Israeli elections branded by rights group as entrenching apartheid  

Roughly 5.5 million Palestinians are living in the territories illegally occupied by Israel since 1967 (Reuters)

Elis Gjevori

Middle East Eye  /  October 30, 2022

B’Tselem report highlights that general election gives no route for representation for Palestinians in the occupied territories.

The Israeli human rights organization B’Tselem has accused the country of running a democratic system in name only in a report ahead of the country’s elections on Tuesday.

B’Tselem said that while the elections are being touted as a “celebration of democracy”, in reality the country breaches minimum requirements. “This is not a democracy. This is apartheid,” it said.

Sunday’s report warned that, while “Jewish citizens who live between the Jordan River and the Mediterranean Sea can fully participate in Israel’s general elections”, the country’s “apartheid system” gives no route for representation for Palestinians in the occupied West Bank, illegally annexed East Jerusalem or besieged Gaza. 

As Israelis head to the polls on Tuesday, around 10 percent of voters live beyond the Green Line – the demarcation line set out in the 1949 Armistice Agreements between the armies of Israel and those of its neighbours after the 1948 Arab-Israeli War.

Living in more than 200 illegal settlements dotted throughout the West Bank, “their right to political participation remains untouched despite living outside Israel’s sovereign territory, and they can vote and run for office like all Jewish citizens living west of the Green Line”, said B’Tselem. 

Polling stations in the illegal settlements and Israel proper are effectively regulated under the same electoral rules and regulations, with settlers not required to cross the Green Line and enter Israel proper to vote.

While Israelis in the occupied Palestinian territories are allowed to exercise their right to vote, B’Tselem said, none of their Palestinian counterparts “are allowed to vote or run for Knesset, and they have no representation in the political institutions that dictate their lives”.

‘Detached from reality’

Roughly 5.5 million Palestinians are living in the territories illegally occupied by Israel in 1967.

The lack of Palestinian representation from the occupied territories in Israel’s elections is despite the “fact that Israel has been the sole power controlling and managing these millions of lives for more than 55 years,” said B’Tselem. 

Its report highlights a system that has often been called apartheid by international human rights organizations.

B’Tselem described Israeli claims that Palestinians in the occupied territories can influence their future through other political systems – citing the Palestinian Authority in the West Bank and Hamas in the Gaza Strip – as being “detached from reality”.

While Israel is no longer directly present in Gaza, B’Tselem highlighted the fact Israel “still holds almost all powers pertaining to Gaza residents and determines what their daily lives look like, in no small part due to its near-complete control over the movement of people and goods in and out of the Gaza Strip”.

Israel has maintained a crippling blockade of the Gaza Strip since 2007, which critics say amounts to collective punishment of the impoverished enclave’s two million residents.

Israel prevents the importing of materials and equipment into Gaza and has imposed strict restrictions on exports, leading to a state of “paralysis” in several sectors of Gaza’s economy.

“Israel works to uphold the perception that everyone in the West Bank has a political system in which they can participate: the settlers vote and run for Knesset and the Palestinians for the Palestinian Authority,” said the B’Tselem report. 

In reality, the PA can “only govern very limited aspects of life in Palestinian urban centres, and usually requires Israel’s permission even for that, while Israel retains control over all major aspects of life”.

‘Illegitimate’

Due to the fact that the last Palestinian elections were held in 2006, and have since then been indefinitely postponed, “the true control remains in Israeli hands”, said B’Tselem. 

In East Jerusalem, which Israel has officially annexed, in a move that is not recognized by the international community, it has not automatically conferred the Palestinians living there citizenship or a right to participate in elections.

There are about 1.7 million Palestinians with Israeli citizenship in Israel, and they, like Jewish citizens, can take part in general elections. 

“However, their political participation has been cast as illegitimate since the very inception of the state, along with attempts to restrict or deny them true political representation,” said B’Tselem. 

The participation of Palestinian voters in Israeli elections has been generally framed as “an attempt to undermine the Jewish citizens’ monopoly on political power in the entire area between the Jordan River and the Mediterranean Sea”, said the rights group.

It added that Israeli politicians have for decades sought to ensure that the “political participation of Palestinian citizens is not, and must not be, equal to that of Jewish citizens”.

Elis Gjevori is a journalist based in Istanbul