Human Rights Watch: Israel is committing apartheid and persecution

An Israeli military checkpoint in Bethlehem. Editorial credit: Ryan Rodrick Beiler /

Israeli authorities are committing the crimes against humanity of apartheid and persecution, Human Rights Watch said in a landmark report released today.

Their finding is based on what they call an overarching Israeli government policy to maintain the domination by Jewish Israelis over Palestinians and grave abuses committed against Palestinians living in the occupied territory, including East Jerusalem.

The 213-page report, “A Threshold Crossed: Israeli Authorities and the Crimes of Apartheid and Persecution,” examines Israel’s treatment of Palestinians. It says the Israeli government is methodologically privileging Jewish Israelis while repressing Palestinians, most severely in the occupied territory.

This is the second time in the last few months that an major human rights group has accused Israel of apartheid. Last year Israeli human rights group B’Tselem said that Israel is an Apartheid State which to seeks to cement the supremacy of one group – Jews – over another – Palestinians.

“Prominent voices have warned for years that apartheid lurks just around the corner if the trajectory of Israel’s rule over Palestinians does not change,” said Kenneth Roth, executive director of Human Rights Watch. “This detailed study shows that Israeli authorities have already turned that corner and today are committing the crimes against humanity of apartheid and persecution.”

‘Systematic discrimination’

Human Rights Watch compared policies and practices toward Palestinians in the occupied territory and Israel with those concerning Jewish Israelis living in the same areas. Across Israel and the occupied territory, the report says Israeli authorities have sought to maximise the land available for Jewish communities and to concentrate most Palestinians in dense population centres.

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To maintain domination, HRW says Israeli authorities systematically discriminate against Palestinians. For example, Palestinian citizens of Israel face laws that allow hundreds of small Jewish towns to effectively exclude Palestinians and budgets that allocate only a fraction of resources to Palestinian schools as compared to those that serve Jewish Israeli children.

In occupied territory, HRW says the severity of the repression, including the imposition of draconian military rule on Palestinians while affording Jewish Israelis living in a segregated manner in the same territory their full rights under Israel’s rights-respecting civil law, amounts to the systematic oppression required for apartheid.

Israeli tank in Bethlehem. Editorial credit: Ryan Rodrick Beiler /

HRW says Israeli authorities have committed a range of abuses against Palestinians including: sweeping movement restrictions in the form of the Gaza closure and a permit regime, confiscation of more than a third of the land in the West Bank, harsh conditions in parts of the West Bank that led to the forcible transfer of thousands of Palestinians out of their homes, denial of residency rights to hundreds of thousands of Palestinians and their relatives, and the suspension of basic civil rights to millions of Palestinians.

“Denying millions of Palestinians their fundamental rights, without any legitimate security justification and solely because they are Palestinian and not Jewish, is not simply a matter of an abusive occupation,” Roth said. “These policies, which grant Jewish Israelis the same rights and privileges wherever they live and discriminate against Palestinians to varying degrees wherever they live, reflect a policy to privilege one people at the expense of another.”

HRW says statements and actions by Israeli authorities in recent years, including the passage of a law with constitutional status in 2018 establishing Israel as the “nation-state of the Jewish people,” the growing body of laws that further privilege Israeli settlers in the West Bank and do not apply to Palestinians living in the same territory, as well as the massive expansion in recent years of settlements and accompanying infrastructure connecting settlements to Israel, have clarified their intent to maintain the domination by Jewish Israelis.


HRW recommends that:

  • Israeli authorities should dismantle all forms of repression and discrimination that privilege Jewish Israelis at the expense of Palestinians.
  • The ICC Office of the Prosecutor should investigate and prosecute those credibly implicated in the crimes against humanity of apartheid and persecution.
  • The international community should reevaluate the nature of its engagement in Israel and Palestine and adopt an approach centred on human rights and accountability rather than solely on the stalled “peace process.”
  • Countries should establish a UN commission of inquiry to investigate systematic discrimination and repression in Israel and Palestine and a UN global envoy for the crimes of persecution and apartheid with a mandate to mobilise international action to end persecution and apartheid worldwide.
  • Countries should condition arms sales and military and security assistance to Israel on Israeli authorities taking concrete and verifiable steps toward ending their commission of these crimes.
  • Countries should vet agreements, cooperation schemes, and all forms of trade and dealing with Israel to screen for those directly contributing to committing the crimes, mitigate the human rights impacts and, where not possible, end activities and funding found to facilitate these serious crimes.
The Israeli separation wall. Editorial credit: Ryan Rodrick Beiler /

“While much of the world treats Israel’s half-century occupation as a temporary situation that a decades-long ‘peace process’ will soon cure, the oppression of Palestinians there has reached a threshold and a permanence that meets the definitions of the crimes of apartheid and persecution,” Roth said. “Those who strive for Israeli-Palestinian peace, whether a one or two-state solution or a confederation, should in the meantime recognize this reality for what it is and bring to bear the sorts of human rights tools needed to end it.”

Israel’s foreign ministry has rejected the report as “preposterous and false.”

It accused the international campaign group of having a “long-standing anti-Israeli agenda” and carrying out an ongoing campaign “with no connection to facts or reality on the ground.”

In the UK the Board of Deputies President Marie van der Zyl also condemned the report which she said perpetuates the “apartheid” slur against Israel.

She said: “The release by Human Rights Watch is a sham which puts rhetoric above fact. They consistently ignore or downplay the fact that Israel’s security measures in the West Bank and around Gaza are the response to well-documented terror activities. The ridiculous ‘apartheid‘ slur in this report is belied by the fact that, as it stands, Israel’s next Government may well rely on the support of Arab parties, voted for by the country’s fully-enfranchised Arab citizens.

“Israel’s Arab citizens have been appointed as ambassadors, professors, Supreme Court judges, hospital directors, and other key roles throughout Israel’s socio-economic landscape. Civil society organisations should be directing their efforts towards reinvigorating the peace process, not trading in false hyperbole that extends the cycle of conflict.”

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