In ‘watershed’ moment, B’Tselem labels Israel ‘apartheid regime’
The reality is that there are millions of Palestinians and Israelis living under the control of a single regime, but with vastly unequal rights.
BY YUMNA PATEL
Israeli human rights group B’Tselem has labeled Israel as an ‘apartheid regime’ for the first time in the group’s 30 year history of documenting human rights violations in the occupied Palestinian territory (oPt) of the West Bank, East Jerusalem, and the Gaza Strip.
The current reality in Israel and the oPt necessitates a change in position and approach, the group says, due to the fact that “in the entire area between the Mediterranean Sea and the Jordan River, the Israeli regime implements laws, practices and state violence designed to cement the supremacy of one group – Jews – over another – Palestinians.”
This is a situation that B’Tselem says can only be described as ‘apartheid’ — a term that Palestinian citizens, activists, and rights groups have been using for years now to describe their reality, and one that Israel and its supporters vehemently oppose.
In their new position paper, B’Tselem challenges the commonly held perception that there are two regimes operating side by side — one democracy for all Israeli citizens in Israel, and one “temporary” occupation in the oPt, the status of which is to be settled in peace talks.
Instead, the reality is that there are millions of Palestinians and Israelis living under the control of a single regime, but with vastly unequal rights.
But with the annexation of East Jerusalem, the de facto annexation of the West Bank, and the continued siege on Gaza, the reality is that there is one regime, Israel, “governing the entire area and the people living in it, based on a single organizing principle” of Jewish supremacy.
“What happens in the Occupied Territories can no longer be treated as separate from the reality in the entire area under Israel’s control,” B’Tselem says. “The terms we have used in recent years to describe the situation – such as “prolonged occupation” or a “one-state reality” – are no longer adequate.”
While Israeli citizens are free to live without restriction (with the exception of Gaza) across Israel and in settlements in the West Bank and East Jerusalem, Palestinians have been divided and fragmented into separate territories, with various Israeli laws and military orders subjugating each population and a different set of rights for Palestinians in each.
Inside Israel itself, where an estimated 20% of the 9 million Israeli citizens are Palestinians, Israel claims to uphold a democracy with equal rights for all its citizens. As demonstrated in the 2018 Nation State Law, however, which declared that only Jews have the right to self-determination, any notion of ‘democracy for all’ was completely shattered.
Since 1948, B’Tselem pointed out, Israel has promoted the construction of hundreds of new Jewish communities across Israel, while not a single new community for its Palestinian citizens has been built. Through a system of various discriminatory laws and practices, Israel has successfully relegated its Palestinian citizens, which it claims to treat as equals, into small crowded enclaves with no room for the growing population, the group says.
In occupied East Jerusalem, which was illegally annexed by Israel in 1967, an estimated 350,000 Palestinians are considered “permanent residents” (a status that can be revoked by the Israeli Ministry of Interior), and are subjugated to the laws and rules of the Israeli Jerusalem Municipality, which historically denies the Palestinian population building and construction permits in their own neighborhoods, leading to widespread home demolitions and the resulting sky-high levels of poverty in those communities.
In the occupied West Bank, Palestinians are subject to Israeli military laws and orders, and in more than 60% of the West Bank (‘Area C’) must receive Israeli permission to build on and farm their land. Despite living under de facto annexation, Palestinians in the West Bank (and East Jerusalem) have no right to vote in Israeli elections and choose the leaders who dictate their everyday lives.
Even in the areas of the West Bank under ‘control’ of the Palestinian Authority, Israel maintains control over the borders and hundreds of checkpoints surrounding those areas.
Meanwhile in the Gaza Strip, though Israel withdrew from the territory in 2005, the Israeli state has continued to control Gaza’s borders and every aspect of life for the 2 million Palestinians living there from the outside, via a 13-year-long land, air and sea blockade.
“In each of these territorial units, Israel decides which rights to grant Palestinians. In not one of them are they granted the same rights as Jews,” B’tselem says, pointing to Israel’s control of things like the right to movement, immigration and citizenship, land, and political participation as the mechanisms for maintaining the current system of apartheid.
While Jews from all around the world can move to Israel and qualify for citizenship simply because they are Jewish, Palestinians living in the diaspora are not afforded the same rights, while Palestinians within the territories face a number of discriminatory laws and practices that prevent them from marrying and immigrating within the territories themselves.
While Israel “practices a policy of ‘judaizing’ the land” by promoting settlement construction in the oPt, for example, Palestinians are continuously “dispossessed and corralled into small, crowded enclaves,” wherever they may live.
“This is apartheid,” B’Tselem said in the report. “A regime that uses laws, practices and organized violence to establish and maintain the supremacy of one group over another is an apartheid regime.”
“This did not emerge overnight but took shape gradually, over time. The accumulation of measures, which receive public and judicial support and are enshrined in both practice and law, points to the conclusion that the bar for defining Israel as an apartheid regime has been met,” the group declared.
In the wake of the report, Israel’s supporters have fervently rejected the use of the term apartheid, maintaining the stance that Israel exerts only partial or temporary control of the West Bank and Gaza for “security reasons.”
In a bizarre statement, the former Israeli consul general in New York Alon Pinkas, while seemingly okay with the 50 plus years of military occupation, drew the line at apartheid saying “It is most certainly NOT Apartheid. Occupation? Yes. Separation /disassociation/two-states/ confederation: Yes. This still doesn’t make this Apartheid.”
Itay Milner, a spokesman for Israel’s consulate general in New York, called the report “another tool for them [B’Tselem] to promote their political agenda,” which he said was based on a “distorted ideological view,” the Times of Israel reported.
Many Palestinians and their supporters celebrated and welcomed B’Tselem’s report, calling it a “watershed moment” for the Israeli human rights community.
Matt Duss, the foreign policy advisor for US Senator Bernie Sanders re-tweeted a statement from B’Tselem’s director Hagai El-Ad, adding that “American taxpayers need to stop subsidizing this.”
Despite the mixed reactions to the report, B’Tselem has said that it will use the opportunity to “call for change.”
“Apartheid is not set in stone: It’s a regime created by people, and people can change it too. It is, however, difficult – impossible – to change reality if one refrains from calling things by their proper name. Apartheid,” Hagai El-Ad said in a statement.
“The sober, accurate, and timely look at this reality is a moment of hope, a call for change towards a future of justice, equality and rights – a future that will come.”
DISTRIBUTED BY PAJU (PALESTINIAN AND JEWISH UNITY)