(This article is published in AlterNet.)
Update (March 17):
Immediately after this report was released, the United States and Israel went berserk. Both governments heavily pressured the UN and its senior leadership.
UN Under-Secretary General Rima Khalaf, who headed the West Asia commission, was forced to resign from her posts. (Khalaf nevertheless made it clear that she still stood by the accuracy of the report.)
Following heavy lobbying from the US, the UN subsequently tried to scrub the report from the internet, removing it from the ESCWA website.
I archived the UN ESCWA on Israeli apartheid report here, in multiple locations.
Original (March 15):
A new United Nations report finally states clearly what human rights activists have been saying for decades: “The weight of the evidence supports beyond a reasonable doubt the proposition that Israel is guilty of imposing an apartheid regime on the Palestinian people, which amounts to the commission of a crime against humanity.”
The report, which was released by the UN Economic and Social Commission for Western Asia, notes that “Israel is guilty of policies and practices that constitute the crime of apartheid as legally defined in instruments of international law.”
“Effectively, Israeli law renders opposition to racial domination illegal,” it adds.
Forcefully condemning all forms of racism, including anti-Semitism, the authors write, “The analysis in this report rests on the same body of international human rights law and principles that reject anti-Semitism and other racially discriminatory ideologies,” citing a wide body of international law.
Furthermore, the UN document emphasizes that countries around the world “have a legal obligation to act within the limits of their capabilities to prevent and punish instances of apartheid that are responsibly brought to their attention.” It calls on states to do this by refusing to recognize the apartheid regime as lawful and no longer granting it aid or assistance.
In fact, the report even recommends that “National Governments should support boycott, divestment and sanctions activities” against Israeli apartheid.
The U.S. government, Israel’s closest ally, gives the country $3.8 billion in military aid alone every single year. Several U.S. states have considered and even passed legislation to punish institutions, groups, and individuals who support a boycott of Israel — which the UN report is expressly calling on the international community to do.
This call comes mere days after the Israeli government passed a law that bans people who support a boycott of Israel — even those who defend Israel but back a partial boycott of its illegal activity in the occupied territories.
Rejecting all forms of racism
The report draws comparisons between the movement to end apartheid in South Africa and the movement for Palestinian human rights today. It suggests that the UN General Assembly should revive the Special Committee against Apartheid and the United Nations Center against Apartheid.
Apartheid is defined, based on article II of the 1973 International Convention on the Suppression and Punishment of the Crime of Apartheid, as “inhuman acts committed for the purpose of establishing and maintaining domination by one racial group of persons over any other racial group of persons and systematically oppressing them.”
While apartheid was originally associated with South Africa’s white supremacist regime, the report notes that it still today remains a specific crime against humanity according to international law and the Rome Statute of the International Criminal Court.
The UN Economic and Social Commission for Western Asia report was co-authored by Richard Falk and Virginia Tilley. Falk is a renowned international law expert who taught at Princeton University and, from 2008 through 2014, served as UN special rapporteur on the situation of human rights in the occupied Palestinian territories. Tilley is a professor of political science who formerly served as chief research specialist in the Human Sciences Research Council of South Africa.
The Israeli government has responded to the UN apartheid investigation with accusations of anti-Semitism. For years, the Israeli government has tried to redefine criticism of its policies as a form of anti-Semitism. The authors of the UN report — including Richard Falk, who is himself Jewish — nevertheless stress that they “reject the accusation of anti-Semitism in the strongest terms.”
“First, the question of whether the State of Israel is constituted as an apartheid regime springs from the same body of international human rights law and principles that rejects anti-Semitism: that is, the prohibition of racial discrimination,” the report notes.
“No State is immune from the norms and rules enshrined in the International Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Racial Discrimination,” it adds. “Strengthening that body of international law can only benefit all groups that have historically endured discrimination, domination and persecution, including Jews.”
Israel frequently condemns the UN, claiming the international body gives disproportionate critical attention to Israel and its crimes. The authors of the report point out, nonetheless, that the international community has, since the League of Nations established the British Mandate for Palestine in 1922, failed to fulfill its obligations to the Palestinians. “If this attention to the case of Israel by the United Nations appears exceptional, therefore, it is only because no comparable linkage exists between United Nations actions and any other prolonged denial to a people of their right of self-determination,” they write.
This June marks the 50th anniversary of Israel’s military occupation of the Palestinian territories, which explicitly violates international law. Since November 1967, the United Nations has repeatedly and forcefully condemned Israel’s illegal activity. Even the U.S., Israel’s closest ally, has for decades acknowledged that Israel’s occupation and ever-growing settlements are illegal.
“A systematic regime of racial domination”
The new UN report stresses that “the policies, practices and measures applied by Israel to enforce a system of racial discrimination threaten regional peace and security.” Israel’s laws meet the legal definition of apartheid because they “intentionally serve the core purpose of racial domination.”
Among those are laws related to land policy — which restricts land use, development, or ownership by non-Jews — and demographic engineering — which confer “on Jews worldwide the right to enter Israel and obtain Israeli citizenship regardless of their countries of origin and whether or not they can show links to Israel-Palestine, while withholding any comparable right from Palestinians, including those with documented ancestral homes in the country.”
“Strategic fragmentation of the Palestinian people is the principal method by which Israel imposes an apartheid regime,” the report continues. This fragmentation is carried out through a “history of war, partition, de jure and de facto annexation and prolonged occupation,” and it “operates to stabilize the Israeli regime of racial domination over the Palestinians and to weaken the will and capacity of the Palestinian people to mount a unified and effective resistance.”
Adalah, the Legal Center for Arab Minority Rights in Israel, has documented more than 50 Israeli laws that directly or indirectly discriminate against Palestinian citizens.
Encapsulating the goal of the new UN report, the authors write, “In sum, this study was motivated by the desire to promote compliance with international human rights law, uphold and strengthen international criminal law, and ensure that the collective responsibilities of the United Nations and its Member States with regard to crimes against humanity are fulfilled.”
“More concretely,” they continue, “it aims to see the core commitments of the international community to upholding international law applied to the case of the Palestinian people, in defence of its rights under international law, including the right of self-determination.”