A withdrawn UN report's conclusion that the criminal occupation of Palestine and Israel's racist policies toward Palestinians are "apartheid" remain true.
“Israel is guilty of the international crime of apartheid.” With these words, Richard Falk presented a fresh-from-the-press UN report mid-March, while his colleague, Virginia Tilley, clarifies: “We are no longer talking about risk of apartheid but practice of apartheid.”
A momentous report
The two internationally renowned US scientists conducted the study on the treatment of the Palestinians by Israel on behalf of the United Nations organization Economic and Social Commission for Western Asia (ESCWA), which concluded: “The weight of the evidence supports beyond a reasonable doubt the contention that Israel is guilty of imposing an apartheid regime on the Palestinian people.” The report acknowledges the need for a proper international judicial process to provide these conclusions the necessary authority and therefore encourages UN courts to take on this task. With all its explosive nature, the report is a historic landmark because it is the first time that a UN organization has identified the permanent crimes committed by Israel as “apartheid”.
The reactions and defamations of the usual suspects were as crude as foreseeable. The Israeli UN ambassador Danny Danon said the report was “despicable and constitutes a blatant lie,” the US government was “outraged,” and the Israeli Foreign Ministry likened the report to Der Stürmer – the infamous anti-Semitic propaganda outlet of the Hitler years. A UN spokesperson distanced the UN from the report and said that it was an individual opinion and that “the report as it stands does not reflect the views of the secretary-general.”
Both the Israeli and the Trump administration have put enormous pressure on UN Secretary-General António Guterres to withdraw the report, but the head of the ESCWA, Rima Khalaf, who is responsible for the study, refused to withdraw it and rather resigned from her UN position in protest. Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas announced that he will award Rima Khalaf for her “courage and support” for the Palestinian people with the Palestine Medal of the Highest Honor.
By that time, the report has been deleted from the UN website, but can be downloaded in full length here on JusticeNow!.
International law and Nazi propaganda
Throughout the entire report, the authors of the study make clear that they have applied only one standard to their research: International Law, and explicitly the definitions of apartheid as used by the United Nations and the International Criminal Court. Scrutinizing both treaties, it is difficult to find even a single point which does not apply to Israel’s treatment of the Palestinians: ethnically-based torture and murder, arbitrary arrest and illegal imprisonment, curtailment of fundamental human rights, such as freedom of speech, assembly or religion, denial of political, cultural and economic participation, inhuman or degrading treatment or punishment “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.”
All of these points, which were written down more than four decades ago in the context of apartheid in South Africa, are unquestionably true of Israel 2017. The shameful attempt by the Israeli government to defame the UN report as Nazi propaganda thus comes to nothing, because technically, the Nazi allegation puts Der Stürmer and International Law on the same level.
But what is it specifically that makes Israel an apartheid state? Some core points.
Immigration as a tool for apartheid
One of the core themes of the withdrawn UN report is Israel’s immigration policy as a central tool for apartheid. While it is possible for all Jews of this world – and their spouses, children, grandchildren and all their spouses – to emigrate government-supported to Israel, this is strictly forbidden to all the Palestinians and their descendants who were expelled in the course of the violent formation of Israel in 1948. The UN estimates the Palestinian refugees around the world at around 5 million individuals, which thus represents by far the largest refugee group. The world’s 8 million Jews who are not residing in Israel, on the other hand, could emigrate to Israel at any time, although they usually do not have personal roots in the country. This religious and ethnically-based immigration policy is essentially racist, and is labeled by the UN report, along with some other measures such as the ethnic cleansing of 1948, with the somewhat dystopian, but entirely true, concept of “demographic engineering”.
A young Palestinian who lives in the Askar refugee camp near Nablus in the West Bank told me that in 1948 his grandparents had been driven out of the beautiful Mediterranean City of Haifa by Jewish militias, and had been crammed with countless others to this camp in the West Bank. He himself knows not too distant Haifa, of course, only from pictures and stories, but he understandably insists on his right to “return” to Haifa one day. While we were standing in the sordid Askar Camp and my buddy told me about his dreams, we looked at the increasingly growing illegal Jewish settlement on the opposite hill, with its villas heavily guarded by the military – this is apartheid.
Israeli settlements are war crimes
In addition to the question of the 1948 refugees’ right of return, the Israeli settlements in the West Bank constitute the second core issue in the Palestine-Israel conflict. As explicitly Jewish settlements, they are an integral part of Israeli apartheid, a racist tool of the “Judaization of Palestine” – and, in my opinion, the greatest obstacle to a just peace. To clearly point out one thing: any Jewish settlement in the occupied Palestinian territories is illegal. Any. Throughout the decades, the United Nations has condemned the Jewish settlements in many resolutions, constantly invoking the Geneva Conventions, which unequivocally state:
“The Occupying Power shall not deport or transfer parts of its own civilian population into the territory it occupies.”
Every Israeli Prime Minister, who is pushing the construction of settlements, is a war criminal under the Geneva Conventions. Benjamin Netanyahu has accelerated the construction of settlements like no other head of state before him. Since the so-called Oslo peace process in 1994, the number of settlers in the West bank and East Jerusalem has more than doubled to over 600,000 – Benjamin Netanyahu is thus an international criminal.
In connection with the systematic demolition of Palestinian homes, the permanent expansion of the existing and the construction of entirely new settlements have made the area of Palestine shrink a little further each day, which means that, in fact, the West Bank is already an Israeli sea, with scattered Palestinian islands swimming on it. The two-state solution proclaimed by virtually all actors worldwide as the way to peace has been a farce for years, it is the central lie in the conflict. For there is simply no longer a continuous territory on which the State of Palestine could be founded. A lasting solution to the Israel-Palestine conflict stands and falls with the issue of settlements.
Together with a Palestinian friend, one day we accidentally drove by bus inside Ariel, the largest settlement in the central West Bank. At the military checkpoint on the outskirts of the city, the bus stopped and two armed soldiers with machine guns at the ready entered and searched the bus for Arabs. My friend was lucky: with his relatively light skin, he did not look “like an Arab.”
The Jewish settlers, however, have no problem with exploiting Palestinian labor power in their settlements: officially more than 20,000 Palestinians reluctantly work in the Israeli settlements under strict military surveillance, thousands more without permits. Due to a lack of alternatives, some of my students in Nablus also make some money off the books in the settlements during the summer holidays. The cynicism of this absurd situation is obvious, a grueling inner struggle of one’s political convictions against the necessity of putting food on the table. Thus, 82 percent of the workers would stop their job in the settlements immediately, if there were alternatives at home. “All the choices you make under occupation,” Jerusalem-based economic researcher Hadeel Badarni explains, “are merely for economic survival and not collective self-determination.” But 50 years of Israeli occupation – coming along with the systematic destruction of infrastructure and resources (as the millionfold burning and uprooting of olive trees essential to Palestinian life), the daily heist of water and land, the often used cut-off of electricity, telephone, water or internet as a tool of collective punishment, the intolerable restriction on the freedom of movement and transportation by means of a tight network of road blocks, checkpoints and military bases, the control over the Palestinian tax revenues, and in particular the harassment and discrimination by the Israeli authorities in all imaginable areas – keep the Palestinian economy pushed to the ground. It would double in size without the occupation, as a 2016 UN report found.
One of the topics I personally hold near and dear are the Israeli industrial facilities scattered across the West Bank. At the An-Najah University in Nablus, in particular, we conducted research on the impact of the Nitzanei Shalom chemical industrial complex on the environment and the health of the population of the West Bank. Hundreds of Palestinian workers are forced to work in this factory complex under the most miserable conditions. Although all companies in Nitzanei Shalom are Israeli, Israeli soldiers are patrolling and all profits flow to Israel, the workers are employed under the Jordanian labor law of 1967 – an absurd legal trick whose “lawfulness” was recently officially confirmed by Israeli courts.
While non-existent safety measures in the inside of the factories make workers sick due to the unprotected handling of high-toxicity chemicals, the non-existent environmental protection measures make the population outside the factories sick in the entire surrounding area of the beautiful city of Tulkarem. The Israeli factories poison the groundwater with heavy metal, as well as the soil, which makes agriculture impossible. Highly toxic exhaust gases are blown into the air. The cancer rates are highly increased. Members of every family in the neighborhood suffer from lung, skin and eye diseases. As we passed the meters-high walls of the factory complex, I felt the sharp pain of acid in the air in my throat and lungs. Children were playing on the other side of the street.
Most of the year the wind in that area blows to the east – and the highly toxic fumes to the Palestinian side. The few days a year, when the wind turns towards Israel, the factories are driven down and stand still – that, too, is apartheid.
We lack courage
In addition to the aspects discussed above, there are a number of points, which draw the overall picture of Israeli apartheid. Especially the Israeli legal system, which provides a great number of laws explicitly beneficial for Jews. Or the immanent racism of the Israeli authorities, which is particularly evident in the crisis center of Jerusalem, where Palestinians often have to pay ludicrously high taxes and fees on their own houses. It is the undefined status under international law which makes it impossible for so many Palestinians to travel abroad. Psychologically, it is the daily humiliation living as second-class citizens. There is the meters-high “Apartheid Wall”, which is a violation of International Law and cuts deep into the West Bank annexing even more Palestinian territories. And in politics, of course, there is the right-wing extremist incredibly racist Netanyahu government – the ideological embodiment of apartheid – whose Minister of Defense wants to “pick up an axe and cut off the heads” of disloyal Arabs, and whose Minister of Justice candidly called for genocide against the Palestinian people.
It is quite clear that the authors of the supposedly explosive UN report, Richard Falk and Virginia Tilley, are correct with their analysis that Israel is an apartheid state. The fact that this historical landmark report is now in the trash cans of the UN headquarters in New York is a shame, as well it is a sign of lack of sincerity and lack of courage to name things by name.
Falk and Tilley hoped, by their clear words, to turn the issue of Israel-Palestine back into the consciousness of global public, thus stimulating the international community of supranational organizations, states, religions, the civil society and individuals to take action and to remind them of their commitments to the struggle against apartheid – a crime against humanity. The authors explicitly draw the historical analogy of overcoming the apartheid in South Africa in the 1990s. The downfall of decades-long apartheid in South Africa has been caused by an array of creative measures by the international community, including economic and cultural sanctions, the withdrawal of foreign investment, the principal condemnation of racism as a state fundament, trade boycott, as well as political pressure at all levels.
With similar creative – and unconditionally non-violent! – means the shameful apartheid regime in Israel will also be brought to its knees.
What we lack is courage.
This article was originally published in German at JusticeNow!.