Similarly, Israel would prefer if Palestinian families slated for forced eviction in Sheikh Jarrah — a neighborhood in occupied East Jerusalem, in the one part of the West Bank that Israel bothered to formally annex — also remained invisible. That desire is reflected in official language: Israel’s Ministry of Foreign Affairs referred to this process of gradual, state-sanctioned cleansing of the neighborhood of Palestinians, to be replaced by Jewish families, as “a real estate dispute between private parties.” That “dispute” is based on racist legislation (1950 and 1970 laws passed under “left wing” Labor governments) that allows Jews, but not Palestinians, to make ownership claims for property predating 1948. Palestinian activists this month succeeded in making sure that these abuses cannot be ignored.
Another fact that tends to be invisible: Palestinian homes are demolished because they are built without permits — in a system designed to deny Palestinians the ability to get those. Or this one: Palestinians are killed with impunity by Israeli security forces — in a system designed almost never to hold anyone accountable. Or the fact that settler organizations are moving into “mixed” cities within Israel proper — the very cities from which most Palestinians were made refugees 73 years ago and not allowed to return to — in a system designed to further Judaize this land.
These are but a few fragments of reality in Israel and the Palestinian territories. Apartheid is the organizing principle that connects all these forms of colonization and transfer, disenfranchisement and oppression, domination and supremacy. Palestinians can be second-class citizens, “permanent residents,” occupied subjects or refugees. The details vary, but the pattern is the same: All Palestinians living under Israeli rule are treated as inferior in rights and status to Jews who live in the same area.
My organization, the human rights group B’Tselem, limited its mandate at its founding in 1989 to the West Bank (including East Jerusalem) and Gaza. But as Israel’s long-term intentions — to maintain control without giving millions of Palestinians rights or citizenship — have become clear, we no longer believe that rights abuses in those places can be separated from the overarching policy of racial discrimination applied across the entire area under Israel’s control. We laid out our argument for the shift in perspective in a position paper called “This is Apartheid” in January; similarly, Human Rights Watch made an extensive legal determination in April that Israeli officials are committing the crime of apartheid.
For decades, Israel managed to fence itself off from its supposedly separate and temporary occupation project. Many Palestinians have long seen right through it and called this regime of ethnic domination by its proper name. This diagnosis of apartheid is accurate not only because the occupation is inseparable from Israel (who, exactly, is running the military regime in the occupied territories?) but because policies of domination and supremacy of one group (Jews) over the other (Palestinians) are at the core of shaping reality between the river and the sea.
In this context, eruptions of violence — especially those, like this month’s, sufficiently horrific to break into the global news cycle — are not a bug but a feature of this system. State violence is a permanent tool for dispossession and control, demographic re-engineering and “deterrence.” The specific amount of violence applied is always changing, the fear it dictates never absent.
And so, repeatedly, when one or more of these fragments rises, there is surprise, people are aghast at the violence, and efforts are undertaken to restore what is misleadingly called “the status quo.” But that never means the violence has truly ended. It means only that Israel’s violence against Palestinians has once again been made invisible — that once again, tension has been made absent (for some), with injustice omnipresent (for the rest).
It is a commonly accepted falsehood that Israel is a “Jewish and democratic” state. In fact, it is neither: It is a binational, inherently undemocratic entity governed through an apartheid regime. The fragmentation of Palestinians may serve to obfuscate the truth, but how can a reality of demographic parity — some 7 million Jews, some 7 million Palestinians — be considered only “Jewish”? And when most of those Palestinians are kept disenfranchised, how can it be considered “democratic”?
U.S. foreign policy has for decades been enabling, underwriting and shielding this regime from meaningful consequences. Not only through direct aid to Israel, but also through repeated U.S. vetoes at the United Nations Security Council and the propagation of the seemingly endless “peace process” illusion — instead of prioritizing the protection and realization of the human rights that are violated every single day. Israeli impunity comes with a large “Made in the USA” label, for Washington is where it is manufactured.
Media attention, eventually, is bound to move on. In the absence of structural change, efforts to again make this injustice invisible will resume in force – until the next cycle. Of course, many Israelis would like to go back to a state of willful blindness. But the fragments are coming together, and the picture is becoming more difficult to falsify.