The European “explorers” who stumbled upon the Western Cape of South Africa and proceeded to murder the region’s indigenous knew they had found their promised land. After all, why should a land and its resources belong to its native inhabitants?
Other Europeans who arrived in our hemisphere, who eventually named after an Italian (though they thought it was India), knew they, too, were entitled to that land and should slaughter its inhabitants.
European Jewry some millennia later had the same feeling as they escaped the harrowing horrors of the Holocaust and settled in the newly formed state of Israel.
These scenarios merit careful juxtaposition, because they shine light on a crucial facet of colonialism: how the arrogant racism of settlers, usually Europeans, begets systems of racial and political separation.
Afrikaners in South Africa in the 20th century, having amassed intense political and economic control but still wholly reliant on the native Bantu peoples of the region, had to devise a system whereby they could systematically exploit their labor without granting them civil or human rights. To name their system, they chose the Afrikaans word “apartheid,” comprised of the adjective “apart,” meaning separate, and –“heid,” the equivalent of our –hood, or –ness. Thus, apartheid means “separation” or “separateness.”
In practice, the policy entailed a series of horrible and dehumanizing laws whereby the natives of South Africa were relegated to de jure servitude and not even given citizenship in the land of their birth. South Africa did, like Israel, provide a safe haven for Jews escaping the horrors of Nazism, such as the family of Percy Yutar, which escaped pogroms in Lithuania. Yutar, disgracefully, served as the state prosecutor who secured Nelson Mandela’s life sentence for “sabotage and conspiracy against the state.”
How one can escape a system of despicable racism only to serve another is beyond me, but there is no guarantee victims of historical injustice do not just as soon become victimizers themselves.
In 1961, South Africa’s then-Prime Minister Hendrik Verwoerd made the admission that “Israel like South Africa is an apartheid state.” Beyond the moral and ideological solidarity, Israel also furnished logistical and material support for apartheid in South Africa, providing them with arms up until the 1980s despite the international arms embargo and South Africa’s pariah status.
The assertion that Israel is an apartheid state is controversial, but a sobering look at the reality of the situation provides resounding confirmation that Israel’s policies against the Palestinians amount to nothing short of apartheid, probably even ethnic cleansing.
Mindful of semantics, the Zionist state has chosen the word “hafrada,” which in Hebrew conveys “separation,” as a descriptor of their system. Physically cut off from their ancestral homelands, Palestinians live in miserable, densely populated areas of the West Bank and Gaza (like South Africa’s Bantustans) and are subject to a distinct set of laws and unequal treatment as well as indiscriminate attacks by the Israeli military — one of the best equipped in the world.
The U.S., which unequivocally supported South African apartheid and now operates as Israel’s sole meaningful ally, too has had its share of de jure segregation. After all, in the face of despicable injustice, white Americans reminded and still remind everyone that, after all, we’re “separate but equal.”
Focusing on the three wicked political systems aforementioned, it is crucial to find a common theme. Colonialism, as an inherently racist and arrogant practice, draws lines and seeks to erase the humanity of the other, in this case the native. Policies of separation, whether we call them “segregation,” “apartheid” or “hafrada,” naturally ensue, presenting us with distinct realities we can identify as unnecessary evils and against which we should struggle mercilessly.
History provides the sad reminder of this unfortunate behavior, but also the affirmation that systems of injustice are eventually dismantled through effort and struggle.
As for Israel’s apartheid , just like South Africa’s apartheid, its days are numbered.
A luta continua.
Jordan MacKenzie is a second-year UF linguistics master’s student. His column appears on Wednesdays.