Israeli authorities must be held accountable for committing the crime of apartheid against Palestinians, Amnesty International said Tuesday in a landmark new report.
The years-long investigation details how Israel enforces a system of oppression and domination against the Palestinian people. This includes Palestinians living in Israel and the Occupied Palestinian Territories (OPT), as well as displaced refugees in other countries.
The 280-page report, “Israel’s Apartheid against Palestinians: Cruel System of Domination and Crime against Humanity”, sets out how massive seizures of Palestinian land and property, unlawful killings, forcible transfer, drastic movement restrictions, and the denial of nationality and citizenship to Palestinians are all “components of a system which amounts to apartheid under international law.”
This system is maintained by violations, which Amnesty found to constitute apartheid as a crime against humanity, as defined in the Rome Statute and Apartheid Convention.
The rights group urged the International Criminal Court (ICC) to consider the crime of apartheid in its current investigation in the OPT and called on all states to exercise universal jurisdiction to bring the perpetrators to justice.
Amnesty International’s findings build on a growing body of work by Palestinian, Israeli and international NGOs, who have increasingly applied the apartheid framework to the situation in Israel and/or the OPT.
The term “apartheid” was originally used to refer to a political system in South Africa that explicitly enforced racial segregation, and the domination and oppression of one racial group by another. It has since been adopted by the international community to condemn and criminalise any such system or practise wherever they occur in the world.
The report documents how the Israeli authorities enact multiple measures to deliberately deny Palestinians their basic rights and freedoms as well as perpetrate forcible transfer, administrative detention, torture, and unlawful killings, in both Israel and the OPT. It cites the unlawful killing of Palestinian protesters to illustrate how Israeli authorities use proscribed acts to maintain the status quo.
In 2018, Palestinians in Gaza began to hold weekly protests along the border with Israel, calling for the right of return of refugees and an end to the 15-year-old blockade of the enclave. Before protests even began, senior Israeli officials warned that Palestinians approaching the wall would be shot. By the end of 2019, Israeli forces had killed 214 civilians, including 46 children.
In light of the systematic, unlawful killings of Palestinians documented in its report, Amnesty called on the UN Security Council to “impose a comprehensive arms embargo on Israel, as well as impose targeted sanctions, such as asset freezes, against Israeli officials most implicated in the crime of apartheid.”
The report highlights how successive Israeli governments have considered Palestinians a demographic threat, imposing measures to control and decrease their presence and access to land in Israel and the OPT. These demographic aims are well illustrated by official plans to “Judaise” areas of Israel and the West Bank, including East Jerusalem, which continue to put thousands of Palestinians at risk of forcible transfer.
In addition to separating Palestinian communities and segregating them from Jewish Israelis, the report documents how the Israeli authorities treat Palestinians as an inferior racial group defined by their non-Jewish, Arab status.
For example, Palestinian citizens of Israel are denied nationality, establishing legal differentiation from Jewish Israelis. In the West Bank and Gaza, where Israel has controlled the population registry since 1967, Palestinians have no citizenship and most are considered stateless, requiring ID cards from the Israeli military to live and work in the territories.
Palestinian refugees and their descendants, who were displaced in the 1947-49 and 1967 wars, continue to be denied the right to return to their former places of residence. While Amnesty’s report takes no stand on the Palestinian Right of Return of six million refugees, its language supports it in clear terms.
“Israel’s exclusion of refugees is a flagrant violation of international law which has left millions in a perpetual limbo of forced displacement,” it says.
Amnesty’s documentation of the Palestinian dispossession is aligned with the Palestinian narrative. The report states that in 1948 Palestinians comprised around 70 per cent of the population of Palestine (then a British mandate territory) and owned about 90 per cent of privately owned land. Jews, many of whom had emigrated from Europe, comprised around 30 per cent of the population and they and Jewish institutions owned about 6.5 per cent of the land.
“Israeli authorities,” it stated, “have acted to turn that situation on its head.”
Today, Palestinian citizens of Israel, who comprise about 19 per cent of the population, face many forms of institutionalised discrimination. In 2018, discrimination against Palestinians was crystallised in a constitutional law which, for the first time, enshrined Israel exclusively as the “nation state of the Jewish people”. The law also promotes the building of Jewish settlements and downgrades Arabic’s status as an official language.
The report documents how Palestinians are effectively blocked from leasing on 80 per cent of Israel’s state land, as a result of racist land seizures and a web of discriminatory laws on land allocation, planning and zoning.
Since 1948 Israeli authorities have adopted various policies to Judaise the Naqab region of southern Israel, including designating large areas as nature reserves or military firing zones, and setting targets for increasing the Jewish population. This has had devastating consequences for the tens of thousands of Palestinian Bedouins who live in the region.
Thirty-five Bedouin villages, home to about 68,000 people, are currently “unrecognised” by Israel, which means they are cut off from the national electricity and water supply and targeted for repeated demolitions. As the villages have no official status, their residents also face restrictions on political participation and are excluded from the healthcare and education systems.
These conditions have coerced many into leaving their homes and villages, “in what amounts to forcible transfer,” the report said.
Decades of deliberately unequal treatment of Palestinian citizens of Israel have left them at a consistent economic disadvantage in comparison to Jewish Israelis. This is exacerbated by discriminatory allocation of state resources: a recent example is the government’s Covid-19 recovery package, of which just 1.7 per cent was given to Palestinian local authorities.
Since its establishment, the Israeli state has enforced massive and cruel land seizures against Palestinians, and continues to implement myriad laws and policies to force Palestinians into small enclaves. Since 1948, Israel has demolished hundreds of thousands of Palestinian homes and other properties across all areas under its jurisdiction and effective control.
“The dispossession and displacement of Palestinians from their homes is a crucial pillar of Israel’s apartheid system,” Amnesty said.
As in the Negev/Naqab, Palestinians in East Jerusalem and Area C of the OPT live under full Israeli control. The authorities deny Palestinians in these areas building permits, forcing them to build illegal structures which are demolished again and again.
In the OPT, the continued expansion of illegal Israeli settlements has been a government policy since 1967. Today settlements occupy 10 per cent of the land in the West Bank, and 38 per cent of Palestinian land in East Jerusalem was expropriated between 1967 and 2017.
Palestinian neighbourhoods in East Jerusalem are frequently targeted by settler organisations which, with the full backing of the Israeli government, work to displace Palestinian families and hand their homes to settlers.
Since the mid-1990s Israeli authorities have imposed increasingly stringent movement restrictions on Palestinians in the OPT.
A 700 km fence, which Israel is still extending, has isolated Palestinian communities inside “military zones”, and they must obtain multiple special permits whenever they enter or leave their homes.
“The permit system in the OPT is emblematic of Israel’s brazen discrimination against Palestinians,” said the report. “While Palestinians are locked in a blockade, stuck for hours at checkpoints, or waiting for yet another permit to come through, Israeli citizens and settlers can move around as they please.”
Amnesty said it examined each of the security justifications which Israel cites as the basis for its treatment of Palestinians. The report shows that, “while some of Israel’s policies may have been designed to fulfil legitimate security objectives, they have been implemented in a grossly disproportionate and discriminatory way which fails to comply with international law.”
Other policies have absolutely no reasonable basis in security, and “are clearly shaped by the intent to oppress and dominate.”