Tuesday, August 25, 2009

Apartheid, Apartheid, Everywhere -- and not a sanction in sight

Critical analysis of Israeli apartheid has been making surprising media headway recently. With Israeli Professor Neve Gordon critiquing Israel's apartheid policies in The Los Angeles Times and YNet News, former UN Special Rapporteur on Human Rights in the Occupied Palestinian Territories John Dugard and American Jewish philanthropist Edgar Bronfman raising the specter of apartheid in in The Huffington Post, Israeli journalist Gideon Levy pointing out the apartheid implications of the Sheikh Jarrah evictions in Ha'aretz, and Alain Gresh of Le Monde Diplomatique exploring connections between apartheid-era South Africa and Israel, it's evident that more and more people around the world are becoming aware of the apartheid reality of Israel's policies toward Palestinians. One particular aspect of Israeli policy that has been receiving attention recently is a new set of restrictions on travel to and from the West Bank that Israel is imposing on international visitors. New Israeli visa stamps restrict travel by foreigners to "Palestinian Authority only" or to areas strictly under direct Israeli control. Here's Toufic Haddad at The Faster Times blog on the new "apartheid visa stamps":
"Previous Israeli-issued tourism visas do not restrict the freedom of movement of tourists who are allowed passage into the country, and who originate from countries which Israel has diplomatic relations and reciprocal arrangements regarding travel. That meaning, as long as someone was allowed into the country, they were able to travel freely whether they chose to visit the Israeli city of Tel Aviv, or the Palestinian city of Nablus in the occupied West Bank....“Palestinian Authority only” greatly restricts this freedom of movement, and thus undoes the former arrangement. It essentially precludes travel to areas of pre-1967 Israel, as well as to Israeli controlled areas in the occupied West Bank, including East Jerusalem."
This arrangement solidifies the fragmentation of the West Bank in a manner that seems all too familiar to Haddad:
"The fragmentation of PA jurisdiction in the West Bank has invited comparisons to the Bantustans of Apartheid South Africa. Bantustans were false states set up by the white apartheid regime as a means to enforce the segregationist nature of apartheid, controlling the primarily black population, while disenfranchising them particularly with regards to expropriating their land and resources."
The new visa restrictions, which would affect U.S. citizens who work, live, or have family in the West Bank, have met with strong condemnation from the U.S. State Department, with Ha'aretz reporting that "The United States has harshly criticized new Israeli restrictions placed on foreign nationals entering the West Bank via the Allenby Bridge, calling the new regulations 'unacceptable'." The State Department made specific note that the new Israeli policy would "'unfairly impact Palestinian and Arab-American travelers.'" (Ha'aretz journalist Amira Hass also published an in-depth report on the new restrictions, which you can read by clicking here.) As with other statements from the Obama Administration, however, this one appears so far to be toothless, as US Campaign Advisory Board member Nadia Hijab notes in her most recent column for Agence Global, entitled "Israel Tests Obama-Again". Hijab recounts an exchange between State Department spokesperson Ian Kelley and a persistent journalist:
"Journalist: What does that mean, we cannot accept this kind of practice? You also can’t accept, you know, continued building of settlements, and they seem to be doing that. Kelly: Yeah. Journalist: So what exactly does that mean? Kelly: Well, it means that this kind of practice is something that the U.S. Government believes should not be done. This is not…something that we can accept. Journalist: What are you going to do if they don’t stop? Kelly: We will continue to protest. Journalist: But that won’t make any difference – Kelly: Yeah. Journalist: So? Kelly: It is what it is. We don’t like the practice."
Thank goodness the State Department is standing up for our rights!! Hijab goes on to point out the dangerous implications of this change in policy:
"Unchallenged, it allows Israel to reinforce its hold on East Jerusalem, which it has (illegally) annexed, as well as those pieces of the West Bank it would like to keep if and when there is a final settlement, such as Palestinian lands east of the separation wall and the fertile Jordan Valley. Those Americans whose passports are stamped “Palestinian Authority only” would be unable to visit any of these places, just as Palestinians cannot, even though they are part of occupied Palestinian territory."
The plain truth is that as long as we provide unconditional support for Israeli apartheid and occupation, the Israeli government can do what it wants--whether to U.S. citizens or to Palestinians. To change Israeli policy, we have to end U.S. military aid and U.S.-based corporate support for occupation. Otherwise, statements only pile on top of statements--and nothing changes. Join our movement for change today by clicking here!