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The paradigm shift

May 05,2021 - Last updated at May 05,2021

Last week, Human Rights Watch (HRW) became the first major global rights organisation to accuse Israel of committing the crimes of apartheid and persecution against 7 million Palestinians living in Israel and the occupied territories. This was a breakthrough decades late for Palestinians living under Israeli rule and control for nearly three-quarters of a century.

In a 213-page report, the organisation said, “The finding is based on an overarching Israeli government policy to maintain domination by Jewish Israelis over Palestinians.” This involves carrying out grave abuses against Palestinians living in occupied territory, including East Jerusalem, as well as against Palestinian citizens of Israel.

The report described the current “reality of a single authority, the Israeli government, ruling primarily over the area between the Jordan River and Mediterranean Sea, populated by two groups of roughly equal size” which privileges “Jewish Israelis while repressing Palestinians, most severely in the occupied territory”.

Originally imposed by South Africa to separate whites from blacks, “apartheid” has been adopted as a crime against humanity under a 1973 convention and the 1998 Rome Statute to the International Criminal Court. 

HRW wrote, “Across Israel and the occupied territory, Israeli authorities have sought to maximise the land available for Jewish communities and to concentrate most Palestinians in dense population centres.” 

As this writer explains, The Israelis have accomplished this feat by seizing Palestinian farms and orchards, making it impossible for Palestinians to continue living in rural villages. Bethlehem is a prime example.Following an influx of refugees following the 1967 war and of families from surrounding villages since then, Muslims became the majority in Bethlehem, which had formerly been a largely Christian town. Furthermore, Israeli restrictions on foreign pilgrims, Bethlehem’s main source of revenue, and other occupation policies have driven many Christians, whose emigration has been smoothed by relatives living abroad, to leave.

Citing the ”demographic threat” from rising numbers of Palestinians in occupied East Jerusalem, HRW said Israel seeks to “maintain a solid Jewish majority in the city”.  

Israel does this by maintaining pressure of Palestinian Jerusalemites by seizing their homes and other property, demolishing homes built without permits which are denied to Palestinians,exacting high taxes on flagging businesses and neglecting the infrastructure of the eastern sector of the city.

Palestinian citizens of Israel face institutional discrimination, HRW reported, through the adoption of laws that permit Jewish towns to exclude Palestinians and “budgets which allocate only a fraction of resources to Palestinian schools as compared to those serving Jewish Israeli children”. 

In the occupied territory, Israel imposes “draconian military rule on Palestinians while affording Jewish Israelis living in a segregated manner in the same territory their full rights under Israel’s rights-respecting civil law”.  This, argued HRW, “amounts to the systematic oppression“, and identified the policy as apartheid.  

As evidence of apartheid, HRW listed the closure of Gaza, expropriation of more than a 

third of West Bank land, and imposition of “harsh conditions in parts of the West Bank” leading to the forcible transfer of thousands of Palestinians” from towns and villages, denial of residency permits, and “suspension of basic civil rights”. 

The report is based on human rights documentation, discriminatory Israeli laws, Israeli budgets and planning for land use as well as official statements. 

Although Israel rejected HRW’s charges as “preposterous”, former Israeli prime minister Ehud Olmert has warned repeatedly over several years that Israel will become an apartheid state if it continues with such policies. It seems HRW as well as other organisations did not take Olmert seriously until this year.

HRW’s stand was welcomed by the Palestinians and their allies as the organisation has never previously accused Israel and Israelis of crimes against humanity although HRW admitted in this report that Israel has been engaged in Palestinian human rights abuses since its founding and has pointed out that some Israeli officials intend to maintain control in perpetuity and  back it up with colonisation while talking for decades about peace. 

Israel accused HRW of conducting a longstanding anti-Israel campaign and called the report a “propaganda pamphlet” which did not reflect to the “reality on the ground” which it does all too well.

HRW did not come forward with its apartheid assessment until after the Israeli human rights group B’Tselem declared that Israel was not a democracy but an “apartheid regime”.  Further-more, HRW attempted to soften the charge by saying that Israel has recently crossed the “threshold” leading to apartheid.  This is not correct. Israel was created in 1948 as an apartheid state in  the same year South Africa adopted apartheid as state policy, persecuting black, brown and mixed race citizens, isolating them in their communities,  and relegating them to the sidelines.   

During its war of establishment, Israel expelled 750,000 Palestinians from their homes and placed the 150,000 who dared to remain under martial law where they lived separate lives and suffered continuous discrimination. They endured the treatment, described in detail by HRW in its  report, which was extended to Palestinians in the West Bank, East Jerusalem and Gaza after Israel occupied them in 1967.   

HRW has belatedly called on the International Criminal Court to “investigate and prosecute those credibly implicated” in persecution and discrimination and for sanctions to be imposed on responsible officials.  “Countries should do so as well in accordance with their national laws un- der the principle of universal jurisdiction.” HRW said the UN should create a commission to investigate apartheid in Israel/Palestine and empower a global envoy for “the crimes of persecution and apartheid with a mandate to mobilise international action to end persecution and apartheid world-wide”.

Unfortunately, these recommendations constitute an empty gesture which will never be adopted by the major world powers which have both allowed Israel to impose the official policy of apartheid on the land between the Mediterranean Sea and the Jordan River.

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