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ABC Radio National � June 8, 2005

Uri Davis is an author, academic and human rights activist, who argues that political Zionism has resulted in the establishment of modern Israel as an apartheid state. His solution to the Israeli/Palestinian conflict is the establishment of a single bi-national state, in which Jews and Arabs live side by side. But how feasible is this, given the depth of enmity between the two sides?

Apartheid Israel : Possibilities for the Struggle Within by Uri Davis

Uri Davis argues that Israel's treatment of Arab citizens, both within the State of Israel and in the Occupied Territories, amounts to a policy of apartheid, that's no different in essence from the policies of apartheid South Africa.
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Program Transcript

David Rutledge: Welcome to the program.

This week as clashes erupt in East Jerusalem over competing Jewish and Arab claims to the Holy City, we're featuring an interview with a distinguished Israeli visitor to Australia. His name is Dr Uri Davis, and among other things he's the author of a recent book entitled 'Apartheid Israel: Possibilities for the Struggle Within'. In the book, Uri Davis argues that Israel's treatment of Arab citizens, both within the State of Israel and in the Occupied Territories, amounts to a policy of apartheid, that's no different in essence from the policies of apartheid South Africa. It's a thesis guaranteed to raise temperatures wherever he talks, and we'll be hearing from Uri Davis in a few moments.

But first, and by way of introduction, a brief story about Uri Davis not talking. Dr Davis was scheduled to appear at the National Press Club in Canberra yesterday, to give a talk on the Jewish National Fund.

The Jewish National Fund is an environmental organisation devoted to the greening of Israel. It was founded in 1901, and over the past century it's been responsible for planting over 220-million trees in Israel, giving Israel the distinction of being the only country in the world with more trees at the end of the 20th century than it had at the beginning.

But according to Uri Davis, the Jewish National Fund has also been engaged in the erasure of Arab history and culture, establishing forests and parklands over sites where Palestinian villages used to stand before the Arab-Israeli war of 1948, and thereby ensuring that Arab refugees from that war have no place to return to.

Last week, the Australian chapter of the Jewish National Fund contacted the National Press Club and warned that the National Press Club would be held liable should Dr Davis say anything defamatory about the JNF. Yesterday it emerged that Dr Davis' address at the National Press Club had been cancelled.

A spokesman for the National Press Club has said that the reason for the cancellation of Uri Davis' talk had nothing to do with threatened legal action, and everything to do with the fact that not enough people had signed up to attend.

But what about the Jewish National Fund's concerns that they could be being publicly defamed? Ted Lapkin is Director of Policy Analysis at the Australia/Israel and Jewish Affairs Council, and he's also media consultant for the Jewish National Fund of Australia.

Ted Lapkin: Dr Uri Davis is someone who comes from the hard left; the hard, hard left, of Israeli politics. He's an anti-Zionist, and he's using this broadside against the JNF as a means of basically attacking Israel's right to exist as a Jewish state. In essence, Uri Davis is saying that planting trees is a war crime. He's saying that the Jewish National Fund is either directly involved or is tangentially involved in war crimes, which isn't a very nice thing to say, and I suppose could be construed as defamatory.

David Rutledge: But what's your response to the broader claim made by Uri Davis, and by others, that the Jewish National Fund has in some cases planted trees on sites where there once stood Palestinian villages that were destroyed in the 1948 war?

Ted Lapkin: Well I think you have to look at it in a broader context. The 1948 war was a war that was initiated, precipitated by the Arabs after they rejected a very reasonable UN partition plan that would have created two states out of Palestine, one Jewish and one Arab. And during the course of the fighting, some Palestinian Arabs fled at the behest of their own leaders, and some were expelled during the fighting. This is not unusual, it happened after the Turkish War of Independence, 3-million Greeks were forced to relocate; you had over 10-million Germans who were forcibly expelled from their homes, homes where they'd lived for centuries, after the end of World War II by Poland, Czechoslovakia, and Russia. And no-one is making claims for a right of return for these other instances of the creation of refugees. And not only that, I think the most important example is an even larger number of Jews. 800-thousand Jews were expelled from their homes in Syria, in Iraq, throughout the Arab world. They were forced to flee with the possessions they could carry at best, and nobody is talking about a right of return for Jews to Tripoli, Libya, or Baghdad, Iraq.

David Rutledge: Sure. But given that we're now some 50 years down the track since 1948, do you think it's reasonable that Arabs living in Israel should feel aggrieved that the sites where these villages stood are now being settled and planted over and effectively erased from history?

Ted Lapkin: I don't think so. I think that again, the villages that were depopulated were depopulated as a result of a war, and it was an existential battle for Israel against an enemy that was dedicated to the proposition that the Jewish presence in the land of Israel had to be wiped out. And therefore I don't think it's reasonable to expect that the Jews would be willing to accept back at the end of such a war, a population that had already demonstrated its genocidal, existential hostility to the very existence of a Jewish community in Israel.

David Rutledge: Ted Lapkin of the Australia/Israel Jewish Affairs Council. And we'll be hearing more from Ted a little later in the program.

But first to Dr Uri Davis, author of the book 'Apartheid Israel', Honorary Research Fellow in Middle Eastern and Islamic Studies at the Universities of Durham and Exeter in the UK, and member of the Palestine National Council. A citizen of the State of Israel, Uri Davis describes himself as 'an anti-Zionist Palestinian Jew', and he believes that apartheid is at work not just within the Israeli State apparatus, but deep at the heart of political Zionism itself. Dr Davis says that the concept of an independent Palestinian State doesn't go far enough; he'd like to see the establishment of one single State, encompassing Arabs and Jews together.

Uri Davis: Zionism is not a swear word, Zionism is not a conspiracy. When I refer to myself as an anti-Zionist, I do so with reference to the mainstream. The mainstream and the dominant element in Zionist history is political Zionism. But there have been other schools, and some of these schools within the Zionist environment have been bitter opponents of the mainstream of political Zionism. I would refer in this connection for instance, to the school known as spiritual Zionism, founded and led by a very distinguished Jewish intellectual known as Ahad Ha'am, Asher Ginsburg. And the vision is significant, whereas the political Zionist school aimed to establish a sovereign State, and attempt to secure in that territory both in law and in practice, a demographic majority of ethnic Jews. Spiritual Zionism were very vehement and strongly opposed to that. Ahad Ha'am argued very much in favour of establishing in Jerusalem, a cultural centre for the Jewish people, and was dead opposed to the establishment of a Jewish State. He had a series of seminal articles published in the wake of his visit to Palestine, and these should be re-read again today. They were prophetic, he explained, that the banner or the slogan of 'A Land without the People, for a People without the Land' is wholly false, that the country is populated, that attempting to establish a State there would result in a protracted and unjustified conflict he was against, then, to our project.

Uri Davis: So I refer to myself as anti-Zionist with reference to the mainstream, in a manner similar to people referring to themselves as being anti-apartheid, with reference to the mainstream of apartheid in South Africa.

David Rutledge: One mainstream description if you like, that we often hear of Zionism though is just this very fundamental argument that the Jewish people have a right to their own nation. Where do you stand on that?

Uri Davis: Well the Jewish people, like all peoples, have a right to all privileges. The difficultyis when a leadership comes and claims that in the name of Jewish self-determination, the particular movement in question claims also the right to ethnically cleanse a territory, to destroy indigenous residences, to level down some 400 rural and urban localities, in order to manifest the right of the Jewish people for self-determination. Any party claiming that their right for national self-determination justifies war crimes, and crimes against humanity, should be resisted.

David Rutledge: If we take an example of South Africa under apartheid, we had a situation where black and white South Africans had separate public transport, separate benches in public parks; you don't see this in Israel, so why do you say that Israel is an apartheid State?

Uri Davis: You're quite right, you don't see petty apartheid in Israel. But the core is very similar, both in South Africa and in Israel; the core is a conflict between a settler-colonial State and the indigenous population, and these conflicts are anchored in the quest of the settler State to appropriate control of the land and the sub-soil, and deny the indigenous peoples their rights in the land and the sub-soil. The consequence of this project in South Africa resulted in some 87% of the territory reserved in law for white settlement cultivation and development.

In Israel it's worse. At the core, namely access to land, housing and sub-soil, 93% of the territory of the State of Israel, 93% is reserved in law exclusively for Jewish settlement, cultivation and development. So at core, it is comparable but the Israeli sovereign, the parliament, the Knesset, in many ways was more careful and wiser than the South African apartheid legislator, and refrained from legislating petty apartheid. If you for instance visit parks and recreational centres developed by the Jewish National Front in Israel on weekends or on public holidays, you would probably witness Arab families happily entertaining their children and barbecuing next to Jewish families, without segregation. But I would refer to the Jewish National Fund of Australia, the park that they developed in a locality known as Kerima a haral. I doubt that representatives of the Jewish National Fund of Australia would also reveal to visitors that the park and the non-segregated facilities have been developed over the ruins of a destroyed Arab village of Idzim, over the lands of the destroyed Arab village of Idzim. That indeed Arab citizens of the State of Israel have access to these facilities, but the refugees of the village or the internally displaced persons inside the State of Israel of the village, have been denied their property rights, the titles to their homes, and the park is there veiling a massive war crime possibly classified under international law as crime against humanity. So the absence of petty apartheid is there in order to veil and cover a good deal, the apartheid at the core of the system, the war crimes perpetrated by the Israeli Army in the 1948-'49 war, and it is this veil, this absence of petty apartheid that is crucial to the successful marketing of the State of Israel, as the only democracy in the Middle East.

David Rutledge: All this being the case then, how do you interpret some of the recent actions of the Israeli government? Because the road map has called for an end of the occupation, it's called for the establishment of a viable Palestinian State, and Ariel Sharon has signed up to this. He's pulling Israeli troops out of Gaza, just in the past week he's released 400 Palestinian prisoners. Doesn't all this indicate that to some degree the government is prepared to make concessions to the Palestinians and help them towards autonomy.

Uri Davis: My reading is that the Israeli government is keen to continue a peace process, but is not as keen to establish a peace settlement. The peace process is being nourished, and continually unfolds, allowing the stronger party, the State of Israel, additional time, not in order to establish a settlement in conformity with the UN resolutions and international law, but in order to further confiscate lands, further expand and consolidate settlements, and it is not to the credit of the international community that the international community goes along with that.

David Rutledge: You're campaigning for a bi-national State, rather than a two-state solution. Can you explain that, a bi-national State, what would it look like?

Uri Davis: A bi-national State is not such a radical frame. A bi-national State is a rather common frame. People who are sympathetic to the idea would tend to point to successful exercises in bi-nationality, relatively successful exercises for instance Belgium, or Switzerland, or other States, especially if one bears in mind that the constituencies involved are not just the 5-million or 6-million Jewish citizens of the State of Israel, but there is an additional and in many ways a central constituency that is often ignored: the constituency of some 4-million 1948 Palestine refugees, who are entitled to the right of return into the State of Israel. Any way you look at it, the central idea of political Zionism, the idea of the legitimacy of establishment of a State that would attempt to secure in law and in practice, a demographic majority of ethnic Jews, does not stand to any legal and international scrutiny. So looked at from almost every angle, a unitary solution for the two peoples seems to be the more attractive proposition, a little bit like Belgium, a little bit like Malaysia for instance. That's a much better proposition than continued occupation and apartheid.

David Rutledge: But given the events of the last 30 years, which can't be erased, if we're talking about the bi-national State, aren't we looking at the creation of a state in which Jews would be living alongside and among people who in many cases now consider it a religious duty to drive every Jew into the Mediterranean; what about the argument drawn from history that Jews should never again have to be vulnerable aliens in other lands?

Uri Davis: Well you would recall that I am an observer member of the Palestine National Council, and I challenge any party to come forward with a document or a statement issued by the PLO claiming that all Jews should be thrown into the sea. And to the extent that such statements were made by other Arab parties, they have been made quite a few decades back, and have not been repeated in any context. Such statements are wholly unacceptable, but they're wholly unacceptable everywhere, not only when issued by official or unofficial spokesmen, but also when issued by Israeli or Hebrew spokespersons. There is a story in the bible for instance with reference to the conquest of the land of Canaan, by a Jewish leader named Joshua Binoun, who claims that he was given a divine direction, not only to conquer the land of Canaan, but to annihilate and ethnically cleans the Pagan population, and with reference to a specific tribe, the Amalakites, not only assassinate men, women and children, but also livestock and anything else, and remove the name of the Amalakites from the surface of the earth. Well these statements should not be glorified, they should be condemned as an unacceptable and wholly racist by all parties concerned, and they're not so condemned universally. They're glorified in Israeli-Hebrew education, and I told my immediate experience, and they form a master narrative for much of modern illegal practices in the post-'67 occupied territories, in forming apartheid inside Israel.

David Rutledge: I suppose though, what you are implying here, and this is maybe the thrust of my earlier question, is that nobody is yet ready, and we're a long way from anybody yet being ready, to have something like a bi-national State.

Uri Davis: Well I wonder. With reference to being ready, people ready to accept the idea, I smile, because I'm old enough to remember the demonisation of Nelson Mandela as an arch-terrorist, and the demonisation of the African National Congress as a wholly unacceptable party to a political settlement. And then in 1990, Mandela is released, and the African National Congress is un-banned, and begins negotiations towards political reforming South Africa, and in 1994 South Africa has its first democratic elections. Nelson Mandela was elected President by majority vote, not only in non-white constituencies, but in the white constituencies in the heartland of apartheid, in a society that was indoctrinated for many decades that in order to be a good Christian, one ought to be pro-apartheid, and that being anti-apartheid equals being anti-Christ, pro-devil. There was a claim that if majority rule is established in South Africa, the consequence of that would be bloodshed perpetrated against the white community, and this did not happen, and I submit to you that equivalent claims by the Zionist interlocutors are also not valid and majority ruling of democratic Palestine under democratic constitution is not likely to result in bloodshed directed against Jewish communities in the country.

David Rutledge: Dr Uri Davis, author of 'Apartheid Israel: Possibilities for the Struggle Within'. That's available through Zed Books.

Apartheid Israel : Possibilities for the Struggle Within by Uri Davis

Uri Davis argues that Israel's treatment of Arab citizens, both within the State of Israel and in the Occupied Territories, amounts to a policy of apartheid, that's no different in essence from the policies of apartheid South Africa.
Order from US:
Hardcover List Price: $75.00
Paperback List Price: $22.50
Order from the UK:
Hardcover Price: �55.00
Paperback Price: �11.86 Used & New from �11.16

David Rutledge: Not everybody is as optimistic as Uri Davis about the prospects for success of a bi-national State embracing Jews and Arabs together in the Middle East. And we'll hear again now from Ted Lapkin, of the Australia/Israel Jewish Affairs Council.

Ted Lapkin: Well I don't think it would work. And I think that the record of inter-ethnic coexistence in places like the Balkans, and Sri Lanka, shows in certain circumstances it can be fraught with danger and fraught with risk. And look, there are 21 Arab States. And the constitution of most of those Arab States explicitly defines them in legal terms as both Islamic and Arab. So for people to come and argue that the existence of an ethnic Jewish State is somehow an affront to morality, while remaining silent over the fact that you have, in essence, 20 or so Arab/Islamic equivalents of Zionism throughout the Middle East, I think that that is selective outrage. And that very, very selective sense of grievance, I think, says more about the people who are making the argument than about Israel's existence. Israel is a democracy, it provides democratic rights to all its citizens. A nd as a matter of fact, for years, I mean this is strange, you've had free elections in Lebanon and Iraq; but up until a short time ago, the only Arabs living in the Middle East who had the right of free speech and the right of suffrage and to choose their own leaders, were Israeli Arabs. You have an Israeli Arab justice on the Supreme Court, Israeli Arab members of parliament, which is more than can be said for most of the Arab Middle East.

David Rutledge: Which is also approaching an argument for an inter-ethnic State, or for the potential success of one. You've mentioned Sri Lanka and the Balkans; what about South Africa? There's a State where it was once thought that ending apartheid would result in civil war, but it's turned out so far to be if not a complete success, certainly on the road to success.

Ted Lapkin: Well I think you have to look at the nature of the Middle East, and I'm not the only one saying this. If you look at the 2002 United Nations Development Program Report on the Middle East, which was a report that was compiled by Arab social scientists, it talked about the democracy deficits, about the lack of gender equity, about the fact that by any scale of modern achievement, education, technological sophistication, medical care, the freedoms that you and I as fortunate members of a democracy, take for granted: freedom of the press, freedom of religion, all of these things are honoured more in the breach than in the observance, to use a Shakespearean quote in the Arab world. Now Israel's not perfect, but Israel is a progressive, Western democracy that has all those things. It has freedom of speech, has a very, very vigorous free press. And I think that there's something strange about someone who would come and argue that the Israelis, in essence, should dissolve themselves in order to create a 23rd predominantly Arab State that very, very, likely will turn out to have a lot of the problems and a lot of the deficits that were chronicled by the UN Development Report of 2002.

I think that it is ludicrous to ask the Israelis in essence to commit national suicide. Any viable peace that's going to be created in the Middle East will be predicated on a two-state solution, an Israeli State, and a Palestinian-Arab State. And those who take this maximalist stance, and argue in essence that Israel has to dissolve itself: A) it's not realistic; B) it's immoral; and it serves as an impediment to the only real peaceful solution that is viable in that region.

David Rutledge: But don't the Jewish people already have a centuries-long precedent for the flourishing outside of a sovereign State? Martin Buber once argued that Jewish national identity doesn't require a State, it only requires a cultural space where it can flourish, and that thousands of years of Jewish Diaspora have borne that out. What's wrong with that picture?

Ted Lapkin: I think that the idea of cultural Zionism certainly has its merits. But I think that the history of the Second World War has shown that Jewish communities living in the Diaspora can meet a tragic and dire fate. And I don't think that � I mean if you look at what's happening in Europe today, where synagogues are being burned, where the Chief Rabbi of Belgium is advising Jews not to wear skullcaps and not to wear the outwardly apparent accoutrements of being Jewish for fear of being physically attacked, unfortunately anti-Semitism is not a thing of the past. You had state anti-Semitism in the Soviet Union, where Anatoly Sharansky spent nine years in prison for the crime of simply wanting to emigrate to Israel. So I think that all of these factors, all these historical factors, show that there is definitely a need for a Jewish national homeland. In many places the Jewish communities are flourishing, especially in the English-speaking world, in Australia, in the United States and Canada. But I think that recent Jewish history validates the need for a Jewish national home. And also, look, Judaism is not just a religion.

The Jews have always, since the time of the exile in the Sinai peninsula and receiving the Torah from Moses, have always held themselves to be an ethnic nation. Now if the Jews are an ethnic nation, then they have the same rights to national self-determination as any other ethnic group. And this is yet another manifestation of the hypocrisy of the anti-Zionists, who come largely these days from the left, because they've spent most of the past half-century supporting national liberation movements throughout the world for everybody else. But when it comes to the Jews, curiously, all of a sudden this becomes a crime against humanity. It seems that in the eyes of the anti-Zionists, what is good for the non-Jewish goose, is not good for the Jewish gander. And I think that the application of those kinds of discriminatory attitudes to Jews is quintessential anti-Semitism.

David Rutledge: But if we're talking about the history and the prevalence of anti-Semitism, and if we're talking about security, you mentioned Germany, you mentioned Russia. Wouldn't it be true to say that at the moment none of these countries is as dangerous to be a Jew in at the moment as the State of Israel?

Ted Lapkin: I disagree, I disagree. I think that Israel is a very good place. It has its problems. It had a very difficult spate of terrorism during the first few years of the current conflict with the Palestinians. But if you look at rates of terrorism, they're way down. In large part because of the building of the barrier that makes it much more difficult for suicide bombers to make it into the heartland of Israel. No, I would argue that the existence of the Jewish community in France for example, is much more tenuous than the Jewish existence in Israel.

David Rutledge: Just finally, what about the treatment of Palestinians in the West Bank and Gaza, the bulldozing of settlements; do you have any reservations about the ways in which the Israeli Defence Forces or the Israeli government have conducted themselves with regard to the Palestinians?

Ted Lapkin: I think that the Israeli Army policies are the policies of an enlightened military, that makes every reasonable attempt in accordance with the laws of war to target only legitimate military targets, people who are involved in the terrorist commanding control in the structure and the terrorist foot soldiers themselves. You have mistakes, you have collateral damage. That is inevitable, it happens in any war, just as you have friendly fire incidents in war. But I think that if you look at the statistics, and you look at the number of non-combatants killed by Palestinians during this war - in essence that is what has been raging since September 2000 it has been a low-grade war - You see that the Palestinians make every effort to target non-combatants, whereas the Israelis make every effort not to target non-combatants, and to limit themselves only to their armed enemy.

Now there have been incidents where individual Israeli soldiers have deviated from the rules of engagement, and they have been court-martialled, and they have been held to account, but as a rule, yes, I am comfortable with the manner in which the Israel defence forces have been defending the Israeli people in this war.

David Rutledge: Ted Lapkin, Director of Policy Analysis at the Australia/Israel and Jewish Affairs Council.
And that's it for another week. Thanks to producer Noel Debien and technical producer Charlie McKune. I'm David Rutledge.

Guests on this program:
Dr Uri Davis

Israeli author, academic and activist
Ted Lapkin

Australia/Israel and Jewish Affairs Council


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