Stop comparing Israel to apartheid South Africa, it is worse

Thembisa Fakude
4 min readMay 23, 2021

First things first, the apartheid regime in South Africa, with all its brutality, never used F-16 fighter jets and the equivalent of today’s sophisticated armory of Israel to bomb the oppressed in the townships.

According to the Minister of Housing and public Works in Gaza, Naji Sarhan the number of housing units completely destroyed has reached 1,800, while some 16,800 more housing units have been partially damaged,” Moreover, there are more than 120,000 Palestinians displaced from their homes. Five large residential towers in the middle of Gaza City have been completely destroyed. The number of government buildings destroyed has reached 74, including a police headquarters and other service facilities. There are over 66 schools that have been damaged by Israeli bombardment, three mosques were completely destroyed and 40 mosques and a church slightly damage. At times the indiscriminate bombarded occurred without warning or not enough time for the sick and the elderly to evacuate their buildings. The New York Times reports that in Deir al-Balah, a city in central Gaza, an Israeli airstrike on a residential building on Wednesday evening killed a married couple and their 2-year-old daughter, and wounded others. They woman killed was pregnant and her husband had a disability. This destruction to human life and property happened in just 11 days.

Most Palestinian activists and commentators often take extra precautionary measures in ensuring that they stay clear of accusations of anti-Semitism. Consequently, they go to extra lengths in ensuring that correct lexicon is used in defining Israeli -Palestine conflict. However, some of these efforts are just too farfetched and could end up compromising the struggle of the Palestinians. Recently I witnessed a debate on whether it was appropriate to refer to Israel as a “regime”. It was surprising how many people from the left of the political spectrum were against referring to the government of Israel as a “regime”. What is wrong with calling a government that openly and knowingly maim with bombs women, children, disabled and the elderly none stop for 11 days? Israel qualifies to be called a “regime”, it has all characteristics if not worse. It is a regime masquerading as a democratic state. Not only does it disregard the international law, it is a terrorist state using its might and power to terrorize Palestinians.

Israel is a hybrid, a combination of fascism, racism, ultra-rightwing, apartheid and supremacist state. I understand the rationale behind the insistence of ascribing apartheid label to Israel. Indeed, it makes sense to compare the Israeli regime to the worst that has ever existed. However, the comparison lessens the severity of the cruelty that Israel continues to unleashed upon the Palestinians. Israel’s treatment of the Palestinians is unprecedented, it is the first in many aspects. The world should therefore find an appropriate description. Moreover, there is a dangerous trapping in using apartheid as a legal reference in defining the brutal regime of Israel. Experience informs that with the assistance and unwavering support of the US and the UK, Israel could win a legal argument against that labelling especially at the UN where such a declaration will have to be effected. It is not “what you can prove but who support you in the UN” that counts.

There can be disagreements on whether Israel is a regime or not, however the definition of apartheid simply does not suit Israel and that is when it becomes personal for me. Indeed, It makes sense to compare Israel to apartheid South Africa as earlier indicated. After all, apartheid South Africa like Israel was a brutal regime that racially discriminated amongst its citizens. It was internationally condemned and there were dozens of UN backed resolutions criticizing It. I was born and raised in the South Western Townships (Soweto). It was arguably one of the most impacted areas in apartheid South Africa. Soweto was an experimentation of apartheid; it epitomized the system of apartheid. What we witnessed in the past days in Gaza never happened in Soweto during the height of apartheid. I have been to Gaza, the West Bank, Palestine 1948 and everywhere in between. I have spent time in Palestinian refugee camps in most countries in the Middle East, including Sabra and Shatila. The level of human rights abuses, inhumane living conditions, let alone hundreds of checkpoints, separate roads and discriminatory car registration plates for easy identification for shooting and harassment, never existed in apartheid South Africa. Importantly, Soweto was never bombed from land, air and sea as it happened in Gaza.

Furthermore, during apartheid, notwithstanding the privileges white South Africans enjoyed, a sizeable number of them stood up against apartheid. Many of them refused to serve in the apartheid army opting to leave the country and settle abroad. Currently in Israel there is a sprinkle of dissent, the majority supports the war and by extension the atrocities and oppression in Gaza. According to the Guardian, during the 2014 Palestine-Israeli war in Gaza, the public support among Israeli Jews for the military campaign was overwhelming throughout its 24-day duration, with opinion poll showing 95% of respondents believed the war was justified. I therefore conclude that Israel deserves to be called something else but not apartheid, it is worse.

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Thembisa Fakude

Senior Research Fellow Africa Asia Dialogues, Johannesburg, SA Research Fellow Al Sharq Forum, Istanbul, Turkiye Columnist, Middle East Monitor, London UK.