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Israel/OPT: recent violence shows deadly cost of Israel's system of apartheid

An Israeli security offcial pointing a rubber-coated bullet-launcher at a Palestinian protest during 2021 © AFP via Getty Images

Year on from launch of major Amnesty report, almost 220 Palestinians killed by Israeli forces

South Africa and Namibia among countries who’ve expressed concern that Israel’s treatment of Palestinians constitutes apartheid

‘Apartheid is a crime against humanity, and it is frankly chilling to see the perpetrators evade justice year after year’ - Agnès Callamard

The Israeli authorities must dismantle the system of apartheid which is causing immense suffering and bloodshed, Amnesty International said today, a year on since Amnesty launched a major campaign against Israel’s overarching system apartheid.

Since Amnesty’s campaign launch, Israeli forces have killed almost 220 Palestinians, including 35 last month (January 2023) alone. Unlawful killings help maintain Israel’s apartheid system and constitute crimes against humanity, as do other serious and ongoing violations such as administrative detention and forcible transfer. 

Recent deadly attacks have underscored the urgent need for accountability in the region. On 26 January, Israeli forces carried out a raid on Jenin refugee camp and killed ten Palestinians, including a 61-year-old woman. On 27 January, seven Israeli civilians were killed when a Palestinian gunman opened fire in Neve Ya’akov, an Israeli settlement in occupied East Jerusalem.

In response to this attack, Israeli authorities have stepped up collective punishment against Palestinians, carrying out sweeping mass arrests and threatening punitive home demolitions.

Amid these violations, there is growing international recognition that the Israeli authorities are committing apartheid. Palestinians have long called for an understanding of Israel’s rule as apartheid, and organisations such as Al-Haq, the Palestinian Center for Human Rights and Al Mezan have been at the forefront of advocacy on this issue.

Last year, two UN Special Rapporteurs concluded that the Israeli authorities were committing apartheid, and the number of states at the Human Rights Council referring to Israeli apartheid doubled from nine in 2021 to 18 in 2022. Notably, South Africa and Namibia are among the states who have expressed concern that Israel’s treatment of Palestinians constitutes apartheid. Several international and Israeli human rights organisations have also called for an end to apartheid, including Human Rights Watch, B’Tselem and Yesh Din.   

The Israeli authorities have gone to great lengths to suppress and discredit findings of apartheid, with particularly serious consequences for Palestinian human rights defenders. Last August, the Israeli authorities raided the offices of seven leading Palestinian NGOs after branding them “terrorist entities” and outlawing them. In December, Salah Hammouri, a field researcher at prisoners’ rights organisation Addameer, was stripped of his Jerusalem residency and deported to France after spending nine months in administrative detention.   

Agnès Callamard, Amnesty International’s Secretary General, said: 

“The devastating events of the past week have exposed yet again the deadly cost of the system of apartheid.

“The international community’s failure to hold Israeli authorities to account for apartheid and other crimes has given them free rein to segregate, control and oppress Palestinians on a daily basis, and helps perpetuate deadly violence.

“Apartheid is a crime against humanity, and it is frankly chilling to see the perpetrators evade justice year after year.

“Israel has long attempted to silence findings of apartheid with targeted smear campaigns, and the international community allows itself to be cowed by these tactics. 

“Until apartheid is dismantled there is no hope of protecting civilian lives, and no hope of justice for grieving families in Palestine and Israel.

“We call on states to end all forms of support for Israel’s violations, and to break with years of complicit inaction by holding the Israeli authorities to account.”  

Daily evidence of apartheid

On 1 February 2022, Amnesty released a 280-page report showing how Israel enforces an institutionalised system of oppression and domination against Palestinians  wherever it has control over their rights: in Israel, the Occupied Palestinian Territories, and against displaced refugees by denying their right to return. It showed how Israeli laws, policies and practices are enacted with the overarching aim of maintaining a Jewish demographic majority, maximising control of land and resources to benefit Jewish Israelis to the detriment of Palestinians.

Last year went on to become one of the deadliest years for Palestinians in the occupied West Bank, with some 153 Palestinians - including dozens of children - killed by Israeli forces, mostly in the context of increased military raids and arrest operations. Amnesty research found that 33 Palestinians - including 17 civilians - were killed by Israeli forces during their August offensive on Gaza, and that at least seven civilians were killed by rockets launched by Palestinian armed groups.  

Meanwhile, incidents of Israeli settler violence against Palestinians increased for the sixth consecutive year in 2022, with attacks including physical assaults, damage to property and destruction of olive groves. The Israeli authorities have condoned and facilitated this violence, including by arresting the Palestinians who are under attack, providing armed escorts to settlers, or simply by looking on from the sidelines while Palestinians have been attacks and had property destroyed.

Following the Neve Ya’akov shooting attack, the Israeli authorities have appeared to incite further violence against Palestinians by announcing plans to expedite gun licences “in order to enable thousands of additional citizens to carry weapons”. Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, who has already pledged to massively expand illegal settlements across the Occupied Palestinian Territories, also said the government was planning to “strengthen settlements”.

Settlement expansion

All Israeli settlements in the Occupied Palestinian Territories are illegal under international law, and Israel’s long-running policy of settling civilians in occupied territory amounts to a war crime. Increased settlement expansion will put countless more Palestinians at risk of forcible transfer - a crime against humanity which Israeli authorities have committed on a systematic basis. Last May, a Supreme Court ruling authorised the forcible transfer of more than 1,150 Palestinians from Masafer Yatta in the West Bank. In the past year the Israeli authorities also scaled up plans to demolish the unrecognised village of Ras Jrabah in Israel’s Negev/Naqab region and displace its 500 Palestinian-Bedouin residents, while last month the Bedouin village of Al-Araqib was demolished for the 212th time.

Ignoring the UN

In May this year, Israel’s human rights record will come under scrutiny through the Universal Periodic Review at the UN Human Rights Council. Amnesty has written to the Israeli authorities urging them to engage with this process, but they have yet to submit to the review process. The Israeli authorities have ignored most of the recommendations during the previous UPR cycle in 2018. For example, despite being urged repeatedly over the years, and then again in 2018, to end administrative detention, Israel is currently holding more than 860 Palestinians without charge or trial - the highest number in 15 years.


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