Amnesty International: Israel is imposing ‘apartheid’ on Palestinians

(Wisam Hashlamoun - APA Images)

Yumna Patel

Mondoweiss  /  February 1, 2022

In a landmark 280-page report, Amnesty international accused Israel of the crime of apartheid, saying “it is a crime against humanity, and it has to end.”

Amnesty International is the latest human rights organization to declare Israel an apartheid state, calling for an end to the “system of oppression and domination” it imposes on the millions of Palestinians living under its rule. 

In a landmark 280-page report on Tuesday, Amnesty international accused Israel of the crime of apartheid, saying “it is a crime against humanity, and it has to end.”

Through a number of discriminatory and harmful policies like home demolitions, family separation, restrictions on freedom of movement, imprisonment and torture, Israel has met the criteria for the crime of apartheid, as it is defined under international law, the report said. 

Since 1948, Israel has established a set of laws and systems that are “designed to oppress and dominate Palestinians,” and are always carried out with the intent of privileging Jewish Israelis at the expense of Palestinians, Amnesty said. 

This intent to create and maintain Jewish domination over Palestinians can be demonstrated through laws that were instituted early after Israel’s establishment, that allowed for open Jewish immigration to Israel, and simultaneously prevented the Palestinian refugees from returning to their homes. 

Those policies have been continued today through the continuation of the denial of returning Palestinian refugees the right of return to their homes, and Israel’s demographic policies in cities like Jerusalem, that aim to maintain at least a 60% Jewish majority in the city. 

As the Amnesty report details, in order to achieve such demographic goals and maintain domination over Palestinians, Israel implements laws that geographically fragment Palestinians, and confines them to “separate, densely populated enclaves,” where basic human development is restricted. 

“Decades of deliberately unequal treatment of Palestinians in all areas under the control of Israel has left Palestinians marginalized and subject to widespread and systematic socio-economic disadvantage as they are barred from equitable access to natural and financial resources, livelihood opportunities, healthcare and education,” the report said. 

The report also placed an emphasis on Israel’s policy of dispossession and displacement, which it imposes on Palestinians through land seizures, the denial of building permits, settlement expansion, and the replacement of Palestinians with Jewish settlers in places like Sheikh Jarrah and Silwan. 

“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,” Agnès Callamard, Amnesty International’s Secretary General, said in a statement. 

“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.”

Including the ‘right of return’ for Palestinian refugees

The Amnesty report comes one year after B’Tselem and Human Rights Watch released similar reports, accusing Israel of the crime of apartheid — something Palestinian human rights groups have done for decades. 

The reports cover many of the same themes: Israel’s discriminatory ID system, the fragmentation of Palestinians into different enclaves, and the superior rights of Jews over Palestinians in all the territory Israel rules. 

In a noteworthy departure from the B’Tselem and HRW reports, Amnesty takes into consideration the millions of Palestinian refugees living in exile, who are denied their right to return — a right that is enshrined under UN resolution 194 —  by Israel. 

The report notes that while Israel only considers those who were forced to leave or fled in 1948, but not their descendants, as refugees, it denies the right of return to both those groups. It is estimated that there are 5.6 million Palestinian refugees registered with UNRWA — around 2.2 million live in refugee camps in the occupied West Bank, Gaza, and East Jerusalem, while the rest live in exile, primarily in camps across the Middle East. 

“In order to maintain Jewish Israeli domination in Israel and the OPT, Israel also continues to deny millions of Palestinian refugees…as well as their descendants, the right to citizenship and residence by denying them their right of return to their homes in Israel and/or the OPT,” the report says.

Failing to challenge Zionism as an ideology

While the Amnesty report did make significant strides from previous reports, Palestinian human rights expert Rania Muhareb wrote that it falls short in its failure to “recognize the Palestinian people’s collective right to self-determination” and the role of “Zionist settler colonialism as the underlying logic driving Israeli apartheid.”

“Both Amnesty International and Human Rights Watch point to the role of Zionist institutions, such as the Jewish National Fund, in acquiring Palestinian land and property for exclusive Jewish settlement. However, neither address the role of Zionist ideology in driving Israel’s settler colonial project,” Muhareb wrote for RTE. 

In its report, Amnesty says that the group “does not challenge Israel’s desire to be a home for Jews. Similarly, it does not consider that Israel labeling itself a ‘Jewish State’ in itself indicates an intention to oppress or dominate.”

In a previous interview with Mondoweiss on Israeli apartheid, Muhareb emphasized the fact that, “the effort to uproot Palestinians forms part of a broader settler colonial logic of replacing indigenous Palestinians with Jewish settler colonialists.”

“The transfer of Palestinians from their lands and properties, which is ongoing, has served both to establish apartheid and to continually maintain it over Palestinians. This is how we understand the differential treatment that Palestinians face compared to Jewish persons under Israeli law,” Muhareb said. 

Israel & supports launch accusations of ‘antisemitism’

The Amnesty report has been largely welcomed by human rights groups in Palestine and around the world, with people hailing it as a positive step towards holding Israel accountable for its crimes against Palestinians. 

Even before the report was released, however, Israeli officials and pro-Israel groups were quick to condemn it, accusing Amnesty International of antisemitism. 

Israeli Foreign Minister Yair Lapid called Amnesty “just another radical organization which echoes propaganda, without seriously checking the facts.” Lapid accused the group of echoing “the same lies shared by terrorist organizations”.

He also accused the organization of antisemitism, saying, “I hate to use the argument that if Israel were not a Jewish state, nobody in Amnesty would dare argue against it, but in this case, there is no other possibility.”

Both the Anti-Defamation League (ADL) and AIPAC echoed similar sentiments, with the latter calling the report a “misguided and backward-looking effort to vilify Israel”.

Amnesty’s Secretary General hit back at these accusations, saying: “some within the government of Israel may seek to deflect from them by falsely accusing Amnesty of attempting to destabilize Israel, or being anti-Semitic, or unfairly singling out Israel. But I am here to say that these baseless attacks, barefaced lies, fabrications on the messenger will not silence the message in an organization of 10 million members the world over.”

Israeli apartheid must end

In its report, Amnesty International criticizes the fact that Israel has been “systematically committing serious human rights violations against Palestinians for decades” with “almost total impunity.”

“Governments with the responsibility and power to do something have refused to take any meaningful action to hold Israel accountable,” the report said. “Instead, they have been hiding behind a moribund peace process at the expense of human rights and accountability.” 

In its recommendations for ending Israeli apartheid, the group called on the international community to “urgently and drastically change its approach to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict” and “recognize the full extent of the crimes that Israel perpetrates against the Palestinian people.”

The group called on Israeli authorities to immediately end practices like home demolitions and forced evictions, to grant equal rights to all Palestinians in Israel and the OPT, recognize the right of return for Palestinian refugees and their descendants, and provide reparations to its victims of human rights violations and crimes against humanity. 

It also calls on the UN Security Council to “impose targeted sanctions, such as asset freezes, against Israeli officials most implicated in the crime of apartheid,” and employ a “comprehensive arms embargo on Israel.”

Amnesty International also called on the ICC prosecutor to “consider the crime of apartheid” in its current investigation in the OPT, and called on on all states to “exercise universal jurisdiction to bring perpetrators of apartheid crimes to justice.”

Yumna Patel is the Palestine News Director for Mondoweiss