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Amnesty International Gets It Right: Israel Is an Apartheid State. But NGO Reports Won’t Free Palestine

A report issued yesterday by Amnesty International spells out how Israel’s occupation of Palestinian territory amounts to “apartheid,” and calls on the world to “bring perpetrators of apartheid crimes to justice.”

Scott Cooper

February 2, 2022
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The findings in Amnesty International’s report on Israel released yesterday could not be stated more clearly. As Agnès Callamard, the group’s secretary general, put it:

Our report reveals the true extent of Israel’s apartheid regime. Whether they live in Gaza, East Jerusalem and the rest of the West Bank, 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.

It is notable that the report identifies that the apartheid system that the settler-colonialist Zionist state has built is not limited to the so-called Occupied Territories, but extends into Israel itself.

“Apartheid” as a term is usually associated with South Africa’s system of institutionalized racial segregation that was dismantled in the early 1990s. It’s no coincidence that during that period, as a worldwide movement against the South African government grew to a point where the country became an international pariah, its one reliable ally was Israel. Even today, the struggles for Palestinian liberation and against continued exploitation of Black workers in South Africa cannot be separated, as the Clover strike in South Africa makes clear.

Specifics of the Report

Amnesty International’s report comes after several years of investigation into the specific legal structures and policies Israel employs against the Palestinians, with a special focus on living conditions. It concludes that “massive and brutal” seizures of Palestinian land and property from the very beginning of Israel’s existence, along with the killing of Palestinians, drastic restrictions of movement, and denial of citizenship constitute apartheid. “The inhuman or inhumane acts committed within the context of this attack have been committed with the intention to maintain this system and amount to the crime against humanity of apartheid under both the Apartheid Convention and the Rome Statue.”

Israel subjects Palestinians to all of this on a daily basis, declares Amnesty International.

Among its many specific findings, Amnesty International points to the crystallization of discrimination against Palestinians in the 2018 law that enshrined the Zionist state as the “nation state of the Jewish people,” promoted more settlements, and downgraded Arabic as one of Israel’s official languages. It explains that racist land seizures and a “web” of discriminatory laws on land allocation, planning, and zoning effectively block Palestinians from leasing on 80 percent of Israel’s state land. The report uses the Negev/Naqab region of southern Israel as a prime example to show how the apartheid system has been erected. Since 1948, the Zionists have enacted policies to “Judaize” the region, including everything from designating large areas as nature reserves or military firing zones to setting quotas for increasing the Jewish population.

This has had particularly devastating consequences for the tens of thousands of Palestinian Bedouins who live in the region. Some 68,000 Bedouins in 35 “unrecognized” villages have been cut off from the national water and electricity supplies, their homes are repeatedly targeted for demolition, and they are excluded from healthcare and education. The report states:

Israel has deliberately destroyed homes and displaced civilians during military operations, rendering tens of thousands of Palestinians homeless and displaced. The evidence suggests that most of the destruction was not justified by military necessity and amounted to violations of international humanitarian law. Considered within the context of the system of oppression and domination, the violations contribute to maintaining this system of apartheid.

These policies, regulations, and conduct, Amnesty International states, “have involved the crime against humanity of deportation or forcible transfer.”

Israel Cries “Antisemitism”

Of course, Israeli leaders responded with the usual false claim of antisemitism, part of a decades-long conflation of Judaism and Zionism — their racist, murderous ideology — that is cynical to its core. They want the report withdrawn.

Yair Lipid, the Israeli foreign minister, characterized the report as “divorced from reality” and said Amnesty International “quotes lies spread by terrorist organizations.” Playing the antisemitism card, he added, “I hate to use the argument that if Israel were not a Jewish state, nobody in Amnesty would dare argue against it, but in this case, there is no other possibility.”

Those “terrorist organizations” that Amnesty International drew on for some of its research are the very human rights organizations that Israeli defense minister Benny Gantz designated as “terrorist” last October to silence their voices. The Zionist government, though, has not been able to suppress the Israeli Information Center for Human Rights in the Occupied Territories, better known as B’Tselem, which a year ago concluded that the “regime of Jewish supremacy from the Jordan River to the Mediterranean Sea” amounted to apartheid.

For an International Movement to Free Palestine

South African apartheid was crushed by a concerted struggle inside that country by its victims and allies, along with a massive international solidarity effort. The Palestinians will never be freed from the yoke of Zionist apartheid without the same kind of international fight, which means taking on U.S. imperialism — which props up its Israeli client state with more aid than any other country in the world.

Despite how useful and important it is to have a report like that of Amnesty International, Palestinian freedom isn’t going to come from NGOs or an International Criminal Court established by bourgeois governments to free Palestinians from their oppression. Amnesty International USA made clear in a tweet yesterday that the group’s “focus has been on the Israeli government’s obligations, as the occupying power, under international law, but Amnesty has taken no position on the occupation itself.”

An international movement has to be organized independent of governments, NGOs, and those who legitimize Israel’s “right to exist.” It cannot be based on accepting any claims to territory by the Israelis. It cannot be about going back to the pre-1967 borders or stopping further settlements without dismantling the nearly 250 “government-approved” and unofficial ones in the West Bank and East Jerusalem, with more than 400,00 occupiers. It must fight for dismantling the Zionist state and for a democratic, secular Palestine.

Palestine must be free, from the river to the sea!

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Scott Cooper

Scott is a writer, editor, and longtime socialist activist who lives in the Boston area.

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