On Wednesday, a landmark report published by the UN’s Economic and Social Commission for Western Asia (ESCWA), found that “Israel has established an Apartheid regime that dominates the Palestinian people as a whole.”
Entitled “Israeli Practices towards the Palestinian People and the Question of Apartheid”, the report is authored by former UN Special Rapporteur Richard Falk, and human rights specialist Virginia Tilley.
Rather than simply comparing Israel and Apartheid South Africa, Falk and Tilley evaluated Israel’s practices against the International Convention on the Suppression and Punishment of the Crime of Apartheid (ICSPCA), adopted by the UN General Assembly in 1973.
Commonly known as the Apartheid Convention, ICSPCA legally defines the crime of Apartheid as “inhuman acts committed for the purpose of establishing and maintaining domination by one racial group of persons over any other racial group of persons and systematically oppressing them.”
International law defines racial discrimination to mean “any distinction, exclusion, restriction or preference based on race, colour, descent or ethnic or national origin.”
According to this definition, then, the Zionist Movement’s claim to Palestine as the exclusive homeland of the Jewish people rests on an expressly racial conception of both groups. Jews and Palestinians are ‘racial groups’ ” for the purposes of applying the Apartheid Convention.
The report concludes that the “strategic fragmentation” of the Palestinian people into separate territorial units and legal regimes – as citizens with limited rights within Israel, as stateless persons in the West Bank and Gaza, as “permanent residents” in East Jerusalem, or as refugees and exiles with no Right of Return – is the principle method by which Israel imposes an Apartheid regime.
The differential treatment of Palestinians in different geographic areas is designed to ensure the fundamental goal of Apartheid: ensuring unassailable domination by one group (Jews) over another group (Palestinians) throughout the territory.
Tilley and Falk have urged UN bodies to act, and suggest seeking a formal opinion from the International Court of Justice on Israel’s Apartheid system. Other key recommendations include the implementation of the Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions (BDS) campaign against Israel by national governments, and allowing the criminal prosecutions of Israeli officials connected with Israeli Apartheid.
Crucially, the report recommends that the UN revive the Special Committee against Apartheid to report on Israeli Apartheid practices and policies, in the same way that it reported on the crimes of the Apartheid South African regime.
Israel’s UN envoy Danny Danon, called the report an “attempt to smear and falsely label the only true democracy in the Middle East.”
Rather than address the very real issues raised by the report, some of Israel’s defenders have attacked the credibility of the UN (the very institution that birthed the Zionist state) and defamed Tilley and Falk. Others claim that the report singles Israel out.
Israel has been singled out – not in terms of unfair criticism – but for unprecedented financial and diplomatic support, particularly from Western nations.
There are many countries around the world that face retribution by the international community for breaching international norms. Israel is not one of them. Syria has had its foreign assets frozen, Zimbabwe faces embargoes on international loans and arms imports, and the US and EU have imposed an array of sanctions on Russian individuals and businesses.
But Israel experiences the opposite. It commits war crimes and offends every principle of human rights – and in return it is rewarded financially and diplomatically.
This report , and its strong conclusions, asks profound questions of the international community generally, and the South African government more specifically.
Will democratic South Africa lead in upholding international law, as the principled international community did in the fight against South African Apartheid? Or will we back away from high principle and settle for water technology, arms deals, and empty rhetoric?
Suraya Dadoo is a researcher for Media Review Network, a Johannesburg-based advocacy group. She is also the co-author of Why Israel? The Anatomy of Zionist Apartheid: A South African Perspective (Porcupine Press, 2013). Find her on Twitter: @Suraya_Dadoo