An Israeli investigative report recently revealed what Palestinian women have known for some time: Israeli hospitals institute policies of segregating Palestinian women from Israeli women in maternity wards at the request of Jewish Israeli women. The report included recorded conversations with three Israeli hospitals in which a journalist posing as an expectant mother asked various hospitals whether she could avoid being placed in the same room as a “non-Jewish” woman.
These findings are not new for other news outlets reported similar findings several years ago. And, with the typical official Israeli denials of this practice, the story would have ended there. But, this time, an Israeli member of Knesset, Bezalel Smotrich, finally expressed what many Israelis think: “It is natural for my wife to not want to lie next to somebody who just gave birth to a baby that might want to murder her baby in 20 years. That’s the most natural, normal thing in the world.” He added that, his wife wanted to be in a quiet room and did not want to be in a noisy room where Palestinian parents might hold a “hafla” (a celebration). And it did not end there: His wife later gave a radio interview and said she does not want her newborn Jewish infant touched by non-Jewish hands.
Soon, many came to the defence of these racist views. “Some Arab women also choose to be separated” noted some commentators without providing any evidence of this, while the more polite racists tried to justify the practice by stating that this allowed all women to feel more comfortable. And as the news broke, it became apparent that this was not merely a question of separation (which is racist), but of different standards afforded to different women. According to one nurse: “There were two kinds of rooms, crowded ones with six women and one bathroom, or more spacious ones for two or three women. Clearly the Arab women got the less comfortable ones. There is no such thing as separate but equal, the situation produces discrimination.”
One Palestinian physician working in an Israeli hospital said: “In some cases a doctor has been told ‘you’ve brought another terrorist,’ after bringing an Arab baby into the baby ward.”
This is not simply about racist separation policies when it comes to maternity wards, but about the supremacist ideology that pervades Israel wherein Jewish Israelis are afforded superior rights to Palestinians with this superiority enforced at all levels, including in Israeli courts. Segregation occurs in the education system where more money is allocated to Jewish Israelis than Palestinians in Israel. For example, in the Naqab, the Israeli government has refused to recognise several Palestinian towns, which means that state-funded schools are non-existent. Even in those recognised towns, basic infrastructure is lacking or non-existent and accordingly an estimated 75 per cent of Palestinian children in this area did not attend or have access to state-funded preschools as compared to 5 per cent of Jewish children.
Segregation is also present in housing where, despite the fact that Palestinian towns are among the poorest communities, the Israeli budget largely goes to developing Jewish towns. Instead of building up Palestinian towns, Israel routinely demolishes Palestinian homes while also allocating funds to build Israeli-only housing in the West Bank and a segregated road system. The arrogance has reached the point where Jewish Israelis have demanded that Palestinians not be allowed to ride on the same buses, for Palestinians are deemed “inferior” to Israelis.
Of course, Israeli racism is the core reason behind not allowing Palestinian refugees — whose families lived for centuries in Palestine — from returning to their homeland while instead allowing any Jewish person from anywhere around the world to immigrate to our homeland, solely because they are the “correct” religion.
But this racist ideology is not simply in the minds of Israelis and the system that has privileged them for decades: It lies in the very mindset of the international community in which Israel “security” is deemed more important than Palestinian lives and in which Israeli land theft is glossed over and instead Palestinians told they should make “compromises” for the sake of “peace”. While many are uncomfortable with these openly racist Israeli policies, the world feeds into them when it refuses to confront Israel. It is easy to condemn Israeli colonies, for they are illegal, but beneath these colonies lies an ideology of Israeli supremacy that permits Israelis to steal Palestinian land. It is the same ideology that fed South Africa’s apartheid regime and segregation.
This cradle-to-grave racism that Palestinians endure will one day fall just as South African apartheid fell. Until that time, we must not pretend that these are isolated incidents, but recognise that this is Israel’s modus operandi.
Diana Buttu is a Ramallah-based analyst, former adviser to Palestine Liberation Organisation chairman Mahmoud Abbas and Palestinian negotiators and policy adviser to Al Shabaka: The Palestinian Policy Network.