CAIRO: As the world celebrates the 20th anniversary of the release of South African icon Nelson Mandela from Victor Verster prison, dark images of an Apartheid state right around the corner casts a shadow over our blighted region.
The analogy between Israel and Apartheid South Africa is not new. In a comprehensive, hair-raising account of the gross similarities between the racist system that ruled South Africa and the suffocating network of controls that bind every aspect of Palestinian life for those living both under occupation and within Israel, Chris McGreal, the Guardian’s Jerusalem-based correspondent for four years, wrote a two-part expose in 2006 exposing this explosive comparison.
“There are few places in the world where governments construct a web of nationality and residency laws designed for use by one section of the population against another. Apartheid South Africa was one. So is Israel, wrote McGreal, before citing the vast “apartheid wall Israel continues to build through the West Bank and Jerusalem, separating families and grabbing more land.
While most Israelis recoil at the comparison, Israeli human rights organizations like B’Tselem have condemned their country’s discriminatory practices. According to tens of human rights reports as well as investigative newspaper reports, most prominently the work of Israeli journalist Amira Haas on the state of Palestinians after Oslo, a system of control, including separate roads, inequities in infrastructure, legal rights, and access to land and resources between Palestinians and Israeli residents in the Occupies Territories, strongly resembles the Apartheid regime in many aspects.
Furthermore, the status of the Arab citizens of Israel has often been described as second-class. As of 2008, Israeli Arabs accounted for 20% of the country’ population, that is 1,144,000 people whose cultural and linguistic heritage or ethnic identity is Arab, regardless of religion.
The discrimination against Arab Israelis goes beyond differences in political rights, voting and representation, but even includes differentiated national identification cards, land tenure regulations, access to education, infrastructure, transport, travel, and freedom of movement.
On its website, Mossawa Center, an Advocacy Center for Arab Citizens of Israel, has highlighted the Jan. 20, 2010 Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development report pertaining to Israel. The most striking findings of this document pertain to disparity in access to and quality of education whereby “compared with outcomes for the Jewish population, educational participation and attainment among the Arab population, though improving still lag behind, says the report.
Among the population aged 15 years and older the average number of years of schooling is 10.2 for Arabs and 13 for Jews. While half of Jews have 13 or more years of schooling compared with only a fifth of Arabs. The percentage of Arabs with a post secondary certificate is about one-third the proportion of Jews and public spending on children in Arab localities is estimated to be at least one-third lower than for children in Jewish municipalities.
A report by Mossawa says that the absence of constitutional equality for the Arab minority and the fundamental definition of the State as Jewish have permitted a system of structural and institutional discrimination against the Arab citizens of Israel, adding that at least 20 Israeli laws discriminate against the Arab minority, either by excluding them while providing specific rights to the Jewish population, according different rights to different sectors of the population, or by abridging the rights of the Arab minority.
The case against Israel as being an Apartheid state will continue to be reinforced even as Israeli authorities continue to justify their double standards by citing security concerns.
And to go back to Nelson Mandela, one wonders how many Palestinian Mandelas have been left to wither in Israeli prisons only because they refused to accept the occupation of their homes, the continuous building of settlements on their annexed land in contravention with United Nations resolutions.
But while the Apartheid regime in South Africa – ironically introduced in 1948 in the year of the Palestinian Nakba when the state of Israel declared itself on Palestinian soil under the blessings of the first world – instigated global condemnation through trade embargoes, sanctions and mandatory arms embargoes by the UN security council, the world has effectively been silent when it comes to the almost 60-year occupation of Palestine.
Perhaps the 20th anniversary of Mandela’s release, the triumph of a man whose struggle has captured the imagination of those who face injustice everywhere, should remind us that the biggest nations of the world can end Israel’s Apartheid-inspired occupation of Palestine if they choose to. It’s been done before.
Rania Al Malky is the Chief Editor of Daily News Egypt.