Amnesty International, In A Landmark Report, Accuses Israel of Apartheid

By Thalif Deen

UNITED NATIONS (IDN) — The term “apartheid”, describing institutionalized racial discrimination, was widely prevalent both in white-ruled South Africa and in Southwest Africa (now Namibia), beginning in 1948 until it ended with the election of Nelson Mandela in 1994 in Pretoria.

But elsewhere it was treated as a four-letter word—and largely shunned both by the United States and the United Nations—particularly when it was tagged onto Israel to describe its treatment of Palestinians.

In a stunning 278-page report released February 1, the London-based Amnesty International (AI) said Israeli authorities must be held accountable for committing “the crime of apartheid against Palestinians”.

The comprehensive report 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”.

Titled Israel’s Apartheid against Palestinians: Cruel System of Domination and Crime against Humanity, the report says 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.”

The human rights organization has also called on the International Criminal Court (ICC) in The Hague to consider the crime of apartheid in its current investigation in the Occupied Palestinian Territories (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,” said Agnès Callamard, Amnesty International’s Secretary General.

“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 act,” she declared.

< Photo: The Palestinian Flag in the West Bank city of Ramallah. Credit: UN

At a press briefing February 2, State Department spokesman Ned Price said: “We reject the view that Israel’s actions constitute apartheid. We don’t offer our own public comprehensive evaluations of reports, but we certainly reject the label that has been attached to this when speaking about Israel.”

When the UN’s Beirut-based Economic and Social Commission for Western Asia (ESCWA), released a 2017 report on “apartheid” in Israel, the United Nations disassociated itself with the study and left it to die—unceremoniously and unsung.

According to a March 2017 report in Foreign Policy Journal, both the Israeli and the Trump administrations put “enormous pressure on UN Secretary-General António Guterres to withdraw the report”.

But the head of the ESCWA, Rima Khalaf, refused to withdraw it and resigned from her UN position in protest. Later, Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas announced he will award Khalaf the Palestine Medal of the Highest Honor for her “courage and support” for the Palestinian people.

Meanwhile, Human Rights Watch and the Israeli rights group B’Tselem are two other groups which earlier accused Israel of apartheid.

Still, over the years, the United Nations has continued to remain tight-lipped when the apartheid issue—in relation to Israel—was raised in the world body.

The AI report, however, triggered multiple questions at the UN’s daily news briefing on February 1: “What is your take on it? Do you support this report? Have you read the report? Is the Secretary‑General aware of the report?”

In a predictable response, UN deputy spokesperson Farhan Haq, said: “We are certainly aware of the report. Obviously, this is a report by an independent group and so we don’t have any comment on the report. But you will have seen what our own reporting on the situation has been and what our own concerns have been.”

Question: “The UN has been avoiding the term “apartheid”. Do you now feel that it is now… a very accurate term that describes Israeli practices?“

Deputy Spokesperson: “This is a word that Amnesty International is using. Obviously, like I said, they are an independent group. They are free to describe the situation as they see fit. We don’t use the same language as independent groups, but you’ve seen what the UN has said. And we stick to our own descriptions and our own serious concerns about the situation of basic rights.“

Not surprisingly, there was no response from the office of the President of the UN General Assembly either. Asked for a comment, his spokesperson Pauline Kubiak told reporters she had no comments.

Meanwhile, the Washington-based Council on American-Islamic Relations (CAIR), the largest Muslim civil rights and advocacy organization in the US, welcomed the landmark report by Amnesty International detailing the Israeli government’s decades-long human rights abuses against the Palestinian people in both the Occupied Territories and Israel itself as a system of apartheid.

The international human rights organization’s comprehensive report, CAIR said, notes that “almost all of Israel’s civilian administration and military authorities” are involved “in the enforcement of the system of apartheid against Palestinians across Israel”, in the Occupied Territories and “against Palestinian refugees and their descendants outside the territory”.

CAIR National Executive Director Nihad Awad, who is of Palestinian heritage, said: “We welcome this exhaustive, landmark report as further recognition of what has been blazingly obvious: the Israeli government has been engaged in the systematic imposition of apartheid on the Palestinian people. Now is the time for the international community to move beyond words and towards action in defense of the Palestinian people and their human rights.”

Last year, CAIR called on the US Congress to support “Defending the Human Rights of Palestinian Children and Families Living Under Israeli Military Occupation Act,” H.R. 2590, following the release of a Human Rights Watch (HRW) report accusing the Israeli government of committing crimes of apartheid and persecution against Palestinians.

Palestinian political analyst Diana Buttu is quoted as saying: “Of course Amnesty International calls it apartheid—because it is. For more than two decades Palestinians have been saying the same and our words have been supported by anti-apartheid activists such as the late Archbishop Desmond Tutu. It’s about time. The real question now is whether the world will apply economic sanctions to Israel just as it did to end apartheid in South Africa.”

In its report, Amnesty International also said it has 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,” AI said. [IDN-InDepthNews – 02 February 2022]

Photo: Bethlehem: part of the barrier between Israel and the West Bank. UN News/Reem Abaza

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