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Human Rights Watch Accuses Israel of Apartheid, Crimes Against Humanity
A demonstration against Israel's blockade of Gaza held in Bergen, Norway in December 2013, (Magne Hagesæter via Flickr)

Human Rights Watch Accuses Israel of Apartheid, Crimes Against Humanity

Report says Israel's government and military have oppressed both Palestinians and Arab Israelis living within the 1967 borders

Human Rights Watch, the New York-based NGO monitoring global human rights violations, published its latest report on Tuesday, accusing the Israeli government of perpetrating apartheid and crimes against humanity against Palestinians and Israeli Arabs.

The findings, which were predictably welcomed by Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas and vehemently rejected by Israel, were released barely two months after the International Criminal Court launched an investigation into charges war crimes committed in the disputed territories by both Israel’s military and the Hamas terror group controlling the Gaza Strip.

The 213-page report, titled “A Threshold Crossed: Israeli Authorities and the Crimes of Apartheid and Persecution,” alleges various “systematic” policies it claims Israel’s government and military have pursued in order to oppress both Palestinians and Israeli Arabs living within the 1967 borders.

Human Rights Watch is known to have a long-standing anti-Israeli agenda, actively seeking for years to promote boycotts against Israel

“On the basis of its research, Human Rights Watch concludes that the Israeli government has demonstrated an intent to maintain the domination of Jewish Israelis over Palestinians across Israel and the Occupied Palestinian Territories (OPT),” the report says.

“That intent has been coupled with systematic oppression of Palestinians and inhumane acts committed against them. When these three elements occur together, they amount to the crime of apartheid,” according to the report.

The 1973 Apartheid Convention and the 1998 Rome Statute define the crimes alleged in Tuesday’s report.

“Israeli officials have also committed the crime against humanity of persecution,” the report continues, noting “the discriminatory intent behind Israel’s treatment of Palestinians and the grave abuses carried out in the OPT that include the widespread confiscation of privately owned land, the effective prohibition on building or living in many areas, the mass denial of residency rights, and sweeping, decades-long restrictions on the freedom of movement and basic civil rights.”

While it has sharply and repeatedly criticized Jerusalem for its conduct toward Palestinians in past years, this is the first time that the influential watchdog, one of the world’s best-known groups, has stated outright that Israel is guilty of crimes against humanity and apartheid policies.

“Human Rights Watch is known to have a long-standing anti-Israeli agenda, actively seeking for years to promote boycotts against Israel,” Jerusalem’s Foreign Ministry told The Media Line on Tuesday. “Their decision not to share this report for review or comment with any Israeli authority, is a clear indication that it is a propaganda pamphlet, which lacks all credibility.”

“The fictional claims that HRW concocted are both preposterous and false,” the ministry concluded, noting that the NGO’s founder, Robert Bernstein, “criticized his organization in 2009 for ‘issuing reports on the Israeli-Arab conflict that are helping those who wish to turn Israel into a pariah state.'”

Eric Goldstein, the report’s primary editor and acting director of HRW’s Middle East and North Africa division, said that his team conducted “an exhaustive legal analysis” and applied the definition of apartheid under international law to the facts at hand.

“We are not using the term idiomatically or analogizing to South Africa,” Goldstein told The Media Line.

Goldstein also refuted Jerusalem’s claims that HRW did not ask for comment on the report before its release.

“While researching the report, we wrote a letter with detailed questions to the authorities in July, which appears in the report. They never answered. We sent the authorities the report’s executive summary last week and offered to meet with them to discuss it but got no reply,” he said.

“We are still waiting for someone to point out a falsehood in the report,” Goldstein said.

“The Israeli government is far from the only one to complain that HRW singles them out,” he added, noting similar complaints from Myanmar and Chinese authorities about the organization’s recent reports.

“Instead of accusing the messenger, it should take steps to dismantle the discriminatory system that disadvantages Palestinians, who are entitled to the same human rights as Jewish Israelis. Israel has security concerns, but they need to be balanced far more against the need to ensure the human rights of the people affected, and those security concerns should not be used to mask other objectives, like maximizing control over land and maintaining demographic domination,” Goldstein said.

The HRW’s conclusion shows the consensus between Palestinian, Israeli and international organizations, who agree that apartheid crimes are committed in Palestine

In its final chapter, the report recommends the appropriate steps needed to be taken by Israel, the Palestinian Authority and the international community.

Israel should dismantle its West Bank settlements, allow free passage in and out of the Gaza Strip, enable the return to Israeli territory of all Palestinian refugees who fled during the 1948 war and their descendants, and repeal the controversial Nation State law passed in 2018, HRW asserts.

It called on the Palestinian Authority to “cease all security coordination with the Israeli military,” and implored the United States, the European Union and all other states and international organizations to impose sweeping sanctions on Israeli individuals and entities “credibly implicated” in the alleged crimes.

Last month, the International Criminal Court’s chief prosecutor Fatou Bensouda formally launched an investigation into possible war crimes committed in the West Bank, Gaza and east Jerusalem, after ICC judges previously ruled the court had jurisdiction in those areas. Israel is not a member of the ICC.

Israeli Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu denounced the decision as “undiluted antisemitism” and “hypocrisy,” and earlier this month Jerusalem officially rejected the court’s accusations and jurisdiction, and refused to cooperate with the investigation.

“I hope today’s report will serve as an additional push for the ICC prosecutor, not to ignore these crimes and take them seriously,” Shawan Jabarin, the general director of Al-Haq, a Palestinian human rights organization in the West Bank, told The Media Line.

Goldstein said he hopes Tuesday’s publication will lead the ICC to “add the crimes of apartheid and persecution, which are included in the court’s founding statutes,” to its investigation.

In January, B’Tselem, a leading Israeli human rights organization, also accused Israel of apartheid, becoming the latest in a growing number of domestic and global groups to slap the Jewish State with the explosive label.

“The HRW’s conclusion shows the consensus between Palestinian, Israeli and international organizations, who agree that apartheid crimes are committed in Palestine,” Jabarin said. “This adds an additional international dimension to the narrative, which is very important.”

“I think this common ground will enable all the human rights groups to work collectively and to coordinate with each other to hold the criminals accountable,” he added.

Palestinians have limited self-governance in the West Bank led by the Palestinian Authority, while the Israeli government officially controls east Jerusalem. Following the 2005 withdrawal of Israel and since the 2006 Palestinian elections there, the Gaza Strip has been ruled by Hamas.

An Abbas spokesman on Tuesday called the report “a powerful testament to the struggle of the people of Palestine under Israel’s belligerent military occupation and its colonial and oppressive policies.”

“It is urgent for the international community to intervene, including by making sure that their states, organizations and companies are not contributing in any way to the execution of war crimes and crimes against humanity in Palestine,” Abbas’ office added.



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