Israel imposing ‘apartheid’ on Palestinians: Amnesty International

The Secretary General of Amnesty International, Agnes Callamard (Ronaldo Schemidt - AFP)

Al-Jazeera  /  February 1, 2022

Israeli authorities must be held accountable for enforcing a system of oppression and domination against Palestinians, Amnesty International says.

Israel is carrying out “the crime of apartheid against Palestinians” and must be held accountable for treating them as “an inferior racial group”, Amnesty International says in a new report, joining the assessment of other rights groups.

Released on Tuesday, the 280-page report [PDF] by the leading rights group details how Israeli authorities enforce a system of oppression and domination against the Palestinians.

Its damning investigation lists a range of Israeli abuses, including extensive seizures of Palestinian land and property, unlawful killings, forcible transfer, drastic movement restrictions, administrative detention and the denial of nationality and citizenship to Palestinians.

It describes these as components of a system that amounts to apartheid under international law.

“This system is maintained by violations which Amnesty International found to constitute apartheid as a crime against humanity,” the group said in a statement.

Since its establishment in 1948, Israel has pursued a policy of establishing and maintaining a “Jewish demographic majority”, the report said. Israel also exercises full control over land and resources to benefit Jewish Israelis, including those in illegal settlements.

After the 1967 war, during which Israeli forces occupied all of historical Palestine, Israel “extended this policy” to the occupied West Bank as well as the Gaza Strip, which has been under a crippling siege since 2007.

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”, the London-based group said.

“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 Agnes Callamard, Amnesty’s secretary-general.

Speaking at a press conference in occupied East Jerusalem, Callamard called on the international community to take “resolute action against the crime against humanity being perpetrated in order to maintain the system of apartheid”.

“It is the cruelty of the system – the intricate evolving administration of control, dispossession, and inequality [and] the incredible detailed bureaucratization upon which that system is predicated,” she said. “Its sheer banality, and at times absurdity that has taken my breath away.

“Our conclusions may shock and disturb – and they should,” she continued. “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.”

Israel must ‘dismantle the apartheid system’

Amnesty called on the UN Security Council to impose a comprehensive arms embargo on Israel, as well as “targeted sanctions, such as asset freezes, against Israeli officials most implicated in the crime of apartheid”.

Israel has vigorously rejected the “apartheid” label in the past.

But Amnesty’s report follows a similar conclusion reached by US-based Human Rights Watch, which published a report (PDF) in April last year that found Israel is committing the “crimes against humanity of apartheid and persecution” against Palestinians.

Likewise, Israeli rights group B’Tselem published a study in January 2021 that found that Palestinians – divided into four tiers of inferior treatment – are denied the right to self-determination.

Al Jazeera’s Nida Ibrahim said Palestinian human rights organizations have always used the apartheid term to describe Israel’s system in the occupied territories.

“For Palestinians, they want the world to know that they are living under a system for two people when it comes to roads, land, laws,” she said, speaking from the Jordan Valley in the occupied West Bank.

Palestinians in the occupied territories live under Israeli military rule, and Israel uses these military rules to confiscate lands and to benefit the Jewish Israeli residents that live in settlements that are considered illegal under international law, Ibrahim explained.

“At the same time, Israel uses the same military rule to make the lives of Palestinians harder, the ultimate goal of all of this is to get them to leave [the land],” she said.

Amnesty said the unlawful killing of Palestinian protesters in Gaza is perhaps the “clearest illustration of how Israeli authorities use proscribed acts to maintain the status quo”.

It was referring to a period over 2018 and 2019 where Palestinians in Gaza held weekly demonstrations along the Israeli separation fence, calling for the right of return for refugees and an end to the blockade.

The Great March of Return protests were met with violence by Israeli forces, who fired tear gas canisters, rubber bullets and live ammunition, mostly by snipers. By the time the demonstrations were suspended at the end of 2019, Israeli forces had killed at least 214 Palestinians, including 46 children, according to the UN.

“The international response to apartheid must no longer be limited to bland condemnations and equivocating,” Callamard said.

“Israel must dismantle the apartheid system and start treating Palestinians as human beings with equal rights and dignity.”