A new United Nations report has concluded that Israel is an apartheid state, citing its government’s inhumane acts, systematic oppression and domination of Palestinian people.
The findings from an Arab-led group were not cleared or fully backed by U.N. leadership and do not set new policies toward Israel. Yet they reflect another attempt to use a U.N. forum to denounce Israel and seek to put its Western allies on the defensive at a time when some have questioned Israel’s hard-line approach, including expansion of settlements in the West Bank.
Apartheid was once a term that was publicly associated with South Africa’s white-rule system, but now represents a broad term for crimes against humanity under international law and the Rome Statute that set up the International Criminal Court, said the report in its executive summary made public Wednesday.
Israelis, who find the term apartheid inaccurate and inflammatory when applied to their conflict with the Palestinians, immediately slammed the report. One government spokesman even compared it to Nazi tabloid Der Sturmer, which promoted Nazi propaganda and was virulently anti-Semitic.
But it is know secret that more than 5 million Palestinians are denied equal rights by the state of Israel under a system of apartheid, a deliberate policy of racial or ethnic segregation. Under Israeli military occupation, millions of Palestinians live in conditions which closely resemble the apartheid system that existed in South Africa:
- No right to free speech, to assemble or to create a movement
- Arrest and imprisonment without charge or trial
- House searches without warrant
- Assassination, extrajudicial murder
- No right to vote for the Israeli government (even though it controls their lives)
Palestinians are also at risk of poverty. 66 percent of Palestinians live in absolute poverty, defined as income of $2 or less per day. By contrast, Israelis enjoy an average per capita income of nearly $60 per day. Worse yet, 80 percent of Palestinians in Gaza are dependent on international food aid for day-to-day survival, and 33 percent of all Palestinians in the Occupied Territories are dependent on international food aid for survival. The unemployment rate in the West Bank hovers around 19 percent while the unemployment rate in Gaza is about 40 percent. Private-sector unemployment in Gaza is an incredible 85 percent.
Israel not only controls the basic necessities for a person to survive, such as food and water, they also alter the education system for Palestinian children. Within Israeli, Palestinian and Jewish children attend separate and unequal school systems from kindergarten through high school. The Israeli government invests more than 3 times as much in a Jewish student than it does a Palestinian student, according to government statistics released in 2004. Also within Israel the government designates certain communities for “high-priority status” for improving the local educational system. In recent years Israel has designated 553 Jewish communities for high-priority status, compared with 4 Palestinian communities. In East Jerusalem, Palestinian territory illegally annexed by Israel after the 1967 war, the Israeli government spends an average of 2,300 New Israeli Shekels (about U.S. $600) per Jewish student, compared with an average of 577 shekels (U.S. $150) per Palestinian student, according to the Association for Civil Rights in Israel.
Israel is the only country in the world that distinguishes between nationality and citizenship. Israeli nationality is guaranteed only to those determined to be of the Jewish religion. Only Jews have full rights in the state of Israel, which is defined as a Jewish state under the Basic Laws that substitute for a written constitution.
Israel has also famously created illegal settlements even though Article 49 of the Fourth Geneva Convention prohibits an occupying power from transferring its civilian population to an occupied area. Israel has granted illegal settlements control of 43 percent of occupied land. It has designated 18 to 20 percent of the West Bank as closed military zones and another 10 percent as park land. The total amount of private and public land thus removed from Palestinian control amounts to about 73 percent of the occupied West Bank, according to Human Rights Watch. Within Israel, more than 500 Palestinian towns and villages were either destroyed or depopulated of Palestinians in 1948 when the state of Israel was founded. Israel has never paid compensation to the 700,000 Palestinian refugees who were forced to abandon their land and homes under threat of massacre or due to military force. From 1948 to 1953, the Israeli government created 370 new Jewish towns. Of those, 350 were built on land taken from “absentee” Palestinian owners.
Gaza also is enclosed by fences on both the Israeli and Egyptian borders. Israel maintains complete control of Gaza’s borders, making it the largest open-air prison in the world. Palestinians cannot travel outside Gaza without special permits from Israel.
But these are just some of the many aspects of Palestinian life affected by the Israeli government’s apartheid policies. Fortunately, an international solidarity movement has formed around the world and is heeding the call of Palestinian civil society to boycott, divest, and sanction (BDS) Israel for its flagrant violations of human rights. Hopefully their actions speak louder than words and prove that Palestine can live in harmony, have the equal rights they deserve, and finally break from the shackles of living under Israeli control.