[News] Palestine - Rethinking Our Definition of Apartheid: Not Just a Political Regime

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Mon Aug 28 10:29:52 EDT 2017


  Rethinking Our Definition of Apartheid: Not Just a Political Regime

by Haidar Eid, Andy Clarno on August 27, 2017


As Israel intensifies its settler-colonial project, apartheid has become 
an increasingly important framework for understanding and challenging 
Israeli rule in historic Palestine. Indeed, Nadia Hijab and Ingrid 
Jaradat Gassner 
a convincing argument that apartheid is the most strategic framework of 
analysis. And in March 2017, the UN Economic and Social Commission for 
Western Asia (ESCWA) released a powerful report 
Israeli violations of international law and concluding that Israel has 
established an “apartheid regime” that oppresses and dominates the 
Palestinian people as a whole.

Under international law, apartheid is a crime against humanity and 
states can be held accountable for their actions. However, international 
law has its limitations. One specific concern involves what is missing 
from the international legal definition of apartheid. Because the 
definition focuses solely on the /political/regime, it does not provide 
a strong basis for critiquing the /economic /aspects of apartheid. To 
address this concern, we propose an alternative definition of apartheid 
that grew out of the struggle in South Africa during the 1980s and has 
gained support among activists due to the limits of decolonization in 
South Africa after 1994 – a definition that recognizes apartheid as 
intimately connected to capitalism.

This policy brief details what the Palestine liberation movement can 
learn from the South African condition, namely recognizing apartheid as 
both a system of legalized racial discrimination and a system of racial 
capitalism. It concludes with recommendations for how Palestinians can 
confront this dual system in order to achieve a just and lasting peace 
rooted in social and economic equality.

    *The Power and the Limitations of International Law*

The UN International Convention on the Suppression and Punishment of the 
Crime of Apartheid 
apartheid as a crime involving “inhuman acts committed for the purpose 
of establishing and maintaining domination by one racial group of 
persons over any other racial group of persons and systematically 
oppressing them.” The Rome Statute of the International Criminal Court 
apartheid as a crime involving “an institutionalized regime of 
systematic oppression and domination by one racial group over any other 
racial group or groups.”

Based on a close reading of these statutes, the ESCWA report analyzes 
Israeli policy in four domains. It documents the formal legal 
discrimination against Palestinian citizens of Israel; the dual legal 
system in the Occupied Palestinian Territory (OPT); the tenuous 
residency rights of Palestinian Jerusalemites; and Israel’s refusal to 
allow Palestinian refugees to exercise the right of return. The report 
concludes that Israel’s apartheid regime operates by fragmenting the 
Palestinian people and subjecting them to different forms of racial rule.

The power of the apartheid analysis was apparent in the way the US and 
Israel responded to the report. The US Ambassador to the UN denounced 
the report and called on the UN Secretary General to repudiate it. The 
Secretary General put pressure on Rima Khalaf, head of ESCWA, to 
withdraw the report. Refusing to do so, she resigned 
her post.

The importance of the ESCWA report cannot be overstated. For the first 
time, a UN body formally addressed the question of apartheid in 
Palestine/Israel. And the report addressed Israeli policies toward the 
Palestinian people as a whole rather than focusing on one fragment of 
the population. By calling on member states and civil society 
organizations to put pressure on Israel, the UN report also demonstrates 
the utility of international law as a tool for holding regimes like 
Israel accountable.

However, while recognizing the importance of international law, it is 
critical to note its limitations 
First, international laws are only effective when acknowledged and 
enforced by states, and the hierarchical structure of the state system 
provides a handful of states with veto power. The rapid suppression of 
the ESCWA report made these limitations clear. Yet there is a more 
specific concern with the international definition of apartheid as noted 
above. By focusing only on the /political/regime, the legal definition 
does not provide a strong basis for critiquing the /economic /aspects of 
apartheid and indeed paves the way for a post-apartheid future 
is rife with economic discrimination.

    *Racial Capitalism and the Limits of South African Liberation*

During the 1970s and 80s, Black South Africans engaged in urgent debates 
about how to understand the apartheid system they were fighting. The 
most powerful bloc within the liberation movement – the African National 
Congress (ANC) and its allies – argued that apartheid was a system of 
racial domination and that the struggle should focus on eliminating 
racist policies and demanding equality under the law. Black radicals 
rejected this analysis. Dialogue between the Black Consciousness 
Movement and independent Marxists generated an alternative definition of 
apartheid as a system of “racial capitalism 
<http://www.sahistory.org.za/archive/azanian-manifesto>.” Black radicals 
insisted that the struggle should simultaneously confront the state and 
the racial capitalist system. Unless racism and capitalism were 
confronted together, they predicted, post-apartheid South Africa would 
remain divided and unequal.

The transition of the last 20 years has lent support to this thesis. In 
1994, legal apartheid was abolished and Black South Africans gained 
equality under the law – including the right to vote, the right to live 
anywhere, and the right to move without permits. The democratization of 
the state was a remarkable achievement. Indeed, the South African 
transition demonstrates the possibility of peaceful coexistence on the 
basis of legal equality and mutual recognition. This is what makes South 
Africa so compelling for many Palestinians and a few Israelis seeking an 
alternative to the fragmentation and failure of Oslo.

Despite the democratization of the state, the South African transition 
did not address the structures of racial capitalism. During the 
negotiations, the ANC made major concessions to win the support of white 
South Africans and the capitalist elite. Most importantly, the ANC 
agreed not to nationalize the land, banks, and mines and instead 
accepted constitutional protections for the existing distribution of 
private property – despite the history of colonial dispossession. In 
addition, the ANC government adopted a neoliberal economic strategy 
promoting free trade, export-oriented industry, and the privatization of 
state-owned businesses and municipal services. As a result, 
post-apartheid South Africa remains one of the most unequal countries in 
the world 

Neoliberal restructuring has led to the emergence of a small Black elite 
and a growing Black middle class in some parts of the country. But the 
old white elite still controls the vast majority of land and wealth in 
South Africa. Deindustrialization and the increasing proportion of the 
population forced to rely on casual jobs have weakened the labor 
movement, intensified the exploitation of the Black working class, and 
produced a growing racialized surplus population that confronts 
permanent structural unemployment. The unemployment rate reaches 35% 
it includes people who have given up looking for work.  In some areas, 
the unemployment rate is over 60% and the jobs that remain are 
precarious, short term, and low wage. ^1 <#note-6632-1>

The Black poor also confront a severe shortage of land and housing. 
Instead of redistributing land, the ANC government adopted a 
market-based program through which the state helps Black clients 
purchase white-owned land. This has given rise to a small class of 
wealthy Black landowners, but only 7.5% of South African land has been 
As a result, most Black South Africans remain landless and white elites 
maintain ownership of most of the land. Similarly, the rising cost of 
shelter has multiplied the number of people living in shacks, occupied 
buildings, and informal settlements, despite state subsidies and 
constitutional guarantees of decent housing.

Race continues to structure unequal access to housing, education, and 
employment in post-apartheid South Africa. It also shapes the rapid 
growth of private security. Profiting from racialized fears about crime, 
private security has been the fastest growing industry in South Africa 
since the 1990s. Private security companies and wealthy residents’ 
associations have transformed historically white suburbs into fortress 
communities, marked by walls around private property, gates around 
neighborhoods, alarm systems, panic buttons, stationary guards, 
neighborhood patrols, video surveillance, and armed rapid response 
teams. These privatized regimes of residential security rely on violence 
and racial profiling to target those who are Black and poor.

According to international law, apartheid ends with the transformation 
of the racial state and the elimination of legalized racial 
discrimination. Yet even a cursory examination of South Africa after 
1994 reveals the pitfalls of such an approach and highlights the 
importance of rethinking our definitions of apartheid. Formal legal 
equality has not produced real social and economic transformation. 
Instead, the neoliberalization of racial capitalism has entrenched the 
inequality created by centuries of colonization and apartheid. Race 
remains a driving force of both exploitation and abandonment despite the 
liberal veneer of legal equality. Celebrations of the ANC-led government 
tend to obscure the impacts of neoliberal racial capitalism in South 
Africa after 1994.

Critiques of Israeli apartheid have largely ignored the limits of 
transformation in South Africa. Instead of treating apartheid as a 
system of racial capitalism, most critiques of Israeli apartheid rely on 
the international legal definition of apartheid as a system of racial 
domination. To be sure, these critiques have been highly productive. 
They have sharpened the analysis of Israeli rule, contributed to the 
expansion of Boycott, Divestment, and Sanctions (BDS) campaigns, and 
provided a legal foundation for efforts to hold Israel accountable. The 
importance of international law as a resource for communities in 
struggle should not be undercut.

But analysis and organizing can be taken even further by understanding 
apartheid as a system of racial capitalism, rather than relying so 
heavily on international legal definitions. By differentially valuing 
people’s lives and labor, racial capitalist regimes intensify 
exploitation while exposing marginalized groups to premature death, 
abandonment, or elimination. The concept of racial capitalism thus 
highlights the mutual constitution of capital accumulation and racial 
formation and contends that it is not possible to eliminate either 
racial domination or class inequality without tackling the system as a 

Understanding apartheid as a system of racial capitalism allows us to 
take seriously the limitations of liberation in South Africa. Studying 
the /success/of the South African struggle has been highly productive 
for the Palestinian freedom movement; understanding its limitations can 
also prove productive. Although Black South Africans gained formal legal 
equality, the failure to address the economics of apartheid placed real 
limits on decolonization. In a word, apartheid did not end – it was 
restructured. Relying too heavily on the international legal definition 
of apartheid could lead to similar problems down the road in Palestine. 
We raise this as a cautionary note with the hope that it will contribute 
to the development of strategies to address Israeli racism and 
neoliberal capitalism together.

    *Racial Capitalism in Palestine/Israel*

Seeing apartheid through this lens also allows an understanding that 
Israeli settler colonialism now operates through /neoliberal/racial 
capitalism. Over the last 25 years, Israel has intensified its settler 
colonial project under the guise of peace. All of historic Palestine 
remains subject to Israeli rule, which operates by fragmenting the 
Palestinian population. Oslo enabled Israel to further fragment the OPT 
and supplement direct military rule with aspects of indirect rule. The 
Gaza Strip has been transformed into a “concentration camp” and a model 
“native reserve” through a deadly, medieval siege described by Richard 
Falk as a “prelude to genocide” 
by Ilan Pappe as an “incremental genocide.” 
the West Bank, Israel’s new colonial strategy involves 
/concentrating/the Palestinian population into Areas A and B and 
/colonizing/Area C. Instead of granting Palestinians freedom and 
equality, Oslo restructured relations of domination.In short, Oslo has 
intensified, rather than reversed, Israel’s settler colonial project.

The reorganization of Israeli rule has occurred alongside the neoliberal 
restructuring of the economy. Since the 1980s, Israel has undergone a 
fundamental transformation from a state-led economy focused on domestic 
consumption to a corporate-driven economy integrated into the circuits 
of global capital. Neoliberal restructuring has generated massive 
corporate profits while dismantling welfare, weakening the labor 
movement, and increasing inequality. The Oslo negotiations were central 
to this project. Shimon Peres and Israeli business elites argued that 
the “peace process” would open the markets of the Arab world to US and 
Israeli capital and facilitate Israel’s integration into the global 
economy. ^2 <#note-6632-2> After Oslo, Israel quickly signed free trade 
agreements with Egypt and Jordan.

Neoliberal restructuring has enabled Israel to carry out its new 
colonial strategy by significantly reducing its reliance on Palestinian 
labor. Israel’s transition to a high-tech economy decreased the demand 
for industrial and agricultural workers. Free trade agreements allowed 
Israeli manufacturers to shift production from Palestinian 
subcontractors to export-processing zones in neighboring countries. The 
collapse of the Soviet Union followed by “shock doctrine” neoliberalism 
led more than one million Russian Jews to seek opportunities in Israel. 
And neoliberal restructuring on a global scale led to the immigration of 
300,000 migrant workers from Asia and Eastern Europe. These groups now 
compete with Palestinians for the remaining low-wage jobs. The 
settler-colonial state thus used neoliberal restructuring to engineer 
the disposability of the Palestinian population.

Life for working class Palestinians has become increasingly precarious. 
With limited access to jobs in Israel, poverty and unemployment have 
soared within the Palestinian enclaves. Although the Palestinian 
Authority (PA) has always endorsed the neoliberal vision of a private 
sector-led, export-oriented, free market economy, the PA initially 
responded to the crisis of unemployment by creating thousands of public 
sector jobs.

Since 2007, however, the PA has followed a strictly neoliberal economic 
program that calls for cuts to public employment and an expansion of 
private sector investment. Despite these plans, the private sector 
remains weak and fragmented. Plans for industrial zones along Israel’s 
illegal Wall that snakes through the OPT have largely failed due to 
Israeli restrictions on imports and exports and the relatively high cost 
of Palestinian labor compared to that of Egypt and Jordan.

Although neoliberal policies have made life even more difficult for 
working class Palestinians, they have contributed to the growth of a 
small Palestinian elite in the OPT composed of the PA leadership, 
Palestinian capitalists, and NGO officials. Visitors to Ramallah are 
often surprised to see palatial mansions, expensive restaurants, 
five-star hotels, and luxury vehicles. These are not signs of a thriving 
economy, but rather of the growing class divide. Similarly, a new 
Hamas-affiliated nouveau-bourgeoisie has emerged in Gaza since 2006. Its 
wealth depends on the dwindling “tunnel industry,” a monopoly on 
construction materials smuggled from Egypt, and limited goods imported 
from Israel. Both Fatah and Hamas elites accumulate their wealth from 
non-productive activities, and they are both characterized by a total 
absence of political vision. Haidar Eid refers to this 
<http://www.al-akhbar.com/node/177139/>as Osloization in the West Bank 
and Islamization in the Gaza Strip.

Further, joining the forces of repression has become one of the only job 
opportunities available to the majority of Palestinians, especially 
young men. Although some PA jobs are in education and health care, most 
are with the PA security forces. As Alaa Tartir has demonstrated 
these forces are designed to protect the security of Israel. Since 2007, 
they have been reorganized under the supervision of the United States. 
More than 80,000 strong, the new PA security forces are trained by the 
US in Jordan and deployed throughout West Bank enclaves in close 
coordination with the Israeli military. Israel and the PA share 
intelligence, coordinate arrests, and cooperate on weapons 
confiscations. Together, they target not only Islamists and leftists but 
all Palestinian critics of Oslo. Most recently, security coordination 
Israel and the PA preceded the assassination of activist Basil Al-Araj.

The only sector of the Israeli economy that has retained a relatively 
steady demand for Palestinian workers is construction, due largely to 
the expansion of Israeli settlements and the wall in the West Bank. 
According to a 2011 Democracy and Workers’ Rights survey 
82% of Palestinians employed in the settlements would leave their jobs 
if they could find a suitable alternative.

This means that two of the only jobs available for Palestinians from the 
West Bank today are building Israeli settlements on confiscated 
Palestinian land or working with the PA security forces to help Israel 
suppress Palestinian resistance to apartheid.

Palestinians from the Gaza Strip do not even have these “opportunities.” 
  In fact, Gaza is one of the most extreme versions of engineered 
disposability. Settler-colonial displacement turned Gaza into a refugee 
camp in 1948, when Zionist militias and later the Israeli army expelled 
more than 750,000 Palestinians from their towns and villages. 70% of 
Gaza’s two million residents are refugees, a living reminder of the 
Nakba and an embodied demand for the right of return. Political and 
economic restructuring through Oslo enabled Israel to transform Gaza 
into a prison built to concentrate and contain this unwanted surplus 
population. And the ever-intensifying Israeli siege demonstrates Gazans’ 
complete dehumanization. For Israel’s neoliberal colonial project, 
Palestinian lives have no value and their death does not matter.

Overall, therefore, neoliberalism coupled with Israel’s settler colonial 
project has transformed the Palestinians into a disposable population. 
This has enabled Israel to carry out its project of concentration and 
colonization. Understanding the neoliberal dynamics of Israel’s 
settler-colonial regime can contribute to the development of strategies 
to challenge Israeli apartheid not only as a system of racial domination 
but as a regime of racial capitalism.

    *Confronting the Economics of Israeli Apartheid*

An important question for the Palestinian liberation movement is how to 
avoid the pitfalls of post-apartheid South Africa in developing a vision 
for post-apartheid Palestine/Israel. As Black radicals predicted, an 
exclusive focus on the racial /state/has led to serious socioeconomic 
problems in South Africa since 1994. Palestinian liberation does not 
have to end with the same “solution” as that offered by the ANC. This 
will require attention not only to political rights but also to 
difficult questions about land redistribution and economic structure to 
ensure a more equal outcome. One crucial place to begin is by continuing 
conversations about the practical dynamics of Palestinian return 

It is also important to recognize that the current situation in 
Palestine is closely connected to processes reshaping social relations 
around the world. South Africa and Palestine, for example, are 
experiencing similar social and economic changes despite their radically 
different political trajectories. In both contexts, neoliberal racial 
capitalism has produced extreme inequality, racialized marginalization, 
and advanced strategies for protecting the powerful and policing the 
racialized poor. Andy Clarno refers to this combination as neoliberal 

Around the world, wealth and income are increasingly controlled by a 
handful of billionaire capitalists. As the ground collapses beneath the 
middle class, the gulf between rich and poor grows wider and the lives 
of the poorest become increasingly precarious. Neoliberal restructuring 
has enabled some members of historically oppressed populations to join 
the ranks of the elite. This explains the emergence of the new 
Palestinian elite in the OPT and the new Black elite in South Africa.

At the same time, neoliberal restructuring has deepened the 
marginalization of the racialized poor by intensifying both exploitation 
and abandonment. Jobs have become increasingly precarious, and entire 
regions have experienced declining demands for labor. While some 
racialized populations are marked for superexploitation in sweatshops 
and service industries, others – like Palestinians – are abandoned to a 
life of unemployment and informality.

Neoliberal apartheid regimes like Israel depend on advanced strategies 
of securitization to maintain power. Israel exercises sovereignty over 
the OPT through military deployments, electronic surveillance, 
imprisonment, interrogations, and torture. The state has also produced a 
fragmented geography of isolated Palestinian enclosures surrounded by 
walls and checkpoints and managed through closures and permits. And 
Israeli companies have taken the lead in the global market for advanced 
security equipment 
developing and testing high-tech devices in the OPT. The most important 
addition to Israel’s security regime, however, is a network of security 
forces facilitated by the US and the EU, supported by Jordan and Egypt, 
and operated through coordinated deployments of Israeli military and PA 
security forces.

Like Israel, other neoliberal apartheid regimes rely on walled 
enclosures, private and state security forces, and racialized policing 
strategies. In South Africa, securitization has involved the 
fortification of wealthy neighborhoods, the rapid expansion of the 
private security industry, and intense state repression of independent 
trade unions and social movements. In the United States, efforts to 
produce security for the powerful include gated communities, border 
walls, mass incarceration, mass deportation, electronic surveillance, 
drone wars, and the rapid growth of police, prison, border patrol, 
military, and intelligence forces.

Unlike South Africa, Israel remains an aggressive settler-colonial 
state. In this context, neoliberalism is part of Israel’s 
settler-colonial strategy to eliminate the Palestinian population. But 
the combination of racial domination and neoliberal capitalism has 
produced growing inequality, racialized marginalization, and advanced 
securitization in many parts of the world. As movements and activists 
build connections between struggles against racialized poverty and 
policing in Palestine, South Africa, the US, and beyond, understanding 
Israeli apartheid as a form of racial capitalism could contribute to the 
expansion of movements against global, neoliberal apartheid 
  It could also help shift the political discourse in Palestine from 
independence to decolonization. In his seminal work /The Wretched of the 
Earth,/Frantz Fanon argues that one of thepitfalls of national 
consciousness is a liberation movement that ends with an independent 
state governed by a nationalist elite that mimics the colonial power. To 
prevent this from happening, Fanon encourages a shift from national 
consciousness toward political and social consciousness. Moving from 
political independence to social transformation and decolonization is 
the challenge facing post-apartheid South Africa. Avoiding this trap is 
a challenge confronting Palestinian political forces in the struggle for 
liberation today.

Freedom Archives 522 Valencia Street San Francisco, CA 94110 415 
863.9977 www.freedomarchives.org
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