Reporting on apartheid Israel

June 1, 2021
Sydney rallies for Palestine on May 30, the third week in a row. Photo: Peter Boyle

Just as Israel was forced to pull back from its latest bombardment of Gaza, you may be surprised to learn that ABC management was instructing its reporters in the art of misreporting.

Human Rights Watch’s (HRW) Sophie McNeill said on May 31 that the ABC had issued a “cheat sheet” to its journalists that, among other things, instructs them not to use “apartheid” when referring to Israel.

A new HRW report, A Threshold Crossed: Israeli Authorities and the Crimes of Apartheid and Persecution, details the way Israel has maintained its war on a colonised people and speaks out strongly for the oppressed people of Palestine.

The report was released on April 27, but a quick search reveals that, so far, the ABC has not reported on it. Given that it lays out basic facts about Israel’s occupation of Palestine and Gaza, and counters the Israeli government propaganda deployed to justify the occupation, why hasn’t it?

The HRW report states that Israel has “maintained military rule over some portion of the Palestinian population for all but six months of its 73-year history” and that it is a “fallacy” that the Israeli occupation is “temporary” and that the “peace process” will bring an end to Israeli abuses.

These “widely-held assumptions”, it said, “have obscured the reality of Israel’s entrenched discriminatory rule over Palestinians”.

It then describes how the apartheid system operates. “For the past 54 years, Israeli authorities have facilitated the transfer of Jewish Israelis to the OPT [Occupied Palestinian Territory] and granted them a superior status under the law as compared to Palestinians living in the same territory when it comes to civil rights, access to land, and freedom to move, build, and confer residency rights to close relatives.

“While Palestinians have a limited degree of self-rule in parts of the OPT, Israel retains primary control over borders, airspace, the movement of people and goods, security, and the registry of the entire population, which in turn dictates such matters as legal status and eligibility to receive identity cards.

“A number of Israeli officials have stated clearly their intent to maintain this control in perpetuity and backed it up through their actions, including continued settlement expansion over the course of the decades-long ‘peace process’.”

Apartheid is an accurate description of how the Israeli state governs.

“Apartheid” in Afrikaans means “apartness”. Imposed in South Africa by the all-white National Party in 1948, it involved systemic social and economic stratification, where white citizens had the most rights, followed by Asians and “Coloureds” and then Black Africans.

Despite the make-up of the Israeli government, there is no mistaking that a state established for Jews is, by its very definition, discriminatory.

Further, its blockade of Gaza and creation of Bantustans in the West Bank is an attempt to rid Palestinians of even more rights and land.

Israel, which does not have a constitution, came into existence as a colonial settler state in 1948, with the help of Britain and the United Nations, which had turned their backs on Jews trying to escape Nazi Germany’s holocaust.

The HRW report is candid in setting out the factors that perpetuate the now 78-year-old war: “decades of military occupation” and “a failure to address the core issues at the heart of the conflict”.

These core issues, says the report, are Israel’s decades-long imposition of “systematic and discriminatory repression in the Occupied Territory, including unrelenting land grabs, regular home demolitions, unchecked expansion of illegal settlements, and deliberate confinement of many Palestinians to under-resourced and overpopulated enclaves, in pursuit of a policy to maintain the domination of one racial group over another.

“That’s apartheid and persecution and these are crimes against humanity.”

The report states that Israeli authorities “have no incentive to exercise restraint or dismantle the structures of apartheid and persecution, as long as they know that their Western enablers will do what they can to shield them from meaningful consequences”.

The call by HRW for Israel to be made accountable is significant. Apart from the oppressed Palestinians, it reflects the views of millions of people who know that the so-called “Israel-Palestine conflict” will never end until the world stands up to the oppressor.

In addition to the courage and sacrifice of so many South Africans, Apartheid was only dismantled when the world demanded accountability from the Pretoria regime.

The same needs to happen, and fast, with the regime in Tel Aviv.

That means talking about how Israel uses apartheid to deny Palestinians their rights.

ABC management’s internal memo to journalists not to use the word “apartheid” when describing Israel is a retrograde step.

McNeill said the ABC’s Israel/Palestine cheat sheet even disputes that Gaza is occupied.

This airbrushing of history is unconscionable.

Journalists and reporters everywhere should reject this type of censorship or self-censorship.

Green Left stands with Palestinians and Israelis who support Palestine’s right to exist. We will continue to call out apartheid Israel. More than that, we are committed to building solidarity with Palestine, including the boycott, divest and sanctions movement.

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