Prof Chibli Mallat on the Gaza war: Nonviolence and Apartheid

 Prof Chibli Mallat on the Gaza war: Nonviolence and Apartheid

Prof Chibli Mallat on the Gaza war: Nonviolence and Apartheid


Nonviolence is a revolutionary mode of action to disturb and change a despotic political system within a country. The political system in Palestine/Israel is structurally despotic. As an international law advocate, I support the reading of Amnesty International, Human Rights Watch, Btselem, of Israel as a regime of apartheid, a description heralded by President James Carter in a visionary book published in 2006. 


I add this important legal nuance: unlike apartheid in former South Africa in the legal enactment defined by the International Criminal Court Rome Statutes, some Palestinians, like those who carry Israeli citizenship, suffer from a systematic exclusion from executive power, but they do not live in an apartheid legal system, and participate to the national parliamentary elections. In this case, apartheid does not apply. Yet the participation of the non-Jewish citizens of Israel in the Knesset is systematically marginalized by the Jewish majority, so their effective executive power is nil. This is also why a national unity government, such as the one just emerging in Tel Aviv, is NOT a national unity government. It will be a truly national unity government only when non-Jewish Arab Palestinians in Israel are included in it. Yet this is not apartheid, this is structural subordination by a government of a sizeable part of its citizenry.


In contrast, an ascending system of oppression affects other Palestinians, which is correctly analyzed in law as apartheid. Under the ICC definition, apartheid is ‘an institutionalized regime of systematic oppression and domination by one racial group over any other racial group or groups and committed with the intention of maintaining that regime.’ 


In some cases, the Israeli regime is worse than apartheid. For instance, the Palestinian refugees of the wars of 1948 and of 1967 do NOT exist for Israel. In an apartheid system, the subordinated people have some rights, because they at least exist. The diaspora Palestinians have not a single right under Israeli law. Those in Jerusalem, the West Bank live under a system of apartheid, generally with a more severe treatment than the Black populations of South Africa’s apartheid. In Jerusalem and the West Bank, the Palestinians see their territory shrink by the day in open violence by the settlers under the protection and deadly support of the Israeli army. 


Now Gaza: Gaza is acknowledged universally as an open-air prison. Bantustans were never an open-air prison. Journalist Thomas Friedman wrote a long time ago about Gaza ‘having fallen off the map’. The map of humankind. But all of this is a metaphor: in constitutional legal terms, this is worse than apartheid.


So what to do? I argued that we first impose a stop on violence, the release of civilians held in Gaza, and the beginning of talks, direct or indirect, to treat all prisoners, on both sides, as PoWs. This is for the coming days and weeks. 


This obviously is for the short term. Already now, we must depart from the anomaly of apartheid (or worse, and sometimes better) as the dominant regime in Israel -- or worse, and sometimes better--, it must be changed, dominantly and for its worst part. Regime change out of Israel’s variations of colonial apartheid is imperative. 


Again, I find no gainsaying in an objective situation where the two peoples have been enmeshed in a civil war for over one hundred years. This is the consequence of a fact of ‘two people for the same land’ as described by French former President François Mitterrand in 1980. Put it simply, we can either stay in perpetual civil war, or we can imagine coexistence, either in a formal separation in two full states, or the constitutional fusion of the two peoples into some federative form, a decision which will depend on the progress of revolutionary nonviolence.


Thinking of nonviolence as tactics and strategy will inevitably follow a ceasefire, and a ceasefire is imperative morally. Nonviolence transformed into reality can only be achieved, morally and realistically, by the shock of a wide revolutionary movement in and around Israel.


After Gaza, it is Apartheid or Nonviolence: there is no moral in-between.