Amnesty International is the latest mainstream organization that has finally come to the conclusion that what Israel practices with regard to the Palestinians is apartheid, joining other human rights groups like Human Rights Watch and B’Tselem that said similar things a year ago. The 280-page report outlines in great detail the reasons for saying so, pointing to what it calls decades of oppression. It says that Israel achieves this through four main methods.
Fragmentation into domains of control
At the heart of the system is keeping Palestinian separated from each other into distinct territorial, legal and administrative domains
Dispossession of land and property
Decades of discriminatory land and property seizures, home demolitions and forced evictions
Segregation and control
A system of laws and policies that keep Palestinians restricted to enclaves, subject to several measures that control their lives, and segregated from Jewish Israelis
Deprivation of economic & social rights
The deliberate impoverishment of Palestinians keeping them at great disadvantage in comparison to Jewish Israelis
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. Palestinians are confined to enclaves in Israel, the West Bank and the Gaza Strip, and the refugee communities, where they are subject to different legal and administrative regimes. This has had the effect of undermining family, social and political ties between Palestinian communities and suppressing sustained dissent against the apartheid system; it also helps to maximise Jewish Israeli control over land and maintain a Jewish demographic majority.
Successive Israeli governments have pursued a strategy of establishing domination through discriminatory laws and policies which segregate Palestinians into enclaves, based on their legal status and residence.
Israel denies Palestinian citizens their rights to equal nationality and status, while Palestinians in the OPT face severe restrictions on freedom of movement. Israel also restricts Palestinians’ rights to family unification in a profoundly discriminatory manner: for example, Palestinians from the OPT 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. For example, millions of Palestinians in the West Bank remain subject to Israel’s military rule and draconian military orders adopted since 1967.
In a separate press release, Amnesty unequivocally says that what is happening is apartheid.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
“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.”
Philip Weiss writes that this report is creating new cracks in the Israel lobby.
Because Amnesty is the godfather of all human rights groups, it has put the lobby in a position it has never been in before — facing mounting international criticism of Israel — and Israel’s advocates have swung into action, angrily attacking the report.
Those responses reflect real divisions inside the Israel lobby. Centrist and conservative Zionists are lashing out in an emotional way, accusing Amnesty of antisemitism. While liberal Zionists such as J Street, which rejects the report, say that such accusations are inappropriate; and Americans for Peace Now says that the mainstream organizations are manufacturing outrage without having read the report, which is based on Palestinian experiences.
There has been increasing concern within the Israel lobby in the US that the taboo on criticizing Israel is breaking down and this report is adding to those fears.
Israel is also concerned that the breaking of the longstanding taboo in the US on comparing its rule over the Palestinians to white South Africa’s racist repression of its black population is evidence of a slower-moving – but potentially more dangerous –threat: the fracturing of once rock-solid backing for Israel within its most important ally.
For years, polls showed that Democrats sympathised with the Israelis at twice the rate of support for the Palestinians. But since the Israeli assault on Gaza in 2014, backing for the Jewish state has fallen and support is now about evenly divided.
That change is accentuated among younger Americans, with adults under 35 far less well-disposed towards Israel than older generations.
A separate survey last June found that half of Democrats want Washington to shift policy toward more support for the Palestinians.
Support for Israeli government policies is even falling within the US Jewish community, with a poll last year finding that 25% of American Jews agreed that “Israel is an apartheid state”.
Loyal defenders of Israel’s apartheid policies within the US government are of course lashing out at Amnesty. But reporters are asking why they welcome Amnesty’s criticisms of some countries while attacking this report.
The Biden administration, and congress members from both sides of the aisle, are condemning Amnesty International’s new report on Israel’s human rights abuses against Palestinians.
In a follow-up question, the AP’s Matt Lee asked Price why the Biden administration is so dismissive of Amnesty’s report but often cites its human rights research on countries like Syria and China.
“Why is it that – without taking a stand or making a judgment about the findings of this particular report, why is it that all criticism of Israel is – from these groups is almost always rejected by the U.S., and yet accepted, welcomed, and endorsed when it comes – when it comes out, when the criticism is of other countries, notably countries with which you have significant policy differences?,” asked Lee.
“This is about our vehement disagreement with a certain finding in a report by an outside group,” Price told Lee.
Multiple members of congress also attacked the report, although not one of them engaged with Amnesty’s findings.
The vast majority of politicians commenting on the report had nothing but harsh words, but there were some notable exceptions.
Rep. Betty McCollum (D-MN), who is the sponsor of House bill that would end Israel’s detention of Palestinian children, said that “Congress can no longer ignore or excuse Israel’s occupation & system of oppression.”
Rep. Rashida Tlaib (D-MI) response was succinct: “U.S. foreign aid shouldn’t go to apartheid governments, period.”
The Amnesty report, based as it is on an exhaustive analysis of actual practices by the Israeli government, is unequivocal in its conclusion that these practices must be condemned and stopped.
The report also says Amnesty has documented inhuman or inhumane acts – forcible transfer, administrative detention and torture, unlawful killings and serious injuries, and the denial of basic freedoms or persecution – that it says Israel has committed against Palestinians “with the intention to maintain this system” and that “amount to the crime against humanity of apartheid” under of the Apartheid Convention and the Rome Statute of the International Criminal Court.
Amnesty’s secretary general, Agnès Callamard, said: “There is no possible justification for a system built around the institutionalised and prolonged racist oppression of millions of 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,” she added.
The governments of Israel have for a long time tried to foster the image that they are the ones who are always seeking peace but are thwarted by the intransigence and unreasonableness of the Palestinians. It has long been clear that it is the Israel lobby in the US that has fostered this misleading image. A recent book by Trump’s US ambassador to Israel shows how zealously they combat anything that contradicts it.
Meeting then-Israeli president Reuven Rivlin in Jerusalem in May 2017, Donald Trump stunned advisers by criticising the then-prime minister, Benjamin Netanyahu, for being unwilling to seek peace while Mahmoud Abbas, the Palestinian leader, was “desperate” for a deal.
The comment “knocked everyone off their chairs”, David Friedman, Trump’s ambassador to Israel, writes in a new book.
“Although the meeting was private and off the record, we all envisioned a headline tomorrow that Trump had praised Abbas and criticised Netanyahu – the worst possible dynamic for the president’s popularity or for the prospects of the peace process.
“Fortunately, and incredibly, the event wasn’t leaked.”
The weight of evidence is overwhelmingly in favor of the conclusion that what Israel practices is apartheid. Propaganda and pressure tactics can only hold the truth at bay for so long.