Israel: An Apartheid State?

The Israeli-Palestinian conflict is one of the most complex issues in the world, and it inspires debate and anger when it is talked about. This is because pro-Palestinian and pro-Israel beliefs have reasonable grounding in historical and moral truth. No one side is “right,” and no one side is “wrong.” Because the Israeli-Palestinian conflict is an emotional topic for many people, there is a common tendency to paint the issue in colors of black and white. This leads to problems, as people make incorrect arguments in support of their beliefs. One of the most common and most incorrect arguments can be seen by examining the Israeli Apartheid Week. The Israeli Apartheid Week is a yearly set of college-campus rallies and speeches focused on spreading anti-Israel political sentiment, specifically the argument that Israel is an apartheid state. I wanted to focus on a specific and narrow topic related to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, so that I would be able to do it justice.


In my research, I learned that there is absolutely no coherent argument for Israel being an apartheid state. There are many, many bad things that the state of Israel, and people acting on behalf of the state of Israel, have done throughout the years. However, those things simply do not add up to apartheid, which is a very specific and meaningful term that should only be used when it is appropriate. People who accuse of Israel of apartheid run the risk of weakening the credibility of anti-Israel political sentiment. I would like this article to show my fellow college students, once and for all, that Israel is not an apartheid state. I would also like to show my readers that events like Israeli Apartheid Week should no longer exist, because they run the risk of backtracking the pro-Palestinian political movement, and inciting anger and violence on both sides of the debate.

To begin, I looked up the word “apartheid.” Where does it come from, and what exactly does it mean? Contrary to what some people might assume, apartheid isn’t a normal political word like “revolution,” which can be applied to a wide range of events. According to Dictionary.com, apartheid is: “(in the Republic of South Africa) a rigid former policy of segregating and economically and politically oppressing the nonwhite population.”

The white South African government enacted many policies throughout the mid-to-late 20th century in order to subjugate the non-white population, removing and resettling near 4 million non-white South Africans, revoking South African citizenship from all of them. That is what apartheid means, and using the word apartheid incorrectly is simply wrong. What are the factors that lead people to call Israel an apartheid state? Perhaps it is the more broad definition of the crime of apartheid, established by the 2002 Rome Statue of the International Criminal Court (ICC): “crimes against humanity committed in the context of an institutionalized regime of systematic oppression and domination by one racial group over any other racial group and committed with the intention of maintaining that regime.”


However, even under that definition, Israel is simply not an apartheid state. To start, an overview of the apartheid accusation as related to the treatments of Arab Israeli citizens. The definition from the ICC describes “systematic oppression and domination by one racial group over any other racial group.” If this phrase described the country of Israel, then why would the Israeli Supreme Court have an Arab judge? Many are surprised to learn that Salim Joubran, an Israeli Arab, has been an Israeli Supreme Court judge since 2003. There are 17 Arab Israeli members of the Knesset, the Israeli parliamentary system that debates and enacts policy. The Israeli army, the IDF, happily accepts Israeli Arab volunteers, although their service is not compulsory. If Israeli Arabs volunteer for national service, they receive all the same financial benefits as Jewish Israelis. The fact that Israeli Arabs exist in the first place say a lot about the apartheid claim. Apartheid in South Africa stripped citizenship from millions of non-white South Africans, while Israel has taken no steps to remove citizenship from Arab Israelis. In fact, there are nearly 1.7 million Arab Israeli citizens, and they make up 20% of the overall Israeli population. Contrary to the type of laws that define apartheid, there are actually laws in Israel that require government announcements and information be translated into Arabic, as it is recognized as one of the national languages. It seems clear that the treatment of Arab Israeli citizens, at least, cannot be proof for the apartheid accusation.


Another argument that some make for Israel as an apartheid state is the removal of Palestinian Arabs from their land after the Arab-Israeli War of 1948, and the Six Day War of 1967. However, the time elapsed since those wars should not allow their dishonest citation as evidence for Israeli apartheid. The Arab-Israeli War in 1948 began when five Arab nations invaded newly Israeli (formerly the British Mandate of Palestine) territory. This was done in response to the United Nations formally recognizing Israel’s independence as a Jewish state. Israel ended the war having gained new territory, and over 700,000 Arabs were forced to move as a result of the fighting. In the following years, Jews settled and re-populated formerly Arab land. Although the 1948 war resulted in the displacement of Arabs and the settlement of Jews, Israel did not start the war.

The end results of a war started by countries surrounding Israel cannot fairly be blamed on Israel. The 1967 Six-Day War resulted in similar narratives, and is often cited as evidence for Israel’s imperialist, apartheid intentions. However, the Six-Day War was not Israel’s fault. In 1967, Egypt mobilized their army along Israel’s border, threatening action. Israel took the preemptive action of attacking Egyptian air forces, taking out their airstrike capabilities. Jordan and Syria got involved, attacking Israel as well. Israel lost only a few thousand soldiers to the Six-Day War, while the Arab nations lost ten times that. Israel also gained new territory, such as the Gaza Strip, the Sinai Peninsula, the Golan Heights, the West Bank, and East Jerusalem. 300,000 Palestinians were displaced from the West Bank, and it is easy to see why the uninformed would cite the Six-Day War as evidence of Israeli apartheid. However, the facts of the Six-Day War do not support the apartheid claim, as they instead show a country at peace that was forced to cope with aggressive Arab nations on all sides, none in support of the Jewish state’s existence. After examining the history, it is clear that the 1948 Arab-Israeli War and the 1967 Six-Day War cannot be cited honestly as evidence in support of the apartheid accusation.

The Gaza Strip and the West Bank are pieces of land with very complicated histories in Israel, and their histories are often used as evidence in support of accusing Israel of apartheid. However, once again, the historical facts do not support the apartheid narrative. The Gaza Strip was given up by Israel after the Oslo Accords in 1994, and IDF evacuated from the territory, which came under control of the Palestinian Authority. However, in the year 2000, the Second Intifada started, a bloody war carried out by Palestinian militants in the Gaza Strip. They shot rockets into Israeli territory, and enacted terrorist attacks against Israeli civilians. Over the next decade, Israel re-captured and then re-disengaged from the Gaza Strip, at which point Hamas, an extremist Islamist group, gained political power, in 2006. In the decade since Hamas gained control over the Gaza Strip, a terrible cycle has occurred. Every few years, Gaza shoots rockets into Israel. Israel responds with overpowering military force, causing the death of hundreds and even thousands, and Israel is blamed for the overall conflict. Are these military clashes truly awful, especially when they result in the death of many Palestinian citizens? Absolutely. That is not a question. However, do they constitute apartheid? Certainly not, because apartheid is about systemic government oppression against non-whites, enacted in the name of racial purity. The best anti-Israel argument you can make in regards to the Gaza Strip is one of a larger, more powerful country responding with disproportionate military force to deadly militant groups in a bordering territory. If that sounds less-bad than apartheid, it’s because it is.

The West Bank is commonly cited as evidence for Israeli apartheid, because the West Bank has a long history of Arab settlement, and it has been occupied by Israeli forces for years now. There is actually a physical wall located in the West Bank, to separate Arab and Israeli towns. To make the situation worse, there is a semi-constant influx of far-right Israeli settlers moving to the West Bank, trying to claim territory so that Israel has better bargaining chips in the Israeli-Palestinian talks about land rights. The system of checkpoints and vehicle searches that Palestinians in the West Bank must go through to bypass the wall and get to work assignments has added to the overall negative picture of Israel’s actions in the West Bank. The West Bank probably looks more like apartheid than anything else going on in Israel. However, it is not really apartheid. The wall in the West Bank, built in 2002, is often called the “apartheid wall” by anti-Israel protesters, and the checkpoints where soldiers inspect Palestinians provide lots of negative visuals. However, from 2002 to 2007, the wall reduced terrorist attacks by 96%. That rate makes it quite clear that the wall was not built for harassment purposes–it was a safety precaution. The far-right Jewish settlers are very problematic for the peace process, and they are hard to defend–but they do not represent the Israeli government, which has at various times tried to impede the process of Jews settling the West Bank. If Israel is an apartheid state, Israel’s government is to blame for that apartheid. However, as seen by all of the research, Israel is not an apartheid state.

In light of all the history and context, it seems very clear that Israel does not fall under the definition of an apartheid state that commits apartheid crimes. This is not to say that Israel should go uncriticized. However, there is a troubling tendency to blame Israel for everything bad that happens in and around Israel, and that simply is not fair. Israel is surrounded by hostile nations that have repeatedly attacked the country, and the Palestinian governments (at various times) have undermined the peace process with repeated instances of terrorist attacks and missile launches. I would like to call upon my fellow college students across the country to stand up and protest against the falsehoods and insanity of Israeli Apartheid Week, which lodges unfair claims against the nation of Israel and create a negative air of anger that does serious harm to the Israeli-Palestinian peace process.



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