The international community must hold Israel responsible for its crimes of apartheid

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On the occasion of the meeting of its International Board held on 27 and 28 March 2021, FIDH formally reaffirms its support for the position of Palestinian and Israeli organisations rejecting the occupation and the policy of apartheid committed by Israel against Palestinians. Through systemic laws and practices, Israel seeks to establish a policy of institutional discrimination aimed at favouring Jewish Israeli citizens leading to the fragmentation of the State of Palestine. Besides discrimination, Palestinians face legal and institutional persecution—a serious violation of international law requiring an appropriate response from the international community in order to put an end to such crimes and the impunity that Israel enjoys.

Since 2009, several Palestinian FIDH member organisations including Al-Haq, the Palestinian Center for Human Rights and the Al-Mezan Center for Human Rights, have analysed the colonialist and segregationist dimension of Israeli occupation. They have documented assassinations, the destruction of property without any military justification, expropriation, arbitrary detention and torture, transfer of Israeli settlers to the occupied territories, annexation of Palestinian lands, innumerable obstacles to the free movement of Palestinians including a separation wall, pillaging of natural resources, as well as numerous other atrocities aimed at maintaining supremacy of Israelis to the detriment of the rights of Palestinians. Such policies and practices, which constitute the crime of apartheid, have been committed with impunity and their perpetrators have managed to escape prosecution.

In January of 2021, B’Tselem - the Israeli Information Center for Human Rights in occupied territories, an FIDH member organisation that has been working since its inception in 1989 to document violations of the rights of Palestinians committed by Israel on the West Bank (including East Jerusalem) and the Gaza Strip, published a report entitled "A Regime of Jewish Supremacy from the Mediterranean to Jordan: This Is Apartheid."

The report confirms that the Israeli government is seeking to achieve a regime of institutional discrimination aimed at favouring Israeli citizens of the Jewish confession. To do so, the Israeli authorities have divided the lands and the Palestinian population into different units, and have granted the Palestinians from each unit a different set of rights - all lesser than the rights granted to Jewish citizens residing in the same area. The documentation efforts deployed by Palestinian and Israeli organizations have led many international human rights bodies to the same conclusions.

A State that uses laws, policies and practices, which violate human rights, in order to maintain or perpetuate the domination of one (racial, ethnic, national or religious) group over another group, is, according to international law, considered a State that is committing the crime of apartheid.

• Manifestations of apartheid committed by Israel:

As an occupying power, de facto and through its laws, Israel applies diverse policies to establish a system of superiority over the Palestinians. Legally speaking, Israel has passed several laws that discriminate against Palestinians of 1948 (who have an Israeli passport) and Palestinians of 1967 living in the occupied Palestinian Territories, and that establish differences in the way people are treated in terms of their civil status, legal protection, access to social and economic benefits or the right to land and property. Among these legal texts, there is, for instance, the law on Israeli nationality and entry into Israel passed in 2003 (temporary order) enabling any person of the Jewish religion, from no matter what country, to go and live in Israel and obtain Israeli citizenship. A right totally denied Palestinians including the refugees whose right of return to Palestine has been enshrined for 70 years in United Nations Resolution 194. This discriminatory law and the violation of international law reflect the will of the occupying power to change the demographic composition of the population by acting to ensure a quantitative superiority for Jewish Israelis. In its latest amendment in 2018, this law granted sweeping discretionary power to the Israeli ministry of the Interior to render null and void or suspend permanent residence permits of Palestinians in Jerusalem, which makes them lose their residency in Israel unconditionally and without objective criteria, with a few exceptions. That law obstructs the right of Israeli citizens or residents of East Jerusalem to obtain family reunification when their spouse is Palestinian and lives on the West Bank or in the Gaza Strip.

Even more discriminatory, the Basic Law of 2018 raises Israel to the level of a nation-state of the Jewish people and confirms the discriminatory nature toward non-Jews in the State of Israel in that it provides that exercising the right to self-determination in Israel is reserved to the Jewish people. That law makes Hebrew the only official language of the country, relegating Arabic to the level of "a language with a special status." Furthermore, whereas the Israeli settlements situated in the Occupied Palestinian Territory are illegal under international law and, what’s more, they constitute a hindrance for the entire population to exercising its human rights, the Basic Law confers upon them the constitutional status of "national value" (Art. 1, 2 and 5).

In practice, there is no dearth of examples of structural and institutional racial discrimination practiced by Israel as an occupying power. Since 1948, confiscation and expropriation of Palestinian lands have been ongoing; Israel has established over 700 Jewish towns and villages. At the same time, no new Palestinian town or village has been created. Today, 93% of land in Israel is State land. However, Palestinians possess only 3% of the land, though they represent about 20% of the population of Israel. Several laws have been passed to justify the Judaization of Palestinian land including the Absentee Property Law. In the Occupied Palestinian Territory, including East Jerusalem, there are still restrictions in place limiting Palestinians’ access to natural resources, namely arable land and adequate water supply systems. The Israeli regime also severely limits construction and development on the little land remaining for Palestinian communities within its sovereign territory. It also refrains from making urban plans that reflect the needs of the population, and has left areas of jurisdiction for these communities virtually unchanged despite an increase in population.

Moreover, Israel alone decides on movement within the different areas with restrictions to the freedom of Palestinians to circulate including to travel outside and re-enter, depending on the different situations. For instance, Palestinians from the West Bank who wish to enter Israel, East Jerusalem or the Gaza Strip must submit a request to the Israeli authorities. The separation wall built in Palestinian territory, and whose construction the International Court of Justice has condemned, further limits the movement of Palestinians. In the Gaza Strip, under siege since 2007, the entire population has been imprisoned because Israel prohibits almost all movement to enter or leave — with the exception of rare cases such as humanitarian grounds. Under the blockade, the inhabitants of Gaza are deprived of access to basic services including drinking water and urgent health and humanitarian aid. Apartheid and supremacist policies are taking root differently in each area and the forms of injustice emerging as a result vary, but the international community is gradually and increasingly condemning them.

• The Action of the international community against the apartheid committed by Israel:

For a few years now, some international bodies have become vocal on the apartheid policies set up by Israel. Thus, in December of 2019, the United Nations Committee on the Elimination of All Forms of Racial Discrimination (CERD) has expressed its concern about the Israeli apartheid policies and practices against the Palestinian people on both sides of the green line. In its final observations regarding Israel’s report, the committee highlights "The Committee is extremely concerned at the (see CERD/C/ISR/CO/14-16, par. 24) consequences of policies and practices which amount to de facto segregation, such as the implementation by the State party in the Occupied Palestinian Territory of two entirely separate legal systems and sets of institutions for Jewish communities grouped in illegal settlements on the one hand and Palestinian populations living in Palestinian towns and villages, on the other hand. The Committee is particularly appalled at the hermetic character of the separation of two groups, who live in the same territory but do not enjoy either equal use of roads and infrastructures or equal access to basic services and water resources. Such separation is realised via the implementation of a complex combination of movement restrictions consisting of the Wall, roadblocks, the obligation to use separate roads and a permit regime that only impacts the Palestinian population (Art. 3 of the Convention)."

On 16 June 2020, over 50 experts and UN special rapporteurs on human rights published a joint statement, in which they consider that "Israel’s project to annex almost a third of the West Bank "is the vision of a 21st century apartheid" adding that "what will remain of the West Bank will be a Palestinian bantustan, islands of disconnected land, completely surrounded by Israel and territorially cut off from the outside world." The UN experts and special rapporteurs warned of this serious violation of international law, specifying that "following the annexation would be the crystallisation of an already unfair reality: two peoples living in the same space, governed by the same State, but with profoundly unequal rights."

Since 2013, FIDH has sounded the alarm on the crime of apartheid perpetrated by Israel.Today, after having greeted with satisfaction the historic decision made on 21 February 2021 by the Preliminary Chamber I of the International Criminal Court (ICC) confirming that the jurisdiction of the Court extends to Gaza and the West Bank, including East Jerusalem, and that, consequently, the Prosecutor is authorised to investigate the international crimes committed in these territories, FIDH is calling for investigation, in addition to war crimes, of all the facts, laws and practices testifying to the crime of apartheid.

Aside from the individual responsibility under the jurisdiction of international criminal justice, it remains the international community’s responsibility and that of United Nations member states to take decisive measures to put an immediate end to the state of apartheid and stop the intensification of settlement activities on the occupied West Bank, including East Jerusalem. Such crimes, among the most serious in international law, must come to an end and the Palestinians must be able to exercise their right to self-determination.

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