Israel takes another leap towards institutionalized apartheid

During the Apartheid era in South Africa, marriage or any love realationship between members of different racial groups was forbidden. In all public institutions and offices, in public transport and on public toilets, racial segregation was in force.

A law forbidding Israeli citizenship for Palestinians from the Occupied Territories who marry Israelis passed its first reading in the Knesset on June 18. This is another milestone on Israel’s road to open, institutionalized apartheid.

According to Ha’aretz, the bill forbids the granting of Israeli citizenship in cases of reunification between families split between Israel and the Occupied Territories and will strictly limit the ability of Palestinians to obtain Israeli residence or to legally remain within the country.

Such laws targeted at a specific ethnic community are an odious violation of all international human rights norms.

Jewish-Israeli Knesset member Zehava Gal-On called the bill “racist and discriminatory.” Palestinian-Israeli Knesset member Wasil Taha compared it to Germany’s 1930s Nuremberg laws which targeted Jews and limited their civil rights, including the right to marriage. The Israeli bill is also reminiscent of apartheid-era South African laws which banned interracial marriages. And, until the Supreme Court overturned them, the United States had a long tradition of laws, specifically restricting Africans, Chinese and Japanese from obtaining citizenship, owning land or marrying whites.

Israel has also used zoning regulations, land seizures, and the quasi-official Jewish National Fund (which controls expropriated Palestinian land and leases it exclusively to Jews) to achieve essentially the same purposes as apartheid South Africa’s Group Areas Act — ensuring that the privileged and exploited populations live in separate and unequal communities.

Marriages between Jews and non-Jews are not allowed in Israel, because like a number of other countries in the region, it does not recognize civil marriages. All such marriages must be conducted outside the country. The new marriage laws making their way through the Knesset mainly seem to be aimed at preventing marriages between Palestinians who hold Israeli citizenship and Palestinians who live in the Occupied Territories.

The new law would force Palestinian citizens of Israel who want to live with spouses or family members from the Occupied Territories to move to the Occupied Territories, or at least prevent them from bringing their new spouses into Israel. This is in line with the views of several Israeli ministers, that Palestinian citizens of Israel should be given ‘incentives’ to abandon their homeland.

The proposed law will give the Israeli interior minister the authority to grant citizenship or residency to a Palestinian if the minister is convinced that the individual identifies with Israel and its goals. In other words, only Palestinians who convince Israel that they are committed Zionists need apply.

A further amendment to Israel’s citizenship law, proposed by Ariel Sharon himself, and endorsed by Israel’s top legal officer, Attorney General Elyakim Rubinstein, would prevent the automatic granting of citizenship to children with one parent from the Occupied Territories. This measure will not only deprive Palestinian citizens of Israel of the right to pass on their civil and political rights to their children, but is aimed at limiting the growth in the number of Israel’s Palestinian citizens.

Taken together, these measures aim at a quiet population “transfer.”

But even if successful in Israeli terms, this law will only reduce the number of Palestinians in Israel’s account and increase the number of disenfranchised Palestinians living in the Occupied Territories with no civil or political rights and no citizenship in any state. This can only hasten the arrival of the day when a Jewish minority is ruling over a Palestinian majority between the river and the sea.

Israeli interior minister Avraham Poraz, who introduced the bill, naturally claims that the motivation is not racism or a desire to preserve Israel’s Jewish supremacy, but as usual, security. According to Ha’aretz, Poraz justifies the bill on the grounds that since the beginning of the Intifada, “there has been increasing involvement in violent acts on the part of Palestinian residents of the [Occupied] Territories holding Israeli identity cards.” Earlier this year, Israel stripped citizenship from two Palestinian-Israelis on the grounds that they were “terrorists.” But such justifications are as old as racism itself and do not deserve to be answered.

Israel has never considered stripping those it defines as Jews of their citizenship for any crime, even the high treason of murdering the prime minister. In fact, Yigal Amir, the convicted killer of Yitzhak Rabin was able to vote in the last Israeli election from his prison cell. Yet now, Israel proposes to further strip away the rights of an entire community who happen to be the indigenous people of the country. The raw racism could not be more evident.

In an atmosphere where ethnic cleansing is openly advocated by Israeli cabinet ministers as a “solution” to the conflict, the passage of this repulsive new bill is hardly surprising. What is worrying is that where Israel is concerned such practices are considered unworthy of comment by the United States, or the European Union, who continue to hope that a flawed road map can lead to peace, while with walls, bulldozers and racist laws Israel is building apartheid on the ground.

This article first appeared in The Daily Star.