Israeli Apartheid factsheet

A long-term solution to the crisis facing the Palestinian people is only possible through a proper understanding of the situation that has developed over the past century, and through the proper use of words to describe that situation correctly. Apartheid is one of those words. 

What is apartheid?

Apartheid is the Afrikaans word for ‘apartness’, originally used to describe the system of racial discrimination that existed in South Africa until 1994.

The term apartheid is not only a reference to South Africa’s former regime; it is used in international law to describe a category of regime, defined in the United Nations (UN) International Convention on the Suppression and Punishment of the Crime of Apartheid (1973), to which more than 100 states are a party. The definition was refined in Article 7 of the Rome Statute of the International Criminal Court (2002).

The Convention defines the Crime of Apartheid as: “inhumane acts...committed in the context of an institutionalised regime of systematic oppression and domination by one racial group over any other racial group or groups and committed with the intention of maintaining that regime.”

Why do we refer to Israel as an Apartheid state?

There is overwhelming evidence that the system instituted by the Israeli government against the Palestinian people meets the UN definition of Apartheid.

In effect, Israel and the Occupied Palestinian Territory constitute one territorial unit under full Israeli control. As of 2016, of the total population of people that live in Israel and the Occupied Palestinian Territory, around 6.45 million are Jewish Israelis and about 6.41 million are Palestinians.

Under Israeli law, and in practice, Jewish Israelis and Palestinians are treated differently in almost every aspect of life including freedom of movement, family, housing, education, employment and other basic human rights. Dozens of Israeli laws and policies institutionalise this prevailing system of racial discrimination and domination.

Segregation is carried out by implementing separate legal regimes for Jewish Israelis and Palestinians living in the same area. For example, Jewish Israeli settlers living in the illegal Israeli settlements in the occupied West Bank are governed by Israeli civil law, while Palestinians also living in the occupied West Bank are governed by Israeli military law.

Israel carries out various acts that are prohibited by the UN Apartheid Convention including:

●     Forcible transfer of  Palestinians to make way for illegal Israeli settlements.

●     Preventing Palestinians from returning to their homes and lands.

●     Systematic and severe deprivation of fundamental human rights of Palestinians based on their identity.

●     Denying Palestinians their right to freedom of movement and residence.

●     Murder, torture, unlawful imprisonment and other severe deprivation of physical liberty, especially of Palestinians living in Gaza.

●     Persecution of Palestinians because of their opposition to Apartheid.

UN officials and committees on Israel and Apartheid

Israel’s treatment of Palestinians has been regularly cited by UN Special Rapporteurs on the Human Rights Situation in Palestine as evidence of an Apartheid system in action. For example:

●      Richard Falk, emeritus professor of law at Princeton University and UN special rapporteur 2008-2014, wrote in a report to the UN Human Rights Council that Israel is guilty of racial discrimination, apartheid and torture in its “systematic oppression” of the Palestinian people. (UN document A/HRC/25/67) 

●      John Dugard, South African law professor and Falk’s predecessor in the post of UN Special Rapporteur, wrote a detailed study in 2013 on whether the charge of apartheid applies to Israel, concluding: “On the basis of the systemic and institutionalized nature of the racial domination that exists, there are indeed strong grounds to conclude that a system of apartheid has developed in the occupied Palestinian territory. Israeli practices in the occupied territory are not only reminiscent of – and, in some cases, worse than – apartheid as it existed in South Africa, but are in breach of the legal prohibition of apartheid.” 

●      The UN Committee on the Elimination of Racial Discrimination censured Israel in 2012 for implementing “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 declared itself “particularly appalled at the hermetic character of the separation of two groups, who live on the same territory but do not enjoy either equal use of roads and infrastructure or equal access to basic services and water resources”. It called on Israel to eradicate all policies and practices of “racial segregation and apartheid” affecting the Palestinian people (UN document CERD/C/ISR/CO/14-16).

●      In March 2017, the UN Economic and Social Commission for Western Asia (ESCWA) commissioned and published a report called 'Israeli Practices towards the Palestinian People and the Question of Apartheid' which concludes, "on the basis of overwhelming evidence, that Israel is guilty of the crime of apartheid, and urges swift action to oppose and end it." The report also recommends that national governments and civil society actors should support boycott, divestment and sanctions activities in response to Israel's Apartheid regime.

Israeli officials on Apartheid

A number of Israeli government officials have used the term apartheid in reference to Israeli control over Palestinians:

●      Reuven Rivlin, the currently sitting President of Israel, was quoted in the Israeli press on 12 February 2017 saying that Israel’s newly passed ‘Regularisation Law’, which formally expropriates several tracts of Palestinian land, “will cause Israel to be seen as an apartheid state.”

●      One of the first people to use the word apartheid in relation to Israel was Israel’s first prime minister, David Ben Gurion. Following the 1967 June war, he warned of Israel becoming an “apartheid state” if it retained control of the occupied territory, which it has done.

●      In 1999, then-Israeli prime minister Ehud Barak stated: "Every attempt to keep hold of [Israel and the occupied territory] as one political entity leads, necessarily, to either a nondemocratic or a non-Jewish state. Because if the Palestinians vote, then it is a binational state, and if they don’t vote it is an apartheid state.” In 2010, Barak repeated the apartheid comparison, stating: "As long as in this territory west of the Jordan river there is only one political entity called Israel it is going to be either non-Jewish, or non-democratic… If this bloc of millions of Palestinians cannot vote, that will be an apartheid state."


Legal Scholars on Apartheid and Israel: ‘Occupation, Colonialism, Apartheid’

●      In 2009, an international team of legal scholars working under the auspices of the Human Sciences Research Council in Cape Town, South Africa published a study called Occupation, Colonialism, Apartheid? The study concluded that the Israeli state has imposed a state of Apartheid on the Palestinian people, in that Israel is guilty of many of the practices and policies of Apartheid identified in the Apartheid Convention adopted by the United Nations in 1973, and that these acts together constitute the “integrated and complementary elements of an institutionalised and oppressive system of Israeli domination and oppression over Palestinians as a group; that is, a system of apartheid.” 

●      The study noted that Israel has implemented all three of the pillars that characterised apartheid in the South African context, namely: (a) the categorisation of the population along racial lines; (b) the segregation of the population on the basis of this categorisation into different geographical areas allocated to different racial groups; and (c) a system of laws and policies that subject the Palestinian people to extrajudicial killing, torture and arbitrary arrest and detention, as well as sweeping restrictions on Palestinians’ rights to freedom of opinion, expression, assembly, association and movement. 

BDS: a citizens' response

Israel's apartheid policies over the Palestinian people are only possible because of international support. Governments fail to hold Israel to account, while corporations and institutions across the world help Israel to oppress Palestinians. Because those in power refuse to act to stop this injustice, Palestinian civil society has called for boycott, divestment and sanctions (BDS), a global citizens’ response of solidarity with the Palestinian struggle for freedom, justice and equality.

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