Human Rights Watch accuses Israel of apartheid over treatment of Palestinians

Human Rights Watch accuses Israel of apartheid over treatment of Palestinians

JERUSALEM – One of the world’s best-known human rights groups said on Tuesday that Israel was guilty of the international crimes of apartheid and persecution due to discriminatory policies against Palestinians in the within its own borders and in the occupied territories.

In a massive 213-page report, New York-based Human Rights Watch joins a growing number of commentators and rights groups who view the conflict not primarily as a land dispute but as a unique regime in which Palestinians – who make up about half the population of Israel, the West Bank and Gaza – are systematically denied the basic rights granted to Jews.

Israel categorically rejects this characterization, claiming that its Arab minority enjoys all civil rights. He considers Gaza, from which he withdrew soldiers and settlers in 2005, a hostile entity led by the Islamic militant group Hamas, and regards the West Bank as contested territory subject to peace negotiations – which collapsed more than ten years.

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Human Rights Watch focused its report on the definitions of apartheid and persecution used by the International Criminal Court, which launched an investigation into possible Israeli war crimes last month. Israel rejects the court as one-sided.

Citing public statements by Israeli leaders and official policies, HRW argued that Israel had “demonstrated its intention to maintain the domination of Israeli Jews over Palestinians” in Israel, the West Bank and Gaza, coupled with “systematic oppression “And” inhumane acts “.

“When these three elements occur together, they constitute a crime of apartheid,” he said.

Regarding the persecution charge, the group cited “serious abuses” in the occupied territories, including land confiscation, systematic denial of building permits, house demolitions and “sweeping decades-long restrictions. freedom of movement and fundamental human rights ”.

The report cites a range of policies that it says are aimed at securing a Jewish majority in Israel and the lands it intends to conserve, while largely confining Palestinians to scattered enclaves under overall Israeli control, with policies that encourage them. Palestinians leaving.

Although these policies are much tougher in the Occupied Territories, HRW said they are also found in Israel itself, where Palestinian citizens, who make up around 20% of the population, face widespread discrimination in respect of human rights. housing, access to land and basic. services.

Omar Shakir, the author of the report, said that from the heady early days of the peace process in the 1990s until Obama’s years, “there was enough to question whether there was any intention to permanent domination ”.

But with the end of the peace process; Israel’s plans to annex up to a third of the West Bank, which have been suspended but never abandoned; its massive expansion of settlements and infrastructure connecting them to Israel; and the passing of a controversial nation-state law in favor of Jews – many say it is no longer possible to view the current situation as temporary.

“Prominent voices have warned for years that Israeli conduct risks turning into apartheid,” Shakir said. “This 213-page report finds that the threshold has been crossed.”

Israel rejected the report. Human Rights Watch “is known to have a longstanding anti-Israel agenda,” the Foreign Ministry said. “The fictitious claims that HRW has concocted are both absurd and false.”

Supporters of Israel reject apartheid allegations, pointing to the existence of the internationally recognized Palestinian Authority, which administers scattered enclaves in the West Bank under agreements signed in the 1990s.

Israel and the Palestinians have since held several rounds of peace talks that included talks on Palestinian independence, but were unable to reach a final agreement.

Eugene Kontorovich, director of international law at the Kohelet Policy Forum, a conservative Israeli think tank, said the Palestinians were responsible for their plight.

“They chose it by rejecting the alternatives,” he said.

A view of the West Bank Jewish settlement of Ma’ale Efrayim in the Jordan Valley in June of last year. Oded Balilty / AP File

HRW and other rights groups say that despite the existence of the Palestinian Authority, Israel maintains comprehensive control over almost every aspect of Palestinian life in the West Bank and Gaza.

Agreements reached in the 1990s were to be temporary, pending a historic peace deal that would establish a Palestinian state in much of the West Bank, Gaza and East Jerusalem, territories captured by Israel in the 1967 war. But this sort of deal seems more out of reach than at any time in the past three decades.

Israel is dominated by right-wing parties opposed to the creation of a Palestinian state. None of the rival Palestinian governments in the West Bank or Gaza are commanding a national movement that could make major concessions, even if Israel was prepared to do the same.

Kontorovich, expressing a common Israeli criticism, accused HRW of unfairly singling out Israel and trying to delegitimize it.

“Why say it’s apartheid? Why not just say that Israel has discriminatory policies that we don’t like? ” he said. “Because for discriminatory policies, what do you do? You change the policies. … What do you do with an apartheid regime? You have to replace it.”

Human Rights Watch does not take a position on what a final agreement should look like, but says any attempt to resolve the conflict must recognize the reality on the ground.