Of all the people who should be sensitive to the plight of the oppressed and toward people who have been persecuted because of their racial identities, it should be the Jews. No other (surviving) group of people has been subject to a similar regimen of genocide, racism and victimization as the Jews.
And the Zionist vision of an ancestral homeland in the Middle East should be respected and honored, a refuge from the anti-Semitism and persecution the Jews have suffered throughout their history.
That said, stepping into the fray (whether that's with words or feet) between the Israelis and the Palestinians is like walking into a minefield. As Peter Vidani notes for his blog "This is not Jewish," the conflict between the two is "a clash between oppressed people of color and an ethnoreligious group that is dominant in Israel but marginalized and brutalized elsewhere ..."
But respecting the Jews, their history and Zionism doesn't mean you have to respect the governmental policies of the Israeli nation that amount to nothing more than apartheid.
Comparing the lives of the Palestinians to those of the South Africans subjugated by the white minority is bound to raise hackles among those who are rabid in their belief that Israel must do anything and all it can to protect its sovereignty.
Mitchell G. Bard, writing for the Jewish Virtual Library, claims the comparison "is malicious and insults those who suffered under the real apartheid." He contends "anti-Semites have tried to delegitimize Israel by calling it an apartheid state in the hope that this false equation will tarnish Israel's image and encourage sanctions and divestment of Israel. In apartheid South Africa, laws dictated where Non-whites could live, work and travel and the government imprisoned, and sometimes killed, those who protested against these policies. By contrast, Israel allows freedom of movement, assembly and speech ..."
And one organization, which calls itself Facts & Logic About the Middle East (yes, FLAME), claims "Israel is by far the most racially mixed and tolerant nation in the entire Muslim Middle East."
"There is little question that this separation fence is the cause of inconvenience for some of the Arab population. But it is an annoyance that they have brought about themselves. To call the Israeli fence an 'apartheid wall' is an expression of ignorance and of malevolence. To call Israel an apartheid state is an expression of ignorance, anti-Semitic."
Cor Rautenbach, writing for News24, says to see the truth of the Israeli policy toward the Palestinians, you need only look when no bullets and rockets are flying.
"During peacetime, Palestinians are subjected to checkpoints, forced removals and other indecencies remarkably similar to those committed by the South African Apartheid regime that outraged the world until it ended 20 years ago."
Hassan Ould Moctar, writing for Global Research, notes the most visible proof of Israel's system of apartheid is the wall erected around the occupied territories.
The wall is being used to annex large swathes of the occupied West Bank and East Jerusalem, thereby converting the illegal West Bank settlements into irreversible "facts on the ground," notes Moctar.
And according to a study conducted by Al-Haq and funded by the South African Department of Foreign Affairs and commissioned by the Human Sciences Research Council of South Africa, Israel's practices in the occupied territories have "assumed characteristics of colonialism and apartheid." While the apartheid we are familiar with separated the races in South Africa, the study contends "the definition of apartheid is the systematic, institutionalized, and oppressive character of the discrimination involved, and the purpose of domination that it entails."
How did the study reach this conclusion? Five reasons: Violations of the territorial integrity of an occupied territory; depriving the population of an occupied territory of the capacity for self-governance; integrating the economy of an occupied territory into that of the occupant; breaching the principle of permanent sovereignty over natural resources in relation to the occupied territory; and denying the population of an occupied territory the right freely to express, develop and practice its culture.
In addition, the Israeli government utilizes "a matrix of draconian security laws and policies which subject opponents of Israel's regime of domination to, inter alia, extrajudicial executions, torture and arbitrary detention."
The future of Israel is nothing more than a continued "drift toward a culture of hatred toward Arabs," writes Roger Cohen for the New York Times.
Compare the words of Benjamin Netanyahu about the killers of the three Israeli teenagers ("human animals") to those who lit the match and burned alive a Palestinian teenager in response (they "will be dealt with to the fullest extent of the law"). In an editorial, Haaretz noted the killers of the Palestinian teen "are not 'Jewish extremists.' They are the descendants and builders of a culture of hate and vengeance."
And a recent opinion piece in Sheldon Adelson's right-wing Israel Hayom calls for Gaza, a home to 1.8 million people, to be "returned to the Stone Age." We would submit the observation that life in the occupied territories is just a stone's throw away from the Stone Age right now.
We know not what will be the result of these latest hostilities between the two parties, but Cohen notes one thing is certain.
"True, this violence will subside. Gaza will revert to its routine misery. Peacemakers may bestir themselves. Netanyahu will find another sound bite. Things may look the same; and the next 150 dead will be part of that sameness."
Maintaining the status quo is to Israel's advantage, contends Cohen. Keeping the Palestinians in their pressure cooker and allowing it to boil over from time to time, reinforces the message that the Palestinians are savages and barbarians whose only mission is to eradicate any sign of Israel from the Middle East.
And when the pressure cooker pops, the utter despair, perpetual poverty and massive unemployment the Palestinians live with from day to day is shrouded by the rhetoric issued by both sides. It is not hard to argue that the leaders from all sides have failed to bring peace to their small piece of the Middle East, many because of their own desire to cling to power and all the benefits that power brings.
Men such as Mandela and Gandhi tried to teach the world that all of us are imprisoned while one is ruled by tyranny, poverty and injustice. It is true that we can only find peace when we learn to recognize our similarities, rather than pride ourselves on our differences. And we can find no peace until we are willing to recognize the dignity of all people and refuse to classify people as beneath our contempt.
We would remind the people who support the Israeli policy that results in the deaths of children (such as the four killed by an Israeli naval shell Wednesday while playing soccer) that the shoes the Palestinians are wearing today are the shoes the Jews have worn over the past two millennia. If we are willing to recognize the deprecations visited down upon the Jews for so many years, we must also be willing to acknowledge the depredations the Palestinians struggle against.
Until we do, the cycle of violence, despair and death will continue.