Amnesty International: Israel is an Apartheid State
By: Omar Mansour / Arab America Contributing Writer
Yesterday morning, Amnesty International put out a new report terming Israel an apartheid state, practicing this horrendous crime from the Jordan River to the Mediterranean – all of historic Palestine. This report is, of course, building on decades of Palestinian activism work by Al-Haq, as well as the Al-Mezan Center for Human Rights, as well as landmark reports by Human Rights Watch and B’Tselem. This damning report is a welcome addition to the already growing choir of global condemnation. This article will break down some of the key findings.
In May of 2021, Palestinian families in the occupied East Jerusalem neighborhood of Sheikh Jarrah began protesting against Israel’s plan to forcibly evict them from their homes to make way for Jewish settlers. Many of the families are refugees who were forced into Sheikh Jarrah after being forcibly expelled to make way for the establishment of the Israeli state in 1948. Since Israel occupied East Jerusalem and the rest of the West Bank in 1967, Palestinians in Sheikh Jarrah have been continuously targeted by Israeli occupation forces, who use discriminatory laws to systematically dispossess Palestinians of their land and homes for the benefit of Jewish Israelis.
In response to the protests in Sheikh Jarrah, thousands of Palestinians across Occupied Palestine held their own protests in support of the families, declaring to the Israeli state and to the world that they are united in their struggle across all of Palestine, resisting against a shared experience of fragmentation, dispossession, and segregation. There is no disconnect between those in the West Bank and Palestinians with Israeli citizenship. These were met with excessive and deadly force by Israeli occupation forces with thousands injured, arrested, and detained.
The Israeli response is emblematic of the oppression which Palestinians have faced every day for over 70 years. The discrimination, the dispossession, the repression of dissent, the killings and injuries – all are part of a system that is designed to privilege Jewish Israelis at the expense of Palestinians.
This is what is called apartheid.
What is Apartheid
Apartheid is a violation of public international law, a grave violation of internationally protected human rights, and a crime against humanity under international criminal law. International law and the Rome Statute of the International Criminal Court defines apartheid as ‘inhumane acts… committed in the context of an institutionalized regime of systematic oppression and domination by one racial group over any other racial group or groups and committed with the intention of maintaining that regime.’ Although much associate apartheid with South Africa, Apartheid manifests itself uniquely. Israeli apartheid needs to be understood on its own terms, with its own characteristics.
Since the establishment of the State of Israel in 1948, successive governments have created and maintained a system of laws, policies, and practices designed to oppress and dominate Palestinians. This system plays out in different ways across historic Palestine, but the intent is always the same: to privilege Jewish Israelis at the expense of Palestinians.
The crime against humanity of apartheid is perpetrated when particular serious human rights violations are committed with the “purpose of establishing and maintaining” a system of “domination by one racial group…over [another] and systemically oppressing them”. UN, Apartheid Convention 1973
Within a long summary of the evidence, the report states that Israeli authorities have done this through four main strategies:
1. FRAGMENTATION INTO DOMAINS OF CONTROL
In the course of establishing Israel as a Jewish state in 1948, Israel expelled hundreds of thousands of Palestinians and destroyed hundreds of Palestinian villages, in what amounted to ethnic cleansing.
Since then, successive governments have designed laws and policies to ensure the continued fragmentation of the Palestinian population across different segments of historic Palestine, where they are subject to different legal and administrative regimes. This undermines family, social and political ties between Palestinian communities and suppressing sustained dissent against the apartheid system; as well as helping to maximize Jewish Israeli control over land and maintain a Jewish demographic majority.
Millions of Palestinians remain displaced as refugees and continue to be physically isolated from those inside of Palestine due to Israel’s continuous denial of their right to return to their homes, towns, and villages.
2. DISPOSSESSION OF LAND AND PROPERTY
Since 1948, Israel has enforced massive and cruel land seizures to dispossess Palestinians of their land and homes. Although Palestinians are subjected to different legal and administrative regimes, Israel has used similar land expropriation measures across all areas – for example, since 1948, Israel has expropriated land in strategic areas that include significant Palestinian populations such as the Galilee and the Negev/Naqab, and used similar measures in the West Bank following Israel’s military occupation in 1967. In order to maximize Jewish Israeli control over land and minimize the Palestinian presence, Palestinians have been confined to separate, densely populated enclaves. Israeli policies have allowed for the discriminatory allocation of state land to be used almost exclusively to benefit Jewish Israelis in all of Palestine.
3. SEGREGATION AND CONTROL
Palestinians are segregated into enclaves, based on their legal status and residence.
Israel denies Palestinian citizens their rights to equal nationality and status, while Palestinians in the West Bank face severe restrictions on freedom of movement. Israel also restricts Palestinians’ rights to family unification in a grossly discriminatory manner: for example, Palestinians from the Occupied West Bank cannot gain residency or citizenship through marriage, which Jewish Israelis can.
Israel also places severe limitations on Palestinians’ civil and political rights, to suppress dissent and maintain the system of oppression and domination. Millions of Palestinians in the West Bank remain subject to Israel’s military rule and draconian military orders adopted since 1967.
In a more recent display of draconian policies, Israel Intensified its campaign of repression against Palestinian human rights defenders, including labeling six leading Palestinian NGOs terrorist organizations. Among those labeled in this effort to silence and suppress the work exposing Israeli crimes were Al-Haq and Defense for Children International – Palestine. The move was widely condemned and the accusations were deemed baseless by other human rights organizations, including Amnesty International and Human Rights Watch, and many governments.
4. DEPRIVATION OF ECONOMIC AND SOCIAL RIGHTS
These measures have left Palestinians marginalized, impoverished, and economically disadvantaged across all of historic Palestine, which have only been compounded by decades of discriminatory allocation of resources by Israeli authorities for the benefit of Jewish Israelis. For example, millions of Palestinians inside Israel and East Jerusalem live in densely populated and underdeveloped areas that lack adequate essential services such as garbage collection, electricity, public transportation, and water and sanitation infrastructure.
Palestinians across all of occupied Palestine have fewer opportunities to earn a living and engage in business than Jewish Israelis. They experience discriminatory limitations on access to and use of farmland, water, gas, and oil amongst other natural resources, as well as restrictions on the provision of health, education, and basic services.
In addition, Israeli authorities have appropriated the vast majority of Palestinians’ natural resources in the occupied West Bank for the economic benefit of Jewish Israeli settlers.
These are but a few of the sections in the report detailing decades of horrific crimes perpetrated by the Israeli regime going back to 1948 and the establishment of the state. To get a truly clear picture of what is being discussed here, I urge you to read the report in full
Decolonization as a Framework
Palestinian scholars and activists have for decades argued that the oppression they face stems from an intricate and complicated form of apartheid. They go even further, arguing that this is a direct result of the Zionist settler-colonial project which began a century ago in Palestine.
Working within a limited framework of international law, human rights organizations miss out on the context of Zionism and settler colonialism when discussing Palestine. International law is not well equipped to address settler colonialism, which is why Palestinians argue for a more holistic understanding of the situation in Palestine—one that isn’t solely reliant on international law.
The context of settler colonialism is even more crucial when thinking about the end game. The danger is that calls to end apartheid become limited to discussions of equality, rather than one that is intertwined with justice and decolonization.
As a conclusion, the report offers ‘legal remedies’ and policy recommendations for third parties to pursue, yet can we truly expect any kind of immediate or even future policy change as a result of this report, when multiple as it has resulted in no action? What incentive do countries like the U.S. and the Uk, which have deep ties with the Israeli regime, from trade agreements to weapons sales, and who have publicly come out in opposition to ongoing International Criminal Court investigations into Israeli war crimes? Those who have supported the Israeli regime through all the decades of apartheid described in this very report? Those two countries who vocally supported the South African apartheid regime and dragged their feet until the last second before succumbing to global pressure to pull said support?
Even Amnesty International itself does not take an official stance on “the occupation”, reminding us of this the very same day this report was released, in addition to “balancing” parts of the report with condemnation of the Palestinian Authority, no matter how justified.
This new framework also demands the removal of the microscope under which Palestinian reactions to their oppression and resistance to apartheid – as has been laid out in this 200+ page report – are scrutinized by those jumping at the chance to legitimize Israeli brutality.
While Amnesty’s report is likely to be a useful tool in calling out the Israeli regime for what it is, seismic shifts are still needed in the higher echelons of global political establishments if we are to move closer towards Palestinian liberation. This can only be achieved with a massive grassroots mobilization that rejects ongoing settler colonialism and apartheid in all its manifestations and calls not only for equality but also for justice and decolonization.
Nonetheless, the significance of an organization such as Amnesty International cementing Israeli apartheid within its organizational lexicon is big. It is the world’s largest grassroots human rights organization, with a membership of millions and it is well respected in progressive and liberal crowds. For this reason, the report is bound to make noise.
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