B’Tselem: Israel is an apartheid state

The International Criminal Court defines apartheid as an “institutionalized regime of systematic oppression and domination by one racial group.”

B’Tselem, the leading Israeli human rights group, argues that by dividing up the territories and using different means of control, Israel masks the underlying reality — that roughly 7 million Jews and 7 million Palestinians live under a single system with vastly unequal rights. “We are not saying that the degree of discrimination that a Palestinian has to endure is the same if one is a citizen of the state of Israel or if one is besieged in Gaza,” El-Ad said. “The point is that there isn’t a single square inch between the river and the sea in which a Palestinian and a Jew are equal. This is not democracy plus occupation. This is apartheid between the river and the sea.”

That a respected Israeli organization is adopting a term long seen as taboo even by many critics of Israel points to a broader shift in the debate as its half-century occupation of war-won lands drags on and hopes for a two-state solution fade.

“Fifty years plus, that’s not enough to understand the permanence of Israeli control of the occupied territories?” El-Ad, Director of B’Tselem said. “We think that people need to wake up to reality and stop talking in future terms about something that has already happened.”

According to the Rome Statute of the International Criminal Court, “The crime of apartheid means 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.”

Apparently neither the Washington Post nor the New York Times agree because in the month since B’Tselem declared Israel an apartheid state, neither “paper of truth” have seen fit to inform their American readers of this historic, long overdue, declaration. No one is asking the Post or the Times to agree with B’Tselem’s findings of apartheid. The conventions of mainstream reporting on anything negative on Israel have long been understood but they have a duty to report on major issues, give varying points of view, and let their readers decide for themselves. Instead, the Times and the Post are censoring themselves and suppressing vital news to their readers.   

The new document provides irrefutable facts and figures to explain the four areas in which this single principle engineers, geographically and politically, the lives of all 14 million people on both sides of the Green Line, half of them Jews and half Palestinians:

1. Control of the land: the gradual Judaization of the area at the expense of the Palestinian population, by means of expulsion, dispossession, land appropriation, home demolitions and prioritization of Jewish settlement by virtue of a long list of laws and regulations’

2. Citizenship: “Any Jew in the world and his or her children, grandchildren and spouses are entitled to immigrate to Israel at any time and receive Israeli citizenship, with all of its associated rights… Palestinians living in other countries cannot immigrate to the area… even if they, their parents or their grandparents were born and lived there”;

3. Freedom of movement: “Israel allows its Jewish and Palestinian citizens and residents to travel freely throughout the area. Exceptions are the prohibition on entering the Gaza Strip, which it defines “hostile territory,” and the (mostly formal) prohibition on entering areas ostensibly under Palestinian Authority responsibility (Area A). Israel routinely restricts the movement of Palestinians in the Occupied Territories and generally forbids them from moving between the units. Palestinians from the West Bank who wish to enter Israel, East Jerusalem or the Gaza Strip must apply to the Israeli authorities and are usually refused.”

4. Political participation: “political engineering excludes millions of Palestinians from participating in the processes that determine their lives and futures while holding them under military occupation… Israel also denies Palestinians political rights such as freedom of speech and freedom of association.”

There is not a single principle of an apartheid regime that has not been implemented in Israel since 1948. Its military government saw to that in both overt and covert ways, until it ended in 1966; a year later the boundaries of Israeli apartheid expanded by the same methods from the Jordan River to the Mediterranean Sea. And there may well be more to come.

It will be interesting to see how President Biden deals with this declaration. If he chooses to ignore it, he will have to explain why the US State Department relied for so many years on B’Tselem reports for its annual human rights evaluation of Israel and the Occupied Palestinian Territories. He will have to explain why B’Tselem is seen the world over as a fair arbiter of human rights and is respected by the United Nations and many other world bodies, and why it has long been seen as a credible source in the United States despite years of attacks by right-wing forces.

Cathy Sultan’s book Israeli and Palestinian Voices: A Dialogue with Both Sides, along with all her other books, can be found on Amazon.

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