“What does it mean to call Israel an Apartheid regime?” It was this sobering, and perhaps controversial, question that launched Schoolcraft College’s Focus Series lecture on Thursday, September 30th, featuring Dr. Noura Erakat. Erakat is an Assistant Professor at Rutgers University in the Department of Africana Studies and the Program in Criminal Justice, as well as a human rights attorney. Her work focuses on the subjects of critical race theory, international law, humanitarian law, refugee law, and national security. Erakat’s lecture kicked off Schoolcraft College’s International Institute Focus Series for 2021, “Human Rights Around the Globe,” co-sponsored by the Center for Middle Eastern & North African Studies at the University of Michigan.
Erakat presented an analysis of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict through an anti-racist framework. She argued thats Israel wants the land without the people, and offered bold comparisons of Israeli treatment of Palestinians to American Jim Crow laws and South African Apartheid. Using both a legal analysis of Israeli expansionist policy and citizenship laws, as well as her own perspective as a Palestinian women, Erakat makes a case for acknowledging Israeli occupation as an Apartheid regime.
Erakat identified Jewish nationalism, or Zionism, as the core of this Apartheid machine. Any individual, who is Jewish by birth, or who converts to Judaism, Erakat informed her audience, has citizenship rights in Israel. Thus, unlike in many countries, Israeli citizenship does not depend on being born or living within the Israeli state. A Jewish person can claim citizenship rights from anywhere in the world. Jewish nationals therefore have additional rights not afforded to their Palestinian counterparts. Israel, Erakat argued, draws a distinction between being a citizen as well as a Jewish national, on the one hand, and, on the other hand, solely being a citizen –– in other words, being Palestinian.
Dr. Erakat pointed to the concept of settler colonialism to illustrate Israel’s policies toward Palestine. According to Global Social Theory, settler colonialism “functions through the replacement of indigenous populations with an invasive settler society that, over time, develops a distinctive identity and sovereignty.” Here, Israel takes on the role of the settler-society and Palestine the indigenous population. The enactment of citizenship laws, social stigmatization of the Palestinian people and the forced division of land through checkpoints and construction of the West Bank wall in tandem with the relocation of Palestinians from Israeli-controlled territory all work to dismantle and replace the “indigenous” Palestinians.
Dr. Ekarat offered the example of “silent deportation,” or revoking residency rights, as a way by which Israel orchestrates population transfer. Often, the residency rights of the Palestinians living overseas are rescinded, preventing a return to Palestine. Over 40% of the West Bank has been declared a military zone, adding further residency restrictions. Gradually, administrative laws push Palestinians out of their homeland, and Israeli settlers are then planted in these spaces to expand the settler colonial economy.
In a moment of vulnerability, Erakat offered her own personal experience with Israeli occupation of her homeland: Her Palestinian cousin, Ahmed Ekarat, was shot and killed at a West Bank checkpoint while driving to his sister’s wedding on June 23, 2020. He was later declared a terrorist by the Israeli state, his body held “hostage” in a morgue at Tel Aviv University. His death remains uninvestigated. Her revelation was sobering yet grounding. By leveraging her personal experiences, Erakat managed to make distant, big-picture issues intimate and accessible. For the 33 students, faculty, and community members in attendance, moments like this woven within the lecture made it well-worth listening to.
In the final moments of her lecture, Dr Erakat reflected on her opening comparisons of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict to the lessons of the South African Apartheid and American Jim Crow. She argued the importance of reminding a generation growing up without these memories of recognizing these historical parallels and strategies. Apartheid is not exclusive to South Africa, but applies to all forms of segregation, Erakat said. The question at hand is not whether Israel is an Apartheid regime –– the truth, Dr. Erakat stated, is obvious. Rather, whether the international community will acknowledge Israel’s Apartheid regime is at the heart of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict.