Cape Town 051111 Yasmin Sooka during the Russell Tribunal on Palestine . The tribunal was held at the Distrix Six , Museum. picture : neil baynes

The suffering inflicted on Palestinians by Israel is a crime worse than apartheid, witnesses have told the Russell Tribunal on Palestine.

On the second day of public hearings in Cape Town on Sunday, witnesses spoke of the daily suffering of thousands of Palestinians.

The tribunal’s Cape Town sitting has been condemned by the Cape branch of the SA Jewish Board of Deputies and the SA Zionist Federation, which have dimissed it as a “one-sided kangaroo court”.

Jeff Halper, an Israeli professor of anthropology and head of the Israeli Committee Against House Demolitions, testified on Sunday, saying the situation in Israel was “ugly” and “more than just the separation of people”.

“If you look at the map of the region, you can see the bantu state that has been created,” said Halper.

“The Israeli government… has demolished houses to displace people and move them out of the region. Many have even demolished their own houses out of fear of being fined.”

Halper said Palestinians could be fined between R118 000 and R157 000 for building structures that were seen by Israel as illegal.

“To have the fine halved, they would be forced to demolish their own homes,” he said. “The government does not see this as the demolition of homes, but rather as a garbage removal cycle.”

Jamal Juma’a, co-ordinator of the Palestinian organisation Stop the Wall, said the practice amounted to ethnic cleansing.

The Israeli government went as far as developing separate roads for Palestinians living in Israel, he said. “It’s worse than apartheid in South Africa.”

Haneen Zoabi, a politician and Palestinian Arab living in Israel, said the Israeli government saw Palestinians as a “strategic threat”.

She said Israel should stop portraying itself as a Jewish state. “They say they have an ethical justification that they deserve a Jewish state, even if it is at the expense of Palestinians.”

Zoabli said that in the last two years, some 43 bills discriminating against Palestinians had been signed into law.

Asked by jurist and former South African cabinet minister Ronnie Kasrils whether the establishment of two states was seen as a solution, Zoabi said: “I don’t think the solution of having two states is available.

“We don’t want to be separated. I have wonderful Jewish friends. It’s about values and freedom. Whether there are two states or one, we want freedom, full withdrawal from territories and the dismantling of settlements.”

Shawqi Issa, general director of the Ensan Centre for Human Rights in Bethlehem, said the international community, especially the US and European countries, should be ashamed of themselves for supporting Israel.

“They are just as responsible for this apartheid state,” he said.

A representative from the Israeli government was invited to address the tribunal on Sunday but did not arrive.

The tribunal is considering whether Israel’s practices in the occupied Palestinian territory constitute the crime of apartheid, within the meaning of the 1973 International Convention on the Suppression and Punishment of the Crime of Apartheid.

The tribunal met in London and Barcelona last year, and a final meeting is to take place in New York later this year.

The international co-ordinator of the tribunal, Pierre Galand of Belgium, said the aim of the meeting was to compel the UN to take action in Israel.

The jury will brief the media on the outcome at a press conference on Monday.

The jurors for the third session are Kasrils, US author Alice Walker, Nobel Peace Prize winner Mairead Maguire, retired judge of the supreme court of Spain José Antonio Martin Pallin, 93-year-old Holocaust survivor Stephane Hessel, British barrister Michael Mansfield, French women’s rights activist Gisele Halimi, anti-apartheid human rights lawyer Yasmin Sooka, former US Congresswoman and member of the US Green Party Cynthia McKinney and Malian author and former Malian culture minister Aminata Traore. -Cape Argus