Israeli Apartheid: A Beginner’s Guide

Israeli Apartheid: A Beginner’s Guide, by Ben White, reviewed by Richard Kuper

June 1, 2014 · 2 min read

israeli-apartheidThis 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.


Review – Steal as Much as You Can by Nathalie Olah

Anna Clayton reviews Natalie Olah's book, which explores how upper middle-class pop culture has affected British politics

Review – Abolish Silicon Valley by Wendy Liu

Suchandrika Chakrabarti reviews Wendy Liu's proposals to reclaim technology's potential for the public good

Review – One Man’s Terrorist: A Political History of the IRA by Daniel Finn

Connor Beaton reviews Daniel Finn's account of the politics and personalities which drove the IRA


'The Murder of Count Helfenstein' during the German Peasants' Revolt (Credit: WikiCommons)

It’s after the end of the world: inequality and doomsday

As apocalypse rhetoric spreads during Covid-19, James Hendrix Elsey explores what 'the end of the world' really means under racialised capitalism – and what comes next

Gender, class and cliché in Normal People

The BBC hit drama shows the complexities of class mobility, but can’t avoid class and gender stereotypes, says Frances Hatherley

Review – Mask Off: Masculinity Redefined by J J Bola

Mask Off offers a toolbox of explanations and arguments to question and challenge toxic masculinity, writes Huw Lemmey

Only fearless, independent journalism
can hold power to account

Your support keeps Red Pepper alive