Israel runs an apartheid regime. That’s no longer simply the charge of Palestine solidarity campaigners—but the position of Israel’s largest and most respected human rights organisation.
In a paper published last week, the organisation B’Tselem said Israel’s rule, both in the state of Israel and Palestinian territories, is “designed to cement the supremacy of one group—Jews—over another—Palestinians”.
“This is apartheid,” it declared. That’s a striking position for an Israeli organisation to take.
It’s also an important shift for B’Tselem. It was originally founded by Israeli politicians and academics to monitor Israel’s military occupation of the West Bank and the Gaza Strip.
In Britain supporters of Israel are campaigning to make it harder to brand it an apartheid state. In Israel B’Tselem says there’s no escaping the facts.
It’s no good pretending that Israel and the Palestinian territories it occupies are separate political systems. Carrying on that fiction is just one way that Israeli governments have tried to deny that they run an apartheid regime.
B’Tselem said the reality of the occupation means the apartheid label applies to the whole area “from the Jordan River to the Mediterranean Sea”.
That isn’t to say that the reality of Palestinian oppression is the same everywhere.
“The Israeli regime has divided the area into several units that it defines and governs differently, according to Palestinians different rights in each,” B’Tselem explained.
Inside Israel’s “recognised” borders, Palestinians are labelled Arab-Israelis—though they don’t have the same rights as Jewish citizens. In East Jerusalem, they are “permanent residents”—but not citizens—of Israel, and this status can be revoked.
In the West Bank, more than 2.6 million Palestinians live “in disconnected enclaves, under rigid military rule and without political rights”. And though Israel withdrew its forces from the Gaza Strip in 2005, the following siege means it “has continued to control nearly every aspect of life”.
Palestinians cannot even travel freely between any of these areas, but “Jewish citizens live as though the entire area were a single space (excluding the Gaza Strip)”.
The borders that control Palestinians’ lives don’t exist for Israeli citizens.
B’Tselem said that, as the occupation has gone on, the apartheid system has become “more institutionalized and explicit”.
That’s why it’s made the shift to branding the whole area an apartheid regime, pointing to the recent Nation State Law as a turning point.
This explicitly gives Jewish citizens more rights. B’Tselem doesn’t explain when or why apartheid began, or what the solution is.
“There are various political paths to a just solution,” it said. So it doesn’t rule out that Jews and Arabs could live in one state as equals—another bold position for an Israeli organisation.
“But all of us must first choose to say no to apartheid,” it said. And its paper is a useful tool for anyone who wants to do that.
Read the paper at bit.ly/Apartheid0121
Citizenship and land rights are not extended to Palestinians
At the heart of Israel’s apartheid regime is a system that denies Palestinians the right to live on their own land.
B’Tselem pointed out, “Any Jew in the world and his or her children, grandchildren and spouses are entitled to immigrate to Israel at any time and receive Israeli citizenship, with all of its associated rights.
“They receive this status even if they choose to live in a West Bank settlement.”
But Palestinians born in other countries don’t have that right “even if they, their parents or their grandparents were born and lived there”.
Even Palestinians living in the West Bank, East Jerusalem or the Gaza Strip “cannot obtain Israeli citizenship and relocate to Israeli sovereign territory”.
Palestinian refugees can never return to the land that they and their families were expelled from when Israel was founded in 1948.
They will always be denied justice while Israel’s apartheid state exists.
Israel also uses its racist laws to grab more land.
Its Nation State law says Israel will “encourage and promote” settlements on occupied Palestinian land.
Meanwhile Israel “severely restricts” Palestinian building and development.
“The result is small, crowded enclaves where residents have no choice but to build without permits,” said B’Tselem.
Laws revoke Palestinians residency rights—and confiscate their homes—if they have lived away for more than three years.
“Since 1967, Israel has revoked the status of some 250,000 Palestinians in the West Bank (East Jerusalem included) and the Gaza Strip.”
Even inside Israel’s “official” borders it has used “absentee laws” to take over land left by Palestinians expelled after 1948.
And, “Israel has significantly reduced the areas designated for Palestinian local councils and communities, which now have access to less than 3 percent of the country’s total area."
Separation of Israel’s citizens
Even inside Israel’s “recognised” borders, Palestinian “citizens” are effectively barred from living in certain areas. Neighbourhood admission committees can turn Palestinians away on the grounds of “cultural incompatibility”.
“Officially, any Israeli citizen can live in any of the country’s cities. In practice, only 10 percent of Palestinian citizens do.
“Even then, they are usually relegated to separate neighbourhoods.”
No freedom of movement
For Palestinians, moving from one part of the apartheid regime to another is difficult.
“Palestinians from the West Bank who wish to enter Israel, East Jerusalem or the Gaza Strip must apply to the Israeli authorities,” explained B’Tselem.
“Palestinians who wish to leave Gaza or Palestinians from other units who wish to enter it must also submit a special application for a permit to the Israeli authorities. Israel treats every permit issued to a Palestinian as an act of grace rather than the fulfilment of a right.”
Many political restrictions
Palestinians in East Jerusalem can vote in local elections but not for parliament.
In the West Bank, the Palestinian Authority—which supposedly governs—does not control its borders nor “planning and land policies, water, communication infrastructure, import and export, and military control over land, sea and air space”.
Palestinians are also “not allowed to demonstrate” and “almost any political statement is considered incitement ”.
“These restrictions are assiduously enforced by the military courts.”