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Why Israel Reviewed by Nabeela Latha Kalla for Al-Qalam

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Al Qalam

October 2013

Suraya Dadoo and Firoz Osman have weaved a compelling narrative, gripping the reader as they cover every aspect of the Palestinian-Israeli conflict. The introduction provides readers with a clear and concise overview of the book and its contents, mapping the path through what is indeed a complex journey from the origins of the conflict all the way through to the contemporary political landscape.

The book sets out to argue why the state of Israel is compared to Apartheid South Africa. The authors explore the background to why this comparison is made and effectively make the argument that Israel’s policies and directives do resemble draconian Apartheid policy. They contend that Apartheid is a crime against humanity and that because the international community is obliged to act against nations that practice Apartheid, it should therefore take action against Israel.

The description of Israel as an Apartheid state has entered popular discourse in recent years, thus making the topic very relevant to current debates and trends in the examination of Palestinian-Israeli politics. The authors dedicate much of their detailed examination to the similarities and differences between Apartheid South Africa and Apartheid Israel, providing a comprehensive tabular examination on page 241 which effectively summarizes all the parallels and differences between the two regimes. This tabular summary is extremely effective in communicating the primary message of the book, by presenting the pervading argument in a clear and concise way.

Many in the pro-Israel lobby contend that the labelling of Israel as an Apartheid state is unlawful and unjustified. The book examines this contention with a fine-tooth comb, proving that the state of Israel is indeed an Apartheid state, shedding light on examples and incidents of why this is so; from the treatment of political prisoners and the restriction of movement experienced by Palestinians, to the disparity in the provision of service delivery and amenities to the Palestinians, both in the Occupied Territories as well as in Israel itself. The book successfully argues that Palestinians endure a series of laws, policies and practices that exclude them politically while oppressing them socially and economically, thereby making the state of Israel an Apartheid state. By carefully deconstructing the myths used by the pro-Israel lobby to argue that Israel is not an Apartheid state, the authors effectively poke holes into any argument that the state of Israel is not guilty of Apartheid-style governance.

The book’s deep and intricate historical study provides a contextual background to the conflict by exploring the political landscape of both Israel and Palestine over the decades, culminating in an examination of current events on both sides of the conflict. On the Palestinian side the book examines the rise of Hamas from being a perceived ‘terrorist’ organization to a powerful political player in Palestine, as well as the disappointments and failings of the Palestinian Authority under Fatah. The book not only explores the Israeli political landscape and how the policies of the ruling Zionist elite has negatively impacted on the daily lives of Palestinians, but how internal strife between the political parties within Palestine has hindered the Palestinian cause. The authors investigate the history and origins of Zionist ideology while debunking Zionism as a justification for Israeli government atrocities against the Palestinian population and its Arab neighbours.

A photo-essay in the middle of the book poignantly depicts the daily struggles and lives of Palestinians and brings into sharp focus the many descriptive passages throughout the book that explore the daily lives and toil of the Palestinian population.

‘Why Israel?’ makes a valuable contribution to current debate and trends in the area of Palestinian political resistance, where there is growing acknowledgement in the international community about Israel’s Apartheid policies. One such example has been the Russell Tribunal on Palestine, which was held over four sessions in different parts of the world between 2010 and 2012. The assertion is made that “In November 2011 the Russell Tribunal on Palestine concluded that Israel subjects the Palestinian people to an institutional regime of domination, amounting to Apartheid under international law” (p.238). The Russell Tribunal on Palestine (RToP) is examined in detail in the book: its intended outcomes, its supporters, as well as the way in which it has been conducted as a platform of resistance to Israel’s PR and propaganda machinations. In addition to the RToP, the book examines other resistance campaigns that have been adopted in recent years, with particular emphasis on the Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions (BDS) campaign, launched in 2006.

The authors examine BDS in detail, from the campaign’s inception to the many ways in which it has become a focal point in the global Palestinian resistance campaign. In the context of the comparison of Apartheid Israel to Apartheid South Africa, the BDS campaign is shown to have special significance. Dadoo and Osman put forward the argument that just as the BDS campaign was instrumental in the fall of the Apartheid regime in South Africa, so too can such a campaign make a lasting impact on the Palestinian struggle. It is fitting for the Palestinian resistance movement to draw lessons from that of the South African Anti-Apartheid movement. The authors extract successes from the South African BDS campaign, from the commercial and banking sector to the arts, culture and sports. They then highlight the recent successes across all these spheres in the Palestinian BDS campaign. In so doing, the tone of the book shifts from the hopelessness and despair of the previous chapters, in which the occupation has been examined in fine detail, to the gains and changes, however subtle they may be, which are currently taking place in the Palestinian political and social resistance movement.

The authors’ background and personal knowledge of the South African experience places them with a unique empathy for the Palestinian cause, having lived and grown up in Apartheid South Africa. The book effectively highlights and documents the contributions made by South Africans to the Palestinian cause with a special focus on individual role-players within South Africa and the reactions of church groups, politicians and trade unionists who have visited Israel and drawn conclusions about Apartheid being practiced in that country. One example cited in the book is that of a diverse delegation of church leaders who went on a week-long solidarity visit to the holy cities of Bethlehem and Jerusalem, who, on their return, are quoted as saying that “being South African, it was as if we were walking into another Apartheid ambush” (p523). By highlighting the integral contribution of South African role-players, from church groups to Cosatu and the ANC as well as key South African players on both sides of the conflict, including the pro-Israeli lobby, the book becomes essential reading for any South African student, academic, journalist and researcher wanting to understand the political situation in the Middle East from a South African perspective.

The analogy between the two regimes continues throughout the book. The authors do not once falter in presenting the argument that Israel should be recognized as an Apartheid state and treated as such; and that based on the similarities of both regimes, the methods of structured resistance should be similar and therefore the Palestinian resistance movement should take lessons from the Anti-Apartheid movement.

The authors take the analogy to its apex by suggesting that the only viable solution to the conflict is the adoption of a one-state solution like the one that was successful in South Africa. Just as the Bantustans proved to be a failure in Apartheid SA, so too do they argue that any idea of a two-state solution for Israel and Palestine cannot yield lasting peace. The authors make the case that Israel must accept the reality of a one-state solution and the realization that, like in South Africa, two peoples can live together in peaceful coexistence: “One state for all citizens was the route taken by South Africa, and it is the same path that should be taken by Israelis and Palestinians” (p.620).

With its extensive footnotes and bibliography, and its broad, deep index, ‘Why Israel’? is an invaluable resource to understanding the Palestinian-Israeli conflict. The historical examination is deep and informative and is supported by a wealth of well-documented research and valuable suggestions for further research and reading. The book will no doubt leave a lasting impact on the study of Palestinian-Israeli politics for some time to come.

Why Israel? The Anatomy of Zionist Apartheid – A South African perspective (Porcupine Press, 2013) is available at all bookstores nationwide. E-book and Kindle versions are also available.

Nabeela Latha Kalla is a former Editorial Co-ordinator at Cambridge University Press and Van Schaik Publishers. She has a keen interest in politics and current affairs, and holds a degree in Publishing from the University of Pretoria.


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