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Israel and the "A" Word

By , contributor
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In the course of a debate, down here in Florida, I carefully used the “A” word. I was speaking about the future of Israel and the Palestinians and presented four possible scenarios, arguing that if Israel remained on its present course, not giving the Palestinians their own state or the vote, it would become an “apartheid-like” society.

I thought that was careful enough but in the question period, a woman heatedly admonished me to “never use the word apartheid in reference to Israel ever again.” I guess the memory of Jimmy Carter was too strong for her to catch my nuanced difference. I, of course, was saying that Israel had other options, but the wrong choice could lead to a situation resembling apartheid.

Perhaps I didn’t need to be so careful. A few days later at the annual Herzliya conference, the Defence Minister of Israel, Ehud Barak, stated it bluntly: “If the Palestinians living in the West Bank could, in the future, vote in the Israeli elections, Israel will become a bi-national country. But if they are not allowed to vote, we will become an apartheid country.” Thank you General Barak, for calling a spade a spade. You have done a service similar to Ariel Sharon when he used the word “occupation” to refer to Israel’s role on the West Bank. It is convenient for right-wing propagandists to hide behind rhetorical circumlocutions, but eventually these deceptions yield to reality.

Barak’s actions seldom rise to his rhetoric. His failure to deal with illegal settlements is a case in point, but we must be grateful for small favors. Words are important, we can hold no intelligent discussions, without a common language, and we are happy when the words of the peace camp -- occupation and apartheid – enter the vocabulary of the mainstream. Now we can begin to discuss the urgency of ending the occupation, without getting into a war of words.

Barak, like Ehud Olmert before him, has laid out the clear choice for Israel. In today’s world a nation cannot be both an occupying power and a democratic nation. Israel is already under deserved fire, for its treatment of the Palestinians. Its roadblocks, checkpoints, settlement expansion, theft of lands, segregated roads, etc. are all stains on its reputation. It will not be long before settlement building renders a two state solution an impossibility. This worries the Defence Minister far more than does the Iran situation and it certainly should. The Palestinians, according to most demographers, will soon constitute a majority between the Mediterranean and the Jordan, making Israel, in the eyes of much of the world, an apartheid nation, occupying another’s land and denying elementary democratic rights.

There are those, who claim to love Israel, cheering her to speed on, while the nation careens down the road to disaster, perhaps even towards apartheid. The true friends of Israel demand the freezing of settlements, negotiations with the Palestinians taking up from the Olmert-Abbas positions, and signs of good faith on both sides. A good friend does not assist his drunken buddy into the driver’s seat of his vehicle. He demands that his friend – stop now before it is too late. The “A” word is a wake-up call for Israel and her real friends.


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