Not Exactly Apartheid
The Dynamics of Israeli Settler Colonialism and Military Occupation
Dr Honaida Ghanim • Palestinian Sociologist and Anthropologist
While similarities exist between the Israeli regime and Apartheid South Africa, the central argument presented here is that the two situations are not identical. However, principles of segregation and domination on the basis of collective identity are pervasive in both. What distinguishes Israel’s military occupation from other repressive regimes, including apartheid, is the notion of temporariness. I contend that implementation of military occupation, driven by national security motives, creates a new permanent settler colonial reality. While there is a fundamental contradiction between the idea of temporary military occupation and the permanence of settler colonialism, the state of Israel has resolved the contradiction by embracing a paradigm of “desertion.” Desertion, in this context, means that Israel neither withdraws from the occupied territories nor annexes them. Rather, the state embraces and promotes a situation of permanent temporariness which enables it to hold onto Palestinian land without applying its laws to the area’s Palestinian residents — at least not in such a way which would require a drastic change in the residents’ status. Application of this paradigm has allowed Israel to expand its presence in the West Bank through settlement building while, simultaneously, excluding those areas from Israeli law.
Israeli colonial expansion into the occupied territories has, de facto, unified all of the areas of Mandatory Palestine to create a single binational space. This arrangement is similar to that which existed prior to the war of 1948; then as today, two ethnic groups lived separately in the geographic area (mandatory Palestine) west of the Jordan River. However, today, Jewish Israelis exercise full control over the Palestinian populations in these areas.
Also, whereas previously Palestinians were a single inter-connected unit with a uniform set of “rights” and status, today they are fragmented into sub-groups which are oppressed and subordinated through and the application of differentiated mechanisms of control. Due to rampant settler colonization in these areas, establishment of a Palestinian state in the territories occupied in 1967 has become virtually impossible. Paradoxically, however, this expansion has unintentionally created a window of opportunity for a solution to this protracted conflict: de-colonization of mandatory Palestine and the establishment of new democratic platform for all its residents.