MADRID: The mayor of Barcelona has severed her city’s official ties with Israel, accusing the country of “the crime of apartheid against the Palestinian people.”
The decision by Mayor Ada Colau has little practical impact — with the most concrete effect being a halt to its 25-year-old twinning agreement with Tel Aviv.
But the announcement by the city, a popular tourist destination and home to one of the world’s best-known soccer clubs, carries significant symbolism and adds to a growing list of critics that have labeled Israel an apartheid state. Israel rejects such accusations as delegitimizing and antisemitic and called the decision “unfortunate.”
In a letter to Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, Colau said the step came in response to a campaign by dozens of local groups and thousands of activists.
She cited a number of Israeli policies, including its 55-year military occupation of the West Bank, its annexation of East Jerusalem and its construction of settlements on lands claimed by the Palestinians for a future state.
“As mayor of Barcelona, a Mediterranean city and defender of human rights, I cannot be indifferent to the systematic violation of the fundamental rights of the Palestinian population,” she wrote.
“It would be a severe mistake to apply a policy of double standards and turn a blind eye to a violation that has been, for decades, widely verified and documented by international organizations.”
In recent years, three well-known human rights groups — Human Rights Watch, Amnesty International and Israel’s B’Tselem — have accused Israel of apartheid, both inside the country as well as in the occupied territories.
Amnesty and the other groups say the very fragmentation of the territories in which Palestinians live is part of an overall regime of control designed to maintain Jewish hegemony from the Mediterranean Sea to the Jordan River.
They point to discriminatory policies within Israel and in annexed East Jerusalem, Israel’s blockade of the Gaza Strip, which has been ruled by the Hamas militant group since 2007, and its continued control of the West Bank and construction of Jewish settlements that most of the international community considers illegal.
The election of Israel’s new hard-line government, dominated by ultranationalists opposed to Palestinian independence, has added to these concerns.