A Human Rights Watch in a report released on Tuesday, has accused Israeli officials of apartheid and persecution, claiming the government enforces an overarching policy to “maintain the domination by Jewish Israelis over Palestinians”.
It became the first major international rights body to level such allegations, saying that after decades of warnings that an entrenched hold over Palestinian life could lead to apartheid, it had found that the “threshold” had been crossed.
“This is the starkest finding Human Rights Watch has reached on Israeli conduct in the 30 years we’ve been documenting abuses on the ground there,” said Omar Shakir, the group’s Israel and Palestine director. Shakir said his organisation had never before directly accused Israeli officials of crimes against humanity.
Human Rights Watch compared policies and practices towards nearly 7 million Palestinians in the occupied territories and within Israel with those concerning roughly the same number of Jewish Israelis living in the same areas. It concluded there was a “present-day reality of a single authority, the Israeli government … methodologically privileging Jewish Israelis while repressing Palestinians, most severely in the occupied territory.”
Human Rights Watch said that inside Israel – where about a fifth of the 9 million citizens are Palestinians – and in the occupied territories, authorities had sought to maximise the land available for Jewish communities and concentrate most Palestinians in dense population centres.
“The authorities have adopted policies to mitigate what they have openly described as a demographic ‘threat’ from Palestinians,” it said, referencing concerns expressed by Israeli politicians that a majority Palestinian population would endanger the Jewish state. “In Jerusalem, for example, the government’s plan for the municipality … sets the goal of ‘maintaining a solid Jewish majority in the city’ and even specifies the demographic ratios it hopes to maintain.”
It said Israeli authorities “systematically discriminate against Palestinians”. This was most extreme in the occupied territories, it said, including the West Bank. Several hundred thousand Israeli settlers now live there as citizens while about 2.7 million Palestinians are not and live under military rule.
Human Rights Watch’s executive director, Kenneth Roth, said this was not simply “an abusive occupation”. “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,” Roth said.
Regarding the occupied West Bank, Israel points to agreements signed in the 1990s that afforded Palestinians limited self-rule there. However, Human Rights Watch says the Israeli government still “retains primary control over many aspects” of their lives, including borders, natural resources and movement of people and goods. Meanwhile, about 2 million Palestinians live under a strict blockade in Gaza. Israeli forces pulled out of Gaza in 2005 but still maintain control of its borders, sea and airspace.
The report reflects similar findings by Israeli rights bodies, including a January announcement by B’Tselem that claimed the country was not a democracy but an “apartheid regime”. One other domestic group, Yesh Din, published a legal opinion last summer in which it argued that apartheid was being committed.