Human Rights Watch accuses Israel of crimes of apartheid
JOHANNESBURG - Human Rights Watch released a damning report on Tuesday, calling for Israeli authorities to take concrete and verifiable steps towards ending their commission of crimes of apartheid and persecution.
The human rights organisation went as far as calling on states to impose individual sanctions, including travel bans and asset freezes, against officials and individuals in Israel responsible for the continued commission of these serious crimes, and to place a condition on arms sales and military and security assistance to Israel - on the government taking steps to end these crimes.
Human Rights Watch (HRW )has also called on states to establish, through the UN, an international commission of inquiry to investigate systematic discrimination and repression based on group identity in the Occupied Palestinian Territories and Israel.
“States should issue statements expressing concern about Israel’s practice of apartheid and persecution. They should vet agreements, co-operation schemes, and all forms of trade and dealing with Israel to screen for those directly contributing to the commission of the crimes of apartheid and persecution against Palestinians, mitigate the human rights impacts, and, where not possible, end the activities and funding found to facilitate these serious crimes,” the HRW report says.
HRW has called on the Israeli authorities to cease building settlements, and dismantle existing ones and otherwise provide Palestinians in the West Bank and Gaza with full respect of their human rights, using as a benchmark the rights that it grants Israeli citizens, as well as the protections that international humanitarian law grants them.
HRW called on the Palestinian Authority (PA) to end forms of security co-ordination with the Israeli army that contributed to facilitating the crimes against humanity of apartheid and persecution.
The report does not set out to compare Israel with South Africa under apartheid or to determine whether Israel is an “apartheid state”— a concept that is not defined in international law. Rather, the report assesses whether specific acts and policies carried out by Israeli authorities today amount, in particular areas, to the crimes of apartheid and persecution as defined under international law.
On the basis of its research, HRW concludes that the Israeli government has demonstrated an intent to maintain the domination of Jewish Israelis over Palestinians across Israel and the Occupied Palestinian Territories (OPT).
According to HRW, in the OPT, including East Jerusalem, the intent has been coupled with systematic oppression of Palestinians and inhumane acts committed against them. The report concludes that when these three elements occur together, they amount to the crime of apartheid.
“Across these areas and in most aspects of life, Israeli authorities methodically privilege Jewish Israelis and discriminate against Palestinians. Laws, policies, and statements by leading Israeli officials make plain that the objective of maintaining Jewish Israeli control over demographics, political power, and land has long guided government policy. In pursuit of this goal, authorities have dispossessed, confined, forcibly separated, and subjugated Palestinians by virtue of their identity to varying degrees of intensity. In certain areas, as described in this report, these deprivations are so severe that they amount to the crimes against humanity of apartheid and persecution,” the HRW report reads.
HRW has said that in July last year it wrote to Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, soliciting the government’s perspectives on the issues covered in its report, but as of publication, had not received a response.
But The Guardian reported on Tuesday that Israel’s Foreign Ministry has accused HRW of a “long-standing anti-Israel agenda” and said the report was a “propaganda pamphlet” that had “no connection to facts or reality on the ground”.
The Israeli Foreign Ministry also said that “the fictional claims that HRW concocted are both preposterous and false”.
"The purpose of this spurious report is in no way related to human rights, but to an ongoing attempt by HRW to undermine the state of Israel's right to exist as the nation state of the Jewish people," Strategic Affairs Minister Michael Biton said.
Israel's Foreign Ministry said HRW's Israel programme was being "led by a known (BDS) supporter, with no connection to facts or reality on the ground," referring to the pro-Palestinian Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions movement.
The report's author, HRW Israel and Palestine director Omar Shakir, was expelled from Israel in 2019 over accusations he backed BDS.
Shakir denied that his HRW work and pro-Palestinian statements he made before being appointed to the HRW post in 2016 constituted active support for BDS.
Shakir told Reuters that HRW would send its report to the International Criminal Court (ICC) prosecutor's office, "as we normally do when we reach conclusions about the commissions of crimes that fall within the court's jurisdiction".
He said HRW also sent the ICC its 2018 report about possible crimes against humanity by Mahmoud Abbas's Palestinian Authority and the Islamist militant Hamas group.
According to the HRW report released on April 27, among the inhumane acts identified in either the Apartheid Convention of 1973, or the Rome Statute of 1988 were “forcible transfer”, “expropriation of landed property”, “creation of separate reserves and ghettos”, and denial of the “the right to leave and to return to their country, (and) the right to a nationality”.
The HRW report says Israel’s policies include limiting the population and political power of Palestinians, granting the right to vote only to Palestinians who live within the borders of Israel as they existed from 1948 to June 1967, and limiting the ability of Palestinians to move to Israel from the OPT and from anywhere else to Israel or the OPT.
The HRW report further maintains that other steps are taken to ensure Jewish domination, including a state policy of “separation” of Palestinians between the West Bank and Gaza, which prevents the movement of people and goods within the OPT, and “Judaisation” of areas with significant Palestinian populations, including Jerusalem as well as the Galilee and the Negev in Israel.
HRW maintains that this policy, which aims to maximize Jewish Israeli control over land, concentrates the majority of Palestinians who live outside Israel’s major, predominantly Jewish cities into dense, under-served enclaves and restricts their access to land and housing, while nurturing the growth of nearby Jewish communities.
HRW argues that pursuant to these policies, Israeli authorities have carried out a range of inhumane acts in the OPT.
“Those include sweeping restrictions on the movement of 4.7 million Palestinians there; the confiscation of much of their land; and the imposition of harsh conditions, including categorical denial of building permits in large parts of the West Bank, which has led thousands of Palestinians to leave their homes under conditions that amount to forcible transfer,” the report reads.
The HRW report comes on the heels of an announcement in January by the Israeli rights body B’Tselem that claimed the country was not a democracy but an “apartheid regime”.
Israel has strongly rejected those claims.
* This article will be updated with comment from the Israeli embassy in South Africa.
** Additional reporting by Reuters.