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Israel’s progression from Apartheid to Genocide

By Yousef Aljamal

For Palestinians, Israel’s violence began long before October 7, 2023. The unfolding genocide in Gaza is the latest chapter in a series of Israel’s settler-colonial practices to remove Palestinians by force from their land. These practices began with the inception of the state of Israel.  

The most fateful year in modern Palestinian history was 1948, when David Ben-Gurion unilaterally declared the creation of the state of Israel and armed Zionist militias massacred Palestinians and evicted thousands from their homes at gunpoint. Palestinians know this as the Nakba, or “catastrophe.” This is not ancient history. Israeli politicians, before and after October 7, threatened a second Nakba against Palestinians. Israeli forces in Gaza painted graffiti on destroyed homes in Gaza that read, “Nakba 2023.” 

Israel’s apartheid practices against Palestinians also started in 1948, when Israel caged Palestinian communities in Lod, Nazareth, and Haifa in wired areas and issued discriminatory laws against those Palestinians who stayed and those forcibly displaced. Soon after, Israel captured the Gaza Strip and the West Bank in 1967 and the discriminatory laws and practices were expanded to the occupied Palestinian territory.  

At the time, Israel described the act of capturing what remained of historic Palestine in 1967 as “finishing the job.” The job was to ethnically cleanse the survivors of the Nakba and capture the territories left unoccupied in 1948. 

Many Palestinians were displaced by war and were now under Israeli occupation in the West Bank, including East Jerusalem, and in the Gaza Strip where much of the Palestinian population sought refuge. The capture of Palestinians within the new Israeli State in 1948 and 1967 meant more than 811,000 Palestinians lived under occupation then, and with these two events, all Palestinians were now subject to Israel’s policies of apartheid.  

Soon after Israel captured the Gaza Strip in 1967, for example, it introduced schemes to get rid of the young population of Gaza. In 1969, Moshe Dayan, Israel’s Defense Minister, introduced a plan to transfer young refugees in Gaza to Latin America. Between 1948 and 1967, Israeli army raids into Palestinian refugee camps of Rafah and Khan Younis killed hundreds of Palestinians, some of whom were stood against the famous Barquq Castle Wall and were killed, sometimes in front of their families. 

Today the Barquq Castle itself is in ruins because of Israel’s destruction of Khan Younis.

Throughout the 1970s, Israel exploited Palestinian refugees as cheap labor to build Israeli settlements and with the outbreak of the 1987 Palestinian Intifada, and the mounting Israeli state and settler violence against Palestinians, apartheid practices and laws have only increased, suffocating Palestinians even more and making their lives almost impossible. This has been especially visible with travel restrictions, access to water, land and natural resources, and access to medical care. 

The clearest manifestation of this permit regime, and the brutal realities of Israeli apartheid, has been seen in Gaza. 

After 1993 and the establishment of the Palestinian Authority (PA), which was supposed to lead to the establishment of a Palestinian state, it became a requirement for Palestinians to have Israeli permits to move from Gaza to the West Bank. Israel has used this regime of permits to extort Palestinians, especially Palestinian patients in need of medical treatment. Hundreds of Palestinians have passed away in Gaza due to the denial of permits, including my sister at the age of 26 in 2007. In some cases, Israel would grant Palestinian cancer patients permits to have the first chemotherapy session, but not the second one. Palestinians were never allowed to have their own hospitals equipped with the needed devices to have full access to healthcare without being dependent on Israel. 

In addition, Israel created two buffer zones that restricted Palestinian access to their lands in the east and north of Gaza, which has Gaza’s most fertile land, rendering 30% of Gaza’s fertile land inaccessible to Palestinian farmers. This included spraying Palestinian agricultural produce with chemicals, shooting at farmers and arresting them, and sometimes bulldozing Palestinian farmland. 

Israeli control over Gaza’s agriculture and economy has been felt in many ways with devastating consequences. For example, Palestinian farmers were encouraged to grow strawberries despite the fact that this was not the best agricultural practice for Gaza’s resources and soil. Because of Israel’s policies, Gaza lacks clean water, with 97% of water unfit for human consumption. This was all done to benefit the Israeli market, as these strawberries were sent to Israel or exported to the outside world as “Made in Israel.” At sea, Palestinian fishermen were not allowed, in most times, to fish at more than three nautical miles, and dozens of them were killed or arrested by the Israeli navy. In fact, it was common to have Israeli warships fire at Palestinians on Gaza beaches, killing some of them and terrifying others who were simply enjoying the only place in Gaza that gave people a sense of freedom beyond the siege.

Finally, when this apartheid bureaucracy and suffocating siege were not enough, Israel waged multiple offensives on Gaza in 2006, 2008-9, 2012, 2014, 2021, and 2022, ranging in length and brutality. Israel would attack Gaza every couple of years as part of its policy of “mowing the lawn,” to make sure that Palestinians are reminded that Israel maintains control over their lives. This was all done while Gaza was still under tight Israeli siege. Thousands of Palestinians were killed during these offensives.  

In 2018, Palestinians in Gaza started a powerful protest movement named the Great March of Return, demanding an end to the blockade of Gaza and the right of return for Palestinians. Israel killed 300 Palestinians during these peaceful protests.  

Israel has repeatedly targeted Gaza for particularly brutal violence for three main reasons: The people of Gaza are known for their resistance to Israel’s occupation and apartheid throughout history, the majority of people in Gaza are refugees from towns and cities across the border, and Gaza has one of the highly densely populated centers in the world.  

Some Israelis say Gaza should be turned into a parking lot, a genocidal statement that unfortunately was echoed by U.S. Congress member Max Miller. Israeli settlers have also promoted the idea of turning Gaza into a new beach resort and gifting it to Israelis fighting in the army and their families. The genocide of the Palestinians was seen by right-wing political parties in Israel as a pre-condition to recolonize Gaza, which would help them realize their goal of Greater Israel. These all reflect the same genocidal logic of wanting to remove Palestinians in Gaza, and elsewhere, from the land and seeing them as non-existent. 

Ultimately these quotes and attitudes show Israel is now progressing from apartheid to genocide and extermination. 

As the history above, and the events of the last eight months, show, the Israeli government has never been satisfied with the presence of Palestinians, not in Gaza, in the West Bank, or in Israel itself. For decades, Palestinians were managed through ethnic cleansing, exploitation, extermination, and apartheid policies and practices. When these policies didn’t achieve the desired objectives, Israel has now turned to genocide against Palestinians to push them out of Gaza and take full control of the territory.

So far, the Israeli government has not been able to eliminate the Palestinians in Gaza, but it has come at a very high cost. More than 36,000 Palestinians have been killed, 10,000 are buried under the rubble, and more than 80,000 are injured. The whole of Gaza’s infrastructure has been rendered useless, turning much of Gaza into rubble. In the West Bank, Palestinians are also under attack. Since October 7, Israeli settlers and military have killed more than 500 people in the West Bank, including 148 children.  

The question is what happens next? Will the enablers of occupation, apartheid, and now genocide continue unchecked? Or can we collectively stop this brutal violence and end not just the genocide but the systemic injustices from which it came? To do this we must work to end Israel’s system of apartheid in Palestine. 

There is a massive pro-Palestine movement growing across the globe, both in the streets and in the halls of power. People are finding creative and courageous ways to express their solidarity with Gaza. But the situation is urgent; Palestinians don’t have the luxury of time, as each day brings more death and destruction.  

The millions of people now calling for a ceasefire should join in the longer-term efforts to dismantle Israeli apartheid and build a society where all can live with dignity and respect. Just as so many people took action against apartheid in South Africa, we must redouble our efforts to end apartheid and genocide in Gaza.

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