For years the “A-word” has been off-limits in polite conversation about Israel’s treatment of Palestinians. The A-word, we have been told, unfairly singles out the Jewish state and its use is perhaps even anti-Semitic. Such declarations can have a powerful silencing effect.
However, in 2002 Archbishop Desmond Tutu broke the taboo, writing in the British newspaper The Guardian that “the humiliation of Palestinians at checkpoints and roadblocks” reminded him “of what happened to us black people in South Africa.”
Four years later Jimmy Carter committed a similar indelicacy with the very title of his bestseller, “Palestine: Peace Not Apartheid.” A wave of condemnationof the former president followed. “He appears to be giving aid and comfortto the new anti-Semites,” wrote a reviewer for the Jewish Virtual Library.
For the most part, in the mainstream U.S. press at least, the decorum that forbids use of the A-word remains in place. Yet increasingly, as Israel continues to colonize the West Bank with settlers, and its army ensures their dominion over the lands they occupy, adhering to the A-word ban requires shielding one’s eyes, or, at a minimum, engaging in verbal gymnastics. What, after all, to call a system of legalized discrimination based on ethnicity and religion in which one group has full voting rights and the other does not? What to call a system under which one people can travel freely on roads built specifically for them, whisking through checkpoints because of their religion and the color of their license plates, and under which the other must submit to inspection at military kiosks frequently manned by snipers? A system under which one population in hilltop enclaves is protected by troops and military surveillance towers, while the other is subjected to frequent night raids by those same troops? Under which 40 percent of the adult malepopulation has been forced to spend time in prison? Under which one group’s “civil administration” can designate a town of the other group as a historic archeological site and evict all the residents, who then must move into tents? Under which soldiers ordered Palestinian bathers outof a public swimming pool last spring so Jewish settlers could have a swim, alone and unbothered by the darker-skinned native population?
Here’s what I found on a trip I made to the West Bank recently.