Opinion: Free Palestine from Israel’s apartheid occupation

“It is important to demand Palestine’s freedom from the occupation as allowing it to continue sets a terrible precedent for apartheid to remain ongoing,” Sports Editor Richard Pereira said.


Illustration by Michelle Rodriguez-Gonzalez.

Richard Pereira, Sports Editor

Before I begin, I want to be very clear: the criticism I give Israel is aimed at the government’s actions. 

Israelis deserve to live their lives in peace as much as Palestinians do. To dehumanize them otherwise is morally wrong. It is also wrong to blame all Jewish people for the actions of the Israeli government as it enables antisemitism which must never be tolerated.

With that being said, Palestinians must be liberated from the illegal apartheid occupation forced on them by the Israeli government since 1948.

It’s important to understand the occupation’s history, current events involving the occupation, why it’s an apartheid occupation, America’s current stance and what it should do to address it, and why we must help Palestine.

The history behind the occupation

Great Britain announced the Balfour Declaration in 1917, which supported the concept of a “national home for the Jewish people,” as it occupied Palestine (modern-day Israel, Palestine, and Jordan) in 1918 after the end of World War I when the Ottoman Empire, a state that dominated most of Southeastern Europe, Western Asia, and Northern Africa between the 14th and early 20th centuries, collapsed. 

The Mandate for Palestine, which included the declaration, was issued by the League of Nations in 1923 as it gave the British the responsibility of establishing a national homeland in Palestine that we now know as Israel.

Before and during World War II, many European Jews fled to Palestine to escape hostility, persecution, antisemitism, and death from Russia and Nazi Germany. As a result, Zionist leaders, people who hold the nationalist view that calling for the development and protection of a Jewish state is the best form of liberation for the Jewish people, advocated for the independence of a Jewish state.

In 1948, Israel gained its independence and recognition from the United Nations after the British terminated their mandate over Palestine. When the UN presented a resolution that allocated 55% of Palestine to the Israelis and 45% to Palestinian Arabs, the Palestinians rejected it, which ignited the start of the Arab-Israeli War on May 14, 1948.

The day after the war began is commemorated by Palestinians as Nakba Day, where the Israeli military dispossessed, or stripped someone of their land, property, or other possessions, over 700,000 Palestinians from their homes and destroyed more than 500 villages and cities from 1947 to 1949.

The Nakba continues to this day at the Palestinians’ expense. As of 2012, Israel occupies 85% percent of historical Palestine while Palestinians only control 15% of their land. 

The current situation between Israel and Palestine

On May 5, tensions erupted when an Israeli court (the Israeli Supreme Court has since delayed the decision by 30 days on May 9) ordered the evictions of Palestinian families from their homes in Sheikh Jarrah, a neighborhood in Jerusalem, for Israeli settlers to take their place, which is illegal under international law.

The Israeli police then raided the Al-Aqsa mosque in East Jerusalem as they bombarded hundreds of Palestinians with tear gas, stun grenades, and rubber-coated metal bullets. 

In response to the raids, Hamas, a Palestinian militant group that controls the Gaza Strip, launched homemade rockets into Israel and the Israeli military countered with air raids. When Israel and Hamas declared a cease-fire on May 20, the air raids have cost the lives of over 230 Palestinians, including 65 children, in the Gaza Strip. At least 10 people have been killed in Israel.

Before the ceasefire was reached, Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu stated on May 15 he’ll continue targeting Hamas officials to defend Israelis. I fail to see that as the case when those ‘targets’ happen to be Palestinian civilians and children, the same way I see Hamas’ rockets causing casualties of Israeli civilians in retaliation.

It can be debated whether Hamas damages the Palestinian cause for liberation with their recent actions because of a fundamental disagreement with their views. Criticism of Hamas is also warranted because they rejected negotiations with Israel for withdrawals from Palestinian territories via the Oslo Accords in 1993, prolonged tensions with political rival Fatah and President Mahmoud Abbas, and insisted on the destruction of Israel in the original 1988 Charter. They have since changed their stance in the updated 2017 Charter, which accepts a Palestinian state based on 1967 borders and states that it’s not seeking war with the Jewish people but with the Zionists who drive the occupation.

What I won’t allow, however, is people using Hamas as an excuse to stray from the main issue, which is Palestinians suffering at the hands of the Israeli occupation. There is the oppressor and the oppressed; Israel is the former and Palestinians are the latter.

Why the occupation is an apartheid

Human Rights Watch (HRW), a nonprofit human rights group based in the U.S., concluded the Israeli government’s actions toward Palestinians to be apartheid, a political system where people are divided based on race, gender, class, or other such factors. “The Israeli government has demonstrated an intent to maintain the domination of Jewish Israelis over Palestinians,” according to HRW.

There is also medical apartheid involved, despite the importance of getting a majority of people vaccinated in a pandemic. While Israel has done well in vaccinating more than half of its citizens, it hasn’t done the same for Palestine as it refused to give vaccines to over four million Palestinians.

According to Israel-based human rights group B’Tselem, “all Palestinians living under Israeli rule are treated as inferior in rights and status to Jews who live in the very same area.”

Unless Israel allows it, Palestinians living in other countries can’t immigrate to Palestine, Palestinians can’t move freely within the Occupied Territories (the West Bank, the Gaza Strip, and East Jerusalem), can’t get medical help in Palestine due to lack of resources, can’t have any political representation in the state systems that govern their lives, and can’t access clean water. Israel also denies freedom of speech from Palestinians as they face harsh punishments if they try to fight against the occupation such as 10 years of imprisonment and/or a heavy fine. 

Not only are Palestinians allowed to defend themselves, but Israel can’t claim self-defense because it is not on their land; it is on illegally occupied land that isn’t theirs.

America’s current response

Right now, the U.S. is on the wrong side of history. Funding the Israeli military with $3.8 billion a year including a recent arms sale of $735 million, America has a clear special interest to ensure Israel is seen as the beacon of democracy in the Middle East. What makes this worse is that 330 representatives in Congress want the funding to Israel to be unconditional, even if it costs Palestinian lives.

When asked on May 10 if he believes Palestinians have a right to self-defense, spokesman of the U.S. State Department Ned Price said it “applies to any state.” Price then dodged a follow-up question asking if he sees Palestine as a state, saying he was making a broader point regarding the concept of self-defense.

Palestine is recognized by the UN as a nation-state under international law, therefore allowing them to defend themselves. Because Price sees Israel as a state but not Palestine, there is a major conflict of interest that needs to be noted.

When asked if he condemns the killing of Palestinian children, Price refused to answer stating he is hesitant to get into emerging reports because the deaths of Israelis and Palestinians are being taken very seriously.

It’s embarrassing enough to see Price not correctly recognize Palestine as a state, but it is disgraceful for him to refuse to condemn the killing of Palestinian children. It shows he doesn’t see Israelis and Palestinians as equal as he has a double standard on the issue.

The Biden administration blocked the UN Security Council from releasing a statement that demanded an immediate ceasefire between Israel and Palestine because they thought it could be “harmful to behind-the-scenes efforts to end the violence.” In a press conference, President Joe Biden said Israel has the “right to defend themselves” but didn’t mention anything about the attacks on Palestinians. 

It is not surprising to see Biden on Israel’s side as he has defended them since he entered politics but to say nothing about what’s being done to Palestinians speaks volumes to what he thinks of Israel’s actions. 

Some U.S. officials are critical of Israel such as congresswomen Ilhan Omar and Rashida Tlaib who blasted Price and the State Department for refusing to condemn the murder of Palestinian children. While it is encouraging to see some politicians rightly criticize Israel for their actions against Palestinians, what would be better is action, not mere words or tweets.

How America can assist Palestine

Americans can help Palestine by supporting the movement of Boycott, Divestment, and Sanctions (BDS). Its objective is to pressure Israel to meet its demands and it involves a complete withdrawal from Palestinian territories, full equality for Arab-Palestinians living in Israel, and promotes the rights of Palestinian refugees to return home. While it will be difficult to get many public officials on board with BDS, the movement itself takes inspiration from the protests that happened in apartheid South Africa

There is a bill in Congress that can give major protections to Palestinians, known as H.R. 2590. The bill, introduced by congresswoman Betty McCollum on April 15, calls for the promotion and protection of the “human rights of Palestinians living under Israeli military occupation and to ensure that United States taxpayer funds are not used by the Government of Israel to support the military detention of Palestinian children, the unlawful seizure, appropriation, and destruction of Palestinian property and forcible transfer of civilians in the West Bank, or further annexation of Palestinian land in violation of international law.”

The bill has over 20 cosponsors as it hasn’t gotten past the House Committee of Foreign Affairs yet, but if enough people contact their lawmakers demanding they sponsor and vote for it, real progress can be made as it holds Israel accountable for its actions.

What America can also advocate for on behalf of Palestinians is the one-state solution. The two-state solution, even though it sounds good in concept, has never been executed with its fatal flaw being that it allows the occupation to remain ongoing as the Israeli government continues to take away the remaining Palestinian land for their personal benefit. The one-state solution avoids all of that.

Examples that can be used to compare the one-state solution with are the desegregation of America in the late 1960s and the end of apartheid in South Africa in the 1990s. Integrating Palestinians and Israelis, even though it will initially be difficult due to many cultural differences, allows them to have a better understanding of one another as they are all people wanting to live in peace in the end.

Why we must support Palestine

This situation is more than just politics or religion; it is about human rights and we must do everything we can to help.

It is important to demand Palestine’s freedom from the occupation as allowing it to continue sets a terrible precedent that allows apartheid to remain ongoing.

Palestinians are not animals or subhuman. Like the Israelis, they are people and deserve to be treated as such.

There have been multiple inaccuracies made about Palestinians by the media and this hurts the just cause they have been fighting for decades. If no one accurately explains the context behind the occupation, Palestinians will continue to be painted in a bad light and degraded by everyone until someone steps up and tells the truth.

In the words of human rights activist Malcolm X, “If you’re not careful, the newspapers will have you hating the people who are being oppressed, and loving the people who are doing the oppressing.”

To have the liberation we all deserve, things such as war, oppression, imperialism, and apartheid must never be accepted.

Disclaimer: The opinions presented here are those of the author and do not necessarily represent the views or opinions of the University Press.

Richard Pereira is the Sports Editor for the University Press. For information regarding this or other stories, email [email protected] or tweet him @Rich26Pereira.