By *Jomo Sanga Thomas
(“Plain Talk” Feb. 11, 2022)
The world is slowly but surely coming to its senses on the apartheid policies of the state of Israel. Israel’s occupation of Palestinian lands is a clear violation of international law. Yet, significant countries such as the United States and many in the European Union continue to support Israel’s criminal policies against the people of Palestinians.
But there is movement against this connivance with evil. Many leading international organisations and personalities have begun to speak out. In 2014, Desmond Tutu, an icon in the struggle against South African Apartheid, joined the call for an international boycott of the Jewish state. He compared Israel’s treatment of the Palestinians to apartheid, in South Africa. Moreover, he made the linkage between the Jewish holocaust and Israel’s treatment of the Palestinians.
In April 2021, Human Rights Watch released a 213-page report, titled “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.”
This chorus has now been joined by Amnesty International. The Human Rights organization, in a report issued on Feb. 2, said Israel’s “system of oppression and domination over the Palestinians amounts to the international definition of apartheid”.
The report immediately prompted fury among Israeli politicians who called for it to be withdrawn. Among them was Israel’s foreign minister, Yair Lapid, who rejected the report as “divorced from reality”, saying: “Amnesty quotes lies spread by terrorist organisations.” As to be expected he accused Amnesty of antisemitism. The mildest criticism of Israeli policy is always met with the smear of antisemitism.
The report was welcomed, however, by the Palestinian Authority, which said it hoped it would open the way to the prosecution of Israel at the international criminal court. ‘The state of Palestine welcomes the report by Amnesty International on Israel’s apartheid regime and racist policies and practices against the Palestinian people.
Amnesty called on “the USA, the European Union and its member states and the UK, but also those states that are in the process of strengthening their ties – such as some Arab and African states — to recognise that Israel is committing the crime of apartheid and other international crimes.’
It asked countries to “use all political and diplomatic tools to ensure Israeli authorities implement the recommendations outlined in this report and review any cooperation and activities with Israel to ensure that these do not contribute to maintaining the system of apartheid”.
The 278-page report compiled over a period of four years by the London-based rights group means that Amnesty has joined the ranks of Human Rights Watch and the Israeli rights group B’Tselem who have also accused Israel of apartheid.
“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,’ Amnesty’s secretary-general, Agnès Callamard, said while introducing the report, as she rejected claims of antisemitism. “Israel’s cruel policies of segregation, dispossession and exclusion across all territories under its control clearly amount to apartheid.”
While in the past much of claims of Israeli apartheid have focused on conditions in Palestinian areas seized by Israel during the six-day war in 1967, including the West Bank where dual systems of rights and legal administrations exist for Palestinians and Jewish settlers, allegations of apartheid within Israel are more controversial.
A year ago, the Jewish rights group B’Tselem drew criticism from Israeli politicians when it asserted that Israeli policies had been designed to enforce ‘Jewish supremacy from the Jordan River to the Mediterranean Sea.’
The New York-based Human Rights Watch in April last year became the first significant international rights group to publicly level the allegation of apartheid, part of a growing international movement to redefine the Israeli-Palestinian conflict as a struggle for equal rights rather than a territorial dispute.
Those efforts have gained strength in the decade since the peace process ground to a halt, as Israel has consolidated its control over the occupied territories and soured on the idea of a Palestinian state.
Israel rejects any allegation of apartheid and insists that its own Arab citizens enjoy equal rights. Complicating the issue is the different experiences of Palestinians in the occupied territories compared with Palestinian citizens of Israel.
While Palestinians who remained inside Israel lived under military rule until shortly before the 1967 war, those Palestinians now have citizenship, including the right to vote, but still face widespread discrimination in areas such as the job and housing markets.
Palestinians in the West Bank live — despite a degree of political autonomy – under Israeli military rule, which includes exposure to the Israeli military justice system, while Jewish settlers on the West Bank are dealt with under Israeli civil law.
For their part, those living in Hamas-ruled Gaza — from which Israel withdrew in 2005 while keeping tight control of land and the maritime border — also face a crippling Israeli and Egyptian blockade.
“Israel is not a state of all its citizens but rather the nation-state of the Jewish people and only them’ declared Israel’s then prime minister, Benjamin Netanyahu in May 2019.
Palestinians have stoutly resisted the occupation. In the occupied West Bank and Gaza Strip, they frequently closed their offices, shops, restaurants and schools, abandoned construction sites, and refused to report to work. They protest the continued efforts of Israel to evict, seize and steal Palestinian homes and property.
Israel’s response is always aggressively disproportionate. Its military arbitrarily arrest peaceful demonstrators, threw sound and stun grenades at crowds, dispersed them with excessive force and skunk water, and fired concussion grenades at worshippers and protesters.
No other country would have escaped worldwide criticism and condemnation had they treated fellow human beings as the Israeli state does. They would have been calling for humanitarian military intervention. Sadly, Israel commits worse crimes than were meted out to Jewish people during the Nazi’s reign of terror and the world watches on in silence.
The condemnation of Israel’s apartheid policies should continue to pick up speed until it respects the human rights of Palestinian people, return the occupied lands it stole beginning in 1948 and commit to living in peace with its Palestinian neighbours.
*Jomo Sanga Thomas is a lawyer, journalist, social commentator and a former Speaker of the House of Assembly in St. Vincent and the Grenadines.
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