Young Men Should Not Die in Democracies: South Africa, Israel and Apartheid

By Heidi-Jane Esakov

Mido Macia, a 27-year-old Mozambican immigrant to South Africa was found dead in his police cell in Daveyton, east of Johannesburg, on 26 February 2013. In a brutal scene captured on film by onlookers, Macia, with hands bound and tied to the back of a police van, was dragged 500 metres by police officers. His torture continued in a police cell with allegations of brutal beatings.

His crime: blocking traffic and resisting arrest.

Three days before that, on 23 February, 30-year-old Arafat Jaradat from the West Bank town of Sa’ir was found dead in Israel’s Megiddo Prison. Jaradat was arrested in a characteristic and somewhat routine Israel Defence Forces’ midnight raid on 18 February in an area supposedly under the control of the Palestinian Authority. Jaradat died six days later after alleged torture by his Israeli Shin Bet (Shabak, or Israel’s internal security services) interrogators.

His crime: suspicion of throwing stones and a Molotov cocktail at Israeli forces.

Despite a preliminary autopsy report by Dr Saber al-‘Aloul, the Director of the Palestinian Medico-Legal Institute that confirms that Jaradat died as the result of torture and neglect, the Israeli Health Ministry has denied this claiming that Jaradat died of a heart attack. The innumerable broken bones and bruising, the Ministry claims, was the result of resuscitation attempts. But no sign of heart failure was found by ‘Aloul or Israeli officials.

In a twist of irony, Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu called on the Palestinian Authority, whose authority it flouted when arresting Jaradat, to restore calm after protests broke out in the West Bank in response to Jaradat’s death.

In response to the death of Macia that has left a usually violence-jaded South African public outraged at yet another act of police brutality, South African President Jacob Zuma commented, “the visuals of the incident are horrific, disturbing and unacceptable. No human being should be treated in that manner”.

In death, Macia and Jaradat, both young fathers, have become potent symbols of South African and Israeli state brutality.

However, with ‘apartheid’ increasingly being used to describe the Israeli state’s policies and actions towards the Palestinian people, Macia and Jaradat’s brutal deaths serve to foreground the debate that is taking on an obvious resonance in South Africa, as to whether this analogy is appropriate.

In an attempt to counter the use of the apartheid analogy, pro-Israel advocates who punt Israel’s democratic credentials – conveniently ignoring the nearly 40 discriminatory laws that Palestinian citizens of Israel have to contend with and an occupation, which sees Palestinians living under occupation having no rights – have often accused South Africa of hypocrisy when condemning Israeli human rights abuses. The Macia case certainly adds credence to their claim.
What is lost in this argument, however, is that apartheid was not simply about legislation that could be dismantled with a change of laws. Rather for apartheid to take effect, to become part of a national mentality, it had to be internalised. Apartheid was a brutal system and, as can be witnessed in a violent post-apartheid society, that brutality has been internalised.

To simply attribute Macia’s death to apartheid’s continued legacy, however, is reductionist and negates the accountability of a post-apartheid South African government that has done much to ensure the continuum of police brutality.

Yet, Macia’s death does not undermine the apartheid analogy, rather it underscores it. South Africa remains mired in a legacy of apartheid that is re-enacted on a daily basis.

The problem with evoking our apartheid past is that there is no one to be held accountable for apartheid today.

The United Nations/International Criminal Court definition of apartheid is “systematic oppression and domination by one racial group over any racial group or groups and committed with the intention of maintaining that regime”. Accordingly, any state that is deemed to be guilty of carrying out apartheid can and should be held to account by the international community – as was the case with apartheid South Africa.

Like in South Africa, “systematic oppression and domination by one racial group over any other racial group” is not simply about legislation, but about the internalising of a national mentality that condones daily humiliations, abuses and denial of rights.

A few days before Jaradat’s death, former Israeli Ambassador to South Africa, Alon Liel commented, “In the situation that exists today, until a Palestinian state is created, we are actually one state. This joint state – in the hope that the status quo is temporary – is an apartheid state.”

In self-proclaimed democracies young men should not die at the hands of police and intelligence services.

Quite simply, Jaradat died because he is a Palestinian who has no rights. With an occupation that has gone on for over 45 years and that is becoming an increasingly permanent fixture, and in a state that privileges the rights of Jewish people - in its most reductionist, had Jaradat been Jewish, he would still be alive. Surely that qualifies as apartheid?

* Heidi-Jane Esakov is a researcher at the Afro-Middle East Centre (AMEC)

* A version of this article was first published by The South African Civil Society Information Service (SACSIS)


Last modified on Wednesday, 18 February 2015 12:47

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