শনিবার, ১৫ আগস্ট, ২০০৯
Preoccupied with the paradox of the co-existence of civilized taste and bestial behavior, the literary critic George Steiner has written much about the conduct of Nazi officers who murdered Jews by day while listening to classical music by night. Many years ago, when Steiner first highlighted this paradox, Jews were widely seen as archetypal victims; at the same time, they were regarded as pre-eminently civilized, “People of the Book.” It is one of the great ironies of modern history that, in the aftermath of the Nazi effort to eliminate European Jewry, a racially exclusive Jewish state emerged that has shown itself to be capable of monstrous inhumanity. Yet, despite the mounting evidence of Israel’s brutal treatment of the Palestinian people, few Jews are prepared to acknowledge that their collective credentials as civilized human beings are other than exemplary. Indeed, many think of Jews as possessing, especially by comparison with Arabs, an inordinately well-developed sense of the value of human life — as was illustrated not long ago when the British Jewish actress, Maureen Lipmann, remarked that for Palestinians life is cheap. It is because of this self-image that the suggestion that Israel is an apartheid state arouses such howls of indignation in Israel and among the Jewish diaspora. The other day, at the London launch of Ben White’s book, “Israeli Apartheid”, which details Israel’s apartheid-style subjugation of the Palestinians, an Israeli couple repeatedly sought to shout the author down, denouncing him as a liar. White is by no means the first writer to draw a parallel between Israel’s oppression of the Palestinians and apartheid South Africa, but nobody has made the case more concisely. Sub-titled “A Beginner’s Guide”, his book is a brisk and lucid summary of key facts, which could be of great value in the worldwide campaign to achieve justice for the Palestinians. White points out that, for all the differences between Israel and apartheid South Africa, the similarities are unmistakable. In the South Africa of old the legal system “consolidated and enforced dispossession” by securing the “best land control over natural resources for one group at the expense of another,” and exactly the same applies to the Israeli legal system. What is also true is that the discriminatory laws, commissions of inquiry, spot fines, pass books, police raids, location permits, removal vans, bulldozers etc., that defined South African apartheid now find striking parallels in the humiliations routinely visited on Palestinians.