Is Israel an Apartheid State? Rhetoric or Reality
Summary of a legal study by Human Sciences Research Center of South Africa.
Do Israel’s practices in occupied Palestinian territory, namely the West Bank, East Jerusalem and Gaza, amount to the crimes of colonialism and apartheid under international law? A summary of a legal study by HSRC of South Africa.
The Human Sciences Research Council of South Africa, in its efforts to eliminate and prevent the kind of suffering the South African and Namibian people suffered under apartheid, commissioned a legal study of the Israel-Palestine situation. “The aim of this project was to scrutinize the situation from the nonpartisan perspective of international law, rather than engage in political discourse and rhetoric.
This fifteen-month collaborative study set out to examine legally the question:
Do Israel’s practices in occupied Palestinian territory, namely the West Bank, East Jerusalem and Gaza, amount to the crimes of colonialism and apartheid under international law?
The study was comprehensive including discussion of pertinent international law and legal rulings, the legal status and laws governing historic Palestine from Ottoman times to present, Israeli law, discussion and rebuttal of Israel’s various legal arguments as to why international law does not apply, and a very detailed review of Israel’s practices weighed against this legal context and compared to similar practices carried out by the government of South Africa during apartheid.
To fully explore this issue, the evidence offered in the study was very broad including Israel’s practices within the state of Israel proper, Israel’s practices regarding Palestinian refugees, and Israel’s practices in occupied Palestinian territory; however, the legal question asked and conclusions drawn about apartheid were limited to Israel’s practices after 1967 when Israel occupied the West Bank, East Jerusalem, and the Gaza Strip.
Apartheid defined under international law
Apartheid regimes rely on three “Pillars of Apartheid to maintain their domination
Using these criteria, the May 2009 South African study found that “Israel, since 1967, is the belligerent Occupying Power in occupied Palestinian territory, and that its occupation of these territories has become a colonial enterprise which implements a system of apartheid.
The Israeli Committee Against House Demolitions-USA has summarized the findings of this study to make the results accessible to the public, to help people understand that talk of apartheid is more than just rhetoric, and to provide a tool which concerned citizens can use to help bring an end to Israel’s apartheid regime. Our summary briefly describes only the ‘components of apartheid’ and the Israeli practices used by the study group to reach its conclusions.
Israel’s practices, Apartheid Pillar 1: A preferred identity; separate system privileging Jews
Right to Housing and Natural Growth
– Since 1967 not one new Palestinian community has been established in East Jerusalem.
Freedom of Residence
Freedom to Leave and Return to One’s Country
– Palestinians must obtain permits from Israel to grow crops. Permits are granted based on whether Palestinian crops compete with Israeli agricultural production.
– A Palestinian may not establish a factory or business employing more than ten individuals.
Right to an Education
Freedom of the Press
– The Israeli press practices a codified system of self censorship (Nakdi Report) including prohibition of the use of terms such as “Palestinian, “Palestine, “East Jerusalem, or references to areas in the West Bank by their Palestinian name, instead referring to areas of the West Bank as Judea and Samaria.
– Reporters without Borders, a journalism organization advocating freedom of the press internationally, ranks Israel 146th out of 169 in their annual press freedom index.
– Palestinian newspapers must have an Israeli military permit and publications must be pre-approved by the military censor.
Israel’s practices, Apartheid Pillar 2: Segregation; exploitation of resources
– Israel’s security wall alone appropriates 10% of the West Bank by fencing that land into Israel proper.
– Tens of thousands of Palestinians have been trapped in the ‘seam zone,’ their homes and villages are walled out of the West Bank. They are not allowed to pass into Israel for services and likewise cannot freely pass through the ‘wall’ into Palestinian territory for services and community. In contrast, a Jew from anywhere in the world, Israeli citizen or not, is free to travel in and out of the seam zones.
– By September 2008, Israel had established 699 restrictions to Palestinian movement within the West Bank including checkpoints, roadblocks, trenches, earth mounds, road gates, 89 ‘flying’ checkpoints (weekly average), and the ‘security wall.’
– As a result of this system of security walls, settlements, and highways, Israel has deliberately severed East Jerusalem from the rest of the West Bank. The West Bank is divided into reserves in which residence and entry is determined by each group’s identity. Israel has also sealed and isolated the Gaza Strip from the rest of Palestinian territory.
Exploitation of resources
– Israel diverts all of Palestinian Jordan River water and 87% of Palestinian ground water to the state of Israel proper and the illegal Jewish settlers. The remaining 13% of Palestinian ground water is distributed back to 2.5 million Palestinians living in the West Bank.
– Israel cuts off Palestinian access to water by destroying wells; destroying all Palestinian pumps and ditches accessing the Jordan River; destroying cisterns and irrigation systems; preventing the construction of new water infrastructure; preventing the repair of out-dated infrastructure; preventing Palestinians from drilling new wells; and hindering access through ‘security measures’ such as roadblocks, closures, checkpoints, and the wall.
– The route of Israel’s security wall delineates the eastern boundary of high groundwater production from the Western Aquifer. The wall fences those areas of high water production into Israel, closing off Palestinian access to more than 95% of their groundwater resources, over 630 million cubic meters of water per year.
– Since 1967, not one permit has been granted for the drilling of new Palestinian controlled wells in the largest and most productive of all the aquifer basins, the Western Aquifer.
– Palestinians pay from four to twenty times more for water than Jewish settlers pay, but are restricted to 10 to 60 liters of water per day, less than the 100 liters-per-day minimum standard set by the World Health Organization. Jewish settlers enjoy from 274 to 450 liters of water per day.
– Five thousand Jewish settlers living in the Jordan Valley consume the equivalent of 75% of the water used by the entire West Bank population of over 2.5 million Palestinians.
– All 149 Israeli-approved Jewish settlements in the West Bank are connected to a running water network, while over 200 Palestinian communities in the West Bank have no running water.
Gaza Aquifer, the only source of freshwater in the Gaza Strip
– Israel reduced natural recharge of the Gaza aquifer by constructing a physical barrier or “verge to prevent fresh water from the Hebron Hills from reaching the Gaza aquifer.
– Today 90 to 95% of the Gaza aquifer is unfit for human consumption, much of it unfit even for irrigation or showering.
– Between 2000 and mid-2006, Israel destroyed 244 of Gaza’s wells and destroyed 6.2 miles of culinary water lines.
– By January 2008, 40% of the homes in Gaza had no running water.
Israel’s practices, Apartheid Pillar 3: Matrix of security laws to suppress opposition
– Israel’s military courts do not comply with international standards of due process.
– There is no ‘presumption of innocence,’ placing burden of proof on the defense.
– A Palestinian defendant and attorney are not informed of charges against him or her until the first hearing (after the indictment has already been filed). The defendant is expected to respond immediately with no time to study the indictment.
– Indictments are written and presented in Hebrew—a language the defendant does not understand.
– Court decisions can be based on “secret evidence not provided to a detainee or his or her lawyer.
– Decisions of the court are not published.
– All judges are Israeli military officers, many without legal background or education.
– If a defendant refuses to plea-bargain, the result is a far more severe penalty.
– 95% to 97% of convictions are the result of plea-bargains.
– The average hearing lasts just 3 minutes and 4 seconds.
– In 2006, acquittals were obtained in only 0.29% of cases.
– By April 2009, 45 members of the Palestinian Legislative Council, over one third of the democratically elected parliament, were imprisoned, most convicted of belonging to a political party Israel deems a “threat, and eight administratively detained without any charges or trial.
– Over 700 Palestinian children are prosecuted by Israeli military courts each year, mostly for throwing stones including throwing stones at the wall. Throwing stones carries a prison term of six months to twenty years.
Freedom of assembly and association
– Israel uses live ammunition, tear gas, sound bombs, rubber-coated steel bullets, and physical violence against public gatherings and demonstrations.
Persecution of organizations or persons because they oppose apartheid
– In 2008, Israel carried out a military attack targeting a residential area, a school, two medical clinics, and two orphanages because Israel suspected some donors to the charity that built them to be members of Hamas.
Cruel and inhumane treatment: Gaza
– In 2006, Israel bombed the Gaza power plant destroying all six transformers and halting electricity production, leaving Gaza almost completely dependent on Israel as the sole provider of electricity, power, desalination, pumping sewage, and pumping water.
– After years of systematic bombing and destruction, which transformed Gaza into a dependent population, Israel isolated Gaza with an encircling ‘security wall.’ Then in October 2007, Israel initiated a blockade on Gaza limiting fuel, water, and electricity and cutting basic supplies to less than 1/5 their former levels. 95% of Gaza’s industries shut down; poverty levels reached 80%; hospitals experienced power cuts of 8 to 12 hours a day; thirty to forty million liters of raw sewage poured into the Mediterranean sea every day; 1.1 million Gazans were living below the poverty line.
– Gaza’s fishing grounds extend 20 miles off shore, yet Israel enforced a three-mile limit by opening fire on Palestinian fishing vessels beyond three miles, severely damaging Palestinian fishermen’s livelihood and denying a viable food source to Gaza.
– On December 27, 2008, Israel launched “Operation Cast Lead, a three-week military attack on Gaza, killing 1380 Palestinians and injuring 5380. During this attack Israel prevented Palestinian civilians from leaving Gaza, “subjecting the entire population to the extreme physical and psychological hazards of modern warfare.
–Since “Operation Cast Lead, Israel has continued the blockade, preventing Palestinians from rebuilding, thus deepening the humanitarian disaster in Gaza.
Selected Examples of the 2500 Military Orders Governing Palestinians
Discussion: Future Direction
The conclusions of the study by the Human Sciences Research Council of South Africa were limited to Israel’s practices in occupied East Jerusalem, the West Bank and the Gaza Strip. The study found Israel’s practices in these territories constitute both colonialism and apartheid.
The study did contain much evidence of similar practices within the state of Israel suggesting the need for studies in other areas where Israel’s laws dominate. That would include Israel’s practices within the state of Israel proper where 1.7 million Palestinian Israelis, nearly 24% of the population, are considered “citizen non-members of Israel and afforded a status inferior to that of Jewish citizens; Israel’s practices regarding Palestinian refugees where Israel’s citizenship laws place inhumane limits on refugees’ right to return to their homes and reclaim their property confiscated by Israel in 1948 and 1967; and Israel’s practices in the occupied Golan Heights.
Under International Law, practices of colonialism and apartheid are judged damaging to international legal order and seriously threaten world peace and security. Findings of colonialism and apartheid legally obligate third party nations to oppose the colonialism-apartheid system. Findings of apartheid, a crime against humanity, also give rise to individual criminal responsibility.
The State of Israel has the duty to:
Third party States are obligated to:
As a next step, the Human Sciences Research Council of South Africa strongly recommends that states take action to meet their legal obligations under international law and urgently request the International Court of Justice render an advisory opinion on the question of Israel’s practices in occupied Palestinian territory.
Concerned citizens play a critical role in bringing their governments forward on this issue, from awareness of breaches of international law and human rights to responsibility. The report of the Human Sciences Research Council of South Africa recognizes Israeli apartheid and colonization as a matter of global significance. They have named and delineated this egregious policy. The study warns that states providing aid to Israel can be found complicit in this international crime and implies that individuals aiding Israel may bear criminal responsibility. The study further suggests that international methods that helped end apartheid in South Africa are applicable to ending Israeli apartheid.
Specifically, individuals can meet with their representatives; petition their representatives to request an advisory opinion from International Court of Justice on the question of Israel’s practices in occupied Palestinian territory; hold non-violent protests; and join in international boycott, divestment and sanctions efforts—all strategies similar to those used to end South Africa’s apartheid.
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