In a dramatic escalation representative of global outrage against Israel's tsunami of crimes against the people of occupied Palestine, New York-based Human Rights Watch has released a detailed legal report declaring that the Israeli government is committing crimes of apartheid. The serious charge of apartheid is groundbreaking, because it is the first official use of the term by the rights group.
Comprehensive and extremely well researched, the 213-page report titled A Threshold Crossed: Israeli Authorities and the Crimes of Apartheid and Persecution, makes damning allegations of decades of persecution of the Palestinians. It cites Israel's "intent to maintain the domination of Jewish Israelis over Palestinians" and dismisses the oft-repeated "security" propaganda used by Israel to justify its repressive policies. Appropriately, it singles out the use of military rule to ensure a Jewish majority across the combined territories of Israel and the occupied West Bank.
At the core of its report, is HRW's finding that the Israeli government not only discriminates systematically against non-Jews in all areas under its control — including its own 2 million Arab citizens within the state's 1948 borders — but also that an additional layer of severe human rights abuses in the occupied West Bank and Gaza Strip all amount to the crime of apartheid.
The report has the potential to shake the Zionist foundations of the Israeli regime, especially if remarks by HRW officials as reported in various media are anything to go by. Eric Goldstein, for example, is the acting director for Human Rights Watch's Middle East division. He has been quoted as saying that the report is intended to show that Israeli abuses against Palestinians are not a collection of isolated incidents.
"For years, the international community — and many Israelis — have the tendency to think of the cases we document as the unfortunate symptoms of a lack of peace," said Goldstein. "But the peace process has unfortunately gone nowhere and the abuses have just become more entrenched."
Expected to unnerve and unsettle the regime even beyond the charge of apartheid, are the recommendations made by HRW. Among these, one is directed to the Palestinian Authority (PA), calling on it to end its security cooperation with Israel.
Mahmoud Abbas will obviously not be pleased to have a small, albeit hugely significant, part of the HRW report focusing on a matter which remains the subject of much discontent among Palestinians. The PA-Israel security pact has for some time been criticised severely by leading members of Palestine's various factions, but to date Abbas has not yielded to calls for it to be scrapped.
If the PA finally abandons collaboration with Israel's genocidal security agencies in response to the HRW recommendation it will not only grant legitimacy to the report, but also break the back of Israel's illegal and immoral security dragnet in the occupied West Bank.
The other crucial call is for the US to make its military aid to Israel conditional on the occupation state ending its "commission of the crimes of apartheid and persecution." The power of this recommendation must not be lost in semantics, for it affirms the strong claim made by the Palestinians that US aid is the single most important enabler of Israel's crimes. Just as Abbas has a huge call to make, so too does US President Joe Biden in deciding whether he will continue to pour US tax dollars into Israel's apparently insatiable coffers.
An equally important call made by HRW is for all countries to impose targeted sanctions and other restrictions on Israeli officials implicated by the report. Short of calling for a full boycott, this recommendation will still give the global Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions (BDS) movement a boost in its peaceful campaign against the settler-colonial state.
The full implication of the report will test the political will of many governments. Will they abide by the recommendation to initiate sanctions, or will they ignore their responsibilities as member states of the UN which, ostensibly, are committed to upholding universal values of human rights?
As far as South Africa is concerned, the HRW findings will test the resolve of the ANC-led government. As beneficiaries of a global campaign under the banner of the anti-apartheid movement to isolate the former racist white regime in Pretoria, it is expected of South Africa to lead a similarly comprehensive boycott of apartheid Israel.
There cannot and should not be any fear of a backlash of smears alleging "anti-Semitism". The HRW report, after all, follows two others authored by Israeli human rights groups: Yesh Din's legal opinion published a few months ago also concluded that Israel is committing apartheid in the occupied West Bank; and, more recently, B'Tselem's position paper revealed that Israel's treatment of Palestinians amounts to apartheid.
Interestingly, HRW also found that in addition to the crime of apartheid, Israel is guilty of "persecution" under international law, because it deprives Palestinians of "key fundamental rights" based on "their identity as Palestinians". This is a compelling legal argument about Israel's treatment of Palestinians, which goes well beyond what is required to administer an occupation.
The examples it cites are pretty well documented and reported, because Israeli atrocities are perpetrated on a daily basis. They include illegal land grabs, the forced confiscation of homes from Palestinians for the exclusive use of Jewish settlers, and the tenuous status of Palestinians living in occupied Jerusalem.
Given that the international Criminal Court has finally commenced its investigation of Israel for possible war crimes, the findings published by B'Tselem and HRW in particular, which conclude that Israel is an apartheid state, give us cause to believe that justice for the Palestinians has been brought one step closer.
The views expressed in this article belong to the author and do not necessarily reflect the editorial policy of Middle East Monitor.