Vijay Prasad, an Indian writer mentioned that Apartheid is a powerful word, with evocations of the South African experience and with implications of crimes against humanity. The United Nations does not use this word loosely.
It rarely enters UN reports, and is not heard from the lips of UN officials. But now, in a report released on March 15 in Beirut, Lebanon, the UN has proclaimed that Israel ‘is guilty of the crime of apartheid’. This is a very significant judgment, one with important ramifications for the UN, for the International Court of Justice and for the international community. In 2015, the United Nations Economic and Social Commission for Western Asia (ESCWA) was charged by its member state, the eighteen Arab states in West Asia and North Africa, to study whether Israel has established an apartheid regime. ESCWA asked two American academics, Richard Falk and Virginia Tilley, to undertake the study. The report that they have now produced makes the ‘grave charge’ that Israel is guilty of apartheid not only in the West Bank, Gaza and East Jerusalem, the Occupied Territory, but also within its own boundaries and against the Palestinian refugees. This is a very sharp report, which will be hard for Israel to ignore.
Israel’s Prime Minister, Benjamin Netanyahu was in Washington DC some few weeks back to meet US President Donald Trump. At that meeting, Mr. Trump seemed to disregard the international consensus towards the creation of two states. In fact, as this report and others show, the two-state solution has been long vitiated. The Israeli government’s illegal Jewish settlement project in the West Bank and its virtual annexation of East Jerusalem makes it impossible to imagine the establishment of Palestine in that region.
What exists is a one-state, with Israel having exercised its dominion in the entire land west of the Jordan River, but a one-state with an apartheid system, with Israeli Jews in a dominant position over the Palestinians. The new UN report speaks to this disturbing apartheid situation not only in the Occupied Territory of the West Bank and East Jerusalem, but in all of Israel. One reason why the Israeli government is unwilling to consider a one-state solution with equal rights for all Israelis and Palestinians is what they call a ‘demographic threat’. If the 12 million Palestinians, exiles and refugees included, would be citizens of this one-state, then they would dwarf the six million Jews in the country. The UN report argues that Israel is a ‘racial regime’ because its institutions are premised on maintaining a Jewish nation by techniques of suppression and expulsion.
Palestinians who have Israeli citizenship do not have the right to nationality, which means that they can only access inferior social services, face restrictive zoning laws, and find themselves unable freely to buy land. Palestinians in East Jerusalem are reduced to the status of permanent residents, who have to constantly prove that they live in the city and that they do not have any political ambitions. Palestinians in the West Bank live
This indignity is punctuated with laws that humiliate the Palestinians. Matters would be less grave if the Israeli political system allowed Palestinians rights to make their case against apartheid-like conditions.
Prasad states that Article 7(a) of the Basic Law prohibits any political party from considering a challenge to the State’s Jewish character. Since this description of the Israeli state renders Palestinians as second-class citizens, their voting rights are reduced to merely an affirmation of their subordination.
Palestinians inside Israel and in the Occupied Territories, as well as in enforced exile, are forbidden to fight to change the terms of politics in Israel. This roadblock is the reason why the UN report appeals to the international community to live up to its commitments. Since most of the world’s states have signed the Convention Against Apartheid, they are now obliged to act to punish instances of apartheid. The authors ask that the International Criminal Court (ICC) investigate the situation in Israel. The ICC’s Prosecutor Fatou Bensouda opened an investigation on Israel’s 2014 bombing of Gaza and on the illegal settlements in the West Bank. Bensouda has indicated that she is not averse to a full assessment of Israel’s actions. Whether she will now widen the scope of her investigation to the apartheid nature of the state is a separate matter.
The report further asks that member states allow ‘criminal prosecutions of Israeli officials demonstrably connected with the practices of apartheid against the Palestinian people’. Earlier this year, former Israeli Foreign Minister Tzipi Livni cancelled a trip to Brussels when she was alerted that the prosecutors there might arrest her using the principle of universal jurisdiction. Such actions raise the cost to Israel for its apartheid policies. When the UN Security Council declared late last year that Israel’s settlements in the Occupied Territories were illegal, then there was worry in Israel that Bensouda would accelerate her work.
Others in Israel said that there was nothing new in the resolution, which neither used the word ‘grave’ to describe the situation nor considered Israeli actions to be a war crime. But the new report does both. If it is acknowledged that Israel is an apartheid state, then this is tantamount to war crime (in the 1977 Protocol Additional to the Geneva Conventions) and to a crime against humanity (in the 1973 Apartheid Convention and the 1998 Rome Statute of the ICC).
Solly Rakgomo @73904141
The article is part of the BDS campaign on Israeli Apartheid Week in support of the Palestinian Solidarity Movement.