Israeli Apartheid Week (IAW) is an annual campaign that raises awareness about Israel’s ongoing settler-colonial project and apartheid policies over the Palestinian people. The apartheid analogy upsets Israeli supporters who believe the term is inappropriate and unfair, but as BEN WHITE argues, there is enough evidence to the contrary.
Under discriminatory immigration legislation, a Jew anywhere in the world, with no family ties to Israel whatsoever, can emigrate and gain Israeli citizenship, while a Palestinian whose family was expelled by Israel in 1948 (the Nakba), is unable to return home. These laws were passed in order to protect a “Jewish majority” that had been established through the expulsion of the majority of the indigenous Palestinian population. In addition, Palestinian citizens of Israel face harsh restrictions on their right to secure residency for spouses from the West Bank and Gaza Strip.
Some 20% of the territory held by Israel prior to 1967 is land belonging to ethnically cleansed Palestinian refugees, expropriated using the so-called Absentee Property Law. In addition, by 1980, between 65% and 75% of Palestinian citizens’ land had been expropriated using a variety of legal tools. Former UN special rapporteur on housing Raquel Rolnik said she had observed in Israel “a land development model that excludes, discriminates against and displaces minorities”, a system, she continued, “being replicated in the occupied territory.”
Around 4.5 million Palestinians live under an Israeli military regime in the West Bank and Gaza Strip, while Jewish Israeli citizens live in more than 200 colonies – the illegal settlements. The two populations are separate and unequal. Palestinians’ freedom of movement in the West Bank is restricted by more than 500 physical obstacles, from checkpoints to roadblocks, while Israeli settlers come and go as they please.
Meanwhile, as settlement housing expands, Palestinian homes and agricultural facilities are demolished for lacking an impossible-to-obtain “permit”. In the first two months of 2016, Israeli authorities have intensified the ongoing policy of demolitions: from January 1 to February 22, according to UN figures, Israeli forces demolished 320 Palestinian-owned structures in the West Bank and East Jerusalem, displacing 514.
Israel enforces and maintains its policies of settler colonialism and occupation with devastating military force. Palestinians in the Gaza Strip have experienced three large-scale Israeli offensives in eight years; thousands have been killed and injured, and key infrastructure destroyed or debilitated. Elsewhere, Israeli occupation forces suppress unarmed protests with lethal violence, using live ammunition and rubber-coated metal bullets against teenage stone-throwers, or even bystanders. Israeli forces conduct routine night-time raids of Palestinian communities, with almost 7,000 Palestinian prisoners currently detained in Israeli jails – including 650 without charge or trial.
The fact that the minority of Palestinians who have Israeli citizenship can be Supreme Court justices or Members of Knesset (MK) is not proof of Israel’s “democracy”. Yes, the court currently includes an Arab judge – the only one, note, from 66 past and present justices – but the facts are clear: in case after case, the Supreme Court has rubber-stamped violations of international law and refuses to challenge systematic discrimination. Palestinian MKs, meanwhile, are harassed, subjected to racial incitement, and marginalised; in 68 years, there have only ever been two non-Jewish ministers.
Crime against humanity
The analogy with apartheid South Africa is a fascinating subject of discussion and debate – but it is not how one assesses whether Israel is practicing apartheid today. Apartheid is a crime against humanity under Article 7 of the Rome Statute of the International Criminal Court, which was adopted in 1998 – four years after the formal end of the apartheid regime in South Africa. It can exist anywhere, and any state could potentially be guilty.
In 2012, the UN Committee for the Elimination of Racial Discrimination (CERD) proposed to Israel to “eradicate” all practices that violate the prohibition of “racial segregation and apartheid.” According to Dr. David Keane, senior lecturer in law at Middlesex University and author of ‘Caste-based Discrimination in International Human Rights Law’, the report constituted “the most cutting CERD recognition and condemnation of a legal system of segregation since apartheid South Africa.”
Ben White is a freelance journalist, writer and activist, specialising in Palestine/Israel.
This is part of a special series called Apartheid 2.0, which The Daily Vox is running this month in partnership with Al Jazeera’s Palestine Remix.