Expose of Israeli apartheid systems that cannot be dismissed as antisemitic smear
Even before the 280-page report was published, the screams of fury, the smears and the lies deluged the online world. It was the overblown outrage at a report from Amnesty International that adds the global human rights organization to a lengthening list of those who have determined that Israel operates a system of apartheid and has perpetrated the crime of apartheid on Palestinians.
Whether Israeli government and its apologists like it or not, the issue of whether Israel operates an apartheid regime is becoming mainstream. The human rights community is practically speaking with one voice.
Palestinians and Palestinian human rights groups have, of course, been calling this out for decades. Last year saw major steps toward mainstreaming the debate about apartheid with the publication of a damning report by the Israeli human rights organization B’Tselem, followed shortly afterward with one from Human Rights Watch.
Ehud Barak and Ehud Olmert, former Israel prime ministers, both warned years ago that Israel could become guilty of running an apartheid system. International figures such as John Kerry and Boris Johnson sounded similar warnings, as did the late Archbishop Desmond Tutu.
Former Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu denies it, but his statement in 2019 was telling: “Israel is not a state of all its citizens (but rather) the nation-state of the Jewish people and only them.”
Yet none of these organizations or individuals slammed Israel like Amnesty International has done.
Nothing in the report suggests it, but Amnesty was accused of denying the Jewish right to self-determination. The accusation was industrial-level smearing.
Typically, the most overused smear was that Amnesty is antisemitic, the report was written by antisemites and many of Amnesty’s staff are antisemitic. This is a travesty and risks weakening the fight against genuine antisemitism which has been spreading, as the recent attack on a synagogue in Texas highlights.
So how does Israel’s regime of apartheid manifest itself? Palestinians have suffered from discrimination for decades in all areas of Israel and the occupied territories. According to the report, “Israel ultimately seeks to establish and maintain Jewish hegemony wherever Israel exercises effective control.”
Palestinian citizens of Israel do not enjoy the same rights as their Israeli Jewish counterparts, not least in terms of citizenship and land. The situation is even more stark and clear cut within the occupied Palestinian Territory. Palestinians in the West Bank have to endure Israeli military law and more than 650,000 Israeli Jewish settlers — or more properly colonists — who live under Israeli civilian law with all the protections that that entails.
Serious politicians must take the time to actually read the Amnesty International report and consider its findings with care.
Palestinians suffer from forcible transfer, administrative detention and torture. Israel exercises control over the entire area from the river to the sea, yet only 25 percent of the Palestinians have the right to vote for the government that dominates their lives.
Palestinians take to the streets to protest because most of them have no other way to influence the authorities that control them. Discrimination is stark within Jerusalem. Even as Amnesty was holding its report launch, Israeli forces were demolishing yet another Palestinian home in the refugee camp of Shuafat.
Despite Palestinians constituting 38 percent of the population of the city, they receive only 10 percent of the municipal services. It is not hard to spot whether you are walking in a Jewish or Arab area just by the state of the roads, the lighting and the garbage. Of the 358,800 Palestinians in Jerusalem, “around 150,000 live in areas segregated from the rest of the city by the fence/wall and other military checkpoints,” Amnesty says.
Gaza, of course, remains under occupation and a blockade that has lasted almost 15 years. Israeli practices mean that Gazans do not have access to 35 percent of their agricultural land and 85 percent of their fishing waters.
But for the full picture, you have to read the report in all its detail — a work four years in the making. It is not a pleasant read. So, the real racism on display is anti-Arab racism. The world watches but does nothing. It allows this system to persist. It buys into the argument of the oppressor that it is racism against Jews that is the issue, when the evidence on the ground is that it is the polar opposite. But anti-Arab racism is not even a topic for debate in Europe, North America and elsewhere.
Will the report make any difference? It will push the issue up the agenda. Serious politicians around the world must take the time to actually read the report and consider its findings with care. Even if they do not accept the term apartheid, hopefully they will admit that there are major issues Israel has to be held accountable for.
For Palestinians on the ground, nothing will change unless international actors react appropriately. Amnesty called on Israel to investigate itself and hold those responsible accountable. It knows this will not happen, so has also recommended that the International Criminal Court examine whether Israel is guilty of the crime of apartheid, while urging all states to exercise Universal Jurisdiction.
This may be the only avenue left open for Palestinians to escape the system that oppresses them.
• Chris Doyle is director of the London-based Council for Arab-British Understanding (CAABU). He has worked with the council since 1993 after graduating with a first class honors degree in Arabic and Islamic Studies at Exeter University. He has organized and accompanied numerous British parliamentary delegations to Arab countries.