Israel: Palestinians are living under a system of apartheid - major new report
280-page report finds Palestinians in Occupied Palestinian Territories and Israel forced to live with ‘cruel policies of segregation, dispossession and exclusion’ amounting to crimes against humanity
Palestinians treated as ‘inferior racial group and systematically deprived of their rights’
Dispossession and displacement of Palestinians from their homes is a crucial pillar of Israel’s apartheid system
‘There is no possible justification for a system built around the institutionalised and prolonged racist oppression of millions of people’ - Agnès Callamard
Call for ‘major re-assessment’ of UK’s foreign policy position on Israel
‘For too long the UK has tried to sit on the fence when it comes to Israel’s shameful human rights record’ - Sacha Deshmukh
The Israeli authorities must be held accountable for committing the crime of apartheid against Palestinians, Amnesty International said today in a damning new report.
Amnesty’s comprehensive 280-page report - Israel’s Apartheid against Palestinians: Cruel System of Domination and Crime against Humanity, the result of intensive research and expert legal analysis - documents how massive seizures of Palestinian land and property, unlawful killings, the forcible transfer of Palestinian people from their land, drastic movement restrictions, and the denial of nationality and citizenship to Palestinians are all components of a system amounting to apartheid under international law.
This system is maintained by violations which Amnesty found constitute apartheid as a crime against humanity, as defined in the Rome Statute and Apartheid Convention.
Amnesty’s investigation details how Israel enforces a system of oppression and domination against the Palestinian people wherever it has control over their rights. This includes Palestinians living in Israel and the Occupied Palestinian Territories (OPT), as well as displaced refugees currently in other countries.
In light of the report, Amnesty is calling on the UK government to ensure there is a “major re-assessment” of its foreign policy position and strategy on Israel so as to “confront and begin to tackle the scale and systematic nature of Israel’s apartheid crimes” (see ‘UK should use close diplomatic ties to push for change’ below).
Amnesty’s findings build on a growing body of work by Palestinian, Israeli and international NGOs which has increasingly applied an apartheid framework to the situation in Israel and/or the OPT.
A system of apartheid is an institutionalised regime of oppression and domination by one racial group over another. In international criminal law, specific unlawful acts which are committed within a system of apartheid and with the intention of maintaining it constitute the crime against humanity of apartheid. These acts are set out in the Apartheid Convention and the Rome Statute, and include unlawful killing, torture, forcible transfer and the denial of basic rights and freedoms.
Amnesty has documented acts outlawed in the Apartheid Convention and Rome Statute in all areas Israel controls, although they occur more frequently and violently in the OPT than in Israel. Israel enacts multiple measures to deliberately deny Palestinians their basic rights and freedoms, including draconian movement restrictions on Palestinians in the OPT; chronic discriminatory underinvestment in Palestinian communities in Israel, and the denial of refugees’ right to return. Amnesty has also documented forcible transfer, administrative detention, torture and unlawful killings, both inside Israel and in the OPT.
These acts form part of a systematic and widespread attack directed against the Palestinian population - and are committed with the intent to maintain the system of oppression and domination; they therefore constitute the crime against humanity of apartheid.
The scale and seriousness of the violations documented in Amnesty’s report call for a drastic change in the international community’s approach to the human rights crisis in Israel and the OPT.
Amnesty is calling on the International Criminal Court to consider the crime of apartheid in its current investigation in the OPT and calls on all states to exercise universal jurisdiction to bring perpetrators of apartheid crimes to justice.
Agnès Callamard, Amnesty International’s Secretary General, said:
“Our report reveals the true extent of Israel’s apartheid regime. Whether they live in Gaza, East Jerusalem, Hebron or Israel itself, Palestinians are treated as an inferior racial group and systematically deprived of their rights.
“We found that Israel’s cruel policies of segregation, dispossession and exclusion across all territories under its control clearly amount to apartheid. The international community has an obligation to act.
“For Palestinians, the difficulty of travelling within and in and out of the OPT is a constant reminder of their powerlessness. Their every move is subject to the Israeli military’s approval, and the simplest daily task means navigating a web of violent control.
“There is no possible justification for a system built around the institutionalised and prolonged racist oppression of millions of people.
“Apartheid has no place in our world, and states which choose to make allowances for Israel will find themselves on the wrong side of history. Governments who continue to supply Israel with arms and shield it from accountability at the UN are supporting a system of apartheid, undermining the international legal order, and exacerbating the suffering of the Palestinian people.
“The international community must face up to the reality of Israel’s apartheid, and pursue the many avenues to justice which remain shamefully unexplored.
“Israel must dismantle the apartheid system and start treating Palestinians as human beings with equal rights and dignity. Until it does, peace and security will remain a distant prospect for Israelis and Palestinians alike.”
Unlawful killing of Palestinian protesters
The unlawful killing of Palestinian protesters is perhaps the clearest illustration of how Israeli authorities use unlawful acts to maintain the status quo. In 2018, Palestinians in Gaza began to hold weekly protests along the border with Israel, calling for the right of return for refugees and an end to the blockade. Before the protests even began, senior Israeli officials warned that Palestinians approaching the wall would be shot. By the time the protests stopped at the end of 2019, Israeli forces had killed 214 civilians, including 46 children.
In light of the systematic unlawful killings of Palestinians documented in its report, Amnesty is also calling for the UN Security Council to impose a comprehensive arms embargo on Israel. This should cover all weapons and munitions as well as law-enforcement equipment, given the thousands of Palestinian civilians who have been unlawfully killed by Israeli forces. The Security Council should also impose targeted sanctions, such as asset freezes, against Israeli officials most implicated in the crime of apartheid.
Minimising Palestinian presence
Since its establishment in 1948, Israel has pursued a policy of establishing and then maintaining a Jewish demographic majority, and maximising control over land and resources to benefit Jewish Israelis. In 1967, Israel extended this policy to the West Bank and Gaza Strip. Today, all territories controlled by Israel are administered with the purpose of benefiting Jewish Israelis to the detriment of Palestinians, while Palestinian refugees continue to be excluded.
Amnesty recognises that Jews, like Palestinians, claim a right to self-determination, and does not challenge Israel’s desire to be a home for Jews. Similarly, it does not consider that Israel labelling itself a “Jewish state” in itself indicates an intention to oppress and dominate.
However, Amnesty’s report shows that successive Israeli governments have considered Palestinians a demographic threat, and imposed measures to control and decrease their presence and access to land in Israel and the OPT. These demographic aims are well illustrated by official plans to “Judaise” areas of Israel and the West Bank, including East Jerusalem, which continue to put thousands of Palestinians at risk of forcible transfer.
Palestinians experience oppression differently depending on their location and legal status. This is a result of the fact that, over time, the Palestinian population have been fragmented geographically and politically. The 1947-49 and 1967 wars, Israel’s ongoing military rule of the OPT, and the creation of separate legal and administrative regimes within the territory, have separated Palestinian communities and segregated them from Jewish Israelis.
Palestinian citizens in Israel currently enjoy greater rights and freedoms than their counterparts in the OPT, while the experience of Palestinians in Gaza is very different to that of those living in the West Bank. Nonetheless, Amnesty’s research shows that all Palestinians are subject to the same overarching system. Israel’s treatment of Palestinians across all areas is pursuant to the same objective: to privilege Jewish Israelis in distribution of land and resources, and to minimise the Palestinian presence and access to land.
Treated as inferior racial group
Amnesty’s report demonstrates that the Israeli authorities treat Palestinians as an inferior racial group as defined by their non-Jewish, Arab status. This racial discrimination is cemented in laws which affect Palestinians across Israel and the OPT.
For example, Palestinian citizens of Israel are denied a nationality, establishing a legal differentiation from Jewish Israelis and resulting in multiple forms of systematic discrimination. In 2018 this discrimination was crystallised in a constitutional law which, for the first time, enshrined Israel exclusively as the “nation state of the Jewish people”.
In parallel, Israel has controlled the population registry in the West Bank and Gaza since 1967. Palestinians here have no citizenship and most are considered stateless, requiring ID cards from the Israeli military to live and work in the territories.
While Israel grants any Jew the right to immigrate to Israel and gain citizenship, it denies the right to return to millions of Palestinian refugees. Palestinians who were displaced in the 1947-49 and 1967 conflicts, and their descendants, have an internationally-protected right to return to their former places of residence or property. Israel’s flagrant violation of this right is crucial for retaining its control over demographics - in order to minimise the Palestinian presence in Israel and the OPT, Israeli authorities ban refugees from returning, leaving them in a perpetual limbo of forced displacement.
In annexed East Jerusalem, Palestinians are granted permanent residence instead of citizenship - though this status is permanent in name only. Since 1967, more than 14,000 Palestinians have had their residency revoked at the discretion of the Interior Ministry, resulting in their forcible transfer outside the city.
Unequal treatment of Palestinians in Israel
Palestinian citizens of Israel, who comprise about 21% of the population, face many forms of discrimination. Because they are “exempt” from Israeli military service, they are denied access to a host of associated benefits, including housing support and educational grants. The majority of Palestinians in Israel live in densely-populated enclaves as a result of racist land seizures and a raft of discriminatory laws on land allocation, planning and zoning. Palestinians are effectively blocked from leasing on around 80% of state land, most of which was acquired in racially-motivated seizures from Palestinians.
The situation in the Negev/Naqab region of southern Israel is a prime example of how Israel’s planning and building policies intentionally exclude Palestinians. Since 1948, the Israeli authorities have adopted various policies to “Judaise” the Negev/Naqab, including designating large areas nature reserves or military firing zones, while setting targets for increasing the Jewish population. This has had devastating consequences for the tens of thousands of Palestinian Bedouins in the region.
Thirty-five Bedouin villages - home to about 68,000 people - are currently “unrecognised” by Israel, meaning they are cut off from national electricity and water supplies and targeted by house demolitions. Residents also face restrictions over political participation and are excluded from the healthcare and education systems. This has forced many into leaving their homes in what amounts to forcible transfer.
Decades of deliberately unequal treatment of Palestinian citizens of Israel has left them economically disadvantaged in comparison to Jewish Israelis. This is exacerbated by a blatantly discriminatory allocation of state resources. A recent example is the government’s Covid-19 recovery package, with just 1.7% given to the Palestinian local authorities.
Land seizures and house dispossessions
The dispossession and displacement of Palestinians from their homes is a crucial pillar of Israel’s apartheid system. Since its establishment, the Israeli state has enforced massive and cruel land seizures against Palestinians, and continues to implement myriad laws and policies to force Palestinians into small enclaves. Since 1948, Israel has demolished hundreds of thousands of Palestinian homes and other properties across all areas under its jurisdiction and effective control. Meanwhile, the authorities deny building permits to Palestinians in these areas, forcing them to build illegal structures which are repeatedly demolished.
In the OPT, the continued expansion of illegal Israeli settlements exacerbates the situation. The construction of these settlements in the OPT has been a government policy since 1967. Settlements today cover 10% of the land in the West Bank, and some 38% of Palestinian land in East Jerusalem was expropriated between 1967 and 2017.
Palestinian neighbourhoods in East Jerusalem are frequently targeted by settler organisations which, with the full backing of the Israeli government, work to displace Palestinian families and hand their homes to settlers. One such neighbourhood, Sheikh Jarrah, has been the site of frequent protests since May 2021 as Palestinian families battle to keep their homes under the threat of a settler lawsuit.
Since the mid-1990s, the Israeli authorities have imposed increasingly stringent movement restrictions on Palestinians in the OPT. A dense web of military checkpoints, roadblocks, fences and other structures controls the movement of Palestinians within the OPT and restricts their travel into Israel or abroad.
A 430-mile fence, which Israel is still extending, has isolated Palestinian communities inside “military zones”, and they must obtain multiple special permits any time they enter or leave their homes. In Gaza, more than two million Palestinians live under an Israeli blockade which has created a humanitarian crisis. It is near-impossible for Gazans to travel abroad or into the rest of the OPT, and they are effectively segregated from the rest of the world.
UK should use close diplomatic ties to push for change
As one of Israel’s closest diplomatic allies, the UK should call on the country to make urgent changes to dismantle its apartheid system. In its official assessment of Israel’s human rights record, the UK describes Israel as “an open democracy, underpinned by robust institutions and a vibrant civil society”, while noting that it has “continued to violate human rights and humanitarian law in the context of Israel’s occupation of the West Bank, including East Jerusalem, and Gaza”. In Amnesty’s view, the UK’s foreign policy position and strategy on Israel requires a major re-assessment if it is to fully confront and begin to tackle the scale and systematic nature of Israel’s apartheid crimes.
In November, Amnesty also called on the UK construction giant JCB to take urgent measures to prevent the company’s diggers from being used by the Israeli authorities to carry out the unlawful destruction of Palestinian homes or the construction of settlements in the OPT. In a substantial report, Amnesty showed that in recent years there have been dozens of incidents where JCB machinery was used to demolish residential and farm buildings belonging to Palestinians, to destroy water pipes, and to uproot large numbers of olive trees and other agricultural produce and structures. The same month, the Government found JCB to be in breach of international human rights standards in respect of failures to carry out proper due diligence on the end-use of its goods. Amnesty is calling for the Government to ensure there are consequences for JCB over these failings, including the denial of public procurement contracts.
Sacha Deshmukh, Amnesty International UK’s CEO, said:
“For too long the UK has tried to sit on the fence when it comes to Israel’s shameful human rights record - effectively turning a blind eye to the systematic discrimination against Palestinians amounting to a system of apartheid.
“Instead of honestly confronting the enormity of Israel’s crimes, the UK has contented itself with low-key criticisms of Palestinian protester killings and the relentless expansion of Israel’s illegal settlements on occupied Palestinian land.
“Ministers often make the claim that a confident ‘Global Britain’ stands for the rule of law around the world - if this means anything it must mean concrete consequences for a close ally like Israel over its cruel and unlawful apparatus of discrimination.
“Ministers should use the UK’s close diplomatic ties with Israel to hold it to account for its crushing system of apartheid and institutionalised discrimination against Palestinians - and ongoing settlement-building and the Gaza blockade must end.
“The UK should impose a comprehensive import ban on all products from Israel’s illegal settlements, rein in JCB’s exports linked to illegal house demolitions, and immediately suspend all UK military and policing assistance to Israel.”
Amnesty’s report provides numerous specific recommendations for how the Israeli authorities can dismantle its apartheid system and the discrimination, segregation and oppression which sustain it, including:
-Israel must end its brutal practice of home demolitions and forced evictions.
-Israel must grant equal rights to all Palestinians in Israel and the OPT, in line with principles of international human rights and humanitarian law.
-Israel must recognise the right of Palestinian refugees and their descendants to return to homes where they or their families once lived, while providing victims of human rights violations and crimes against humanity with full reparations.