A recent front page article in the Haaretz newspaper was titled: ‘Most Israelis support an apartheid regime in Israel’. The article referred to the results of a survey, where Israelis were asked to comment about voting rights for Palestinians, should the West Bank be annexed by Israel. The article sparked a heated debate in many circles.  It touched on sensitive topic regarding racism, discrimination and ethnic segregation – issues that Jews have experienced themselves over the years.

Apartheid signs – South Africa
Haaretz changed the title of the article after a couple of days to: ‘Most Israeli Jews wouldn’t give Palestinians vote if West Bank was annexed’. The reason for the change was “technical”: The survey referred to a hypothetical situation where Israel would annex the West Bank. This fact qualified the original title as an “editorial conjecture” at best and not a statistically validated piece of information.

Statistical inaccuracies notwithstanding, the question remains – is there apartheid in Israel? Haaretz editor clearly thinks there is. And he is not alone, as evidenced by some of the opinions voiced within and outside Israel. I decided to dig in a bit further, and here’s what I think:

First let’s distinguish between the situation within the state of Israel (pre-1967 borders) and the West Bank. The state of Israel has a fully democratic system in place: every citizen has a right to vote and run for office regardless of race, ethnicity, gender or religious affiliation. Furthermore, all citizens are subject to the same Israeli law – except for personal status matters (i.e. marriage/divorce) which are handled by the appropriate religious court. 

The West Bank is a different matter altogether. Aside from parts of East Jerusalem that were annexed by Israel, the West Bank isn’t part of Israel. The West Bank isn’t part of ‘Palestine’ either, since such entity never existed. Post WWI, the territory west of the Jordan River was under British rule, part of a ‘mandate’ given by the League of Nations. The British mandate ended in 1948, and the West Bank was first occupied by Jordan (1948-1967) and later by Israel (1967-now). While some refer to the West Bank as a “territory in dispute”, others prefer to use the term ‘occupied territory’. The choice of terms is influenced by the viewpoint on who should eventually control the West Bank.

Presently, there are three classes of areas in the West Bank: area ‘A’ which is controlled by the Palestinian Authority (PA), area ‘B’ which is jointly controlled by Israel and the PA, and area ‘C’ which is controlled by Israel. The parts controlled by Israel are under military rule and subject to Martial Law.

Apartheid is a term originally coined to describe the situation in South Africa, whereby whites and blacks lived in the same state, yet under different laws and with different civil rights. Given it’s under martial law, the West Bank isn’t a ‘democracy’, but it isn’t ‘apartheid state’ either. It is a disputed area whose fate will hopefully be determined by a peace agreement. Needless to say, Israel isn’t an ‘apartheid state’ – it has one law for all its citizens.

Back to the article in Haaretz: the editor was quick to jump to conclusions which weren’t supported by the quoted survey. Indeed the controversial heading was retracted and the following ‘clarification” was published: The original headline for this piece, ‘Most Israelis support an apartheid regime in Israel,’ did not accurately reflect the findings of the Dialog poll. The question to which most respondents answered in the negative did not relate to the current situation, but to a hypothetical situation in the future: ‘If Israel annexes territories in Judea and Samaria, should 2.5 million Palestinians be given the right to vote for the Knesset?’”

But let’s not confuse the unfortunate use of words by Haaretz with the underlying problem. There are close to 2 million people who live under martial law in the West Bank. This is not a desirable situation and it cannot last forever. I am not going to expand in this blog post on the rational for the martial law, and the significant challenges associated with “simply” lifting it. I will say there is a definite need to determine the ultimate status of the West Bank. Continuing on the current trajectory may lead to eventual integration of the West Bank into the state of Israel. If that happens, Israelis will face a difficult choice between losing the ‘Jewish nature’ of Israel and constructing an Apartheid state. Let’s hope the twain shall never meet.