Professor Uri Davis prefers to describe himself as a "Palestinian Jew" who is a citizen of Israel. He was born in Jerusalem in 1943 and his autobiography, published in 1995, is called "Crossing the Border: an Autobiography of an anti-Zionist Palestinian Jew." He is a founder of MAIAP (the Movement Against Israeli Apartheid in Palestine).
I have met him twice; the first time, over a year ago, and again earlier this year. His passion for justice has greatly impressed me and numerous others who have heard him speak, or studied his work.
In 1987, he wrote "Israel, An Apartheid State" which I read with great interest. In 2003, he published an updated version, "Apartheid Israel," and kindly gave me an autographed copy.
Prof. Davis is an anthropologist who, in addition to a PhD in Philosophical Anthropology, also holds a BA in Arabic and Philosophy and an MA in Philosophy. He is a much-respected academic activist in Britain, where he holds honorary research fellowships at both the University of Durham's Institute for Middle Eastern and Islamic Studies (IMEIS), and the University of Exeter's Institute of Arab and Islamic Studies (IAIS).
For almost thirty years, Prof. Davis has worked to expose the real truth behind Israel's so-called "democracy." In his two books just mentioned, he presents concrete examples to illustrate how clear it should be to any thinking person that Apartheid Israel and Apartheid South Africa are remarkably similar. But "Classifying Israel as an apartheid state does not mean equating Israel with South Africa. Israeli apartheid is significantly different from South African apartheid," he wrote in his 2003 book.
The following list, paraphrased from Dr. Davis's observations, offers some sobering food for thought:
1. Israel: The Apartheid Wall (which the government labels a "Security Wall") forces communities apart and unlawfully grabs land.
South Africa: Segregated Bantustans, officially (but falsely) called "Independent Homelands," forced millions of African blacks to be herded into artificial landlocked reserves.
2. Israel: Jewish residents in West Jerusalem who need government services face a relatively short wait in air-conditioned comfort. In East Jerusalem, Palestinians begin queuing in the middle of the night, or pay someone else to do so, for a remote chance of being served. Once the sun comes up, they wait for hours outside in the heat before an iron-grilled gate for what should be routine requests, such as; identity documents, birth registrations, death certificates, etc. They often go home empty-handed.
South Africa: In Johannesburg, whites, blacks and mixed-race "coloureds" were directed to separate entrances of government offices, such as the Home Affairs Ministry, and given service -- or not -- entirely according to their skin colour.
3. Israel: East Jerusalem imposes strict territorial classifications on Palestinian residents that dictate who you can marry, where you can live, where you can go to school, even where (or if) you can get into a hospital.
South Africa: South Africa had similar classifications, based on race; regarding who one could marry, where one could live, where one was to attend school, or be admitted to hospital.
4. Israel: Palestinians living in East Jerusalem, which is often also the city of their birth, are nevertheless classified only as immigrants with "permanent resident" status there -- not as citizens in their own right.
South Africa: Most of the black population were treated not as citizens of the cities and townships where they were born, but as citizens of distant ancestral homelands that many (as well as their parents, even grandparents) had never visited.
5. Israel: It is now the only western society to deny construction permits to people solely on the grounds of race.
South Africa: Under Apartheid, construction permits were issued or denied on the basis of race.
6. Israel: Urban planning has been intentionally been directed toward the political objective of eliminating all Palestinian presence from the country's urban landscape, especially in Jerusalem where the inequality of Jewish and Palestinian sectors increases substantially with every passing year.
South Africa: Under Apartheid, the "group area" planning system targeted blacks in a similar way, with the goal of moving them into invisibility, away from white centres of population.
7. Israel: Through the Jewish National Fund and the Israeli Lands Authority, successive Israeli governments have reserved 93% of the land for Jews only: much of this land was expropriated by the state from original Arab owners without compensation.
South Africa: In colonial and Apartheid South Africa, 87% of the land was reserved for whites. The Population Registration Act categorized South Africans according to an array of racial definitions which, among other things, determined who would be permitted to live on white-reserved lands.
8. Israel: Israel maintains separate schools for Arabs and Jews on the grounds of language differences, but many Israeli Arab parents have challenged this segregation system as a cover for systematic state- sanctioned discrimination.
South Africa: Separate and unequal education systems were a central part of the Apartheid regime's strategy to limit black children to lives of subservient manual labour in mines, factories and fields. In many parts of post-Apartheid South Africa, the education system still has not recovered.
9. Israel: Israelis who marry Palestinians are not allowed to bring their spouses to live with them in the Jews-only part of the country.
South Africa: During the mid-1980s, the Komani Case successfully challenged the Apartheid "pass laws" that broke up black families by preventing rural spouses from joining husbands or wives who worked in towns.
10. Israel: Most Israeli Jews believe they are the Chosen People, God's Elect, and claim that the Torah (Hebrew Bible, or Old Testament) justifies their racism and Zionist exclusivity.
South Africa: The Dutch Reformed Church also used the Old Testament to legitimize Apartheid and to assert white Afrikaaner superiority. And based on the Dutch colonists' victory over the Zulus at the battle of Blood River, they continued to believe that God sided with whites.
11. Israel and South Africa: Under both regimes, the repressed populations have been demonized as "terrorists" to justify ever- greater violations of their human and civil rights. Both regimes have tried to convince the rest of the world of the absurdly false logic that the victims are to blame for violence the state meted out to them. Apartheid South Africa and Apartheid Israel are prime examples of how terrorist states try to absolve themselves by blaming their victims.
12. White South Africa and Israel have both painted themselves as enclaves of democratic civilization, defending the front line of Western values. Ironically, however, both governments have often demanded that the rest of the world judge them by the standards of neighbors from which they claimed to be protecting the "free world."
13. Israel is rapidly constructing a parallel network of West Bank roads for Palestinians, who are barred from using the many existing (and superior) routes reserved for Jews only. B'Tselem, the Israeli human rights group, describes this system as bearing clear similarities to Apartheid's exclusionary and isolating alternate road system that existed in racist South Africa.
14. Israel: The so-called Security Wall (really an Apartheid wall) is another land-grab to draw even more of the Occupied Territories permanently away from Palestinians, depriving them of community, livelihood, education, and resources.
South Africa: Apartheid was all about keeping the best parts of the country for whites only and herding blacks into the least habitable, least desirable, and least serviced parts of the country.
15. Israel and South Africa: In Israel, Palestinians are almost daily being dispossessed of their houses, fields and orchards by state- ordered bulldozing. During the heyday of South African Apartheid, population relocation programs also resulted in property destruction, but not on the same scale as that inflicted in the West Bank against Palestinians.
(Dr. Mohamed Elmasry is national president of the Canadian Islamic Congress. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org