Israel accused of apartheid and crimes against humanity by NGO
Israel rejects report and accuses Human Rights Watch of having an agenda against it
Palestinian women wait to cross a checkpoint between the West Bank city of Ramallah and Jerusalem, to attend prayers at a mosque. Photograph: Nasser Nasser/AP Photo
HRW executive director Kenneth Roth said the Israeli authorities systematically discriminated against the Palestinians in order to maintain control. The organisation called on the International Criminal Court in The Hague to investigate and to prosecute Israelis suspected of involvement in the alleged crimes, and it urged the imposition of conditions on the sale of weapons and military aid to Israel.
Israel’s foreign ministry rejected the report as “preposterous and false”, accusing HRW of having a “long-standing anti-Israeli agenda” and carrying out an ongoing campaign “with no connection to facts or reality on the ground”. The ministry also accused HRW of seeking to promote boycotts against Israel.
The foreign ministry statement said HRW’s decision not to seek a comment from any Israeli authority was a clear sign that this was propaganda that lacked any credibility.
A Threshold Crossed: Israeli Authorities and the Crimes of Apartheid and Persecution, the 213-page report by the US-based NGO, marks the first time HRW labelled Israel an apartheid state.
“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,” Mr Roth said.
“This detailed study shows that Israeli authorities have already turned that corner and today are committing the crimes against humanity of apartheid and persecution,” he said.
“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,” Mr Roth said.
The report, which covers Israel proper as well as the occupied West Bank and the Gaza Strip, cited a range of policies it said were aimed at ensuring a Jewish majority in Israel and limiting Arab land purchases, while largely confining Palestinians to scattered enclaves, with policies that encourage Palestinians to leave.
Israel strongly denies apartheid accusations, saying its Arab minority, which makes up almost 20 per cent of the population, enjoys full civil rights. It terms the ongoing military occupation over parts of the West Bank as a temporary situation awaiting a political solution and denies any responsibility for Gaza, which all Israeli troops and settlers left under the 2005 disengagement plan.
The right-wing NGO Monitor described Tuesday’s report as “a rejection of the legitimacy of Israel as a Jewish state, regardless of borders”.
It said the HRW report was part of a concerted campaign over the past 18 months to interject the term “apartheid” into discourse about Israel.
“The demonisation of Israel through comparisons to the heinous legacy of the South African apartheid regime has deep roots, going back to the Soviet and Arab campaigns, and the infamous Durban NGO Forum,” NGO Monitor president Gerald Steinberg said.