Israel imposing apartheid on Palestinians, says former Mossad chief

Chris McGreal

The Guardian  /  September 6, 2023

Tamir Pardo comments, slammed by ruling Likud party, carry weight because of high regard for intelligence agency in Israel.

A former head of the Mossad intelligence agency has said Israel is imposing a form of apartheid on the Palestinians, joining a growing number of prominent Israelis to compare the occupation of the West Bank to South Africa’s defunct system of racial oppression.

But Tamir Pardo’s views will have added impact because of the high regard for Mossad in Israel and because they come at a time when far-right members of Israel’s government are moving to kill off any prospect of an independent Palestinian state.

Pardo told the Associated Press that Israel’s mechanisms for controlling the Palestinians, from restrictions on movement to placing them under military law while Jewish settlers in the occupied territories are governed by civilian courts, matched the old South Africa.

“There is an apartheid state here,” he said. “In a territory where two people are judged under two legal systems, that is an apartheid state.”

Pardo, 70, was appointed to head Mossad in 2011 by Benjamin Netanyahu, Israel’s prime minister then and now. Netanyahu’s Likud party said Pardo “should be ashamed” of his comments.

“Instead of defending Israel and the Israeli military, Pardo slanders Israel,” it said.

Successive Israeli governments have fought back against accusations of apartheid by characterizing them as antisemitic out of concern the charge will fuel a boycott movement or open the way to prosecutions under international laws against apartheid.

But such allegations become harder to dismiss when they come from those within the Israeli establishment.

Pardo told the AP his views on the system in the West Bank were “not extreme. It’s a fact.”

He also warned that what has been described as Israel’s “forever occupation” threatens its existence as a Jewish state. “Israel needs to decide what it wants,” he said. “A country that has no border has no boundaries.”

Pardo is among the highest ranking former officials to draw the once taboo parallel with the old South Africa. Israel’s former attorney general, Michael Ben-Yair, said last year “that my country has sunk to such political and moral depths that it is now an apartheid regime”.

The former speaker of the Israeli parliament, Avraham Burg, and the renowned Israeli historian, Benny Morris, are among more than 2,000 Israeli and American public figures who have signed a recent public statement declaring that “Palestinians live under a regime of apartheid”.

The open letter calls on US Jewish groups to speak out against the occupation of the Palestinian territories as “the elephant in the room” in the mass Israeli protests against Netanyahu’s deeply divisive judicial reforms which, it said, are intended to “annex more land, and ethnically cleanse all territories under Israeli rule of their Palestinian population”.

Prominent foreign officials have also invoked apartheid to described the situation in the occupied territories.

Earlier this year, the former Irish president Mary Robinson and the former UN secretary general Ban Ki-moon – representatives of The Elders group of global leaders founded by Nelson Mandela in 2007 – spoke about the “ever-growing evidence that the situation meets the international legal definition of apartheid” after visiting the West Bank.

They said Israeli government policies “clearly show an intent to pursue permanent annexation rather than temporary occupation, based on Jewish supremacy”.

Chris McGreal writes for Guardian US and is a former Guardian correspondent in Washington, Johannesburg and Jerusalem