Israel is carrying out “the crime of apartheid against Palestinians” and must be held accountable for treating them as “an inferior racial group”, Amnesty International says in a new report, joining the assessment of other rights groups.
Released on Tuesday, the 280-page report [PDF] by the leading rights group details how Israeli authorities enforce a system of oppression and domination against the Palestinians.
Its damning investigation lists a range of Israeli abuses, including extensive seizures of Palestinian land and property, unlawful killings, forcible transfer, drastic movement restrictions, administrative detention and the denial of nationality and citizenship to Palestinians.
It describes these as components of a system that amounts to apartheid under international law.
“This system is maintained by violations which Amnesty International found to constitute apartheid as a crime against humanity,” the group said in a statement.
Yair Lapid, Israel’s foreign minister and alternate prime minister, rejected the report as “divorced from reality” and alleged that “Amnesty echoes the same lies shared by terrorist organisations”.
He also charged that Amnesty had an anti-Semitic agenda. “I hate to use the argument that if Israel were not a Jewish state, nobody in Amnesty would dare argue against it, but in this case, there is no other possibility,” he said.
Ramy Abdu, the chairman of the Euro-Med Human Rights Monitor, said Israel has for decades accused detractors and critics of its human rights violations as being “anti-Semitic”.
“This policy is adopted by the Israeli Ministry of Strategic Affairs and supported by such systematic practices of labelling critics,” he told Al Jazeera.
“Israel’s frequent use of the term ‘anti-Semitism’ has discredited its accusations and proven that they are only used as a proactive tool for the purpose of intimidating activists, critics and organisations.”
The accusation is not just levelled at those who are critical of Israel, but also those who are on the fence or act neutral, Abdu added.
The US ambassador to Israel, Thomas Nides, called the report “absurd“, while US State Department spokesman Ned Price also objected to its findings.
“We reject the view that Israel’s actions constitute apartheid. The department’s own reports have never used such terminology,” Price told reporters on Tuesday.
Since its establishment in 1948, Israel has pursued a policy of establishing and maintaining a “Jewish demographic majority”, the report said. Israel also exercises full control over land and resources to benefit Jewish Israelis, including those in illegal settlements.
After the 1967 war, during which Israeli forces occupied all of historical Palestine, Israel “extended this policy” to the occupied West Bank as well as the Gaza Strip, which has been under a crippling siege since 2007.
Today, all territories controlled by Israel continue to be administered with the “purpose of benefiting Jewish Israelis to the detriment of Palestinians, while Palestinian refugees continue to be excluded”, the London-based group said.
“Our report reveals the true extent of Israel’s apartheid regime. Whether they live in Gaza, East Jerusalem and the rest of the West Bank, or Israel itself, Palestinians are treated as an inferior racial group and systematically deprived of their rights,” said Agnes Callamard, Amnesty’s secretary-general.
Speaking at a press conference in occupied East Jerusalem, Callamard called on the international community to take “resolute action against the crime against humanity being perpetrated in order to maintain the system of apartheid”.
“It is the cruelty of the system – the intricate evolving administration of control, dispossession, and inequality [and] the incredible detailed bureaucratisation upon which that system is predicated,” she said. “Its sheer banality, and at times absurdity that has taken my breath away.
“Our conclusions may shock and disturb – and they should,” she continued. “Some within the government of Israel may seek to deflect from them by falsely accusing Amnesty of attempting to destabilise Israel, or being anti-Semitic, or unfairly singling out Israel. But I am here to say that these baseless attacks, barefaced lies, fabrications on the messenger will not silence the message in an organisation of 10 million members the world over.”
Israel must ‘dismantle the apartheid system’
Amnesty called on the UN Security Council to impose a comprehensive arms embargo on Israel, as well as “targeted sanctions, such as asset freezes, against Israeli officials most implicated in the crime of apartheid”.
Its report follows a similar conclusion reached by US-based Human Rights Watch, which published a report (PDF) in April last year that found Israel is committing the “crimes against humanity of apartheid and persecution” against Palestinians.
Likewise, Israeli rights group B’Tselem published a study in January 2021 that found that Palestinians – divided into four tiers of inferior treatment – are denied the right to self-determination.
Al Jazeera’s Nida Ibrahim said Palestinian human rights organisations have always used the apartheid term to describe Israel’s system in the occupied territories.
“For Palestinians, they want the world to know that they are living under a system for two people when it comes to roads, land, laws,” she said, speaking from the Jordan Valley in the occupied West Bank.
Palestinians in the occupied territories live under Israeli military rule that is being used to confiscate lands and benefit the Jewish Israeli residents who live in settlements that are considered illegal under international law, Ibrahim explained.
“At the same time, Israel uses the same military rule to make the lives of Palestinians harder, the ultimate goal of all of this is to get them to leave [the land],” she said.
Amnesty said the unlawful killing of Palestinian protesters in Gaza is perhaps the “clearest illustration of how Israeli authorities use proscribed acts to maintain the status quo”.
It was referring to a period over 2018 and 2019 where Palestinians in Gaza held weekly demonstrations along the Israeli separation fence, calling for the right of return for refugees and an end to the blockade.
The Great March of Return protests were met with violence by Israeli forces, who fired tear gas canisters, rubber bullets and live ammunition, mostly by snipers. By the time the demonstrations were suspended at the end of 2019, Israeli forces had killed at least 214 Palestinians, including 46 children, according to the UN.
“The international response to apartheid must no longer be limited to bland condemnations and equivocating,” Callamard said.
“Israel must dismantle the apartheid system and start treating Palestinians as human beings with equal rights and dignity.”