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This book first appeared in 2009 and was excoriated by supporters of the Zionist project. It does not claim to be a comprehensive history of the conflict. But it was a good book then and, revised and updated, it is even better now.
Israeli apartheid is not the same as South African apartheid, and White is fully aware of this. If South Africa is the model, there are important differences. In South Africa the white economy was dependent on cheap, black labour; in Israel the dominant Zionist project has always wanted to wish the indigenous, Palestinian population away.
But Ben White starts from international attempts to specify a crime of apartheid, dating back to 1973, and is clear that the comparison with South Africa will be ‘useful in so far as it sheds light … on a political system that is based on structural racism, separation and dominance’.
Part 1 gives the briefest account of events leading up to the catastrophe of 1947–49. Part 2 offers a lengthier account of how discrimination works both within green-line Israel and in the occupied territories.
The core of green-line apartheid is the exclusionary land regime, the story of how Jewish Israelis, from owning around 7 per cent of the land when the state of Israel was declared, now own or control 93 per cent, and how land development and land-use planning is systematically deployed against the needs of Palestinian citizens. The expropriation continues today, particularly of Bedouin lands in the Naqab.
Within the occupation, the confiscation of Palestinian lands, the growth of the settlements (in reality Jewish-only colonies), house demolitions, separate roads for citizens and non-citizens, restrictions on freedom of movement, arbitrary arrests, military brutality and more all evoke the daily realities of life in apartheid South Africa.
White’s book is rounded off with FAQs and a guide to resources, all packed into fewer than 160 pages of text. Judged by his own criterion – how successfully the book illuminates the political system it describes – it is a great success. I can think of no better introduction to Palestinian dispossession currently available.