On February 1, Amnesty international published its full-bodied report on the Palestinian question: 278 pages resulting from careful legal analysis and four years of field research. The conclusion is irrevocable: the state of Israel has established a “cruel system of domination” which treats the Palestinian people “as an inferior racial group”; the “massive requisitions of land and property, unlawful killings, forced displacements, drastic restrictions on movement and denial of nationality and citizenship to the detriment of Palestinians ”are part of a system which, under international law, constitutes a crime of apartheid.
The organization forwarded the report to the prosecutor’s office of the International Criminal Court, which has already opened an investigation.
Amnesty thus joins other organizations that hold Israel guilty of the crime of apartheid.
In January 2021, the Israeli organization B’Tselem denounced that their country had already consolidated a “regime of Jewish supremacy” equivalent to the South African apartheid system. In April 2021, the US organization Human Rights Watch (HRW) published a report that left no room for doubt. Between the Mediterranean and the Jordan River – therefore in the territories that include the West Bank, Gaza Strip and Israel – live 6.8 million Jewish Israelis and 6.8 million Palestinians: the populations are equivalent, but “the threshold has been crossed” (A threshold is crossed), wrote HRW: the Palestinians, as a whole, live under an apartheid regime.
If the expression historically describes the system applied by South Africa between 1948 and 1994, the term today has a legal meaning defined by the Convention on Apartheid and by the Rome Statute of the International Criminal Court, which establishes that the crime of apartheid is a crime against humanity.
Government on the attack
The Israeli government’s reaction to the report was unprecedented violence. The foreign minister did not enter into the merits of the accusation, but attacked the humanitarian organization. In a four-minute video, Yair Lapid tarnished Amnesty international, accusing it of “echoing terrorist organizations” and focusing on Israel “while not saying that Syria or Iran are practicing apartheid.” In truth, Amnesty continually denounces the violations of human rights, from Syria to Iran, from China to Venezuela, without distinction. But he defines the crimes with precise words and there would be no elements to accuse Syria and Iran of applying apartheid. Instead, in May 2020, Amnesty accused Burma for its campaign against the Rohingya.
In closing, Lapid accuses Amnesty of anti-Semitism. British journalist Chris McGreal, a former correspondent from Jerusalem and South Africa, recalls in a Guardian article that “leading Israeli politicians have warned for years that their country was sliding into apartheid. Among them also two former prime ministers, Ehud Barak and Ehud Olmert, who can hardly be liquidated as anti-Semites or enemies of Israel ”.
In fact, not a single word in the Amnesty report can be traced back to anti-Semitic thinking or considered a questioning of Israel’s legitimate existence.
The spokesman for Amnesty international in Italy, Riccardo Noury, is not surprised by the accusation: “For years our colleagues in Israel have been attacked in this way from Tel Aviv and that Israel has criminalized the work of NGOs. What affects us, however, is the silence of the international actors who should defend human rights ”.
Indeed, ten days after the publication of the report, the silence of the great European democracies makes an impression.
In France, Le Monde journalist Benjamin Barthes explains on Twitter that he has sought official reactionsbut found only empty words.
In Italy, Noury continues, “the foreign ministry has received the report but has not yet reacted to its content in an official way. In the Italian press, articles like the one by Chris McGreal published by the Guardian are currently non-existent ”.
In Germany, the reaction is without appeal: the spokesman for the foreign ministry Christopher Burger said that Berlin “rejects terms like apartheid and a unilateral focus on Israel”, without answering the accusations made by Amnesty.
In the United States, however, the narrative is changing. On the one hand, the far-right Jewish lobby, the American Israel public affairs committee, accuses Amnesty of putting Israel in danger and many activists are wondering on Twitter why the New York Times has not yet published an article on the controversyeven if the gravity of the accusation against one of the main allies of the United States and the importance of the organization that the formula would deserve media coverage.
However, the report was discussed in other fora. Amnesty’s secretary general, Agnès Callamard, was interviewed by CNN and defending the report added: “I was shocked, coming for the first time to Israel and the Occupied Territories, to see how extensive the segregation is, how much people can be separated and live in situations of profound inequality “.
The Jewish electorate in the United States is beginning to change its stance regarding unconditional support for the current Israeli government, explains a research from the Jewish electorate institute: Most Jewish voters want to limit aid so that it cannot be spent on expanding settlements in the West Bank. For 87 percent of Jewish voters it is also compatible to be “pro Israel” and to be critical of the policies of the current Israeli government.
The term apartheid to describe the current political system in Israel has been used and denounced by the Palestinians for over twenty years.
The Arab and Palestinian press, such as Al Quds, carry the news on the front page and recall, as does human rights lawyer Mustafa Ibrahim about Daraj, that the apartheid accusation is reminiscent of the famous United Nations resolution of 1975, which he stated that “Zionism is a form of racism and racial discrimination”. The resolution was overturned in 1991 under pressure from the United States in a post-Cold War context.
The Palestinians also stress that the report has the merit of considering them as a single people, victims of Israeli policies as a whole, without making distinctions between those who live in Gaza, East Jerusalem, the West Bank, Israel or the diaspora. This approach makes the lack of unity of current Palestinian politics even more serious, explains Ibrahim.
The new generation of Palestinian activists no longer believe in the language of international law, used by their fathers for decades to no avail. Palestinian researcher Lana Tatour from Israel explains that the recent recognition of apartheid is important. However, in practice, “the road to undoing apartheid in Palestine does not pass through the pursuit of liberal equality. Palestinians have been trying this path for decades to no avail. The path to cancel apartheid passes through the dismantling of colonialism and the pursuit of decolonization ”.
The Israeli-Palestinian conflict is the longest running of the twenty-first century. It has also been a mirror of international power relations for a hundred years. In the absence of a political or diplomatic solution, following the fiasco of the Oslo accords, the only actors to deal with the issue are human rights organizations. Their weight is very low on a political level.
However, as the case of South Africa shows, it was public opinion and civil society that prompted the international community, after forty years, to put pressure on governments to dismantle the apartheid system. The campaign of human rights organizations could have the same impact in the long term, and ultimately succeed in “demolishing apartheid” and no longer “Palestinian homes”, as the latest Amnesty campaign demands.