Even before the State of Israel was established, Jewish leaders consciously sought to avoid the situation that prevailed in South Africa. As David Ben-Gurion told Palestinian nationalist Musa Alami in 1934:
We do not want to create a situation like that which exists in South Africa, where the whites are the owners and rulers, and the blacks are the workers. If we do not do all kinds of work, easy and hard, skilled and unskilled, if we become merely landlords, then this will not be our homeland. 36
Today, within Israel, Jews are a majority, but the Arab minority are full citizens who enjoy equal rights and are represented in all the branches of government. Arabs are represented in the Knesset, and have served in the Cabinet, high-level foreign ministry posts (e.g., Ambassador to Finland) and on the Supreme Court.
Under the discriminatory policies of old South Africa, skin color determined every aspect of your life from birth until death. Black South Africans could not vote and were not citizens of the country in which they formed the overwhelming majority of the population. Laws dictated where they could live, work, go to school and travel. And, in South Africa, the government killed blacks who protested against its policies. By contrast, Israel allows freedom of movement, assembly and speech. Some of the government’s harshest critics are Israeli Arabs who are members of the Knesset.
“To be sure, there is more de facto separation between Jewish and Arab populations that Israelis should accept,” observed Richard Goldstone, former justice of the South African Constitutional Court. “Much of it is chosen by the communities themselves. Some results from discrimination.” But, he added this is nothing like the situation in South Africa where separation was considered an ideal. “In Israel,” Goldstone added, “equal rights are the law, the aspiration and the ideal; inequities are often successfully challenged in court.”36a
|“The difference between the current Israeli situation and…[old] South Africa is emphasized at a very human level: Jewish and Arab babies are born in the same delivery room, with the same facilities, attended by the same doctors and nurses, with the mothers recovering in adjoining beds in a ward. Two years ago I had major surgery in a Jerusalem hospital: the surgeon was Jewish, the anaesthetist was Arab, the doctors and nurses who looked after me were Jews and Arabs. Jews and Arabs share meals in restaurants and travel on the same trains, buses and taxis, and visit each other’s homes.Could any of this possibly have happened under apartheid? Of course not.”
— Benjamin Pogrund 37
The situation of Palestinians in the territories is different. The security requirements of the nation, and a violent insurrection in the territories, forced Israel to impose restrictions on Arab residents of the West Bank and Gaza Stripthat are not necessary inside Israel’s pre-1967 borders. Israeli policy is not based on race, but is a result of Palestinian animosity. Palestinians in the territories dispute Israel’s right to exist, whereas blacks did not seek the destruction of South Africa, only the discriminatory regime.
Despite security concerns and the hostile attitude of many Palestinians, more than 40,000 Palestinians from the territories work in Israel every day. And most people are unaware that another 25,000 work in those “obstacles to peace” — Jewish settlements — and all Palestinian workers enjoy the same working conditions and rights as Israelis.37b
Many people discovered these facts for the first time when actress Scarlett Johannson was attacked for being the spokesperson for SodaStream because the company’s factory is in Maale Adumim. This city of roughly 40,000 people, which is ten minutes from downtown Jerusalem, is considered a settlement. Palestinian peace negotiators have already agreed the city will remain part of Israel if a Palestinian state is established. More to the point, the company employs hundreds of Palestinians, several of whom spoke out against the call to boycott the company: “Before boycotting, they should think of the workers who are going to suffer,” a young SodaStream worker said. He now earns nearly 10 times what he earned before joining SodaStream, which also provides transportation, breakfast and lunch for its employees.38a
Israel could offer Palestinians in the territories full citizenship, but this would require the annexation of the West Bankand Gaza and the end of the two-state solution.
Despite all their criticism, when asked what governments they admire most, more than 80 percent of Palestinians consistently said Israel because they can see up close the thriving democracy in Israel, and the rights the Arab citizens enjoy there. By contrast, Palestinians place Arab regimes, including their own Palestinian Authority, at the bottom. 38b
In fact, growing numbers of Palestinians in East Jerusalem have been applying for Israeli citizenship and, given the choice, many say they would rather live in Israel than Palestine. A poll of Arabs living in East Jerusalem, for example, found that 35% would choose living in Israel, compared to 30% who preferred to live in a future Palestinian state. Forty percent said they would consider moving to another neighborhood to become a citizen of Israel rather than Palestine and 54% said that if they their neighborhood was part of Israel, they would not move to Palestine. 39