Amnesty International accused Israel, in a report published Tuesday, of apartheid for its treatment of Palestinians, prompting Israel to fire back, labeling the allegation as anti-Semitic.
“Whether they live in Gaza, east Jerusalem and the rest of the West Bank, or Israel itself, Palestinians are treated as an inferior racial group and systematically deprived of their rights,” the report from the London-based Amnesty reads.
The nearly 300-page document claims that the Israeli state maintains “an institutionalized regime of oppression and domination of the Palestinian population for the benefit of Jewish Israelis.”
Agnès Callamard, Amnesty’s secretary-general, said, “We found that Israel’s cruel policies of segregation, dispossession and exclusion across all territories under its control clearly amount to apartheid. The international community has an obligation to act.”
Callamard is a former United Nations special rapporteur on extrajudicial, summary, or arbitrary executions.
Israeli Foreign Ministry spokesperson Lior Haiat lashed out at the report, describing it as “false” and “extremist.” It “serves as a green light for perpetrators and others to harm not only Israel but Jews around the world,” Haiat told The Media Line.
Haiat accused the nongovernmental organization of recycling “lies, inconsistencies and unfounded assertions that originate from well-known anti-Israeli hate organizations.”
Israel’s Foreign Minister Yair Lapid strongly rejected the report as “divorced from reality.”
Amnesty insisted it was not likening Israel’s treatment of Palestinians to conditions in apartheid-era South Africa but explained that Israeli conduct and policies met the criteria for the crime of apartheid as defined under international law.
Kayed Ma’ari, Fatah spokesman in the West Bank, told The Media Line his movement welcomes the Amnesty International report.
“We fully agree with it in describing Israel as an apartheid state and apartheid regime, and that what it is doing against the Palestinian people are crimes against humanity, and this requires real steps from all relevant international parties to stop these racist and internationally repudiated practices,” he said.
This report is “additional testimony for those who question Israel’s practices or claim that it is defending itself or that it is a democratic state,” Ma’ari stressed.
Mustafa Barghouti, secretary-general of the Palestinian National Initiative party, told The Media Line that this is a very important document. “It has classified Israel as an apartheid state and it has indicated very clearly that an apartheid system is used not only against Palestinians in the occupied West Bank but also against Palestinians within the 1948 areas, which means also against Israeli citizens.”
The significance of the report is twofold, Barghouti said. “It indicated that there should be punitive actions against the system of apartheid including suspending any form of military aid to Israel, and the report also indicated that any country that provides such aid will be a participant in a crime against humanity.”
Barghouti said the report sends a message to Arab governments that are considering peace with Israel. “It creates more obstacles on the path of normalization with Israel, but also it is another embarrassment for regimes that decided to normalize relations with Israel.”
The report cited what it found to be “massive” seizures of Palestinian land and property, unlawful killings, the “forcible transfer” of Palestinian people from their land, drastic movement restrictions, and the denial of nationality and citizenship as components of “a system amounting to apartheid under international law,” Barghouti said.
Danny Ayalon, a former Israeli ambassador to Washington, told The Media Line the human rights NGO is “absolutely misinformed, with touches of anti-Semitism.”
“Israel is not apartheid, it’s democratic, one man, one vote and justice to all, freedom to all. Israel has free press like no other place, including the West. We have a vibrant democracy,” he said.
Israel is involved in a conflict with the Palestinians and there are issues that have yet to be resolved in the West Bank, Ayalon said. “Gaza is under Hamas, but there is a Palestinian Authority which was built with the help of Israel to run the lives of the Palestinians. They are not Israeli citizens.”
B’Tselem, an Israeli human rights group, was criticized last year when it charged that Israeli policies had been designed to enforce “Jewish supremacy from the Jordan River to the Mediterranean Sea” and met the definition of apartheid.
New York-based Human Rights Watch last April became the first major international rights group to publicly make the allegation.
“Amnesty is like the other human rights organizations which presume to judge a national conflict that they have no knowledge or expertise in. It shows that Amnesty is a worthless organization,” said Ayalon.
The Palestinian Authority Ministry of Foreign Affairs said the Amnesty report was further proof that Israel is an apartheid regime and must be held accountable.
Hamas also praised the report, saying it “values the Amnesty International findings and calls for the occupation [Israel] to face speedy accountability for its violations of Palestine.”