Civil rights group claim Israeli occupation is "reminiscent of apartheid"
By Ben Lynfield in Jerusalem
Independent Sunday, 7 December 2008
Israel’s leading civil rights organisation yesterday broke a taboo by describing Israeli policies in the occupied West Bank as being “reminiscent of apartheid” in South Africa.
Alleging an intensification of human rights abuses against Palestinians, the respected Association for Civil Rights in Israel (ACRI) made the comparison in an annual report that described the existence of separate legal, planning and transportation systems for Jewish settlers and Palestinians in the West Bank.
“Israel has built a modern arterial road system in the West Bank intended in fact only for use by Israeli traffic, whereas the Palestinians are forced to travel for the most part on twisting and dangerous roads,” the report said. While Israel facilitates the expansion of Jewish settlements, it restricts the growth of Palestinian towns, the report added. “This state of affairs in which all the services, budgets and the access to natural resources are granted along discriminatory and separatist lines according to ethnic-national criteria is a blatant violation of the principle of equality and is in many ways reminiscent of the Apartheid regime in South Africa.” The report said. Mark Regev, spokesman for Israeli Prime Minister Ehud Olmert, responded that “the whole comparison is inaccurate and offensive.”
“In the real world where there are real terrorist threats, the choice is between roadblocks and protracted waiting [for Palestinians] or roads for Palestinians.” he said.
ACRI wrote that while South Africa had been a case of a “racist separation criterion” the one applied in the occupied terirories is “ethnic-national.”
The group decided to drop its previous reluctance to use the South Africa comparison, often invoked by those pressing for an international boycott of Israel, because “things are getting worse rather than better” according to spokeswoman Melanie Takefman.
In particular, Ms. Takefman cited what ACRI views as the Israeli supreme court's endorsement of the idea of separate road systems for Israelis and Palestinians in the West Bank. Last March, the court ignored an ACRI petition that it rule on the legality of the continued barring of Palestinians from Highway 443, an alternate route between Jerusalem and Tel Aviv that slices through expropriated Palestinian West Bank land. To justify the expropriations, the state had said during the 1990's the road would be for Palestinian benefit. But the road is now entirely an Israeli commuter route, with Palestinian villagers who formerly used it to access health, education and jobs in Ramallah barred since 2002 when it was closed to them after attacks on Israeli motorists. Instead, authorities are building a separate road for Palestinians. “The judges's turning a blind eye and approving a separate road system was a very depressing and ominous sign,” Ms. Takefman said.
In 2006, former US President Jimmy Carter published Palestine: Peace not Apartheid, in which he argued that apartheid is an appropriate term for Israeli policies devoted to “the acquisition of land” in the West Bank. His application of the term to the West Bank evoked heated responses from supporters of Israel.
Mr. Regev said the best way to address the separate legal systems in the West Bank for settlers and Palestinians would be the creation of a Palestinian state as an outgrowth of current negotiations. “Do people really want us to annex the West Bank so that there will be one legal system?” he asked.
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