‘This is apartheid’: Israeli human rights group hang billboards for Biden’s visit

A message for Joe Biden in Bethlehem (AFP)

Maryam Zakir-Hussain

The Independent  /  July 14, 2022

The US is accused of tolerating human rights abuses in the region

An Israeli human rights group has left a stark message for Joe Biden when he arrives in the occupied West Bank, with banners claiming “this is apartheid”.

The US president landed in Tel Aviv on Wednesday on his first visit to the Middle East in his current role.

Arriving on Air Force One at Ben Gurion airport, he described the US connection with Israel as “bone-deep”.

But rights group B’Tselem says Israel’s treatment of Palestinians, both in the Palestinian territories and inside Israel, amounts to apartheid. Both Israel and the US reject the charge.

B’Tselem put up the billboards in Ramallah, the seat of the internationally recognized Palestinian Authority, and in Bethlehem, where Mr Biden is to meet Palestinian president Mahmoud Abbas on Friday.

The organization’s executive director, Hagai El-Ad, accused multiple US administrations of tolerating Israeli human rights abuses “without demanding accountability” and urged Washington to change its attitude toward Israel. “When the attitude changes – so will the regime,” he said.

Mr Biden is not expected to offer any major diplomatic initiatives during the visit, although he has reiterated US desire for negotiations, stalled since 2014, to create a Palestinian state on Israeli-occupied territory, calling this two state solution “the best hope” for both peoples.

Human Rights Watch and Amnesty are among the groups which have also accused Israel of apartheid.

Amnesty said in a report in February that Palestinians are treated as an “inferior racial group and systematically deprived of their rights”. It said they were forced to live with “cruel policies of segregation, dispossession and exclusion which amounts to crimes against humanity”.

The report cited what it found to be “massive” seizures of Palestinian land and property, unlawful killings, the “forcible transfer” of Palestinian people from their land, drastic movement restrictions, and the denial of nationality and citizenship as components of “a system amounting to apartheid under international law”.

Israel responded angrily to the report. Its foreign ministry said it was “false, biased and antisemitic” and accused the human rights group of quoting “lies spread by terrorist organizations”.

President Biden flies to Saudi Arabia on Friday for talks with Saudi officials and to attend a summit of Gulf allies.

US officials say the trip – Mr Biden‘s first to the Middle East as president – could produce more steps towards normalization between Israel and Saudi Arabia, historic foes but also two of America’s strongest allies in the turbulent region.