Imagine a country where people are separated by culture and ethnicity. Only a chosen few are given citizenship and identity cards, while the rest are mere second-class citizens. The former live in luxurious homes, while the latter do not even have access to those accommodations which we consider integral to everyday life: water, electricity and shelter. The police are given free reign and can not only arrest anyone at any time, but can also detain prisoners without any hope of a fair trial, let alone a definite prison sentence. It doesn’t take a large stretch of the imagination to apply this nightmare to South African apartheid, a system of racial segregation imposed by the country’s government from 1948 to 1994. According to directors Ana Noguera and Eron Davidson, the horrors of a state divided by racial prejudice is equally applicable to present-day Israel and Palestine. While one may be surprised by this assertion, Noguera and Davidson’s documentary Roadmap to Apartheid meticulously and successfully illustrates the parallel between the past and the present.
Noguera and Davidson’s personal backgrounds significantly contributed to the realization of this film; Noguera’s South African descent and Davidson’s Israeli heritage led to their collaboration on the documentary. While working as a news producer during the Second Intifada in September 2000, Noguera began to realize the resemblance of the present conflict with that of her country’s past. “The more … I got into it, the stronger the comparison was,” she tells The Sun.
Roadmap to Apartheid is not another banal documentary to be viewed by bored teenagers in high school history classes; it is quickly made clear that Noguera and Davidson are intent on proving their analogy between apartheid South Africa and present-day Israel and Palestine. The split screen images that accompany the opening titles are convincing in and of themselves; the humiliation of Palestinians at the hands of Israeli soldiers is identical to the abuse the black people suffered at the hands of the Afrikaans and the mothers wailing over their children’s corpses speak of grief that transcends the boundaries of ethnicity and history.
While one could argue that the emotional appeal made by these images are coercive rather than convincing, Noguera and Davidson proceed to present facts that support their controversial claim in a logical and engaging manner. They highlight the corresponding history of persecution that both the Afrikaans and the Jewish people faced; author Ali Abunimah asserts that the first time the phrase “concentration camp” appeared in scholarship was in reference to the Boer’s inhumane incarceration at the hands of the British. Both groups of people believe themselves to be victimized, a mentality that unfortunately leads to incredible violence and prejudice and the creation of what Abunimah calls “two entirely separate and unequal geographies.” The Afrikaans implemented a “pass system” that corresponds to the IDs all Palestinians must carry that essentially dictate where they can work and live. The barrier between the West Bank and Israel snakes around in such a way that Palestine comprises small non-contiguous pieces of land, reminiscent of bantustans, or the miniscule independent states in apartheid South Africa, which were in fact governed by puppet rulers.
The compiled evidence is difficult to refute. But even if one is not willing to accept the thesis, let alone the evidence presented, it is impossible to deny the suffering the Palestinians have endured for nearly a century. The interviews conducted in the Gilo settlement depict the sharp contrast between the Israeli and the Palestinian quality of life; while Israeli children enjoy the cooling effects of outdoor swimming pools, Palestinian children often suffer infections due to the rainwater their families are forced to use as drinking water for as long as three to four months. The fact that Israelis use six to seven times more water per capita than the Palestinians may spark intellectual outrage, but Noguera and Davidson wish to appeal to both our intellect and our emotions. While the interviews with scholars and activists working the area would have been enough to prove their point, they allow the viewer to see the parallels between South Africa and Israel for themselves.
Roadmap to Apartheid is a difficult documentary to watch. From the demolition of innocent people’s houses to the beating and abuse Palestinians face every day, it is tempting to forgo the film, to close our eyes to what becomes an obvious parallel in the end. But it is also a necessary documentary. Whatever one’s political views, it is hard to deny suffering when one is faced with it in the gripping, painful way that the film presents it. But Noguera and Davidson do not leave the viewer without some hope. Apartheid is over, and while South Africa may not have reached perfect racial equality yet, there has been definite progress and change. The same may one day be said of Israel and Palestine. Noguera and Davidson imply that only if we educate ourselves and decry the current situation as vehemently as millions of people decried South Africa during the decades of apartheid.
Roadmap to Apartheid will be screened on April 26 at 6 p.m. at 251 Mallott Hall.