Israel's leading civil rights organisation yesterday broke a taboo by
describing Israeli policies in the occupied West Bank as being "reminiscent
of apartheid" in South Africa.
Alleging an intensification of human rights abuses against Palestinians, the
respected Association for Civil Rights in Israel (ACRI) made the comparison
in an annual report that described the existence of separate legal, planning
and transportation systems for Jewish settlers and Palestinians in the West
"Israel has built a modern arterial road system in the West Bank intended in
fact only for use by Israeli traffic, whereas the Palestinians are forced to
travel for the most part on twisting and dangerous roads," the report said.
While Israel facilitates the expansion of Jewish settlements, it restricts
the growth of Palestinian towns, the report added. "This state of affairs in
which all the services, budgets and the access to natural resources are
granted along discriminatory and separatist lines according to
ethnic-national criteria is a blatant violation of the principle of equality
and is in many ways reminiscent of the Apartheid regime in South Africa."
The report said. Mark Regev, spokesman for Israeli Prime Minister Ehud
Olmert, responded that "the whole comparison is inaccurate and offensive."
"In the real world where there are real terrorist threats, the choice is
between roadblocks and protracted waiting [for Palestinians] or roads for
Palestinians." he said.
ACRI wrote that while South Africa had been a case of a "racist separation
criterion" the one applied in the occupied terirories is "ethnic-national."
The group decided to drop its previous reluctance to use the South Africa
comparison, often invoked by those pressing for an international boycott of
Israel, because "things are getting worse rather than better" according to
spokeswoman Melanie Takefman.
In particular, Ms. Takefman cited what ACRI views as the Israeli supreme
court's endorsement of the idea of separate road systems for Israelis and
Palestinians in the West Bank. Last March, the court ignored an ACRI
petition that it rule on the legality of the continued barring of
Palestinians from Highway 443, an alternate route between Jerusalem and Tel
Aviv that slices through expropriated Palestinian West Bank land. To justify
the expropriations, the state had said during the 1990's the road would be
for Palestinian benefit. But the road is now entirely an Israeli commuter
route, with Palestinian villagers who formerly used it to access health,
education and jobs in Ramallah barred since 2002 when it was closed to them
after attacks on Israeli motorists. Instead, authorities are building a
separate road for Palestinians. "The judges's turning a blind eye and
approving a separate road system was a very depressing and ominous sign,"
Ms. Takefman said.
In 2006, former US President Jimmy Carter published Palestine: Peace not
Apartheid, in which he argued that apartheid is an appropriate term for
Israeli policies devoted to "the acquisition of land" in the West Bank. His
application of the term to the West Bank evoked heated responses from
supporters of Israel.
Mr. Regev said the best way to address the separate legal systems in the West
Bank for settlers and Palestinians would be the creation of a Palestinian
state as an outgrowth of current negotiations. "Do people really want us to
annex the West Bank so that there will be one legal system?" he asked.