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Dear Madam President Von der Leyen, call it apartheid

In an open letter, Gaza-based political analyst Haidar Eid insists the EU commission president should apologise for the blatant racism in a recent speech celebrating the 75th anniversary of the Israeli regime
European Commission President Ursula von der Leyen shakes hands with Israel's President Isaac Herzog at the EU headquarters in Brussels, on 23 January 2023 (AFP)

We in Palestine are saddened that, 30 years after the collapse of apartheid in South Africa, the president of the EU Commission has not learned the lessons of that shameful history and continues to defend blatant racism and settler colonialism.

I write this letter from the besieged Gaza Strip. Besieged by whom, you might wonder? Perhaps you may think that it is a self-imposed blockade and that 2.4 million people have decided to die slowly through incremental genocide.

Two-thirds of Palestinians in Gaza are refugees who were ethnically cleansed from their villages and towns by the country you are in love with and whose narrative you have completely endorsed.

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It seems you are unfamiliar with the works of Israel's New Historians who debunked the Zionist narrative many years ago. If you are genuinely interested in historical accuracy, rather than ideology, then perhaps you should read Israeli historian Ilan Pappe's The Ethnic Cleansing of Palestineespecially since you don't trust Palestinian historians. A person in your important position should avoid myths that have long been refuted.

You must be familiar with reports by Amnesty International, Human Rights Watch, the reputable Israeli human rights organisation B'Tselem, and the executive secretary of the UN Economic and Social Commission for Western Asia (ESCWA) findings about the apartheid nature of the Israeli government. (I refrain from mentioning Palestinian human rights organisations as you may deem them less credible.)

Embracing apartheid

In Israel, institutionalised racial discrimination is unequivocally founded on ensuring the primacy of a group of Jewish settlers over the Palestinian Arabs.

When comparing the applications of the apartheid policy, it is difficult to identify any differences between white rule in South Africa and its Israeli counterpart in Palestine, in terms of the segregation and designation of certain areas for Israeli Jews and others for Arabs.

Other similarities between apartheid Israel and apartheid South Africa include the delineation of certain laws and privileges for Jews, and a discriminatory set of laws that apply only to Palestinians.

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Currently, in both Israel and the occupied Palestinian territories there are two road systems, two housing systems, two educational systems, and different legal and administrative systems for Jews and non-Jews. Every law enacted by the South African apartheid system has a corresponding law in Israel.

These include the Group Areas Act, the Prohibition of Mixed Marriages Act, the Law on Movement and Permits, the Public Safety Act, the Population Registration Act, the Immorality Act, the Land Act, and, of course, the Bantu Homelands Citizenship Act.

The corresponding Israeli laws are the Law of Return, the 2003 "temporary" laws prohibiting mixed marriages, the Population Registry Law, the Citizenship and Entry into Israel Law, the Israeli Nationality Law, and various land and property laws.

And Israel now has decided to become openly an apartheid state by definition: the infamous Nation-State Basic Law specifies the nature of the State of Israel as the nation-state of the Jewish people only.

Anti-apartheid icons Nelson Mandela and Archbishop Desmond Tutu are only two of many South African activists who strongly believe that what we experience in Palestine is far worse than apartheid in South Africa in its heyday.

Even former US President Jimmy Carter expressed his distress at the situation on the ground during his last visit to Palestine and called Israel an apartheid state. Perhaps his words would have more credibility to you?

Fond of colonialism

Sadly, your condescending response to the Palestinian foreign ministry - which rightly called your remarks "anti-Palestinian racist tropes" - reminds one of the 19th-century language used by the white supremacists of South Africa and the American South under Jim Crow laws.

You have made it absolutely clear that you are fond of colonialism by using archaic colonial cliches

But you have made it absolutely clear that you are fond of colonialism by using archaic colonial cliches. Arab barbarians needed the white Ashkenazi European to spread "democracy" in the heart of the uncivilised Arab world and "literally make the desert bloom". Mind you, this biologist ideology which maintains that non-whites have backward, undemocratic cultures has no place in today’s postcolonial world. Hence, your denial of the Nakba.

Were you a supporter of the Bantustan system in South Africa under apartheid? Are you opposed to equal rights and the transformation of Israel and Palestine into a state for all its citizens? The two-state solution which you keep referring to (without doing anything to implement it) means the Bantustanisation of Palestine.

Are you opposed to civic democracy, which is the demand of most Palestinian civil society and grassroots organisations? Was Nelson Mandela wrong to spend 27 years of his life in pursuit of justice by demanding equality for the indigenous people of South Africa? Do you realise that what you are supporting in the Middle East is a racist solution par excellence? A solution based on "ethnic nationalism"?

Do you realise, Madam President, that the ministers in the cabinet of your “vibrant democracy” are calling for Palestinian villages and cities to be wiped out, thanks to your commission's complacency and support?

To our horror, here in Palestine where we are fighting for our mere survival thanks to the racist policies of apartheid Israel, you had no sympathetic words whatsoever for our suffering as a result of the establishment of the only remaining apartheid country in the world. You did not even want to give the false impression that you are balanced and objective.

While I hesitate to quote a Palestinian to you, this observation by the late scholar Edward Said in his Representations of the Intellectual aptly describes this recent incident:

"Nothing in my view is more reprehensible than those habits of mind in the intellectual that induce avoidance, that characteristic turning away from a difficult and principled position, which you know to be the right one, but which you decide not to take. Your hope is to be asked back, to consult, to be on a board or prestigious committee, and so to remain within the responsible mainstream; someday you hope to get an honorary degree, a big prize, perhaps even an ambassadorship… For despite the abuse and vilification that any outspoken supporter of Palestinian rights and self-determination earns for him or herself, the truth deserves to be spoken, represented by an unafraid and compassionate intellectual."

Does this ring a bell, Madam President?

The views expressed in this letter belong to the signatory and do not necessarily reflect the editorial policy of Middle East Eye.

Dr Haidar Eid is Associate Professor in the Department of English Literature, Al-Aqsa University, Gaza Strip, Palestine.
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