Occupation, Colonialism and Apartheid in Israel – A Photo Essay

By Mats Svensson

Year after year, we are still reading the same unfortunate news reports showing the evil form of Apartheid that exists in Israel today. I lived in Shuafat in East Jerusalem. I saw that evil with my own eyes. I tried to understand what was going on.

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I walked along the Wall, from the south to the north. 520 km long, it snakes through Palestinian villages, destroyed olive groves and pasture lands. It moves across the rolling landscape, cutting off roads and paths and precluding the continuation of the social and economic life for many Palestinian communities.

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When it is completed, 200 km more will also be added. In total, when the construction and destruction is complete, Israel can boast of 720 km of ‘separation’ – of killed dreams, hopes and destroyed lives.

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What many don’t know is that the Wall is being built on Palestinian land, on occupied territory, to steal land and to protect illegal colonies. The thousands of visitors who every year visit the holy land, who walk in the footsteps of Jesus could see the afflicted, listen to the voices and hear the stories. These visits have the potential of giving a unique possibility to understand the everyday, commonplace oppression. Unfortunately the visits are often aimed at something else, something that happened long time ago, at a time when the area was occupied by the Romans unlike today when the occupation power is Israel.

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And then in May 2009 I was invited to the launching of a report in Ramallah. It was called: “Occupation, Colonialism, Apartheid? A re-assessment of Israel’s practices in the occupied Palestinian territories under international law – Cape Town, South Africa, May 2009.”

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I felt both happiness and sorrow when I had the report in my hand. Happiness that somebody dared to begin telling the truth but also sorrow over my own silence; that I had hid behind my own cowardice, and was comforted by the lies which blinded me from seeing the injustice that Palestinians had to endure.

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If somebody wants to try to understand Apartheid and Colonialism, one should understand the South African experience. If you can afford it, go to South Africa, rent a car, go out to Mamelody, sit at a Shibin or in a small jazz club. Listen to the music and ask the questions. If there is anything a South Africans understand well, it is Apartheid, and they are prepared to tell you all about it.

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During my years in Palestine I worked for short periods close to individuals who were close to President Mbeki and to the Mandela couple. We worked in the Gaza Strip. Spoke to leaders from various factions. Laughed and cried with leaders and ordinary people. To my shock, my South African colleagues often pointed out that Apartheid in South Africa was far less deadly compared to the West Bank and Gaza.

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And I had a well-researched and scientifically sound report in my hand that confirmed what I have seen with my own eyes. After 15 months of research, Human Sciences Research Council, Cape Town, declared that what is happening in Palestine is not only occupation but also Colonialism and Apartheid.

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Colonialism and Apartheid are forms of injustice that we must all object to, and fight against. They are both crimes against fundamental human rights. Each state has a legal responsibility to the international community not to take any active part in Apartheid or Colonialism. In accordance with this, each state has a responsibility to cooperate to end all forms of Colonialism and Apartheid, not recognize a form of action which has its origin in Colonialism or Apartheid, and not support a country committing these crimes.

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Many in Sweden felt true happiness, joy and pride when Nelson Mandela walked out of prison after 27 years. We though Apartheid had been forever eradicated.

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We were wrong. Human Sciences Research Council, like many other organizations attested that Apartheid remains. Professor John Dugard, who was the UN special rapporteur for Palestine in the UN Human Rights Council fully agreed. In his final report in January 2007, he posed the following question to the international community: “What are the legal consequences of a regime of prolonged occupation with features of Colonialism and Apartheid for the occupied people, the Occupying Power and third States?” The latter category included Sweden.

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Apartheid in South Africa was predicated on three policies: to divide the population into groups based on race and give the White race preference in terms of rights, services and privileges. The second was dividing up the country into geographically-segregated areas and transferring the population into these areas based on race. In addition, a person from one area could not access another area. The third was a combination of security laws and rules created to oppress and suppress any resistance and which also strengthened a system of domination based on race.

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The Palestinian people, as demonstrated in the report, live under a similar system. The three prerequisites are visible in the occupied territory. The system of privilege is extensive and well built, the geographically-segregated areas clear and well-established and the security laws are one-sided and in place to impede all forms of resistance, something each Palestinian is well aware of.

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The South African report has been handed over to and read by every diplomat in Jerusalem, Ramallah and Tel Aviv. It is probably registered with most foreign ministries, including Sweden’s.

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Apartheid is back. Apartheid is a tangible, unmistakable realty in Palestine as it was in South Africa. Many were fooled to think that Apartheid was buried forever, that Colonialism was only meant for the history books. Now that we know we must take a stand and dare speak out.

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Israel bears the main responsibility to eradicate the crime it has itself created. This can be done by removing the structures and institutions that have led to Apartheid and Colonialism. There are also rules that demand compensation from Israel for the damage it caused and the harm it inflicted upon the lives of millions of innocent Palestinians.

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To ensure that Palestinians achieve their right to self-determination, third parties, like Sweden has an important voice and an important role. All countries must push to ensure that universal human rights values and international laws are honored and implemented.

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The South Africa experience and struggle should guide us in this upcoming fight, until Palestinians, as their South African brethren rid themselves from the evils of Apartheid and Colonialism.

– Mats Svensson, a former Swedish diplomat working on the staff of SIDA, the Swedish International Development Cooperation Agency, is presently following the ongoing occupation of Palestine. He is the author of Crimes, Victims and Witnesses – Apartheid in Palestine. (Real African Publishers). He contributed this article and photo to PalestineChronicle.com. Visit his Facebook page and contact him: [email protected]

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