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Meet Bibi Netanyahu's Refusenik Nephew Who Says That Israel Is an Apartheid State

Jonathan Ben-Artzi reveals a perspective on the Israeli-Palestinian conflict that is completely missing from the discourse in the U.S.

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JBA: Well, to be honest, not so much. In fact now it’s almost exactly 10 years to the day that I first was incarcerated. That time was sort of the height of the Second Intifadah, and there were more movements of people who were different shades of refuseniks. It was more of a hot topic around then, around 2001-2003. To be honest, even when I say there was a movement, it was really just a few dozen people.

These movements did, in fact, have some influence, according to the politicians. The chief advisor of [Ariel] Sharon, who was prime minister then, said after the unilateral withdrawal of Israel from the Gaza Strip that that decision was made to counter these movements – to throw a bone at people who were disgruntled with how things were going. It was to show some small movement toward supposed peace. At least according to him, that was a direct influence. That was in a big interview with our newspaper at the time. He considered this as the trigger for the withdrawal from Gaza.

JH: And that withdrawal was an immensely painful experience for Israeli society. It threatened to tear the fabric of the society apart. Israel of course withdrew ground troops from Gaza in 2006, I believe. Under international law it is still in effective control -- Gaza is considered occupied territory, but Israeli leaders deny that and claim that Gaza is actually a hostile sovereign power.

You studied at Brown University. I’m sure you’re familiar with our political discourse here in the United States. Comparing Israeli policies toward the Palestinians with apartheid in South Africa inevitably invites charges of anti-Semitism and extremism.

It has always seemed like a correct analogy to me, in that Israel is facing demographic pressures, and has set up a quasi state with no real sovereignty. They’re pretending that that quasi state is in fact independent. In apartheid South Africa these were called Bantustans.

You’ve written that apartheid exists for Israeli Arabs -- that is, Arab citizens of Israel -- as well as in the West Bank. Can you unpack that? In the US, we often hear that Israeli Arabs enjoy the same rights as Jewish Israelis.

JBA: In the US you hear a lot of things. You get much more precise and true information in Israel. If you go to Haaretz, you'll get much more accurate information than if you went to New York Times. That’s just a side note.

In Israel, very briefly, there’s at least two types of Palestinians. There are those who have Israeli citizenship, and those who do not. Those who have Israeli citizenship are those who were there after 1948 and were not driven out. They’ve consistently been roughly 20 percent of the Israeli population. While there’s always been discrimination against them, it’s been less than anyone who is not an Israeli citizen. They participate in elections and things like this. A large portion of African Americans do not participate in elections in the United States for various reasons.

There’s definitely discrimination. Throughout the 1950s they were living under military rule. You just need to go to Israel and see. Look at their villages and you see that there’s no planning. Planning has to be done by the state. You look at any Jewish town and you see urban planning. You see nice schools, parks, well-built streets and all that. You drive to a village that’s not primarily Jewish and all of a sudden you’re in a third-world country.

JH: Are there villages where Israeli Arabs are not allowed to live?

 
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