Apartheid 101

Sometimes we’re asked the question: Why use the term ‘apartheid’?  Doesn’t it just make people unnecessarily angry?  Here’s why we choose to call it by that name.


Apartheid literally means separation.  It has its roots in the separation of people based on race in South Africa.  Since then, the application of the word has been made universal, with the adoption of the United Nations “International Convention on the Suppression and Punishment of the Crime of Apartheid”.


In order to understand the current situation in Israel/Palestine, it is necessary to examine the origins of the Israeli state in 1948.  In that year, which is referred to in Palestine as the Nakba (“catastrophe”), thousands of Palestinians were expelled from their homeland to make way for the creation of Israel.  These refugees remain today the longest standing refugee population in the world.

In 1954, Israeli education minister Ben-Zion Dinur proclaimed, “In our country there is room only for the Jews. We shall say to the Arabs: Get out!  If they don’t agree, if they resist, we shall drive them out by force.”

The motivation for ethnically cleansing Palestine was to ensure that Israel would be a Jewish-majority state.  If Israel’s population included Palestinian refugees, this would be endangered.

To this day, Palestinian refugees are denied the right to return to their homes.  At the same time, citizenship is automatically conferred on any Jewish immigrants — individuals who had never inhabited the territory before.


In the same year that Israel was created, the pro-apartheid National Party was elected to power in South Africa.  In 1951, they began the forced expulsion of over 3 million black inhabitants of the land into reserves known as “Bantustans”, modelled on Canada’s reservation system for First Nations.

The South African government denied citizenship to its black citizens, instead expecting them to exercise their political rights in the Bantustans.

Supporters of South African apartheid justified their policies by pointing to Israel as an example.  Hendrik Verwoerd, Prime Minister of South Africa, said in 1961: “Israel, like South Africa, is an apartheid state.”  The two countries had close diplomatic relations during this period; they shared strategies and the Israeli Defence Forces provided training to the apartheid South African government’s military.

More than a decade after apartheid was abolished in South Africa, Palestinians in the Occupied Territories today live in modern-day Bantustans.  They are essentially open-air prisons, where all borders and the movement of people and goods are controlled by the Israeli military.  Inhabitants are denied citizenship in Israel, despite having their daily lives regulated by the Israeli state.

Over the years, Palestinians have gradually seen the land allocated to them reduced and fragmented, with security measures heightened on their borders.  Villages were cut off from each other, meaning that students attending classes and workers going to their jobs would need to pass through Israeli military checkpoints on a regular basis.

Map of Palestine


In 2003, the Israeli government announced the construction of a wall to separate Israel from the Occupied Territories, ostensibly for security reasons.

Instead of following the existing borders — which were already contentious enough — the wall extended beyond Israel and claimed more Palestinian territory.  Shops, stalls, and homes of Palestinians were destroyed to make way for the wall.  Olive trees, a major source of income for Palestinian farmers, were uprooted.  In some cases, Palestinian villages were encircled by the wall, cutting them off from their neighbours.

The wall has been criticized as a land grab for Israel; a desperate attempt to prevent any possibility of Palestinian self-determination, and a unilateral expansion of Israeli territory.

In 2004, the United Nations General Assembly and the International Court of Justice both declared the apartheid wall to be in contravention of international law, and ordered the Israeli government to stop its construction and dismantle it.

The Israeli government refuses to honour these international orders and continues its construction of the apartheid wall.


There is a growing majority opinion that Israel’s policies and treatment of Palestinians constitute apartheid.  Prominent thinkers have made the comparison, including Noam Chomsky, Naomi Klein, Israeli historian Ilan Pappe, and former U.S. president Jimmy Carter.  Within Israel, politicians, academics, journalists and activists frequently describe the state’s treatment of Palestinians as apartheid.

South Africans who lived through the apartheid era have also accused Israel of committing the same crimes, if not worse.  Archbishop Desmond Tutu said, “If I were to change the names, a description of what is happening in Gaza and the West Bank could describe events in South Africa.”

The Congress of South African Trade Unions and the Human Sciences Research Council of South Africa both declared that Israel is practising apartheid in the Occupied Territories.

In 2008, the president of the United Nations General Assembly, Miguel d’Escoto Brockmann, accused the Israeli government of practising apartheid, and called for boycotts, divestments, and sanctions against the state — the tactics used against apartheid South Africa.

Queers Against Israeli Apartheid is joining a global movement to oppose Israel’s apartheid regime.  Our demands are simple.

We call on the Israeli government to:

  • end its occupation and colonization of all Arab lands and dismantle the Wall;
  • recognize the fundamental rights of the Arab-Palestinian citizens of Israel to full equality; and
  • respect, protect and promote the rights of Palestinian refugees to return to their homes and properties, as stipulated in UN resolution 194.


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