The forthright branding of Israel as an apartheid state by Human Rights Watch could be a watershed moment in mainstream acceptance of what Israel has become. Human Rights Watch is not an outlier or left wing organisation. It is very much a part of the establishment in the United States and is not generally associated with hard hitting criticism that conflicts with the promoted interests of the American state.
This is the verdict of Craig Murray in light of the release of the recent HRW report that confirms Israel is an apartheid state.
It is interesting to consider how we have reached this moment, so before coming back to the details contained in the new report, let us quickly retrace some events that have happened since the turn of the year.
Firstly, on January 12th, B’Tselem, ‘The Israeli Information Center of Human Rights in the Occupied Territories’, released their own report that emphatically accused the state of Israel under the government of Netanyahu of being “a regime of Jewish supremacy”. Headlined “This is apartheid”, it begins:
More than 14 million people, roughly half of them Jews and the other half Palestinians, live between the Jordan River and the Mediterranean Sea under a single rule. The common perception in public, political, legal and media discourse is that two separate regimes operate side by side in this area, separated by the Green Line. One regime, inside the borders of the sovereign State of Israel, is a permanent democracy with a population of about nine million, all Israeli citizens. The other regime, in the territories Israel took over in 1967, whose final status is supposed to be determined in future negotiations, is a temporary military occupation imposed on some five million Palestinian subjects.
Over time, the distinction between the two regimes has grown divorced from reality. This state of affairs has existed for more than 50 years – twice as long as the State of Israel existed without it. Hundreds of thousands of Jewish settlers now reside in permanent settlements east of the Green Line, living as though they were west of it. East Jerusalem has been officially annexed to Israel’s sovereign territory, and the West Bank has been annexed in practice. Most importantly, the distinction obfuscates the fact that the entire area between the Mediterranean Sea and the Jordan River is organized under a single principle: advancing and cementing the supremacy of one group – Jews – over another – Palestinians. All this leads to the conclusion that these are not two parallel regimes that simply happen to uphold the same principle. There is one regime governing the entire area and the people living in it, based on a single organizing principle.
Click here to read the report entitled “A regime of Jewish supremacy from the Jordan River to the Mediterranean Sea: This is apartheid.”
Then, on February 5th, the International Criminal Court made a landmark ruling that it has jurisdiction to investigate Israel for war crimes in the Occupied Palestinian Territories.
Shortly afterward [Feb 14th], The Grayzone’s Aaron Maté invited Jewish American historian Norman Finkelstein to discuss the ICC decision and its probable outcomes:
The ICC investigation commenced on March 3rd, when the chief prosecutor, Fatou Bensouda, issued her own statement:
Today, I confirm the initiation by the Office of the Prosecutor (”Office”) of the International Criminal Court (“ICC” or the “Court”) of an investigation respecting the Situation in Palestine. The investigation will cover crimes within the jurisdiction of the Court that are alleged to have been committed in the Situation since 13 June 2014, the date to which reference is made in the Referral of the Situation to my Office.
Any investigation undertaken by the Office will be conducted independently, impartially and objectively, without fear or favour.
Click here to read the full statement by ICC Prosecutor, Fatou Bensouda.
The Guardian reported:
The move, which Palestinians and human rights groups said was long overdue, was immediately condemned by the Israeli foreign minister, Gabi Ashkenazi, as “morally and legally bankrupt”.
The Israeli prime minister, Benjamin Netanyahu, added: “The decision of the international court to open an investigation against Israel today for war crimes is absurd. It’s undiluted antisemitism and the height of hypocrisy.”
In a videotaped statement, Netanyahu added: “The state of Israel is under attack this evening.[”]
Click here to read the full Guardian article entitled “ICC opens investigation into war crimes in Palestinian territories.”
The BBC headline was more nuanced with scare quotes and a skilful avoidance of any mention of Israel: it reads, “ICC opens ‘war crimes’ investigation in West Bank and Gaza”. Their report does however include the following statement:
Campaign group Human Rights Watch said “all eyes” would be on incoming prosecutor Karim Khan to “pick up the baton”, and that “ICC member countries should stand ready to fiercely protect the court’s work from any political pressure”.
Then last Tuesday [April 27th], Human Rights Watch finally issued its own 213-page report, “A Threshold Crossed: Israeli Authorities and the Crimes of Apartheid and Persecution”.
The HRW Press Release begins:
Israeli authorities are committing the crimes against humanity of apartheid and persecution, Human Rights Watch said in a report released today. The finding is based on an overarching Israeli government policy to maintain the domination by Jewish Israelis over Palestinians and grave abuses committed against Palestinians living in the occupied territory, including East Jerusalem.
“Prominent voices have warned for years that apartheid lurks just around the corner if the trajectory of Israel’s rule over Palestinians does not change,” said Kenneth Roth, executive director of Human Rights Watch. “This detailed study shows that Israeli authorities have already turned that corner and today are committing the crimes against humanity of apartheid and persecution.”
The finding of apartheid and persecution does not change the legal status of the occupied territory, made up of the West Bank, including East Jerusalem, and Gaza, or the factual reality of occupation.
Originally coined in relation to South Africa, apartheid today is a universal legal term. The prohibition against particularly severe institutional discrimination and oppression or apartheid constitutes a core principle of international law. The 1973 International Convention on the Suppression and Punishment of the Crime of Apartheid and the 1998 Rome Statute to the International Criminal Court (ICC) define apartheid as a crime against humanity consisting of three primary elements:
- An intent to maintain domination by one racial group over another.
- A context of systematic oppression by the dominant group over the marginalized group.
- Inhumane acts.
The reference to a racial group is understood today to address not only treatment on the basis of genetic traits but also treatment on the basis of descent and national or ethnic origin, as defined in the International Convention on the Elimination of all Forms of Racial Discrimination. Human Rights Watch applies this broader understanding of race.
The crime against humanity of persecution, as defined under the Rome Statute and customary international law, consists of severe deprivation of fundamental rights of a racial, ethnic, or other group with discriminatory intent.
Human Rights Watch found that the elements of the crimes come together in the occupied territory, as part of a single Israeli government policy. That policy is to maintain the domination by Jewish Israelis over Palestinians across Israel and the occupied territory. It is coupled in the occupied territory with systematic oppression and inhumane acts against Palestinians living there.
Drawing on years of human rights documentation, case studies, and a review of government planning documents, statements by officials, and other sources, Human Rights Watch compared policies and practices toward Palestinians in the occupied territory and Israel with those concerning Jewish Israelis living in the same areas. Human Rights Watch wrote to the Israeli government in July 2020, soliciting its perspectives on these issues, but has received no response.
Across Israel and the occupied territory, Israeli authorities have sought to maximize the land available for Jewish communities and to concentrate most Palestinians in dense population centers. The authorities have adopted policies to mitigate what they have openly described as a “demographic threat” from Palestinians. In Jerusalem, for example, the government’s plan for the municipality, including both the west and occupied east parts of the city, sets the goal of “maintaining a solid Jewish majority in the city” and even specifies the demographic ratios it hopes to maintain.
To maintain domination, Israeli authorities systematically discriminate against Palestinians. The institutional discrimination that Palestinian citizens of Israel face includes laws that allow hundreds of small Jewish towns to effectively exclude Palestinians and budgets that allocate only a fraction of resources to Palestinian schools as compared to those that serve Jewish Israeli children. In the occupied territory, the severity of the repression, including the imposition of draconian military rule on Palestinians while affording Jewish Israelis living in a segregated manner in the same territory their full rights under Israel’s rights-respecting civil law, amounts to the systematic oppression required for apartheid. […]
Israeli authorities should dismantle all forms of repression and discrimination that privilege Jewish Israelis at the expense of Palestinians, including with regards to freedom of movement, allocation of land and resources, access to water, electricity, and other services, and the granting of building permits.
The ICC Office of the Prosecutor should investigate and prosecute those credibly implicated in the crimes against humanity of apartheid and persecution. Countries should do so as well in accordance with their national laws under the principle of universal jurisdiction, and impose individual sanctions, including travel bans and asset freezes, on officials responsible for committing these crimes.
The findings of crimes against humanity should prompt the international community to reevaluate the nature of its engagement in Israel and Palestine and adopt an approach centered on human rights and accountability rather than solely on the stalled “peace process.”[…]
“While much of the world treats Israel’s half-century occupation as a temporary situation that a decades-long ‘peace process’ will soon cure, the oppression of Palestinians there has reached a threshold and a permanence that meets the definitions of the crimes of apartheid and persecution,” Roth said. “Those who strive for Israeli-Palestinian peace, whether a one or two-state solution or a confederation, should in the meantime recognize this reality for what it is and bring to bear the sorts of human rights tools needed to end it.”
Click here to read the HRW press release in full.
In his own assessment of the HRW report, Craig Murray writes that:
The strength of the report lies in its systematic comparison of the structural system of Israeli rule with the formal definition of the crime of Apartheid in the Statute of Rome [which established the ICC] and the Apartheid Convention, both widely ratified and important documents of international law. This perforce leads to less concentration than is possible on the outrageous acts of individual cruelty, but shows them to be systemic and part of a much wider design.
The Statute of Rome defines the international crime of apartheid as:
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.
The Apartheid Convention defines apartheid as:
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.
I do not believe anybody can sincerely deny that the situation in Palestine meets these criteria, even if attempts are made to justify how we got here. If you have not done so, you may like to read my previous personal article on why Israel is an apartheid state, which draws on my experience as FCO Desk Officer for South Africa when it was the original apartheid state.
Click here to read Craig Murray’s full article which includes a less than glowing personal account of his interview with Kenneth Roth after he left the Foreign and Commonwealth Office (FCO) in 2005 and was shortlisted for the position as HRW Global Advocacy Director and flown to its “very plush” New York HQ located inside the Empire State Building.