Racism: when will we face the facts?
Posted: Thursday, September 13, 2001
( Sherri Muzher ) The rambunctious U.N. Conference Against Racism, Racial Discrimination, Xenophobia and Racial Intolerance has ended, and language has finally been adopted to summarize the major points. "We recognize the inalienable right of the Palestinian people to self-determination and to the establishment of an independent state and we recognize the right to security for all states in the region, including Israel," the text says.
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The statement also recognizes the right of return for refugees. "We recognize the right of the refugees to return voluntarily to their homes and properties in dignity and safety, and urge all states to facilitate such return," the text continues.
The conference, the largest ever held on racism, unfolded like a soap opera. The issue of Zionism seemed to be the primary focus of the media, though many other issues were addressed.
Sadly, the United States walked out of the conference because of the Zionism issue. This upset many African-Americans, who wanted to see our nation finally address the issue of slavery and reparations. The U.S. role was never to be seen.
The European Union had also threatened to walk if specific references were made to Israel and racism. Ultimately, the Europeans agreed to stay after they viewed and agreed to a South-African-brokered compromise.
It was all truly mind-boggling. How could anyone claim that Israel is not a racist state? It is even called the Jewish state of Israel. It is a state for one religion and the founders of Zionism simply intended for such a homogenous state. Racism is defined as:
1) The belief that race accounts for differences in human character or ability and that a particular race is superior to others.
2) Discrimination or prejudice based on race.
More water is given to Jewish citizens than to Palestinians; jobs are more plentiful for Jewish citizens than Israeli Palestinians; Jewish citizens are not subjected to torture while in prison; only Israeli citizens and illegal Jewish settlers drive with yellow license plates, which allow them freedom to travel throughout the Holy Land; non-Jewish Israelis cannot buy or lease land in Israel; Israel's policies have involved planning regulations prohibiting Palestinian building on 40 percent of Gaza, 70 percent of the West Bank and 80 percent of East Jerusalem. While restricting Palestinian development, Israel builds housing for its people in the occupied territories.
According to an Amnesty International report, released shortly before the conference: "prejudice against Palestinian citizens of Israel is widespread in the criminal justice system, both in the courts and law enforcement methods." How can we forget the use of live ammunition, which killed 13 Israeli Palestinians last fall? Live ammunition was not used on Jewish rioters.
A few years ago, the Israeli government was shown to have a 70:30 policy in the City of Jerusalem which to maintain a 70 percent Jewish population over 29 percent Muslim and 1 percent Christian minorities. This has been accomplished through home demolitions, denial of building permits, ID card confiscations, and residency revocations.
Is their any question as to whether these would be considered racist policies in other regions of the world?
A few years back a survey in the Israeli daily newspaper Yedioth Ahranoth showed that the majority of Israeli teens believe that Palestinians do not deserve the same rights as them. One shudders to think what they are learning from their parents.
One would think that more than most individuals, Jews who survived the Holocaust or descended from victims and survivors would be among the greatest teachers of tolerance. Not as it pertains to Palestinians.
Here lies another of the great tragedies associated with the Palestinians: they have been expected to pay the price for the ills of the Europeans and Americans – the perpetrators and enablers of the Jewish Holocaust.
For decades we have seen the West try to wipe away its sins on the backs of Palestinians: often turning history upside down, or trying to solve problems by creating other problems. For example, the West lead in formulating the U.N. Partition Plan of 1947 which apportioned 55 percent of British Mandate Palestine to the Jewish community which owned less than 10 percent of the land, and it was American F-16 jet fighters and Apache helicopters that Israel has used in putting down the intifada.
The U.N. conference was yet another extension of these amelioration tactics. When does it stop? And when do these same countries begin to look within themselves and realize that just as they enabled the Jewish Holocaust, so they have and continue to enable another catastrophe?
It is understandable that the term "racist" bothers Israelis. Nobody wants to be called a racist, particularly those who were forced to wear patches to identify them in Nazi Germany. But the policies Israel pursues are exactly this.
If it doesn't like the well-deserved label, then it should stop its racist practices.
As to the West, which seems to suffer from the endless guilt and fear of the label "anti-Semitic," it is time to ask how it is advancing justice by refusing to call a spade a spade?
How many Palestinians have to die or suffer from Israel's policies before futile condemnations are translated into the kind of punitive policies that became commonplace with Apartheid South Africa?
It was Henry Katzew, a former South African journalist now living in Israel, who once stated in South Africa: a Country Without Friends: "What is the difference between the way in which the Jewish people struggles to remain what it is in the midst of a non-Jewish population, and the way the Afrikaners try to stay what they are?"
There is no difference.
Sherri Muzher is a Palestinian-American activist, lawyer, and freelance journalist.
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