January 31, 2021

Israel – An Apartheid Regime

R Arun Kumar

ON January 12, 2021, for the first time an Israeli organisation had called Israeli State for what it is – an apartheid regime. Though many Palestinians, supporters of the Palestinian cause and non-Israeli human rights organisations have been terming the Israeli regime as an apartheid regime, the significance of a reputed human rights organisation from Israel – B’Tselem – publishing a detailed report reasoning its arguments cannot be lost.

Israeli regime, committed to the ideas of Zionism and pursuing its expansionist policies, is driving out Palestinians from their homeland and also annexing the nearby lands. As a result, today, Palestinians reside in less than 12 per cent of the historic Palestine that existed before 1948.

Palestinians have been fighting for their homeland and for the refugees’ right to return. Various UN resolutions and countries have extended support to the Palestinians’ struggle and condemned Israeli aggression. In 2020, UN called the more than 52 years Israeli occupation in Palestine as ‘the longest belligerent occupation in the modern world’. Also, Israel earned the dubious distinction of being the most condemned country by the General Assembly of the United Nations last year. The UNGA had adopted 17 resolutions condemning Israel in 2020, while only six other such resolutions were adopted for various other countries i.e., Israel was condemned thrice more than all other countries together! This is a reflection of the world public opinion against the annexationist policies of Israel and their support to the Palestinian cause.

Despite the world public opinion being overwhelmingly against it, Israel continues with its aggression. The reason for this is the unwavering support it receives from the US as its trusted ally in the resource-rich West Asia. Buoyed by this support, in 2018 it had enacted a contentious law that defines Israel as the ‘nation-state of the Jewish people’. In 2019, it had announced its intention to annex up to a third of the occupied West Bank, including all of its Jewish settlements, which are home to nearly 500,000 Israelis. It is these two developments that led B’Tselem categorise Israel as an apartheid State.

The eight-page report brought out by B’Tselem states that the entire ‘area between the Mediterranean Sea and the Jordan River is organised under a single principle: advancing and cementing the supremacy of one group – Jews – over another – Palestinians….There is one regime governing the entire area and the people living in it, based on a single organising principle”.

The report goes on to detail extensively the various methods adopted by the Israeli regime to deny Palestinians their basic rights and how they are treated as second-class citizens in their own country. Israel has divided the entire area into several units that it defines and governs differently, according the Palestinians different rights in each. “Israel accords Palestinians a different package of rights in every one of these units – 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 per cent of the state’s citizenry, do not enjoy the same rights as Jewish citizens by either law or practice.

• “Roughly 350,000 Palestinians live in East Jerusalem and 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. Permanent residency 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 per cent 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, home to about two million Palestinians, is 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 outside”.

Further: “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. But Palestinians cannot immigrate to the area, even if they, their parents or their grandparents were born and lived there. Israel not only hampers Palestinian immigration but also impedes Palestinian relocation between the units. For instance, Palestinian citizens of Israel or residents of East Jerusalem can easily relocate to the West Bank, but Palestinians in the Occupied Territories cannot obtain Israeli citizenship and relocate to Israeli sovereign territory, except on the approval of Israeli officials.

“Since 1967, Israel has revoked the status of some 250,000 Palestinians in the West Bank (East Jerusalem included) and the Gaza Strip, in some cases on the grounds they had lived abroad for more than three years. This includes thousands of East Jerusalem residents who moved mere miles east of their homes to parts of the West Bank that are not officially annexed. All these individuals were robbed of the right to return to their homes and families, where they were born and raised.

“Hundreds of thousands of dunams (1 dunam = 1,000 square meters), including farmland and pastureland, have been taken from Palestinians on various pretexts and used, among other things, to establish and expand settlements, including residential neighbourhoods, farmland and industrial zones. All settlements are closed military zones that Palestinians are forbidden from entering without a permit. So far, Israel has established more than 280 settlements in the West Bank (East Jerusalem included), which are now home to more than 600,000 Jews. More land has been taken to build hundreds of kilometers of bypass roads for settlers.

“Israel routinely restricts the movement of Palestinians in the Occupied Territories and generally forbids them from moving between the units….In the Gaza Strip, which has been blockaded since 2007, the entire population is imprisoned as Israel forbids almost any movement in or out – except in rare cases it defines humanitarian. In the West Bank, Israel controls all the routes between the Palestinian enclaves. This allows the military to set up flying checkpoints, close off access points to villages, block roads and stop passage through checkpoints at will. Furthermore, Israel built the Separation Barrier within the West Bank and designated Palestinian land, including farmland, trapped between the barrier and the Green Line as ‘the seam zone'. Palestinians in the West Bank are barred from entering this zone…Palestinians in the Occupied Territories also need Israeli permission to go abroad. As a rule, Israel does not allow them to use Ben Gurion International Airport, which lies inside its sovereign territory. Palestinians from the West Bank must fly through Jordan’s international airport – but can only do so if Israel allows them to cross the border into Jordan.

“The roughly five million Palestinians who live in the Occupied Territories cannot participate in the political system that governs their lives and determines their future. 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. In East Jerusalem...as permanent residents of Israel, they can vote in municipal elections but not for parliament...Israel also denies Palestinians political rights such as freedom of speech and freedom of association.

“Palestinians in the Occupied Territories are not allowed to demonstrate; many associations have been banned; and almost any political statement is considered incitement. These restrictions are assiduously enforced by the military courts, which have imprisoned hundreds of thousands of Palestinians and are a key mechanism upholding the occupation. In East Jerusalem, Israel works to prevent any social, cultural or political activity associated in any way with the PA”.

According to reports there are some 60 laws that actively discriminate Palestinians in the housing, education and healthcare sectors among others.

On the basis of such discriminatory policies pursued by the Israeli regime, the report concludes that “a regime that uses laws, practices and organised violence to cement the supremacy of one group over another is an apartheid regime. Israeli apartheid, which promotes the supremacy of Jews over Palestinians…is a process that has gradually grown more institutionalised and explicit, with mechanisms introduced over time in law and practice to promote Jewish supremacy. These accumulated measures, their pervasiveness in legislation and political practice, and the public and judicial support they receive – all form the basis for our conclusion that the bar for labeling the Israeli regime as apartheid has been met”.

The Israeli regime, instead of accepting the reality, naturally is trying to silence all criticism. Anybody who criticises Israel is labeled as an anti-semitic. It had banned human rights organisations like B’Tselem from going to educational institutions and make the students aware of this reality.

B’Tselem vowed to fight all such accusations and obstacles placed in its path of championing for equal rights to Palestinians. Stating that characterising the Israeli regime as an apartheid regime is a ‘call for change’, it is calling for a fight for a ‘future based on human rights, liberty and justice’, especially now. Whatever might be our political paths, it urges everyone to join together and say no to apartheid.

Joining this struggle is important for all of us in India as it also means confronting the practitioners of Hindutva-Manuvadi ideology in our country. They share natural affinity with modern day Zionism and hence take pride in their friendship and association with their ideological compatriots. For justice and equality to rein, all such proponents of discriminatory ideas should be defeated lock, stock and barrel.