Israel declared to be an apartheid state
This week’s Amnesty International’s report, declaring Israel to be committing apartheid will come as no surprise to those familiar with Israel’s systematic and institutionalised discrimination, based on ethnicity.
It further enforces the judgement already made by Human Rights Watch, the Israeli NGO, B’Tselem and Palestinian human rights and legal organisations. Nor will it be a surprise to hear that the Israeli propaganda machine was in full swing even before the report was released, claiming the authors to be guilty of partisanship and antisemitism. Nor will it be a surprise to hear that the Australian Prime Minister quickly dismissed the implications of the report saying no state is perfect and that the report makes no change to Australia’s unconditional support for Israel.
At least he is consistent: apparently reports of alleged abuse by friends and colleagues of the Prime Minster are to be treated the same, be they abuse and potentially corrupt activity by members of his cabinet, or serious alleged criminality by a friendly state – nothing to see here. We are appropriately quick to condemn ethic violence against the Rohingya in Myanmar and the Uighurs in China, but apparently championing the rights of Palestinians is off limits.
The Shadow Foreign Affairs Minister, Penny Wong, is correct to say no international court has, as yet, declared Israel to be guilty of apartheid, a very serious crime. However, the case has not been put to a court. The International Criminal Court (ICC) has agreed to hear the accusation that Israel and some Palestinian paramilitary groups are guilty of war crimes. It is urgent that the very serious accusation of apartheid criminality also be referred to the court.
If Israel is confident it would be found - ‘not guilty’, it should be eager to have the case heard.
Of course, it can have no such confidence - and knows that. Israel has enacted laws which entrench discrimination, including the 2018 Israeli New State Law. Increasing numbers of Jews, both in Israel and in the diaspora, are courageously acknowledging that apartheid is the best and only way of describing the policies of the Israeli government.
The pendulum is swinging. The actions of the Israeli State will increasingly become subject to opprobrium, not simply from human rights advocates, but also from those who in the past have afforded the State unconditional support. Until recently support for Israel was a nonnegotiable badge of identity for American Evangelicals. The result of a recent poll shows that support for Israel amongst young US evangelicals has dropped from 69% to 34% in the period 2018 – 2021. Commentary suggests the most important reason for this extraordinary drop is that many of these young evangelicals have come to believe that Israel is an oppressor nation, a lawless state, squarely on the wrong side of human rights and social justice. Israel is now the villain, with Palestinians as the mistreated.
“The images of Israel that dominate the thinking of many young people are vivid and almost unrelentingly negative: hundreds of Palestinian homes bulldozed, and Palestinian buildings blown up. They see reports from various human rights groups of the excessive use of force by Israeli police and Israel Defence Forces (IDF) troops”, US based commentators say.
People are already making concrete responses to Israel’s behaviour. Protests such as the boycott of the recent Sydney Arts Festival, disrupting 40% of the performances, are going to increase, with a diverse section of society involved. When those involved are accused of antisemitism, frankly, it insults members of the Jewish community in the past, or present, who suffer, or have suffered, real and cruel antisemitic behaviour.
The long list of discriminatory practices that contribute to the apartheid label have been frequently catalogued.
So, what is to be done? Is there anything to be done? Yes, the following must be done, for the sake of Israel and its long-term integrity, as for the Palestinian people.
First, the accusation against Israel that it has institutionalised an apartheid regime, a crime in international law, should be taken up by the International Criminal Court.
Second, the paraphernalia of occupation must be dismantled under the supervision of the United Nations. Palestinians must be relieved of cruelty through administration under military law while the illegal settlers who daily harass them are administered under civil law - without punishment. This disparity in administration should have prevailed for a maximum of 12 months after the 1967 war, it has continued to exist for more than 50 years.
Thirdly, the Palestinian people must have a body that represents them. This is not the Palestinian Authority – it was only established as a 5-year interim administration to oversee the establishment of a Palestinian State. It has devolved to the point of merely being an instrument in the apparatus that is the Israel occupation. The PLO (Palestinian Liberation Organisation) was acknowledged by the Oslo process as the representative of the Palestinian people, and this must be supported, reconstituted, and revitalised. Fresh elections of this body could ensure there is representation for all Palestinian people – those in Gaza, the West Bank including East Jerusalem, those languishing in refugee camps and throughout Palestinian Diaspora.
Only when the Occupation has ceased, and the Palestinians have a truly representative elected body, can there be a foundation for true peace talks. Only then will there be some semblance of power and genuine authority for Palestinians at the negotiating table – currently we are asking Palestinians to negotiate without legitimate representation and with Israel’s boot on their throats. Meaningful negotiations of course require a respected international mediator who can help nut out the future in which all have the potential to flourish.
The future cannot, must not, be a continuation of the present. In the words of the 8th century BC Hebrew prophet Amos: “Let justice roll down like waters and righteousness as an everlasting stream”. Then and only then peace, security and flourishing will prevail.