The late Kader Asmal writing on Israel

World must deny legitimacy to Israel

KADER ASMAL: COMMENT Jun 25 2010 13:45 Mail and Guardian


The world worked together to help bring apartheid to an end, writes

Kader Asmal. So why allow it to live on in Israel/Palestine?

In 1980, I served on a commission of enquiry into reported violations

of international law by Israel following its invasion of Lebanon. We

spent 22 days in Lebanon, Israel and the surrounding areas. The

devastation in Lebanon was quite overwhelming. Bombings were carried

on while we were there; whole new blocks of flats in Beirut were

destroyed simply because they were there. The noise, the dust and the

sound of bullets were ceaseless.


And then, after our preliminary work had been done, there were the

Sabra and Shatila massacres of hundreds of defenceless refugees, shot
dead by the Israeli surrogates, the Phalange. The Palestine Liberation

Organisation (PLO) had been expelled from Lebanon. Golda Meir had said

coldly that there was no such thing as a Palestinian. Now the visible

signs of such people had to be destroyed, as with the famous Palestine

Library in Beirut and the hospital records in the West Bank.

Israel Shahack, head of an Israeli civil-liberties body, drew my

attention to the similarities between Israel and apartheid South

Africa: “You see,” he said, “the West Bank and Gaza are our

bantustans, reserves of labour for Israel but no freedom of labour.”


The Palestinians have been betrayed by those who believe in the legal

system that holds the world together and they have been betrayed by

their neighbours, who bought peace from Israel. The European Union

grants Israel the enormous advantage of preferential trading status

through the EU-Israel Association Agreement, and billions of American

dollars in “aid” allows Israel to have the most technologically

advanced army and counter-intelligence agency in the world.


It is time to delegitimise this entity. We did that to the apartheid

government in South Africa, and the same must happen to Israel. We

spent years trying to isolate South Africa, and the campaign grew to

embrace a worldwide call for state-ordained boycotts, including

military, economic, sporting, academic and cultural sanctions. These

campaigns stirred the conscience of the world.


Today, in Israel, non-Jewish nationals have no right to return.

Non-Jews are severely restricted in owning land in Israel and in the

occupied territories. There is no freedom of movement for

Palestinians, who can also lose their residence rights for the

slightest reason. There is no right to assembly without the permission

of the police. Israel, as the occupying power, has appropriated nearly

30% of the West Bank and destroyed the cohesiveness of East Jerusalem

by building Israeli homes.


Every tenet of freedom and equality is violated by Israel, not only in

the occupied territories but also in relation to their attitude to

Palestine. Today the West Bank and East Jerusalem are home to nearly

half a million Israeli settlers who are subject to Israeli and not

Palestinian law. Special “Israeli-only” roads join these settlements

together and to Israel. There are more than 600 checkpoints in the

West Bank, where Palestinians need identity cards to travel from one

village to another. Israel has imposed a matrix of controls that

surpasses the restrictions once imposed by South Africa’s apartheid

regime on the black population.


With the construction of its “apartheid wall”, deemed illegal by the

International Court of Justice (ICC) in 2004, Israel has not just

annexed a further 10% of Palestinian land but has divided the West

Bank into increasingly watertight ghettoes.


A look at a map of the West Bank reveals that, in reality, it is now

part of greater Israel. There are two classes of people living in this

territory: Jews who have rights and privileges and non-Jews who have

neither. This is apartheid, and has been identified as such by former

American president Jimmy Carter, among others. Given that the world

worked together to help bring apartheid to an end, why allow its

persistence in Israel/Palestine?


The United States perceives Israel as a strategic ally. Furthermore,

the Israeli lobby is by far the most powerful on Capitol Hill. The EU

is paralysed by the genocide committed against Europe’s Jews in the

1940s. This turns the Palestinians into scapegoats for Europe’s past

crimes, while equating the Israeli state with the Jewish people, many

of whom worldwide passionately oppose its policies.


With no external pressure to conclude a peace agreement with the

Palestinians, domestic pressure in Israel for peace has become muted.

Israel will not voluntarily relinquish control of the Palestinian

territories, extend equal rights to Palestinian citizens of Israel, or

negotiate a just resolution to all outstanding issues if there are no

negative consequences for maintaining the status quo.


Whenever an opportunity for negotiation arises, Israel derails it with

a provocative act. In December 2008 and January 2009, the Israeli

military onslaught on Gaza, named Operation Cast Lead, left 1 400

Palestinians civilians dead, including 116 women and 313 children. At

no time in the history of apartheid did the racists use tactics such

as those used by the Israelis: aerial strafing of built-up areas;

tanks and cannon against houses; the destruction of water and

sanitation works.


In addition to the fatalities and injuries, tens of thousands of

Palestinians were left homeless. Israel tightened the illegal blockade

on Gaza in place since June 2007, preventing assistance being rendered

to casualties and the importation of materials to rebuild Gaza. Nearly

20 000 Palestinians from the West Bank and Gaza are in Israel’s



In April 2009 the United Nations Human Rights Commission established

an independent international fact-finding mission to investigate

violations of international human-rights and humanitarian law during

Operation Cast Lead. It was led by Richard Goldstone, a former member

of the South African Constitutional Court and chief prosecutor with

the international criminal tribunals for Rwanda and the former



In September 2009 the Goldstone Report was released. It accused both

the Israeli Defence Force and Palestinian militants of war crimes and

possible crimes against humanity. It recommended that Israel and Hamas

carry out independent, credible investigations, and that the

allegations be brought to the ICC if they didn’t. The Israeli

government rejected the report’s findings; Hamas first rejected and

then embraced it.


The most damning of the report’s findings is paragraph 1886 of its conclusions:

“The Mission recognises that not all deaths constitute violations of

international humanitarian law. The principle of proportionality

acknowledges that, under certain strict conditions, actions resulting

in the loss of civilian life may not be unlawful. What makes the

application and assessment of proportionality difficult in respect of

many of the events investigated by the Mission is that deeds by the

Israeli armed forces and words of military and political leaders prior

to and during the operations indicate that, as a whole, they were

premised on a deliberate policy of disproportionate force aimed not at

the enemy but at the ‘supporting infrastructure’. In practice, this

appears to have meant the civilian population.”


In October 2009 the UN General Assembly endorsed Goldstone’s findings,

as did the EU Parliament on March 10 2010 — and on March 22 the EU

Foreign Affairs Council voted to enhance the EU/Israel Association

agreement, providing Israel with even more favourable trading



It would appear that if there is a contest in EU policy between human

rights and economic benefit, human rights come off worse. Yet the EU

recently cancelled a trade agreement with Sri Lanka on human-rights

grounds. The only logical conclusion is that Israel has impunity

because of Europe’s past crimes. The moral question remains: Why must

the Palestinian people pay with their lives and freedom to ease the

consciences of Europeans?


Now we must engage in a “legitimacy war”. Doubt must be cast on

several dimensions of Israel’s legitimacy, its status as a moral and

law-abiding actor, as an occupying power, and with respect to its

willingness to respect the UN and abide by international law. No more

impunity. Israel’s leaders must be held to account.


The Goldstone report lends weight to calls from around the world to

disrupt normal relations with Israel: by boycotting cultural and

academic activities, by disrupting trade relations through

disinvestment, or by refusing to load and unload ships and planes

carrying cargo to or from Israel, and by pressing governments to

impose economic sanctions.


It is up to all of us dedicated to peace and justice to do all we can

to help the Palestinians prevail in the legitimacy war and bring their

long ordeal to an end.


One response to this post.

  1. Thanks for some great information reagrding this



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