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Israel's leading human rights group makes the case that it’s an apartheid state

File picture: Jack Guez / AFP.

File picture: Jack Guez / AFP.

Published Jan 17, 2021


Johannesburg - Archbishop Desmond Tutu, numerous ANC stalwarts, former US President Jimmy Carter, and UN investigators have so far led the charge on the international stage that Israel is an apartheid state.

But this week an unprecedented report was released by Israel’s most highly respected human rights organisation B’Tselem that clearly makes a case for why the world needs to see Israel for what it is - an apartheid state.

Israel, which usually smears any criticism of its policies as antisemitism, will have a hard time using the slur against the country’s leading human rights group B’Tselem, which has provided ample backing for its conclusions.

While the creation of an apartheid state has been long in the making, B’Tselem explains its decision to bring out its ground breaking report now as it says the process has gradually grown more institutionalised and explicit, as apartheid measures have been formalised in legislation and in political practice with judicial and public support.

In recent years Jewish supremacy has been enshrined in law, particularly with the enactment in 2018 of the Basic Law: Israel - the Nation State of the Jewish people. The law permanently enshrines Israel as a Jewish state in its Constitution, which has been reinforced by promises from Israeli politicians to unilaterally annex large swathes of the remaining Palestinian land in the West Bank.

Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu drew up plans to annex up to a third of the West Bank, including all of its illegal Jewish settlements, which are home to 600,000 Israelis. Those plans were supposedly frozen as part of an agreement reached with the UAE last year, but Netanyahu insists that the pause is only temporary.

According to B’Tselem, “A regime that uses laws, practices and organised violence to cement the supremacy of one group over another is an apartheid regime.” B’Tselem is not the first Israeli rights group to argue that Israel is practicing apartheid.

Yesh Din, another Israeli rights group published a legal opinion last summer in which it argued that apartheid was being committed in the West Bank. But B’Tselem’s report goes further, asserting that Israel has created an apartheid system over the entire territory in which Jewish citizens have full rights.

As the Executive Director of B’Tselem Hagai El-Ad has said, “It is one regime between the Jordan River to the Mediteranean Sea, and we must look at the full picture and see it for what it is: apartheid.” El-Ad went further saying, “The point is there isn’t a square inch between the river and the sea in which a Palestinian and a Jew are equal.” The area between the river and the sea has a population of 14 million, half Jews and half Palestinians, living under the single rule of the Israelis.

The core of B’Tselem’s report is that in order to cement Jewish supremacy, Israel has divided the Palestinians into four hierarchical units, each with a different set of rights, but always below and inferior to those enjoyed by Jewish Israelis. This is borne out by the facts presented in the report, and those on the ground.

It is ominously reminiscent of the apartheid system in South Africa which allocated different areas to various categories of people, affording them different rights organised in a hierarchical system, but all below and inferior to the rights of white people which the system was designed to ensure had supremacy.

As in apartheid South Africa, the system is enforced through violence, suppression, the curtailing of civil and political rights and liberties. In the case of Israel, the military court system, which lacks transparency, has imprisoned hundreds of thousands of Palestinians and enforced the apartheid system with an iron fist.

It should be noted that Israeli officials have dismissed the B’Tselem report and dispute any characterisation of the Israeli system of governance as apartheid. Israeli diplomats in some embassies abroad have pointed to the fact that Arab Israelis are represented in the Israeli parliament, courts, and public service, and even represent Israeli overseas.

This is reminiscent of how apartheid diplomats and officials in South Africa had also tried to defend their system of oppression, pointing to the collaborators of colour who had been part of the apartheid governing structures. This did not make the system any less oppressive and ruthless for the people who had to live under it and endure its inhumanity on a daily basis, denying them their basic rights and self-determination.

According to a Senior Advisor to the Palestinian Authority Nabil Shaath, “There is no country in the world that is clearer in its apartheid policies than Israel. It is a state based on racist decisions aimed at confiscating land, expelling indigenous people, demolishing homes and establishing settlements.” These sentiments have been echoed by an increasing number of Israeli writers, disillusioned former Israeli generals and politicians who have begun to use the term apartheid to depict what succeessive right wing Israeli governments have been implementing.

The four units that Israel has divided Palestinians into which are described in the B’Tselem report puts the 2 million Palestinians in the Gaza strip in the unit at the lowest level. The population continues to live under the Israeli blockade which was instituted in 2007, and are prisoners - prevented from leaving except in exceptional circumstances, and even visiting the West Bank is virtually impossible without special Israeli permission. Israel controls nearly every aspect of life in Gaza.

The second unit are the 2.7 million Palestinians in the West Bank who live in dozens of disconnected enclaves under rigid military rule and without political rights. Israel decides who will enter and exit the area and is in charge of the population registry, allocation of land, and the voters roll. Israel restricts construction and development in the West Bank despite population growth, and huge amounts of Palestinian land is continuously taken to expand settlements. Israel even decides which Palestinians will be allowed to travel abroad, and denies thousands of requests.

Palestinian land is depicted on a map as tiny discontinuous ink blots, and they are not allowed to travel between the ink blots on the roads set aside for Jewish settlers and Israelis. The Palestinian Authority is subordinate to Israel and can only exercise limited powers with Israel’s consent.

Next on the hierarchy are the 350 000 Palestinians who live in East Jerusalem who are considered as permanent residents, but this status can be revoked by Israel at any time. The fourth unit are Palestinian citizens of Israel who are referred to as Arab Israelis, who have full citizenship and make up one fifth of Israelis but are considered to be below Jewish Israelis.

As B’Tselem’s report outlines, land discrimination, immigration laws that favour Jewish Israelis, and law that affords Jewish people extra political rights underscore the fact that Arab Israelis are treated as second class citizens. However, the 600,000 Israeli settlers illegally living in the West Bank enjoy the same rights as Jewish Israelis. Netanyahu has recently announced the building of 800 more settler homes in the occupied territories in defiance of UN resolutions and international law.

B’Tselem would like to see the international community take actions over Israel’s policies towards the Palestinians, but was not prescriptive as to what type of action. Its role has been to analyse the human rights violations in their proper holistic context, and for that they should be applauded.


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