ISRAEL’S APARTHEID AGAINST PALESTINIANS: A CRUEL
SYSTEM OF DOMINATION AND A CRIME AGAINST HUMANITY
Israeli authorities must be held accountable for committing the crime of apartheid against Palestinians, Amnesty International said today in a damning new report. The investigation details how Israel enforces a system of oppression and domination against the Palestinian people wherever it has control over their rights. This includes Palestinians living in Israel and the Occupied Palestinian Territories (OPT), as well as displaced refugees in other countries.
The comprehensive report, Israel’s Apartheid against Palestinians: Cruel System of Domination and Crime against Humanity, sets out how massive seizures of Palestinian land and property, unlawful killings, forcible transfer, drastic movement restrictions, and the denial of nationality and citizenship to Palestinians are all components of a system which amounts to apartheid under international law. This system is maintained by violations which Amnesty International found to constitute apartheid as a crime against humanity, as defined in the Rome Statute and Apartheid Convention.
Amnesty International is calling on the International Criminal Court (ICC) to consider the crime of apartheid in its current investigation in the OPT and calls on all states to exercise universal jurisdiction to bring perpetrators of apartheid crimes to justice.
Our report reveals the true extent of Israel’s apartheid regime. Whether they live in Gaza, East Jerusalem and the rest of the West Bank, or Israel itself, Palestinians are treated as an inferior racial group and systematically deprived of their rights. We found that Israel’s cruel policies of segregation, dispossession and exclusion across all territories under its control clearly amount to apartheid. The international community has an obligation to actAgnès Callamard, Amnesty International’s Secretary General
“There is no possible justification for a system built around the institutionalized and prolonged racist oppression of millions of people. Apartheid has no place in our world, and states which choose to make allowances for Israel will find themselves on the wrong side of history. Governments who continue to supply Israel with arms and shield it from accountability at the UN are supporting a system of apartheid, undermining the international legal order, and exacerbating the suffering of the Palestinian people. The international community must face up to the reality of Israel’s apartheid, and pursue the many avenues to justice which remain shamefully unexplored.”
Amnesty International’s findings build on a growing body of work by Palestinian, Israeli and international NGOs, who have increasingly applied the apartheid framework to the situation in Israel and/or the OPT.
A system of apartheid is an institutionalized regime of oppression and domination by one racial group over another. It is a serious human rights violation which is prohibited in public international law. Amnesty International’s extensive research and legal analysis, carried out in consultation with external experts, demonstrates that Israel enforces such a system against Palestinians through laws, policies and practices which ensure their prolonged and cruel discriminatory treatment.
In international criminal law, specific unlawful acts which are committed within a system of oppression and domination, with the intention of maintaining it, constitute the crime against humanity of apartheid. These acts are set out in the Apartheid Convention and the Rome Statute, and include unlawful killing, torture, forcible transfer, and the denial of basic rights and freedoms.
Amnesty International documented acts proscribed in the Apartheid Convention and Rome Statute in all the areas Israel controls, although they occur more frequently and violently in the OPT than in Israel. Israeli authorities enact multiple measures to deliberately deny Palestinians their basic rights and freedoms, including draconian movement restrictions in the OPT, chronic discriminatory underinvestment in Palestinian communities in Israel, and the denial of refugees’ right to return. The report also documents forcible transfer, administrative detention, torture, and unlawful killings, in both Israel and the OPT.
Amnesty International found that these acts form part of a systematic and widespread attack directed against the Palestinian population, and are committed with the intent to maintain the system of oppression and domination. They therefore constitute the crime against humanity of apartheid.
The unlawful killing of Palestinian protesters is perhaps the clearest illustration of how Israeli authorities use proscribed acts to maintain the status quo. In 2018, Palestinians in Gaza began to hold weekly protests along the border with Israel, calling for the right of return for refugees and an end to the blockade. Before protests even began, senior Israeli officials warned that Palestinians approaching the wall would be shot. By the end of 2019, Israeli forces had killed 214 civilians, including 46 children.
In light of the systematic unlawful killings of Palestinians documented in its report, Amnesty International is also calling for the UN Security Council to impose a comprehensive arms embargo on Israel. This should cover all weapons and munitions as well as law enforcement equipment, given the thousands of Palestinian civilians who have been unlawfully killed by Israeli forces. The Security Council should also impose targeted sanctions, such as asset freezes, against Israeli officials most implicated in the crime of apartheid.
Palestinians treated as a demographic threat
Since its establishment in 1948, Israel has pursued a policy of establishing and then maintaining a Jewish demographic majority, and maximizing control over land and resources to benefit Jewish Israelis. In 1967, Israel extended this policy to the West Bank and Gaza Strip. Today, all territories controlled by Israel continue to be administered with the purpose of benefiting Jewish Israelis to the detriment of Palestinians, while Palestinian refugees continue to be excluded.
Amnesty International recognizes that Jews, like Palestinians, claim a right to self-determination, and does not challenge Israel’s desire to be a home for Jews. Similarly, it does not consider that Israel labelling itself a “Jewish state” in itself indicates an intention to oppress and dominate.
However, Amnesty International’s report shows that successive Israeli governments have considered Palestinians a demographic threat, and imposed measures to control and decrease their presence and access to land in Israel and the OPT. These demographic aims are well illustrated by official plans to “Judaize” areas of Israel and the West Bank, including East Jerusalem, which continue to put thousands of Palestinians at risk of forcible transfer.
Oppression without borders
The 1947-49 and 1967 wars, Israel’s ongoing military rule of the OPT, and the creation of separate legal and administrative regimes within the territory, have separated Palestinian communities and segregated them from Jewish Israelis. Palestinians have been fragmented geographically and politically, and experience different levels of discrimination depending on their status and where they live.
Palestinian citizens in Israel currently enjoy greater rights and freedoms than their counterparts in the OPT, while the experience of Palestinians in Gaza is very different to that of those living in the West Bank. Nonetheless, Amnesty International’s research shows that all Palestinians are subject to the same overarching system. Israel’s treatment of Palestinians across all areas is pursuant to the same objective: to privilege Jewish Israelis in distribution of land and resources, and to minimize the Palestinian presence and access to land.
Amnesty International demonstrates that Israeli authorities treat Palestinians as an inferior racial group who are defined by their non-Jewish, Arab status. This racial discrimination is cemented in laws which affect Palestinians across Israel and the OPT.
For example, Palestinian citizens of Israel are denied a nationality, establishing a legal differentiation from Jewish Israelis. In the West Bank and Gaza, where Israel has controlled the population registry since 1967, Palestinians have no citizenship and most are considered stateless, requiring ID cards from the Israeli military to live and work in the territories.
Palestinian refugees and their descendants, who were displaced in the 1947-49 and 1967 conflicts, continue to be denied the right to return to their former places of residence. Israel’s exclusion of refugees is a flagrant violation of international law which has left millions in a perpetual limbo of forced displacement.
Palestinians in annexed East Jerusalem are granted permanent residence instead of citizenship – though this status is permanent in name only. Since 1967, more than 14,000 Palestinians have had their residency revoked at the discretion of the Ministry of the Interior, resulting in their forcible transfer outside the city.
Palestinian citizens of Israel, who comprise about 19% of the population, face many forms of institutionalized discrimination. In 2018, discrimination against Palestinians was crystallized in a constitutional law which, for the first time, enshrined Israel exclusively as the “nation state of the Jewish people”. The law also promotes the building of Jewish settlements and downgrades Arabic’s status as an official language.
The report documents how Palestinians are effectively blocked from leasing on 80% of Israel’s state land, as a result of racist land seizures and a web of discriminatory laws on land allocation, planning and zoning.
The situation in the Negev/Naqab region of southern Israel is a prime example of how Israel’s planning and building policies intentionally exclude Palestinians. Since 1948 Israeli authorities have adopted various policies to “Judaize” the Negev/Naqab, including designating large areas as nature reserves or military firing zones, and setting targets for increasing the Jewish population. This has had devastating consequences for the tens of thousands of Palestinian Bedouins who live in the region.
Thirty-five Bedouin villages, home to about 68,000 people, are currently “unrecognized” by Israel, which means they are cut off from the national electricity and water supply and targeted for repeated demolitions. As the villages have no official status, their residents also face restrictions on political participation and are excluded from the healthcare and education systems. These conditions have coerced many into leaving their homes and villages, in what amounts to forcible transfer.
Decades of deliberately unequal treatment of Palestinian citizens of Israel have left them consistently economically disadvantaged in comparison to Jewish Israelis. This is exacerbated by blatantly discriminatory allocation of state resources: a recent example is the government’s Covid-19 recovery package, of which just 1.7% was given to Palestinian local authorities.
The dispossession and displacement of Palestinians from their homes is a crucial pillar of Israel’s apartheid system. Since its establishment the Israeli state has enforced massive and cruel land seizures against Palestinians, and continues to implement myriad laws and policies to force Palestinians into small enclaves. Since 1948, Israel has demolished hundreds of thousands of Palestinian homes and other properties across all areas under its jurisdiction and effective control.
As in the Negev/Naqab, Palestinians in East Jerusalem and Area C of the OPT live under full Israeli control. The authorities deny building permits to Palestinians in these areas, forcing them to build illegal structures which are demolished again and again.
In the OPT, the continued expansion of illegal Israeli settlements exacerbates the situation. The construction of these settlements in the OPT has been a government policy since 1967. Settlements today cover 10% of the land in the West Bank, and some 38% of Palestinian land in East Jerusalem was expropriated between 1967 and 2017.
Palestinian neighbourhoods in East Jerusalem are frequently targeted by settler organizations which, with the full backing of the Israeli government, work to displace Palestinian families and hand their homes to settlers. One such neighbourhood, Sheikh Jarrah, has been the site of frequent protests since May 2021 as families battle to keep their homes under the threat of a settler lawsuit.
Draconian movement restrictions
Since the mid-1990s Israeli authorities have imposed increasingly stringent movement restrictions on Palestinians in the OPT. A web of military checkpoints, roadblocks, fences and other structures controls the movement of Palestinians within the OPT, and restricts their travel into Israel or abroad.
A 700km fence, which Israel is still extending, has isolated Palestinian communities inside “military zones”, and they must obtain multiple special permits any time they enter or leave their homes. In Gaza, more than 2 million Palestinians live under an Israeli blockade which has created a humanitarian crisis. It is near-impossible for Gazans to travel abroad or into the rest of the OPT, and they are effectively segregated from the rest of the world.
For Palestinians, the difficulty of travelling within and in and out of the OPT is a constant reminder of their powerlessness. Their every move is subject to the Israeli military’s approval, and the simplest daily task means navigating a web of violent controlAgnès Callamard
“The permit system in the OPT is emblematic of Israel’s brazen discrimination against Palestinians. While Palestinians are locked in a blockade, stuck for hours at checkpoints, or waiting for yet another permit to come through, Israeli citizens and settlers can move around as they please.”
Amnesty International examined each of the security justifications which Israel cites as the basis for its treatment of Palestinians. The report shows that, while some of Israel’s policies may have been designed to fulfil legitimate security objectives, they have been implemented in a grossly disproportionate and discriminatory way which fails to comply with international law. Other policies have absolutely no reasonable basis in security, and are clearly shaped by the intent to oppress and dominate.
The way forward
Amnesty International provides numerous specific recommendations for how the Israeli authorities can dismantle the apartheid system and the discrimination, segregation and oppression which sustain it.
The organization is calling for an end to the brutal practice of home demolitions and forced evictions as a first step. Israel must grant equal rights to all Palestinians in Israel and the OPT, in line with principles of international human rights and humanitarian law. It must recognize the right of Palestinian refugees and their descendants to return to homes where they or their families once lived, and provide victims of human rights violations and crimes against humanity with full reparations.
The scale and seriousness of the violations documented in Amnesty International’s report call for a drastic change in the international community’s approach to the human rights crisis in Israel and the OPT.
All states may exercise universal jurisdiction over persons reasonably suspected of committing the crime of apartheid under international law, and states that are party to the Apartheid Convention have an obligation to do so.
The international response to apartheid must no longer be limited to bland condemnations and equivocating. Unless we tackle the root causes, Palestinians and Israelis will remain locked in the cycle of violence which has destroyed so many livesAgnès Callamard
“Israel must dismantle the apartheid system and start treating Palestinians as human beings with equal rights and dignity. Until it does, peace and security will remain a distant prospect for Israelis and Palestinians alike.”
Please see the full report for detailed definition of apartheid in international law.
HUMAN RIGHTS WATCH
TIME TO RECOGNIZE REALITY OF ISRAELI
APARTHEID & PERSECUTION
For years, discussions on Israel and Palestine in international fora like this have been rooted in the assumption that Israel’s 54-year occupation is temporary and that a 30-year peace process will soon bring an end to Israeli rights abuses. These assumptions have obscured the reality of Israel’s discriminatory rule over Palestinians.
In April, Human Rights Watch released a 213-page report, “A Threshold Crossed,” finding that Israeli authorities are committing the crimes against humanity of apartheid and persecution. We reached this determination based on our documentation of an overarching government policy to maintain the domination by Jewish Israelis over Palestinians across Israel and the OPT, coupled with systematic oppression and grave abuses committed against Palestinians living in the OPT, including East Jerusalem.
In the months since, a growing chorus of voices, from former Israeli ambassadors to South Africa and current Knesset members to the ex-UN Secretary General and authorities from South Africa, Namibia, the OIC, France and Luxembourg, among others, have referenced apartheid in relation to Israel’s discriminatory treatment of Palestinians.
Maintaining the status quo is the policy of the Israeli government formed in June. As an official close to Prime Minister Bennett said, “there is no diplomatic process with the Palestinians and neither will there be one.”
It is time for the international community to publicly recognize that apartheid, and parallel persecution, is the reality for millions of Palestinians. Correctly diagnosing a problem is the first step to solving it.
The United Nations played a central role in undoing South Africa’s system of apartheid. It can do so again. As a first step, this Council rightly put in place a Commission of Inquiry to investigate “root causes of recurrent conflict, including systematic discrimination and repression based on national, ethnic, racial or religious identity.” We urge all states to engage constructively with the COI in fulfilment of its important mandate.
UN member states should also appoint a UN global envoy for the crimes of persecution and apartheid with a mandate to mobilize international action to end persecution and apartheid worldwide.
Crimes against humanity are crimes against all of us. We all need to do our part to end them.
HUMAN RIGHTS WATCH
ISRAELI APARTHEID: ”A TRESHOLD CROSSED”
19 JULY 2021
In April, Human Rights Watch released a 213-page report, “A Threshold Crossed,” finding that Israeli authorities are committing the crimes against humanity of apartheid and persecution. We reached this determination based on our documentation of an overarching government policy to maintain the domination by Jewish Israelis over Palestinians coupled with grave abuses committed against Palestinians living in the occupied territory, including East Jerusalem
In the months since, a growing chorus of voices, from former Israeli ambassadors to South Africa and current Knesset members to the ex-UN Secretary General and the French foreign minister, have referenced apartheid in relation to Israel’s discriminatory treatment of Palestinians, in particular in the occupied territory. Yet many in Germany, including those critical of Israeli human rights abuses, remain hesitant to apply the label to Israeli conduct.
Given history, one can certainly understand Germany’s concern for the welfare of the Jewish people, but that should not carry over to an endorsement of abusive and discriminatory Israeli government conduct, especially in the occupied territory. As recognition grows that these crimes are being committed, the failure to recognize that reality requires burying your head deeper and deeper into the sand.
The problem begins with the Israeli government having exercised primary control for more than a half-century over the land between the Mediterranean Sea and Jordan River, encompassing Israel and the occupied territory, where two main groups of people of roughly equal size live. Throughout this area, Israeli authorities methodologically privilege one of the groups, Jewish Israelis, who are governed under the same body of laws with the same rights and privileges wherever they live. At the same time, authorities allocate different baskets of inferior rights to the other, Palestinians, systematically discriminating against them wherever they live and most severely in the occupied territory.
Our sense that our research was not capturing this underlying reality led us to write this report. Reporting on “separate, not equal” schools for Palestinians inside Israel, Palestinians being forced out of their homes in occupied East Jerusalem, the serious rights abuses stemming from the Israeli settlement enterprise in the West Bank, and the crushing closure of the Gaza Strip, we felt that our work captured important dynamics, including entrenched discrimination, in particular areas, but did not capture the full scope of Israel’s discriminatory rule over Palestinians.
We set out in the report to evaluate Israel’s treatment of Palestinians across Israel and the occupied territory. As we do in the nearly 100 countries across the world we work in, we began by documenting the facts—drawing on years of our own research, case studies that compared Palestinian areas with predominantly or exclusively Jewish ones, and a review of government planning documents, statements by officials, and a range of other materials.
Across Israel and the occupied territory, Human Rights Watch found that Israeli authorities have pursued an intent to privilege Jewish Israelis at the expense of Palestinians. They have done so by undertaking policies aimed at mitigating what they openly describe as the “demographic threat” Palestinians pose and maximizing the land available for Jewish communities, while concentrating most Palestinian in dense enclaves. The policy takes different forms and is pursued in a particularly severe form in the occupied territory. It includes efforts to, as leading Israelis officials have put it, “Judaize” the Negev and Galilee regions of Israel and to maintain “a solid Jewish majority,” as described in government planning documents, in the Jerusalem municipality, which includes the eastern part of Jerusalem, which Israel unilaterally annexed and occupies. It also encompasses efforts to “settle [Jews in] the land between the [Palestinian] minority population centers and their surroundings” in the West Bank, as set out in plans that have guided the government’s settlement, and to pursue “separation” between the West Bank and Gaza. The policy across the board serves the same fundamental goal: maximum land, minimum Palestinians.
Furthermore, we found that Israeli authorities have carried out the grave abuses needed for the crimes of apartheid and persecution against Palestinians living in the occupied territory. It has done so through, among other policies, sweeping restrictions on movement in the form of the 14-year generalized closure of Gaza and the discriminatory permit system in the West Bank; the confiscation of more than a third of the land in the West Bank; and denial of residency rights to hundreds of thousands of Palestinians and their relatives. Israel has imposed draconian military rule over millions of Palestinians, suspending their basic civil rights, while Jewish Israelis living in the same territory are governed under the permissive Israeli civil law; and imposed harsh conditions in parts of the West Bank that led to forcing thousands of Palestinians out of their homes.
We then evaluated these facts against the relevant areas of international law—in this case, the established law on discrimination—which includes a universal prohibition against apartheid. While the term was coined in relation to specific practices in South Africa, international treaties define apartheid as a universal legal term referring to a particularly severe form of discriminatory oppression.
International criminal law, including the 1973 International Convention on the Suppression and Punishment of the Crime of Apartheid and the 1998 Rome Statute to the International Criminal Court, define apartheid as a crime against humanity consisting of three primary elements: (1) an intent by one racial group to dominate another; (2) systematic oppression by the dominant group over the marginalized group; and (3) particularly grave abuses known as inhumane acts.
Racial group is understood today also to encompass treatment on the basis of descent and national or ethnic origin. International criminal law also identifies a related crime against humanity of persecution. Under the Rome Statute and customary international law, persecution consists of severe deprivation of fundamental rights of a racial, ethnic, or other group with discriminatory intent.
The ratification by the State of Palestine of these two treaties in recent years has strengthened the legal application of these two crimes in its territory. A ruling by a chamber of the International Criminal Court (ICC) earlier this year confirmed that it has jurisdiction over war crimes and crimes against humanity – including apartheid and persecution – committed in the Occupied Palestinian Territory since 2014.
Applying the facts to the laws, Human Rights Watch concluded that Israeli authorities are committing the crimes against humanity of apartheid and persecution. We found that the elements of the crimes come together in the occupied territory as part of a single Israeli government policy. That policy is to maintain the domination by Jewish Israelis over Palestinians across Israel and the occupied territory. It is coupled in the occupied territory with systematic oppression and inhumane acts against Palestinians living there.
Sometimes the most important thing someone who cares deeply about you can do is to share hard truths and push you to confront them. The late Israeli Prime Minister Yitzhak Rabin and leaders of Israel’s closest ally, the US, including former President Jimmy Carter and former Secretary of State John Kerry, warned of the prospect of apartheid if things did not change.
Today, apartheid is not a hypothetical or future scenario. A 54-year-occupation is not temporary. The threshold has been crossed. Apartheid, and parallel persecution, is the reality for millions of Palestinians. Recognizing and correctly diagnosing a problem is the first step to solving it and ending apartheid is vital to the future of both Palestinians and Israelis and the cause of peace. It is by extension Germany’s special relationship with Israel and history that should prompt them to recognize the reality of apartheid and persecution and bring to bear the sorts of tools needed to end these crimes against humanity.