Jim Crow segregation was Southern racism’s revenge upon human rights advances made during the post-slavery Reconstruction Era. The Israeli occupation of Palestine in the Middle East is a modern day analogue. Just as Jim Crow made a mockery of black gains, the occupation of the West Bank and Gaza Strip*, as well as discrimination against non-Jewish citizens within Israel, mocks the very principles and spirit associated with the founding of a homeland for the Jewish people.
Israel’s laws also deride the United Nations’ Universal Declaration of Human Rights. We, as New Orleanians, should be particularly sensitive to these abominations, given that the legal precedent affirming de jure segregation — the ruling that legalized the Jim Crow era — was set by a homegrown case: Plessy vs. Ferguson.
In the century since then, Plessy has been overturned, the UN founded and its Universal Declaration of Human Rights proclaimed globally. And since 1969, the Declaration has been reinforced and augmented by the UN’s Committee on the Elimination of Racial Discrimination.
Yet, as is increasingly and abundantly clear in its dealings with the Palestinians, Israel continues to violate both the spirit and the letter of UN law — in particular, these four articles of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights:
- Article 7: All are equal before the law and are entitled without any discrimination to equal protection of the law. All are entitled to equal protection against any discrimination in violation of this Declaration and against any incitement to such discrimination.
- Article 9: No one shall be subjected to arbitrary arrest, detention or exile.
- Article 17: Everyone has the right to own property alone as well as in association with others. (2) No one shall be arbitrarily deprived of his property.
- Article 25: Everyone has the right to a standard of living adequate for the health and well-being of himself and of his family, including food, clothing, housing and medical care and necessary social services, and the right to security in the event of unemployment, sickness, disability, widowhood, old age or other lack of livelihood in circumstances beyond his control. (2) Motherhood and childhood are entitled to special care and assistance. All children, whether born in or out of wedlock, shall enjoy the same social protection.
As recently as this past December, the UN adopted a resolution asserting that it was “gravely concerned by reports regarding serious human rights violations and grave breaches of international humanitarian law” committed by Israel.
Israelis and Palestinians — even those Palestinians living in Israel — have two different sets of rights under two separate legal systems. As we in the South can recall, there’s no such thing as “separate but equal.” And yet Israeli law actually allows the Israel Prison Service to prohibit Palestinians suspected of “security crimes” from meeting their lawyers. Adherence to Article 7 is a farce at best.
Article 9 is violated as thousands of Palestinians, including women and children, are held in Israeli prisons under harsh conditions including administrative detention. Many are routinely held without charge for excessive amounts of time and denied due process. Harassment and extreme abuse, including solitary confinement, are also commonplace. Practices in Israeli jails amount to what Amnesty International has condemned as torture.
As has been widely reported, Palestinians in the West Bank are regularly forced from their homes by Israeli settlers or the occupying state. Others are exiled because Israel revokes their residency permits or demolishes their homes. They are then segregated into Palestinian areas — because many localities are declared to be “Jewish-only,” a provision allowed under the Jewish National Fund Law. Redlining bespeaks utter disregard for Article 17.
Article 25 has been breached every day since the blockade of the Gaza Strip began in 2007 and has only been made worse by Israeli military assaults on the civilian population, such as during Operation Protective Edge. In addition to massive civilian casualties, losses continuing to this day also include homes and necessary components of civilian infrastructure, such as public schools, hospitals, and clean water.
State enforcement of segregation in every aspect of daily life, in addition to race and ethnically-targeted violence, is tantamount to apartheid. The term is more commonly associated with the racist system that was finally dismantled in South Africa, but apartheid applies all too well to Israel’s treatment of Palestinians. Apartheid, as defined by the UN, refers to acts “committed for the purpose of establishing and maintaining domination by one racial group of persons over any other racial group of persons and systematically oppressing them.”
Ironically, a nation established as a refuge for a people reeling in the aftermath of a genocide has itself become a nationalist bulwark that violently and openly suppresses an indigenous ethnicity in its midst.
It was Maya Angelou who said: “If someone shows you who they really are, believe them.”
Well, I believe Israel. I also believe in human rights for all people, including Palestinians. That’s why I will be joining other members of New Orleans Palestinian Solidarity Committee in supporting the boycott, divestment and sanctioning of companies profiting from the Israeli occupation of Palestine.
Over 20 organizations have signed on to our campaign and a number of individuals have signed our petition to Declare New Orleans an Apartheid-Free City. Many more will join NOPSC and BDS NOLA (which stands for boycott, divest, sanction) on Sunday, April 10th as we take to the streets of Mid City in support of human rights for Palestinians. We cannot support discrimination in Israel and Palestine — especially given the tradition of segregation in New Orleans.
With the legacy of Southern racism prominently in mind, it’s time to ask yourself: “Am I a part of the lynch mob or am I freedom rider?”
Tabitha Mustafa is a community organizer with New Orleans Palestinian Solidarity Committee and Peace by Piece New Orleans.
*Clarification: Israel officially withdrew from the Gaza Strip in 2005 and the Palestinian group, Hamas, assumed power in 2006 elections. However, the United Nations and other international agencies consider the Gaza Strip to be an occupied territory. Israel and the U.S. maintain a boycott and Israel polices a border buffer zone within the Gaza Strip that is off-limits to residents.