It is time to make it official and brand Israel as an apartheid state

First published by the Middle East Monitor on 4/12/2020

Palestinians take part in a rally against apartheid in the West Bank town of Hebron on 14 September 2012 [Mamoun Wazwaz/Apaimages]
Palestinians take part in a rally against apartheid in the West Bank town of Hebron on 14 September 2012 [Mamoun Wazwaz/Apaimages]

No one should throw accusations of racism around lightly because, if proven, then swift action must follow. The trade union movement in Britain, which represents over six million British workers, concluded recently that Israel is a racist state that practices apartheid against the Palestinian people.

The Trade Union Congress (TUC) passed motion 66 — “Solidarity with Palestine and resisting annexation” — which identifies annexation as “another significant step in the creation of a system of apartheid”. The TUC resolved to “send a letter to the prime minister demanding that the UK take firm and decisive measures, including sanctions, to ensure that Israel stops or reverses the illegal annexation, ends the occupation of the West Bank and blockade of Gaza, and respects the right of Palestinian refugees to return.” Furthermore, it committed to “communicate its position to all other national trade union centres in the International and European Trade Union Confederations and urge them to join the international campaign to stop annexation and end apartheid.”

Palestinians and their supporters in Britain and further afield welcomed this significant step in the fight to expose Israeli racism and its own brand of apartheid. The self-proclaimed “start-up nation” has been pioneering, designing and implementing policies and laws that discriminate against Palestinians both in historic Palestine and in exile ever since its creation in their homeland in 1948.

Adalah, the Legal Centre for Arab Minority Rights in Israel, has identified over 65 Israeli laws that discriminate directly or indirectly against Israel’s Palestinian citizens and/or Palestinian residents of the Occupied Palestinian Territories (OPT) on the basis of their non-Jewish identity. These laws limit the rights of Palestinians in all areas of life, from citizenship rights to the right to political participation, land and housing rights, education rights, cultural and language rights, religious rights, and due process rights during detention. In each of these areas it privileges Jews over Palestinians and other non-Jewish inhabitants of the land it has controlled since 1967. This includes the Gaza Strip, which despite Israeli proclamations that it “withdrew” from the territory in 2005 it continues to control the borders, airspace and territorial waters; keeps it under siege, and registers all births and deaths.

Moreover, Israel bars Palestinian refugees from returning to their land and homes in contravention of UN Resolution 194 which gives them the right of return. It has welcomed hundreds of Ethiopian Jews with no connection to historic Palestine whatsoever, while denying the now 5 million Palestinian refugees the legitimate right to return to the places they or their parents or grandparents actually came from. What those Jews now moving to Israel from Ethiopia should understand is the racist nature of the state that they now call home; its racism is not only directed towards the Palestinians, but also against the “wrong” types of Jews.

Ethiopian Jews gather for a solemn collective prayer at a small synagogue on 23 February 2019 [Minasse Wondimu Hailu/Anadolu Agency]
Ethiopian Jews gather for a solemn collective prayer at a small synagogue on 23 February 2019 [Minasse Wondimu Hailu/Anadolu Agency]

In order to keep the proportion of black Jews at a particular level, a report into the injection of Ethiopian women with Depo-Provera concluded that this was “a method of reducing the number of births in a community that is black and mostly poor.” Ethiopian Jews have also faced discrimination and a lack of acceptance, which has led them to take to the streets in protest.

It is however, against the Palestinians that Israel reserves its most discriminatory policies. Does this justify its being labelled as an apartheid state?

The most comprehensive and independent answer to this question came in a report commissioned by the UN’s Economic and Social Commission for Western Asia (ESCWA) in 2017, which concluded that, “Israel has established an apartheid regime that dominates the Palestinian people as a whole.” Aware — as I am — of the seriousness of such an allegation, the report’s authors stated that, “Available evidence establishes beyond a reasonable doubt that Israel is guilty of policies and practices that constitute the crime of apartheid as legally defined in instruments of international law.”

They explain the use of the term “the crime of apartheid” to “include similar policies and practices of racial segregation and discrimination as practiced in southern Africa, shall apply to… inhuman acts committed for the purpose of establishing and maintaining domination by one racial group of persons over any other racial group of persons and systematically oppressing them.”

Those who support Israel, despite its crimes, will fill the comments section under this article with claims that the report was removed by the UN Secretary-General from ESCWA’s website under pressure from Israel and the US. However, Dr Rima Khalaf, who commissioned the report when she was the head of ESCWA and resigned after refusing to yield to the pressure to remove it herself, confirmed recently that it is still a valid UN document, and that the issue was related to process rather than substance. It is also important to state that the report was peer-reviewed by independent academics, as is any other recognised academic journal or major report prior to its publication.

If Professors Richard Falk and Virginia Q Tilley, the authors of the ESCWA report, thought that Israel was practicing apartheid in 2017, then Israel confirmed that its policies are racist when its parliament, the Knesset, passed the Nation State Law in 2018. This Law states that, “The exercise of the right to national self-determination in the State of Israel is unique to the Jewish People.” This does not apply to any other group in Israel, a state which has still not defined its borders. At a stroke, this denied such a right to half of those who inhabit the land controlled by Israel: its Palestinian citizens, those under siege in Gaza; and those under occupation in the West Bank, including East Jerusalem.

The law also outraged the Druze population who, unlike their fellow Palestinian citizens of Israel, serve in the Israeli army. In 2018 it was made clear that they are not regarded by their state as equal with Jews. The status of the Arabic language was also demoted from an official language of the state to just having “special status” within the state.

In Israel, unlike any other country I am aware of, Admissions Committees in communities of up to 400 households are “authorised by Israeli law to reject applicants for residency based on the criteria of ‘social suitability’ and the ‘social and cultural fabric’ of the town.” In other words, Jewish residents sitting on such committees can, and do, refuse to allow Arab citizens to move into the area.

I was moved to write this article because an Israeli court cited the Nation State Law in rejecting a case in which parents of Palestinian children, all citizens of Israel, demanded that the Council of Karmiel should either fund an Arabic-language school or pay the transport costs for the children to go to a suitable school in a neighbouring town. In his judgement, the chief registrar of the Krayot Magistrate’s Court, Yaniv Luzon, said, “Karmiel, a Jewish city, was meant to establish Jewish settlement in the Galilee.” He added that, “Establishing an Arabic-language school… [and] funding school rides for Arab students… could change the demographic balance and damage the city’s character.” Currently, the city’s population is about 6 per cent Arab, so that is hardly likely.

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One of the seven reasons he gave for rejecting the case was Section 7 of the Nation-State Law, which provides that, “The state views the development of Jewish settlement as a national value and will work to encourage and advance its establishment and consolidation” and that “the principle of Jewish settlement as a national value is enshrined in the basic law, and therefore it constitutes ‘an appropriate, dominant’ factor that should be considered in the context of municipal decision-making, which includes the establishment of schools and reimbursement policies for travel outside the city.”

Commenting on the outcome, one of the parents whose children are affected by the decision, Qassem Bakri, said: “What’s terrible is the explanation. ‘It’s a Jewish city’, as though there aren’t other residents in Karmiel. There are first-class residents and second-class residents. It’s the rotten fruit of [Prime Minister Benjamin] Netanyahu and the Nation-State Law.”

If Israel was assessed to be an apartheid state in 2017, then in the wake of the Nation-State Law passing into Basic Law and the use of the law to enshrine discrimination within the state and its institutions should be sufficient grounds for doubters to see that it is, indeed, an apartheid state. No more debate is needed, and if some are uncomfortable with labelling Israel thus then the problem is with them, not with the scholars who have investigated its policies or the Palestinians who experience apartheid on a daily basis. If you need any more convincing then go to Hebron and see and smell Israeli apartheid for yourself.

When the Nation State Law was passed, I asked whether the world would respond, but it did not. However, through its motion, the British TUC has led the way in accepting and exposing Israel as a state which practices apartheid. That is a hugely important step, which should encourage others to “come out” and both acknowledge and accept the accumulating evidence. And then take appropriate action. It’s never too late, but can’t happen too soon.

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