Amnesty Report Accuses Israel of Apartheid Against Palestinians, Including Its Own Citizens

The international rights group says Israel commits apartheid against Palestinians living in Israel, the West Bank, and the Gaza Strip ■ Israeli Foreign Ministry slams report as an effort to 'defame and delegitimize Israel'

Border Police officers clash with Bedouin in Israel's south in January.
Border Police officers clash with Bedouin in Israel's south in January. Credit: Eliyahu Hershkovitz

Israel perpetrates apartheid against Palestinians, says a new report by Amnesty International, which also calls on the International Criminal Court to add an investigation of apartheid to its ongoing examination of Israel's alleged war crimes.

In the report, published Tuesday, the human rights group says Israel enforces apartheid against Palestinians living in Israel, the West Bank and the Gaza Strip, as well as against Palestinian refugees and their descendants outside the territory. It reviews a series of Israeli measures and policies that affect Palestinians, including cases of land expropriation, unlawful killings, forced displacement, restrictions on movement and denial of citizenship rights.

>> Israel’s hysterical response to Amnesty’s ‘apartheid’ report | Anshel Pfeffer

Taken together, says the report, these factors amount to apartheid, which is recognized as a crime under international law: severe institutional human rights violations centered on the control and oppression of one racial group on the part of another. The report urges the United Nations Security Council to impose an arms embargo on Israel, citing alleged unlawful killing of Palestinian protesters along the Gaza border in recent years.

The report includes little mention of Palestinian violence against Israelis and does not use the term "terrorism" at all to describe it. It includes a few mentions of last year's round of hostilities between Israel and Hamas, refers to the accompanying Arab-Jewish clashes in mixed cities as non-violent protests, and briefly discusses "intercommunal violence."

Israeli Ambassador to the United States Michael Herzog issued a statement on Tuesday saying that the report amounts to "ideological de-legitimization of the very right of Israel to exist as the nation state of the Jewish people."

"The report itself is blatantly ideologically motivated, biased and full of lies and inaccuracies," Herzog added. "Israel is an imperfect democracy (show me a perfect one) and is open to criticism... All Israeli citizens deserve human rights," the statement concluded.

Israel's Foreign Ministry refused to address specific arguments made in the report, and while it did not contest the credibility of some of the claims, officials said its methodology was biased.

Palestinian protesters use slingshots to hurl rocks at Israeli security forces amid clashes following a demonstration against settlements in the village of Beita in the West Bank, in January. Credit: JAAFAR ASHTIYEH - AFP

The report, said ministry spokesperson Lior Haiat, presents selected "facts, some of which were taken out of context, and put them together while disregarding other information and called it apartheid."

The report is a part of "an orchestrated effort by anti-Israel organizations to defame and delegitimize Israel," Haiat said. The report doesn't "criticize the occupation, but contests the existence of the State of Israel as a Jewish state," he added.

The Palestinian Foreign Ministry welcomed the report, saying it was "a detailed affirmation of the cruel reality of entrenched racism, exclusion, oppression, colonialism, apartheid, and attempted erasure that the Palestinian people have endured since the Nakba."

A blast from an Israeli airstrike on a building in Gaza City throws dust and debris in May.Credit: Hatem Moussa /AP

"This abominable reality of criminality and impunity is undeniable to the international community," the ministry said in a statement. "It is also sustained and emboldened by the willful abandonment of principled obligations under international law through inaction and documented complicity. Amnesty International’s report must compel those who have chosen appeasement and inaction to realign their actions with their stated positions and international obligations."

Agnes Callamard, Amnesty's secretary general, said, “Our report reveals the true extent of Israel’s apartheid regime. Whether they live in Gaza, East Jerusalem and the rest of the West Bank, or Israel itself, Palestinians are treated as an inferior racial group and systematically deprived of their rights. We found that Israel’s cruel policies of segregation, dispossession and exclusion across all territories under its control clearly amount to apartheid."

Even before its publication the Israeli government had heavily criticized the report, titled "Israel's Apartheid Against Palestinians: Cruel System of Domination and Crime Against Humanity." On Monday the Foreign Ministry called it a "false report" and said it "uses double standards and demonization in order to delegitimize Israel," adding, "These are the exact components from which modern antisemitism is made."

Amnesty International has rejected the claims of antisemitism and argued that they are an attempt to divert attention from violations of Palestinians’ human rights.

Palestinians 'defined by their non-Judaism'

The Amnesty report pointed to the establishment of the State of Israel under the explicit policy of preserving Jewish demographic hegemony and reducing the number of Palestinians within its territory. Subsequently, the report said, Israel expanded the policy to the West Bank and Gaza Strip.

The policy manifested itself in the “Judaization” of parts of Israel, the West Bank and East Jerusalem, says the report.

An Israeli soldier stands guard during a ceremony marking the completion of an enhanced security barrier along the Israel-Gaza border, in December.Credit: Tsafrir Abayov /AP

The report claims that Israeli authorities treat the Palestinians as “an inferior racial group, defined by their non-Judaism.” It says that while Palestinian citizens of Israel fare better, they also live under the same system. They live under the Nation-State Law, says the report, as well as Israel’s control over the Palestinian Population Registry, the fragility of Palestinians’ residency status in Jerusalem, and the fact that Palestinian refugees and their descendants are not allowed to return to Israel.

The report also cites torture of Palestinians by the Shin Bet security service, the arresting of Palestinians without a warrant or court order, and the ban on West Bank and Gaza Strip residents from living with their spouses in Israel. The Israel Defense Forces’ open-fire rules, and related statements by Israeli officials, reflect a policy of shoot-to-kill or of shooting to cause permanent injury to Palestinians, according to the report.

The report additionally discusses unrecognized villages in the southern Negev desert that lack infrastructure, and says that a lack of access to the health care and education they are entitled to amounts to forced population transfer.

Evicting Palestinians from their homes is a central part of the Israeli apartheid system, says Amnesty, which manifests in the razing of homes in the Negev, East Jerusalem and Area C of the West Bank as well as in the refusal to grant building permits.

Israeli settlements now account for 10 percent of West Bank territory, and 38 percent of Palestinian land in East Jerusalem was confiscated between 1967 and 2017, says the report: evidence, says Amnesty, of Israel's policies toward the Palestinians.

In addition to the permits regime imposed in the West Bank, the report also addresses restrictions on movement imposed on Gaza residents and the blockade that has led to a humanitarian crisis in the coastal enclave.

Yuval Shany, a senior fellow at the Israel Democracy Institute and a member of the Hebrew University of Jerusalem Faculty of Law, said it’s “highly unlikely” the ICC would pursue apartheid allegations given the complexities involved.

He said the apartheid claim is “extreme and quite unfounded” within Israel, despite there being discrimination. The situation in the territories “is much more complicated.”

“There you do have elements which could qualify as discrimination, segregation and oppression, given the length of the occupation,” he said. But “it is difficult to distinguish between questions that have to do with security policy, with competing national claims, and what is a racist agenda.”

Using the language of apartheid is “a bridge too far,” he said.

A previous version of this article attributed statements to Israeli President Isaac Herzog. They were made by Israel's U.S. Ambassador Michael Herzog.

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