Why the UN branded Israel an Apartheid state

By Juan Cole | (Informed Comment) | – –

Note: Apparently the Trump administration at Israeli urging threatened to defund the UN if this report was not withdrawn. The UN Secretary-General caved, and the executive director of ESCWA (who was also an under-secretary general of the UN), Rima Khalaf, has resigned. The legal case built by the ESCWA report remains sound.

A shouting match has been provoked this week by the United Nations Economic and Social Commission for Western Asia, which issued a report this week concluding definitively that Israel is guilty of Apartheid practices toward the Palestinians. The report is careful to say that it is not using the term merely as a pejorative but is rather appealing to a body of international law with precise definitions, definitions that Israel’s policies toward the Palestinians easily and transparently meet. Here’s the short blog version of the report, which runs to 76 pages.

Apartheid is a Dutch word meaning “apartness” and was used to describe the system of racial segregation deployed by the ruling Afrikaner minority in South Africa 1948-1991. In international law, however, it has been generalized to any government practicing systematic racial domination.

Article II of the International Convention on the Suppression and Punishment of the Crime of Apartheid (1973) defines it this way:

“The term “the crime of apartheid”, which shall include similar policies and practices of racial segregation and discrimination as practiced in southern Africa, shall apply to… inhuman acts committed for the purpose of establishing and maintaining domination by one racial group of persons over any other racial group of persons and systematically oppressing them.”

The 2002 Rome Statute, which has 150? signatories among the nations of the world, and which established the International Criminal Court, contained a definition of Apartheid.

‘The crime of apartheid’ means inhumane acts . . . committed in the context of an institutionalized 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…

Apartheid is one of the listed “crimes against humanity” along with enslavement, torture, war rape, and forcible deportation. A crime against humanity is the systematic and continuous commission of war crimes

Because of these international law instruments (the Rome Statute is a multilateral treaty), Apartheid now refers to a generalized crime, not just the policy of the old South African government.

As a result, the Court can under some circumstances charge individual politicians with the crime of Apartheid. Those circumstances are that 1) the country has signed the Rome Statute or 2) that the UN Security Council has forwarded the case of a war criminal to the ICC. Neither of these circumstances fits Israel, since it is not a signatory and the US would veto any attempt to charge a major Israeli politician at the International Criminal Court. This inability to bring Israeli officials to the Hague, however, is merely procedural. As a matter of law, Israel can still be guilty of Apartheid practices.

The UN report is concerned with specific legal infractions as spelled out by international law, and with the intention behind those infractions. Intent to dominate another people is important to the definition of Apartheid.

The report points out that

“The Israel Lands Authority (ILA) manages State land, which accounts for 93 per cent of the land within the internationally recognized borders of Israel and is by law closed to use, development or ownership by non-Jews.”

Going back to the colonial Jewish National Fund, there has been a practice that once land is owned by Zionist institutions, including the Israeli state, it can never be sold to a non-Jew– it is permanently taken off the market on a racial basis.

The Law of Return is another discriminatory practice. Any Jew anywhere in the world can emigrate to Israel. But no Palestinian family expelled in 1948 can return to their ancestral homeland.

Jewish councils may reject applications for residence from Palestinian-Israelis. An Israeli Jew who married an American Christian is allowed to bring the spouse to Israel; but an Israeli Jew who married a West Bank Palestinian may not.

The report argues that in the Israel-Palestinian context, Palestinians are a “race.” I would add that the exclusion of Palestinian spouses of Israeli citizens underlines this definition, since one characteristic of race is endogamy or marrying within the in-group.

Other UN decisions have recognized the Palestinians as a people entitled to self-determination (and indeed such recognition goes back to the correspondence of League of Nations states overseeing the British Mandate over Palestine in the 1920s).

The document says:

“This report finds that the strategic fragmentation of the Palestinian people is the principal method by which Israel imposes an apartheid regime. It first examines Israeli Practices towards the Palestinian People and the Question of Apartheid how the history of war, partition, de jure and de facto annexation and prolonged occupation in Palestine has led to the Palestinian people being divided into different geographic regions administered by distinct sets of law. This fragmentation operates to stabilize the Israeli regime of racial domination over the Palestinians and to weaken the will and capacity of the Palestinian people to mount a unified and effective resistance.”

As for the specifics of Apartheid in the Occupied West Bank, the UN document observes that this territory is virtually a textbook case in Apartheid governance:

“Domain 3 is the system of military law imposed on approximately 4 .6 million Palestinians who live in the occupied Palestini an territory, 2 .7 million of them in the West Bank and 1.9 million in the Gaza Strip. The territory is administered in a manner that fully meets the definition of apartheid under the Apartheid Convention: except for the provision on genocide, every illustrative “inhuman act” listed in the Convention is routinely and systematically practiced by Israel in the West Bank. Palestinians are governed by military law, while the approximately 350,000 Jewish settlers are governed by Israeli civil law. The racial char acter of this situation is further confirmed by the fact that all West Bank Jewish settlers enjoy the protections of Israeli civil law on the basis of being Jewish, whether they are Israeli citizens or not. This dual legal system, problematic in itself, is indicative of an apartheid regime when coupled with the racially discriminatory management of land and development administered by Jewish – national institutions, which are charged with administering “State land” in the interest of the Jewish population.”

The Executive Summary is here.


Related video:

Al Jazeera English: “Is Israel imposing ‘apartheid’ on Palestinians? – Inside Story”

11 Responses

  1. It seems Israel has dispatched it’s servants to be interviewed in the media, to dispute this. So far I have heard the same talking points…People should walk around and see for themselves, we have an Arab judge, all people can vote etc.
    The usual zionist Bull.

  2. While Netanyahu comes to America to spread the myth of the 4,000 year old Jewish claim to the Palestintian land is a God given right to only the Jew, we Americans chase the indigenous Native American off of his land we call ours to make way for oil pipelines by instituting a priority of crude oil over life depending water. When in a country where by it’s own Constitution which leans heavily towards our respecting property rights to being superior to almost everything, one can only wonder how this can happen.

    How can Americans help the displaced Palestintian when many of our own encourage a self made tv reality show celebrity president to ban all Muslims from entering our well guarded fortress America?

    Will we advocate for fair treatment of the unwanted Middle East refugee who now over burden our European allies by their wanting a safe place to live in? I would venture to say Americans will be tight lipped due to our hiding our own guilt for why these refugees exist.

    How many Americans know the name Rachel Corrie. Rachel Aliene Corrie from Olympia, Washington gave her life defending the Palestintian’s right to remain in their homes. Rachel died at the hands of an Israeli bulldozer while the Israeli’s were knocking down a Palestintian home to make way for Jewish settlers.

    This planet has shrunk to such a small level that prejudice must be abandoned, or we will all simply by our own bigotry end up killing each other.

    In the end the Balfour Declaration will be deemed as worthless a piece of paper, as was the right of the occupier who wrote it to govern over the land Lord Balfour felt so privy to rule over. It will be exhibit A to a crime against humanity.

  3. You write that the U.S. would veto any attempt to bring Israeli officials to the ICC. But that’s impossible, because the U.S. is not a member of the ICC. Bill Clinton signed the treaty creating the court, but it was never ratified in the Senate. Under G.W. Bush, the U.S. notified the court that it was rescinding that signature and the U.S. would not ratify the treaty. Congress then passed a law making it illegal to assist the Court in trying any American, and guaranteeing that the U.S. would deploy military power to free any American who found him or herself in the hands of the ICC. Some of us called it the “Invade the Hague” law.

    The fact that the U.S. is not a signatory on the Rome Statute is relevant to any attempts to hold U.S. officials responsible for war crimes committed in the course of the “war on terror.” There is still legal (if not political) space to try such persons in U.S. courts for violations of U.S. law, but the chances of that are dim indeed. In consequence, we have a president who campaigned on the promise to commit more war crimes than his opponents.

  4. As most readers here will know by now, Nikki Haley called it “anti-Israel propaganda” and said it should be taken down, and it was. “Move along, nothing to see here.” I wonder what Obama would have done? He and his Sec. of State, like other liberal Zionists, continually warned that if Israel didn’t change, someday what it was doing would be labeled “apartheid.” But that day never came during Obama’s term. He did refrain from using the veto at the end of his term. So maybe he would have let the report stand. But I doubt it.

  5. A few words of thanks to Dr. Rima Khalaf, former ESCWA Secretary General.
    The demand that Israel, the US, and the UN Secretary General made on you to withdraw the report that ESCWA published on the apartheid policies of Israel is a stark example of raw power brutally exercised against an international body in total disregard to the basic tenets of civilized human discourse. One would have expected that a democracy like the United States would have wanted to debate the reasoning behind the conclusions reached in the report and judge it on the merits of its legal and moral arguments or the lack thereof instead of wielding its political weight to suppress it.
    The report is not the brainchild of some anti-Israeli politician or someone consumed by hatred toward the Jews , but is authored by two American academicians. They are Richard Falk, Professor Emeritus of International Law at Princeton University and Virginia Tilley, Professor of Political Science at Southern Illinois University. As academics their methodology was scientific and they arrived at the conclusion that Israel applies an apartheid regime on the Palestinians by measuring Israel’s treatment of the Palestinians against the yardstick of universally recognized principles set out in international law.
    Dr. Rima Khalaf, you stood your ground and tendered your resignation rather than submit to the unwarranted dictates of the United States and the neophyte UN Secretary General Guterres. And by doing so you stand head and shoulders above your critics and earn worldwide respect and admiration.

  6. Well, surprise, surprise. Another supine Sec. General of the UN. Don’t any of them have cojones these days. António Manuel de Oliveira Guterres pressured the head of the United Nations’ West Asia commission, Rima Khala, to withdraw the report. At least she has cojones as he obviously does not. She has resigned.

  7. “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.”

    Ehud Barak, Feb. 2010.

    See link to theguardian.com

  8. But don’t you understand that International Law doesn’t apply to Israel and the U.S.?

    www (dot) youtube (dot) com/watch?v=mvqCWvi-nFo Netanyahu when he doesn’t know he’s being recorded

    www (dot) youtube (dot) com/watch?v=0LZNXNVL1G8 The trick they always use

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