Apartheid and Palestine

Tomorrow celebrates the birth of a remarkable figure from Middle-East history. A Jewish child who grew to be a storyteller, a teacher, a prophet and a reluctant community leader.

He was raised in Palestine, the land between the Jordan River and the Mediterranean Sea, which was at that time under occupation by the Roman empire.

The area was a melting pot of people and cultures and reflecting this is the fact that Jesus of Nazareth has a central place in each of the three major religions of the area – Judaism, Christianity and Islam. Perhaps this in itself is the greatest tribute to his message of tolerance and respect.

Palestine has been hotly contested through human history and no less so today. Most recently the Zionist movement, advocating a separate state for Jews within Palestine, gathered momentum and now controls 78% of the land of Palestine and within this state Jews have prior rights over everyone else. In its creation hundreds of thousands of Arabs were driven from their homes and villages and have been refused the right to return to their homeland. Their houses and land have been taken and made available to Jewish families who are encouraged to immigrate from around the world.

The creation of Israel was sanctioned by the United Nations in 1948 but their so-called two-state solution is never going to work. It looked feasible on paper to diplomats in New York but is gravely unjust and indefensible on the ground.

An artificial state for four million displaced Palestinians to govern themselves over several disconnected pieces of poor quality land not wanted by Israel is not viable in any meaningful sense of the word.

One of the problems Israel and its allies have faced is finding credible Palestinian leaders who are prepared to sign away Palestinian rights to their land and liberty. It’s never going to happen. Despite all the brutal oppression they have suffered these past 60 years and continue to suffer on a daily basis they are standing firm. It is now widely accepted Palestinians are trapped in what amount to huge open-air prisons. Last year they elected a Hamas government and were pilloried by the US and European Union for voting for the wrong grouping. Their starvation rations of aid were cut. They were supposed to vote for the discredited Fatah political grouping which was more “moderate” and more prepared to accept second-class citizen status for Palestinians.

The situation has gone on so long the Israelis are now beginning to worry. If they can’t get Palestinians to agree to a two-state solution then where does this leave Israel?

Israeli Prime Minister Ehud Olmert has been candid in his assessment. A couple of weeks ago in an interview with the newspaper Ha’aretz he said if the peace talks fail then Israel is “finished”. He explained it this way. “If the day comes when the two-state solution collapses and we face a South African style struggle for equal voting rights for the Palestinians in the occupied territories, then, as soon as that happens, the State of Israel is finished. The Jewish organisations which were our power base in America will be the first to come out against us, because they will say they cannot support a state that does not support democracy and equal voting rights for all its residents”.

South Africa solved the problem of a white minority being outvoted by a black majority simply by declaring blacks as citizens of other places – the Bantustans. These were supposedly self-governing areas of land where black tribes could have their own ineffectual vote for their own ineffectual leaders to run their own pretend economies.

This grand plan called apartheid was racist, immoral and declared by the United Nations to be a crime against humanity.

Olmert is right to point to similarities in the relationship between Israel and the Palestinian people with that of apartheid South Africa and its black majority. But this is not an apartheid which comes into play when the two-state solution fails. It is apartheid which is here today – alive and well in the land of Jesus Christ’s birth.

Any solution in the Middle East which formalises apartheid (as the two-state solution would) would cement in place racism and inequality.

On tomorrow’s celebration of the birth of this Middle-Eastern giant of history give some thought to the Palestine of his birth where peoples of many and varied races, religions and cultures co-existed side by side despite the Roman occupation.

A single state is the only path to peace.