With “Palestine: Peace, Not Apartheid”, former President Jimmy Carter, the statesman who oversaw the first Middle East peace agreement between Egypt and Israel, has provoked a much-needed discussion that rarely ever transpires in U.S. politics and media.
Not surprisingly, some politicians took issue with the book’s title before it was even released, including U.S. Rep. John Conyers of Detroit, a cherished friend to the Arab-American community. He said the use of apartheid “does not serve the cause of peace and the use of it against the Jewish people in particular, who have been victims of the worst kind of discrimination, discrimination resulting in death, is offensive and wrong.”
Conyers went so far as to call Carter “to request that the title be changed. President Carter does not build upon his career as a proponent of peace in the Middle East with this comparison and I hope he and his publisher will reconsider this decision.”
Perhaps he felt South Africans who lived under a brutal apartheid regime would be offended. Yet, interestingly, South Africa’s own Bishop Desmond Tutu and others have referred to the Israeli occupation of Palestinian Christians and Muslims as “Israeli apartheid.”
In a 2002 speech in the United States, Tutu said he saw “the humiliation of the Palestinians at checkpoints and roadblocks, suffering like us when young white police officers prevented us from moving about.” Back in 1999, former South African statesman Nelson Mandela told the Palestinian Assembly: “The histories of our two peoples correspond in such painful and poignant ways that I intensely feel myself at home amongst my compatriots.”
South African author Breyten Breytenbach, who spent nine years in prison for resisting apartheid, wrote in 2002, “I recently visited the occupied territories for the first time. And yes, I’m afraid they can reasonably be described as resembling Bantustans, reminiscent of the ghettoes and controlled camps of misery one knew in South Africa.”
And consider more examples:
More water is given to Jewish citizens than to Palestinians; non-Jewish Israelis cannot buy or lease land in Israel; Israel’s policies have involved planning regulations prohibiting Palestinian building on 70 percent of the West Bank and 80 percent of East Jerusalem. While restricting Palestinian development, Israel builds housing for its people in the occupied territories.
A few years ago, the Israeli government was shown to have a 70:30 policy in the city of Jerusalem which to maintain a 70 percent Jewish population over 29 percent Muslim and 1 percent Christian minorities. This has been accomplished through home demolitions, denial of building permits, ID card confiscations and residency revocations.
This year also saw many Palestinian-Americans denied entry by Israel to the occupied territories to visit families, or attend weddings and/or funerals. And then there’s the ugly concrete wall, built far into Palestinian territory under the guise of security, ruled illegal by the International Court of Justice in 2004. Laypeople who’ve seen it nickname it the Apartheid Wall.
Nobody expects instant miracles to come from Carter’s book, but hopefully, it will spark the sort of robust discussions that even Israeli society and media already engage in — discussions that many are fearful to raise in our own country for fear of being labeled “anti-Semitic.”
Sherri Muzher is a Palestinian-American who directs Michigan Media Watch.