letters, 23 June). His assertion can be sustained only if one ignores the gerrymandering that has deprived more than four million Palestinian refugees of their legal, political and human rights for over half a century. To imagine Israel as a democracy, he also has to wish out of existence the 3,500,000 Palestinian inhabitants of the Occupied Territories, who live under what is essentially a military dictatorship.
Luttwak wants us to concentrate on the state of Israel itself, but even there ethnic segregation is enforced through planning politics (in housing, education and public services, for example), the expropriation of Palestinian land continues, Palestinians are proscribed from leasing ‘state’ lands, the citizenship laws restrict the rights of indigenous spouses of Palestinian Israelis, while reserving immigration and residency privileges for ethnically selected non-Israelis, and so on. Such civil rights as exist do so at the discretion of an institutionalised ethnic hegemony, and can be overridden to preserve that hegemony’s ethnic majority. All this, according to the United Nations’ deliberations on supremacist regimes, constitutes apartheid.
Vol. 27 No. 17 · 1 September 2005
Nick Cheel (Letters, 4 August) is exuberant with his numbers, or else reproduces somebody else’s extravagance when he counts ‘more than four million’ Palestinian refugees and 3.5 million inhabitants of the West Bank and Gaza in addition to the one million Arab citizens of Israel (still the only Arabs anywhere in the Middle East, with the partial exception of Lebanon, who freely and equally choose their parliamentary representatives). His total comes to 8.5 million people, which must include chiropractors in Toronto, shopkeepers in Paraguay and many residents of Jordan and other Arab countries who are no more refugees than Andrew Grove of Intel or Lord Weidenfeld, and indeed very much less so, because most were born where they reside. Cheel writes of the ‘gerrymandering that has deprived Palestinian refugees of their legal, political and human rights’. They were not ‘gerrymandered’, they were defeated, and if Cheel now wants to undo the consequences of all contemporary victories (and why only those?), he must want to return Ukrainian Lviv to the Poles, western Ruthenia to the Czechs (or to the Slovaks?), Koenigsberg to the Germans and so on. Or does Cheel have his own, no doubt excellent, reasons for confining his revisionism to just one country and just one people?
That Palestinians are deprived of their rights is not in doubt, but their deprivation is shared by the inhabitants of all Arab states except Lebanon, although even there special legislation was enacted to deny Palestinian refugees the right to work or to vote. Other Arab countries mistreat Palestinians in ways large and small, while Kuwait simply expelled them in 1991 because Arafat sided with Saddam. Perhaps Cheel can find a cause for himself in that direction: he could demand that Palestinians living in Arab countries should enjoy the same rights as Israeli Arabs, which would be an exceedingly modest demand if they are as terribly deprived as he insists. To be sure, Israeli Arabs do suffer from specific if constantly diminishing inequities, but most arise from their non-participation in compulsory military service, which they could instantly overcome by volunteering to serve in the Israel Defence Forces, as an increasing number (thousands, not a few oddballs) of Muslim Arabs are already doing (Arabs of the Druze have always served; some are now senior officers).
I cannot ignore Cheel’s most powerful argument, that the situation in Israel is tantamount to apartheid when judged by the standards of the ‘United Nations’ deliberations on supremacist regimes’, the same human-rights committee that has never had the time to deliberate on the rights of some two billion Chinese, North Koreans and Saudis, among others, because it, like Cheel, was preoccupied by one very much less populous state. Also, I forget: was the chairperson of that committee the representative of Libya? Or of Sudan, where I am told the price of decent house slaves has dropped in these Darfur days?
Chevy Chase, Maryland
Vol. 27 No. 19 · 6 October 2005
Edward Luttwak’s misunderstandings concerning employment in Israel’s security industry should not be allowed to stand unchallenged (Letters, 1 September). Apart from the small but loyal community of Druze who serve in the army, a few thousand Arab citizens work in lowly positions within Israel’s security forces. The overwhelming majority of them, however, are not Muslims but Christians, employed as junior-ranking policemen inside their own Arab communities, taking orders from Jewish officers. There are hardly any Muslims in security positions; by law they are excluded from such service, whether in the army, police, Shin Bet, prisons, airports or many other areas of the Israeli economy. Unlike Christians, Muslims are not offered the chance to volunteer. The only exception to this rule is the small community of Bedouins, who despite being Muslims are treated, according to a well-established state policy of divide and rule, as a separate population group. They are allowed to volunteer for the army, mainly because Israel needs desert trackers to work in the Negev.
Apartheid does not exist in Israel, as a system or as a concept. There is no racial segregation, legal or otherwise: no separate washrooms, drinking fountains, separate seating or the like. Arabs and Jews, in the state of Israel and in the disputed territories, do not dwell apart by law. There are no Bantustans. In fact, it is the Arabs who reject Jews living among them and have done so since 1920, when they first rioted violently against Jews.
Arabs vote in the Knesset and local elections in Israel. Travel restrictions, established ostensibly on security grounds, were abolished four decades ago. Muslims do serve in the armed forces, though their fallen have had their graves desecrated by their co-religionists on nationalist grounds. Arabs have seriously damaged the archaeological remains of the two Jewish temples on Mount Moriah in Jerusalem, destroyed Joseph’s Tomb in Shchem/Nablus, torched the fifth-century synagogue in Jericho and burned down Jewish houses of worship in Gaza. No presumed ‘oppression’ can justify such uncultured behaviour.