• Project Angel Island

Israel Brought Up on Charges of Apartheid

In a new report, Human Rights Watch has accused Israel of committing two crimes against humanity: apartheid and persecution.

The term apartheid, as first used to describe the system of segregation of South Africa and South West Africa, is defined by the Apartheid Convention as, “inhuman acts committed for the purpose of establishing and maintaining domination by one racial group of persons over any other racial group of persons and systematically oppressing them.” The Rome Statute of the ICC adopts a similar definition: “inhumane acts… committed in the context of an institutionalized regime of systematic oppression and domination by one racial group over any other racial group or groups and committed with the intention of maintaining that regime.” In the context of the situation in Israel, the word, “apartheid” has been used to describe the state’s systemic discrimination against Palestinians, which ranges from denying their freedom to move and build to the restriction of their voting rights.

The second accusation that has been leveled by the Human Rights Watch against Israel is persecution, which is defined by the Rome Statute as, “the intentional and severe deprivation of fundamental rights contrary to international law by reason of the identity of the group or collectivity.” For the past half-century, the Israelian state has been sending Jewish Israelis to the Occupied Palestinian Territory (OPT) and consistently granting them much greater freedoms than their native Palestinian counterparts. “While Palestinians have a limited degree of self-rule in parts of the OPT, Israel retains primary control over borders, airspace, the movement of people and goods, security, and the registry of the entire population, which in turn dictates such matters as legal status and eligibility to receive identity cards,” states the report.

NPR states that the report provides no new facts, but rather reflects human rights’ activists shift in perspective on the Israel-Palestine situation: “moving from a focus on the Israeli occupation of the West Bank and blockade of the Gaza Strip to questioning Israel's commitment to democracy and civil rights even within its own borders.

A survey conducted by the Washington Post showed that the majority of both Israeli Jews and Palestinians were of the opinion that Israel controls most aspects of life in the OPT, not just the partisan minority.

But even more shocking than the violence and denial of civil rights to Palestinians is the international community’s apathy towards the situation. In America, several members of Congress have called for the restriction of military aid to Israel to prevent their funds from being used to discriminate against the Palestinian population. The US cannot do much, however, because Israel is more important to the US than South Africa was (also, because Israel remains popular According to the HRW report, both the US and other European countries have “largely failed” to hold the Israeli state accountable for its actions, instead over-prioritizing a “peace process” that will turn Palestine into its own state. “This approach, which overlooks the deeply entrenched nature of Israeli discrimination and repression of Palestinians there, minimizes serious human rights abuses by treating them as temporary symptoms of the occupation that the ‘peace process’ will soon cure,” says the report.

Human Rights Watch’s Omar Shakir, the report’s chief author, says he does not expect immediate international action on its findings but hopes for a “recognition of the crime.”

Himani Mehta



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