Israel Has No Place Left to Hide
A new report by Human Rights Watch slams Israel as an apartheid state. What now?
One of the world’s leading independent organisations dedicated to defending and protecting human rights, Human Rights Watch (HRW), today issued a 213-page report entitled ‘ A Threshold Crossed: Israeli Authorities and the Crimes of Apartheid and Persecution ‘. The report examines Israel’s treatment of all Palestinians, regardless of where they may reside between the Jordan River and the Mediterranean Sea and beyond.
For such a mainstream organisation, it minces no words. The report starts by noting that ‘Israeli authorities are committing the crimes against humanity of apartheid and persecution.’ In a press release announcing the report, HRW said, ‘The finding is based on an overarching Israeli government policy to maintain the domination by Jewish Israelis over Palestinians and grave abuses committed against Palestinians living in the occupied territory, including East Jerusalem.’
This latest report digging into Israel’s violations of Palestinian rights comes after decades of the powers-that-be documenting the situation at length, but doing little more than issuing statements of condemnation. Examples of this failure to hold Israel accountable are noted throughout the report.
Referring to apartheid in relation to Israel is no longer taboo. Starting in January 2007 in the ‘ Report of the Special Rapporteur on the situation of human rights in the Palestinian territories occupied since 1967 ‘, John Dugard wrote to the UN’s Human Rights Council after visiting Israel and Palestine that ‘Israel is clearly in military occupation of the OPT [occupied Palestinian territory]. At the same time elements of the occupation constitute forms of colonialism and of apartheid, which are contrary to international law.’ Subsequent special rapporteurs were denied entry into Israel.
Later in 2007, former United States President Jimmy Carter published a book titled, Palestine: Peace Not Apartheid. The pushback he and others who dared to use the word ‘apartheid’ in relation to Israel was furious. This led President Carter and many others to tiptoe around using the word apartheid to relate to Israel proper and kept their focus solely on the occupied Palestinian territories. That is no longer the case, as this new HRW report states: ‘That threshold [of apartheid] has been crossed.’
Initially, the pushback came from the oppressed themselves. The Palestinians made a strategic shift to mostly non-violent resistance against Israel’s actions in the occupied territory, against Palestinian refugees, and in Israel itself. This shift came in the form of civil disobedience across the West Bank, many times with Israeli Jewish citizens participating, then the reemergence of acts of boycott and divestment from Israel, which was complemented by a global Boycott, Divestment, Sanctions (BDS) movement. Then the besieged Palestinians in Gaza launched the Great March of Return demonstrations on 30 March 2018 ( Land Day) to demand the end of the Israeli blockade of Gaza and the right of return for refugees. All this was happening as the Palestinian political agency took Palestine’s case to the International Criminal Court (ICC).
If that was not enough, an increasing number of filmmakers have taken up the task of mainstreaming Israel’s actions, the latest being Palestinian-British Farah Nabulsi who produced The Present, which has been showing on Netflix and was submitted to the Oscars for an Academy Award for best short film. Other films, some made a decade ago, are making a comeback, such as Just Vision’s My Neighbourhood, which portrays the Sheikh Jarrah events, then and today.
Add to this the fact that a growing number of Israeli Jews are standing up and speaking out about what brave Haaretz journalists like Amira Hass and Gideon Levy, among others, have been reporting on, day in and day out, for decades. Former Israeli combat soldiers from Breaking the Silence challenge the entire militarized culture in Israel. Then, early this year, the largest Israeli human rights organisation B’Tselem issued two damning reports, one calling Israel an apartheid state and the second exposing the Israeli settlement enterprise in shocking detail. This is all taking place while other longtime Israeli human rights organisations on the frontlines of this human-made tragedy expose Israeli actions while trying to assist its victims, organisations such as Gisha, Yesh Din, MachsomWatch and HaMoked, among others.
Today, Human Rights Watch adds its voice to the growing chorus contemplating how Israel may be held accountable, which even includes the US Congress, which finds itself deliberating on legislation that calls for making aid to Israel conditional on its respect for Palestinian human rights.
HRW’s use of the term ‘apartheid’ is not made in passing to suggest that what Israel is doing is similar to what Apartheid South Africa did. Rather, its report uses the legal definition as codified in the 1973 International Convention on the Suppression and Punishment of the Crime of Apartheid and the 1998 Rome Statute to the International Criminal Court (ICC).
The report starts by explaining the meaning of ‘crimes against humanity of apartheid’ and ‘persecution’. The report’s chapters address each part of the definition of apartheid as a crime: inhumane acts, the institutionalised regime of systematic oppression and domination, and the intention of maintaining that regime. Each section presents case studies to make the point and a particularly useful set of infographics and aerial photos are dispersed throughout the report. Each issue raised is thoroughly footnoted.
A set of extensive recommendations are made at the end of the report to a wide range of stakeholders: Israel, Palestinian Liberation Organization (PLO), Palestinian Authority, International Criminal Court Office of the Prosecutor, Members of the United Nations, All States, President of the United States, United States Department of State, Department of Defense and Department of Treasury, United States Congress, European Union and its Member States, European Parliament and businesses active in Israel and the OPT.
The report includes a single appendix, the letter Human Rights Watch wrote to Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu on 20 July 2020, soliciting the government’s perspectives on the issues covered. The report confirms that the ‘Prime Minister’s Office confirmed receipt by phone on August 6 and by email on August 12, but, as of publication, had not responded.’
Overall, the action the report suggests is for the ‘international community to reevaluate its engagement in Israel and Palestine and adopt an approach centered on human rights and accountability’.
It is worth noting that the lead researcher and author of this report was Omar Shakir, Human Rights Watch’s Israel and Palestine Director, who is tasked with investigating human rights abuses in Israel, the West Bank and Gaza. He was expelled from Israel by a decision of the Israeli Supreme Court in November 2019. Although neither HRW nor Shakir calls for boycotting Israel, he was the first person ever expelled from Israel for promoting anti-Israel boycotts. He now resides in and works from Amman.
Time is running out. Israeli citizens must read this report and remove their blinders. Jewish Americans who do not know what Israel has been doing in their name need to find the time to read it, too, as should the rest of the international community. Lastly, Palestinians must also read it given the fact the prolonged, forced fragmentation that Israel has imposed on us means that, too often, we cannot see the wood for the trees. After reading, all are required to act or face the dire oncoming fallout of inaction, which has already started to materialise in Jerusalem and the Gaza Strip with frequent outbreaks of violence, and a generation of Palestinians falling into hopelessness.
Sam Bahour is a Palestinian-American business consultant and frequent independent political commentator from Ramallah/Al-Bireh in Occupied Palestine. He blogs at ePalestine.ps. @SamBahour
Originally published at https://mondediplo.com on April 26, 2021.