Israel is an Apartheid State, says Israeli human rights group

The Israeli human rights group B’Tselem has said that Israel is an Apartheid State which to seeks to cement the supremacy of one group – Jews – over another – Palestinians.

In a report released today B’Tselem said that the world needed to stop thinking in terms of a “democratic Israel” and a temporary military occupation of Palestinian areas. Rather, it should view Israel as a regime between the Mediterranean Sea and the Jordan River organised under a single principle: to implement laws, practices and state violence designed to cement Jewish supremacy.

The report said: “More than 14 million people, roughly half of them Jews and the other half Palestinians, live between the Jordan River and the Mediterranean Sea under a single rule. The common perception in public, political, legal and media discourse is that two separate regimes operate side by side in this area, separated by the Green Line.

“One regime, inside the borders of the sovereign State of Israel, is a permanent democracy with a population of about nine million, all Israeli citizens. The other regime, in the territories Israel took over in 1967, whose final status is supposed to be determined in future negotiations, is a temporary military occupation imposed on some five million Palestinian subjects.

“Over time, the distinction between the two regimes has grown divorced from reality… Hundreds of thousands of Jewish settlers now reside in permanent settlements east of the Green Line, living as though they were west of it. East Jerusalem has been officially annexed to Israel’s sovereign territory, and the West Bank has been annexed in practice.

“Most importantly, the distinction obfuscates the fact that the entire area between the Mediterranean Sea and the Jordan River is organized under a single principle: advancing and cementing the supremacy of one group – Jews – over another – Palestinians. All this leads to the conclusion that these are not two parallel regimes that simply happen to uphold the same principle. There is one regime governing the entire area and the people living in it, based on a single organizing principle.

“In the entire area between the Mediterranean Sea and the Jordan River, the Israeli regime implements laws, practices and state violence designed to cement the supremacy of one group – Jews – over another – Palestinians.”

Different degrees of Apartheid

B’Tselem says there are different degrees of Apartheid in the areas controlled by Israel. Israel accords Palestinians a different package of rights in every one of these areas – all of which are inferior compared to the rights afforded to Jewish citizens.

Palestinians who live on land defined in 1948 as Israeli sovereign territory (sometimes called Arab-Israelis) are Israeli citizens and make up 17% of the state’s citizenry. While this status affords them many rights, they do not enjoy the same rights as Jewish citizens by either law or practice.

Roughly 350,000 Palestinians live in East Jerusalem which Israel annexed to its sovereign territory in 1967. They are defined as permanent residents of Israel a status that allows them to live and work in Israel without needing special permits, to receive social benefits and health insurance, and to vote in municipal elections. Yet permanent residency, unlike citizenship, may be revoked at any time, at the complete discretion of the Minister of the Interior. In certain circumstances, it can also expire.

Although Israel never formally annexed the West Bank, it treats the territory as its own. More than 2.6 million Palestinian subjects live in the West Bank, in dozens of disconnected enclaves, under rigid military rule and without political rights. In about 40% of the territory, Israel has transferred some civilian powers to the Palestinian Authority (PA). However, the PA is still subordinate to Israel and can only exercise its limited powers with Israel’s consent.

The Gaza Strip is home to about two million Palestinians, also denied political rights. In 2005, Israel withdrew its forces from the Gaza Strip, dismantled the settlements it built there and abdicated any responsibility for the fate of the Palestinian population. After the Hamas takeover in 2007, Israel imposed a blockade on the Gaza Strip that is still in place. Throughout all of these years, Israel has continued to control nearly every aspect of life in Gaza from the outside.

Methods to cement Jewish supremacy

B’Tselem says the Israeli regime uses different methods to advance Jewish supremacy. Two are implemented similarly throughout the entire area Israel controls: restricting migration by non-Jews and taking over Palestinian land to build Jewish-only communities, while relegating Palestinians to small enclaves.

The other two are implemented primarily in the Occupied Territories: draconian restrictions on the movement of non-citizen Palestinians and denial of their political rights. Control over these aspects of life lies entirely in Israel’s hands: in the entire area, Israel has sole power over the population registry, land allocation, voter rolls and the right (or denial thereof) to travel within, enter or exit any part of the area.

Regarding immigration, 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 not formally annexed to Israel’s sovereign territory. In contrast, non-Jews have no right to legal status in Israeli-controlled areas.

Israel practices a policy of “Judaizing” areas based on the mindset that land is a resource meant almost exclusively to benefit the Jewish public. Land is used to develop and expand existing Jewish communities and build new ones, while Palestinians are dispossessed and corralled into small, crowded enclaves.

Israeli soldiers

Israel allows its Jewish and Palestinian citizens and residents to travel freely throughout the whole area it controls. Exceptions are the prohibition on entering the Gaza Strip, which it defines “hostile territory,” and the (mostly formal) prohibition on entering areas ostensibly under PA responsibility. Israeli citizens can also leave and re-enter the country at any time. In contrast, residents of East Jerusalem do not hold Israeli passports and lengthy absence can result in revocation of status.

Like their Jewish counterparts, Palestinian citizens of Israel can take political action to further their interests, including voting and running for office. They can elect representatives, establish parties or join existing ones. That said, Palestinian elected officials are continually vilified – a sentiment propagated by key political figures – and the right of Palestinian citizens to political participation is under constant attack.

Meanwhile, the roughly five million Palestinians who live in the Occupied Territories cannot participate in the political system that governs their lives and determines their futures. Theoretically, most Palestinians are eligible to vote in the PA elections. Yet as the PA’s powers are limited, even if elections were held regularly (the last were in 2006), the Israeli regime would still rule Palestinians’ lives, as it retains major aspects of governance in the Occupied Territories. This includes control over immigration, the population registry, planning and land policies, water, communication infrastructure, import and export, and military control over land, sea and air space.

Israel also denies Palestinians political rights such as freedom of speech and freedom of association. These rights enable individuals to critique regimes, protest policies, form associations to advance their ideas and generally work to promote social and political change.

In response to the B’Tselem report, Ohad Zemet, the spokesperson for Israel’s UK embassy, dismissed it as “a propaganda tool.”

He said: “Israel rejects the false claims in the so-called report as it is not based on reality but on a distorted ideological view.”

Zemet added that all Israeli citizens have full rights, with Arabs “represented in all branches of government – in the Israeli Parliament, in the courts (including the supreme court), in the public service, and even in the diplomatic corps where they represent the State of Israel around the world.”

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