Amnesty accuses Israel of being an ‘apartheid’ state

Israel calls the claims ‘lies, inconsistencies, and unfounded assertions’

Bel Trew
MIddle East Correspondent
Tuesday 01 February 2022 15:40 GMT
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A Palestinian youth is confronted by an Israeli soldier during a demonstration against Israel’s controversial separation barrier in the village of Maasarah, near the West Bank city of Bethlehem
A Palestinian youth is confronted by an Israeli soldier during a demonstration against Israel’s controversial separation barrier in the village of Maasarah, near the West Bank city of Bethlehem (AP)

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Israel is committing “apartheid” against Palestinians, and states including the United Kingdom must reassess their relationship to the country, Amnesty International has said, becoming the latest rights group to accuse Israel of the crime against humanity.

The Israeli foreign ministry vehemently rejected Amnesty’s 211-page report, saying it was “false, biased and antisemitic”. The country’s foreign minister Yair Lapid accused the human rights group of quoting “lies spread by terrorist organisations” and being a “radical organisation which echoes propaganda”.

In the extensive document released on Tuesday, the London-based organisation found that Palestinians are treated as an “inferior racial group and systematically deprived of their rights”. It said they were forced to live with “cruel policies of segregation, dispossession and exclusion which amounts to crimes against humanity”.

The report cited what it found to be “massive” seizures of Palestinian land and property, unlawful killings, the “forcible transfer” of Palestinian people from their land, drastic movement restrictions, and the denial of nationality and citizenship as components of “a system amounting to apartheid under international law”.

The group concluded that the Israeli authorities had to be held accountable, and called for a “major reassessment” of the UK’s foreign policy position towards Israel.

“We found that Israel’s cruel policies of segregation, dispossession and exclusion across all territories under its control clearly amount to apartheid. The international community has an obligation to act,” Agnes Callamard, the group’s secretary-general, said. Ms Callamard used to be the United Nations special rapporteur on extrajudicial and summary executions.

“Apartheid has no place in our world, and states which choose to make allowances for Israel will find themselves on the wrong side of history,” she added.

“Governments who continue to supply Israel with arms and shield it from accountability at the UN are supporting a system of apartheid, undermining the international legal order, and exacerbating the suffering of the Palestinian people.”

The day before the report was published Israeli foreign ministry, apparently commenting on a leak, denounced it as “false” and “extremist” and said it “serves as a green light for the perpetrators and others to harm not only Israel, but Jews around the world”.

It called on Amnesty to withdraw the report before it was made public.

“The State of Israel absolutely rejects all the false allegations that appear in the report that Amnesty is expected to publish tomorrow,” a statement read.

“The report consolidates and recycles lies, inconsistencies, and unfounded assertions that originate from well-known anti-Israeli hate organisations, all with the aim of reselling damaged goods in new packaging.”

Amnesty is not the first organisation to have accused Israel of committing apartheid; Palestinian rights groups and defenders have long argued this.

Similar accusations were also made in reports and legal opinions published by Israeli organisations including B’Tselem last January and Yesh Din, in July of 2020.

In April, Human Rights Watch became the first major international rights group to also conclude that Israel’s treatment of the Palestinians amounts to apartheid.

A system of apartheid is an institutionalised regime of oppression and domination by one racial group over another. In international criminal law, specific unlawful acts which are committed within a system of apartheid and with the intention of maintaining it make up the crime against humanity of apartheid.

These acts, set out in the Apartheid Convention and the Rome Statute, include unlawful killing, torture, forcible transfer and the denial of basic rights and freedoms, Amnesty said.

Israel captured the West Bank, East Jerusalem and Gaza in the 1967 Six-Day war and immediately occupied east Jerusalem, which was annexed in 1980, in a move not recognised internationally.

In Gaza, which is home to two million Palestinians, Israel withdrew its troops and settlers from the strip in 2005 but imposed a crippling blockade after the militant Hamas group, which has been declared a terrorist organisation by the UK, violently seized power two years later.

There are now nearly half a million Jewish settlers living in the occupied West Bank in settlements deemed illegal under international law. Amnesty said a 430-mile fence, which Israel is still extending in and around the area, “has isolated Palestinian communities inside ‘military zones’”.

Over the last few years, former Israeli prime minister Benjamin Netanyahu has repeatedly threatened to formally annex swathes of the West Bank, an action that is illegal under international law. That fuelled discussions about apartheid, although, so far, UN officials have stopped short of using the word.

In Tuesday’s report, Amnesty laid out why it had come to its  conclusion. It said Israel has resorted to multiple measures to deliberately deny Palestinians their basic rights and freedoms, including “draconian” movement restrictions on Palestinians, “discriminatory” underinvestment in Palestinian communities in Israel, and the denial of refugees’ right to return.

Amnesty also said it has also documented “forcible transfer, administrative detention, torture and unlawful killings, both inside Israel and in the Occupied Palestinian Palestinian Territories”.

Sacha Deshmukh, Amnesty International UK’s CEO, urged Britain to stop turning a “blind eye”. She said London should use its strong diplomatic ties to push for change and called on the UK to suspend its military and policing assistance to Israel.

“For too long the UK has tried to sit on the fence when it comes to Israel’s shameful human rights record,” she said.

She added that the UK should impose a comprehensive import ban on all products from Israel’s settlements and rein in exports of JCB diggers as they are linked to illegal house demolitions.

“[The UK should] immediately suspend all UK military and policing assistance to Israel,” she added.

Ms Callamard also called for action. She said Israel must “dismantle the apartheid system” and called on the international community to  “pursue the many avenues to justice which remain shamefully unexplored”.

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