Existence of apartheid in the Occupied Territories is impossible to deny
There is nothing the Jewish settlements project would have loved more than to continue its de facto annexation of the West Bank away from scrutiny and to entirely marginalize the Palestinians there. Paradoxically, despite the settlers never before having a bigger and more vocal representation in government — and one that is seeking a full annexation of the West Bank — the headlines so far have concentrated on the antidemocratic legislation intentions of the government, rather than on the creeping annexation that is taking place at a relentless pace, as if the Palestinian population hardly matters.
If there is a term that unnerves Israelis, it is when they are accused of imposing an apartheid regime on the Palestinians in the Occupied Territories. But at the same time this has not stopped consecutive administrations from carrying out the very practices that lead to that accusation. Apartheid is defined as the “implementation of a system of legalized racial segregation in which one racial group is deprived of political and civil rights,” and there is hardly a doubt that this definition matches the behavior of Israel in the Occupied Territories. The pushback by Israel against such accusations regarding its relations with the Palestinians is because committing apartheid is a crime against humanity punishable under the Rome Statute of the International Criminal Court, which makes it not only morally reprehensible but also illegal.
Two recent developments have highlighted the practices of Israel’s occupation forces in the West Bank, which suggest both that the occupation is there to stay indefinitely and that the Palestinians are on the receiving end of extreme discriminatory practices from their Jewish neighbors; or, in other words, suffer from the crime of apartheid.
The first, as was reported in the Israeli newspaper Haaretz, is of the Israeli authorities reaching the final planning stages of building a separate road for Palestinians that, when completed, will connect the southern and northern occupied West Bank. However, before anyone jumps to the conclusion that Israel is suddenly in the business of upgrading the infrastructure and improving the lives of Palestinians, put your mind at rest — there is a sting in the tail, a massively prickly one. The road, which would begin near the Palestinian village of Az-Za’ayyem and continue through the Palestinian town of Al-Eizariya, is aimed at segregating Palestinians from Israeli settlers, as part of the controversial Israeli plan to build in an area called E1.
Israeli authorities are using an experimental facial recognition system to track Palestinians and automate harsh restrictions
As the possibility of the much-talked-about two-state solution is fading away toward oblivion, building more Jewish settlements in E1 is a hammer blow, probably a fatal one, to the notion of a future geographically and demographically contiguous Palestinian state. Instead, the E1 plan will create a contiguous Jewish presence between the city of Ma’ale Adumim and Jerusalem, at the expense of allowing continuity of building and traffic between the Palestinian cities of Ramallah and Bethlehem. To build separate roads for the use of different ethnic or racial groups is to practice apartheid and, in this case, with the sinister objectives of depriving the Palestinians of their right to self-determination and eventually annexing the West Bank.
Another despicable practice, exposed by the human rights organization Amnesty, is that Israeli authorities are using an experimental facial recognition system known as Red Wolf in the Palestinian city of Hebron to track Palestinians and automate harsh restrictions on their freedom of movement. In a new report, “Automated Apartheid,” Amnesty claims that the Israeli authorities are increasingly relying on advanced facial recognition technology to track Palestinians and restrict their right of movement through the checkpoints.
Utilizing artificial intelligence-backed facial recognition in general is a scary prospect; however, using it against a specific ethnic group makes it even more sinister. The very idea that the Israeli security forces are collecting, illegitimately, biometric data to control the right of movement of Palestinians is, by itself, Orwellian, but the fact that it is being used against Palestinians only is a clear case of targeting a specific ethnic group, in violation of the Rome Statute.
As disturbing as these two examples of Israel’s apartheid practices are, they are just the tip of the iceberg. Michael Lynk, the former UN special rapporteur for the human rights situation in the occupied Palestinian territories, described Israel’s 56-year occupation as “a political regime intentionally prioritizing fundamental political, legal, social rights to one group over another in the same space on the basis of racial-national-ethnic identity,” which for all means and purposes amounts to apartheid.
And, while the oppressive and discriminatory presence of Israel in the West Bank is more visible, it has just as much impact on what is happening in Gaza, as it dictates an entirely different set of rules afforded to the Israelis, particularly the Jewish ones, than to the Palestinians.
It is for the more responsible elements within Israeli society, with a helping hand from the international community, to resist this trajectory
Israel is always claiming security concerns as the pretext for any measure taken that discriminates against Palestinians, in an effort to shut down the conversation, but a careful and detailed examination of these measures reveals that, even if there are security considerations, they are secondary to the main aim of establishing Jewish supremacy on both sides of the Green Line. Palestinians do not have the same access to the justice system, for instance, as their Jewish neighbors. Basic rights — such as freedom of movement and speech, the right to work, to have a family or the ability to prevent their land being confiscated for the purpose of building new settlements or for military use — for Palestinians depend on the goodwill of the Israeli authorities.
There is a litany of practices too long to outline here that amount to apartheid in the Occupied Territories, from personal to family to collective rights, but the existence of apartheid practices when it comes to the West Bank and Gaza is the inevitable conclusion from the evidence available. It makes this observation more poignant when these old and new practices are governed by an administration dominated by the far right and religious nationalists, who wear their racist and bigoted ideology as a badge of honor. This makes the danger of accelerating and intensifying discriminatory practices against Palestinians all too real.
It is for the more responsible elements within Israeli society, with a helping hand from the international community, to resist this trajectory with the same conviction and energy that they are fighting the antidemocratic legislation within Israel proper. They are two sides of the same coin and both are compromising Israel’s democratic system, while pushing it to become an international pariah.
- Yossi Mekelberg is a professor of international relations and an associate fellow of the MENA Program at Chatham House. He is a regular contributor to the international written and electronic media. Twitter: @YMekelberg