In March 2012, the United Nations Committee on the Elimination of Racial Discrimination (CERD) published unprecedentedly harsh concluding observations following Israel’s periodic review. In what one expert called “the most cutting CERD recognition and condemnation of a legal system of segregation since apartheid South Africa”, Israel was called out for violating the right to equality in numerous ways with regards to both Palestinians with Israeli citizenship, and those in the Occupied Palestinian Territories.
Israeli policies, according to CERD, include “segregation between Jewish and non-Jewish communities”, a lack of “equal access to land and property”, “forced displacement”, “de facto segregation” in the West Bank – and an overall regime necessitating a reminder of the “prohibition” of policies of “apartheid”.
CERD’s review of Israel was a landmark but a year down the line the question is how can it be built on in terms of developing the legal and political framework of Israeli apartheid? Two new publications suggest the kind of work that needs to be done. The first is a report by legal researcher Elisabeth Koek, published by Palestinian human rights organisation Al-Haq, called “Water For One People Only: Discriminatory Access and ‘Water-Apartheid’ in the Occupied Palestinian Territory”. The detailed study found that:
the threshold for apartheid is met because the inhuman acts, committed against Palestinians through the denial of access to water in the OPT, are carried out systematically in the context of an institutionalised regime with the intent of establishing and maintaining Jewish-Israeli domination over Palestinians as a group.
Koek includes a section in the report on apartheid and international law, pointing out how “its application extends beyond the situation as it existed between 1948 and 1994 in southern Africa” and that “the prohibition of apartheid has been codified in various international legal mechanisms”.
The prohibition of apartheid as enshrined in the Apartheid Convention and its proclamation of apartheid as a crime against humanity supplement the general prohibition under the ICERD, and were followed by the inclusion of the crime of apartheid in Article 85(4)(c) of Additional Protocol I, and Article 7(2)(h) of the ICC Statute. The three core elements of the definition of “the crime of apartheid” require that (1) two distinct racial groups be identified; (2) ‘inhuman acts’ are committed against the subordinate group; (3) such acts of systematic oppression are committed in the context of an institutionalised regime of domination by one group over the other.
The second recent publication to consider here is a policy brief from Palestinian think tank Al-Shabaka on ‘Beyond South Africa: Understanding Israeli Apartheid’. The author, Samer Abdelnour, argues that “the specific characteristics of Israel’s unique brand of apartheid need to be better understood in order to successfully dismantle it” and thus “identifies three inter-locking dimensions of Israeli apartheid: physical, architecture, and ideological.”
Writing that Israeli apartheid is “far more sophisticated than that of South Africa”, Abdelnour warns that the serious consequences of misunderstanding the Israeli regime could include “hinder[ing] thoughtful assessment and critique of existing strategies (such as BDS), and prevent[ing] the development of new strategies for securing Palestinian freedom and return.” Abdelnour’s brief is an important one to read and digest, and highlights smartly the relationship between analysis and response.
In the last few years, there have been a number of efforts to flesh out and enrich an understanding of Israel’s policies towards the Palestinians as a legal and political system of apartheid. There was the Boycott National Committee’s 2008 position paper on “apartheid, colonialism, and occupation”, and the similarly titled legal study published the following year by the Human Sciences Research Council of South Africa. The Russell Tribunal on Palestine’s 2011 session in Cape Town produced relevant findings, while there have also been dedicated issues of publications like Middle East Report and BADIL’s Al-Majdal.
Taking all of that into consideration, and bearing in mind the context of the 2012 CERD country review, the recent work by Al-Haq and Al-Shabaka is to be welcomed as a vital contribution to the body of work on Israeli apartheid. The advantage of such a framework is that it treats Palestine/Israel today as it is: one territorial unit under Israeli control in which Jews and Palestinians are granted or denied different rights related to land ownership, residency, movement, access to natural resources etc. As more people see the writing on the wall about the ‘two state solution’, this apartheid analysis is set to become more crucial.
The views expressed in this article belong to the author and do not necessarily reflect the editorial policy of Middle East Monitor.