Humpty Dumpty told Alice, ‘When I use a word, it means just what I choose it to mean – neither more nor less.’
In his July 23 P&I article ‘Israel and Apartheid: Language matters’, Michael Easson also drew on the Humpty Dumpty playbook: avoid evidence, assert that you know what words mean and, in this case, deny a state’s obvious cruelties.
Easson was defending ALP leader Albanese’s claim that Israel is not an apartheid state.
We may be living in an age when fake news is a feature of a deceitful politics, but trust can only be restored if truths are told about issues central to people’s freedoms and to public understanding, never more so than in the controversy over the meaning of apartheid.
The Apartheid Convention of 1973 defined apartheid as ‘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.’
In 2017, the UN Economic & Social Commission for Western Asia concluded, ‘Israel has established an apartheid regime that dominates Palestinian people as a whole.’
At this point, Easson may deride any analysis which comes from UN sources, so let’s turn to the judgement of the widely respected NGO Human Rights Watch (HRW). Their recent report, ‘A Threshold Crossed’, condemned Israel for committing crimes against humanity of apartheid and persecution against Palestinians.
The HRW report concluded that in pursuit of absolute Jewish Israeli control over Palestinians, Israeli authorities have dispossessed, confined and forcibly separated and subjugated Palestinians by virtue of their identity…’
If that conclusion does not chip away at Mr. Easson’s confidence, a quick look at the conclusion of the Israeli human rights organisation B’Tselem might make a slight impression. In their January 2021 report they write, ‘The entire area between the Mediterranean Sea and the Jordan River is organised under a single principle: advancing and cementing the supremacy of one group – Jews – over another, Palestinians…This is Apartheid.’
Perhaps the brazen acknowledgement of the government of Israel, as in its Nation State Bill passed in July 2018, might affect Mr. Easson’s and Mr. Albanese’s understanding. Words derived from evidence matter. Read the legal small print.
That Nation State law is infused with apartheid claims, as though, if such a system merely discriminates against an unworthy people, it should not be questioned. The law says that the right to exercise national self determination in the State of Israel is unique to the Jewish people; and the development of Jewish settlements on Palestinian lands should be encouraged, promoted and consolidated.
Could Mr. Easson find an Orwellian concoction to disprove that system’s existence?
The demolition of Palestinians’ homes is another feature of apartheid. In Aljazeera Opinion of July 27, Professor David Palumbo-Liu from Stanford University recalls that in November 2020, Israeli bulldozers demolished homes leaving 73 people including 41 children homeless.
In June 2021, the Jerusalem municipality started the destruction of 100 Palestinian buildings in the al-Bustan neighbourhood, home to more than 1,500
Palestinians, most of them children; and in the East Jerusalem neighbourhood of Sheikh Jarahh, 150 residents have received eviction notices.
On the West Bank and in East Jerusalem, Israel’s demolition of homes and simultaneous refusal of building permits to Palestinians, adds cruel insult to permanent injury. Yet Easson awards himself a permit to build his own flimsy construction: ‘The sole legal distinction between Jewish and Arab citizens is that the latter are not required to serve in the Israeli army.’
Things mean what he says they mean. ‘The question is’, said Humpty Dumpty, ‘which is to be master- that’s all.’
Adulation of your own political party and its leader can cloud judgements, in particular if you don’t read the evidence, if you’ve never been to Gaza, seldom to the West Bank, have never listened to Israeli and Palestinian leaders who want international law and a semblance of justice to prevail.
If you avoid evidence, you can without blushing say that George Browning, in his characteristically comprehensive and diplomatic appraisal, ‘ ‘Israel Apartheid, and why Albo is seriously wrong and seriously right’ (P&I of July 20), should not have criticised Albanese for denying that Israel’s policies amounted to apartheid, a label which the ALP leader dismissed as ‘simplistic, naïve, ahistorical.’
Baseless but confident, top down judgements suggest an absence of courage to challenge the wishes of powerful lobbies.
Despite Easson’s dramatisation of Israel’s and the ALP leader’s virtues, the record shows otherwise, not least in regard to repetition about the two-state solution. Easson writes that ‘Albo nailed Labor as the foremost Australian champions of the two state solution’, even though this tired prescription ignores facts on the ground, let alone the judgments of significant Israelis.
In his book ‘In Pursuit of Peace’, Gershon Baskin, a regular Israeli commentator for The Jerusalem Post, writes, ‘The two-state solution is dead. It is time to look for a plan which outlaws discriminatory, racist, apartheid practices.’
In his recent work ‘Decolonizing Israel, Liberating Palestine’, Jeff Halper, the Israeli founder of the Committee Against House Demolition, insists that repetition of the two-state solution is an irrelevant distraction. The possibility of two states disappeared years ago.
The distinguished Israeli journalist Gideon Levy concludes that since 1967, Palestinians have been suppressed in a bi national state, but that has never meant one state with equal rights for both Jews and Palestinians. On the possibilities of two states, he pleads ‘Be realistic. The common denominator is racism. The settlers will not be evacuated.’
In an effort to deflect attention from Israeli brutalities, Easson insists that other countries practice apartheid so why pick on Israel. This implies that until all possible comparisons of human rights abusers are made, no action should be taken.
His article finishes with a bit more Humpty Dumpty – ‘A word means what I choose it to mean’.
Armed with Trump-like perspectives, apartheid could mean anything. A dangerous fake news culture will continue, and a history written by the most powerful military and economic players will construe perpetrators of apartheid as actually the victims.
Stuart Rees OAM is Professor Emeritus, University of Sydney, recipient of the Jerusalem (Al Quds) Peace Prize and author of the new book “Cruelty or Humanity”, Bristol: Policy Press. A human rights activist, poet, novelist, and Founder Director of the Sydney Peace Foundation.