Israel is committing the crime of apartheid, two former Israeli ambassadors to South Africa have said in an article drawing parallels with the system of racial segregation in South Africa which ended in 1994.
In their stark message delivered through an opinion piece published on Tuesday by GroundUp, a South African news website, former ambassadors Ilan Baruch and Alon Liel, called on the "world" to join the struggle to end Israel's apartheid regime in the same way people united to dismantle the apartheid South African regime.
Liel was ambassador to South Africa during the transition from apartheid from 1992 to 1994, while Baruch served from 2005 to 2008.
It is time for the world to recognize that what we saw in South Africa decades ago is happening in the occupied Palestinian territories too
Baruch and Liel said in their article. "And just as the world joined the struggle against apartheid in South Africa, it is time for the world to take decisive diplomatic action in our case as well and work towards building a future of equality, dignity, and security for Palestinians and Israelis alike."
Describing Israel's apartheid system, Baruch and Liel wrote that "for over half a century, Israel has ruled over the occupied Palestinian territories with a two-tiered legal system, in which, within the same tract of land in the West Bank, Israeli settlers live under Israeli civil law while Palestinians live under military law."
According to the former Israeli ambassadors the system imposed by Israel "is one of inherent inequality". They explained how Israel has worked to change both the geography and the demography of the West Bank through the construction of Jewish only illegal settlements and advanced projects to connect them to Israel proper. The settlements are connected via a network of Jewish only roads that have turned the illegal enterprise into a comfortable version of suburbia, they argued.
"This has happened alongside the expropriation and takeover of massive amounts of Palestinian land, including Palestinian home evictions and demolitions," said Baruch and Liel describing what many commentators have said is slow ethnic cleansing in real time. "Settlements are built and expanded at the expense of Palestinian communities, which are forced onto smaller and smaller tracts of land."
The former ambassadors suggested that Israel was inspired by South Africa's Bantustan project, whereby black inhabitants were segregated from South Africa's minority white population. They recalled a trip to South Africa in the early 80s by then Israeli Defence Minister Ariel Sharon who is said to have expressed great interest in South Africa's Bantustan project. "Even a cursory look at the map of the West Bank leaves little doubt regarding where Sharon received his inspiration," Baruch and Liel said.
"The bantustans of South Africa under the apartheid regime and the map of the occupied Palestinian territories today are predicated on the same idea of concentrating the 'undesirable' population in as small an area as possible, in a series of non-contiguous enclaves," Baruch and Liel stressed. "By gradually driving these populations from their land and concentrating them into dense and fractured pockets, both South Africa then and Israel today worked to thwart political autonomy and true democracy".
Baruch and Liel's op-ed follows two high profile reports which made the stark conclusion that apartheid was a reality in Palestine. In April Human Rights Watch (HRW) joined a host of other prominent groups to declare that Israel is committing the crimes of apartheid and persecution. In January, Israeli human rights group B'Tselem said that Israel "promotes and perpetuates Jewish supremacy between the Mediterranean Sea and the Jordan River." Both echoed the findings of UN's 2017 report which concluded that Israel was indeed practising apartheid.