The first thing you need to know about the Human Rights Watch (HRW) report that was released on 27 April accusing Israel of “apartheid” is that the accusation has nothing to do with apartheid as most people understand it, the racially-based system of oppression that was in place in South Africa before roughly 1991.
HRW is accusing Israel of “crimes against humanity of apartheid and persecution,” which are defined by a treaty called the “International Convention on the Suppression and Punishment of the Crime of Apartheid,” based on a UN General Assembly resolution passed in 1973, and the 1998 Rome Statute of the International Criminal Court.
It should be noted that neither Israel nor the USA are parties to either treaty. The 1973 convention was signed by 109 countries, which do not include Israel, the USA, Canada, Australia, or any of the developed countries of Western Europe.
Here is the definition of the crime of apartheid as understood by HRW:
- An intent to maintain domination by one racial group over another.
- A context of systematic oppression by the dominant group over the marginalized group.
- Inhumane acts.
The “inhumane acts” referred to by the definition include such things as murder, torture, “arbitrary arrest and illegal imprisonment,” forced labor, “deliberate imposition on a racial group or groups of living conditions calculated to cause its or their physical destruction in whole or in part,” all on the basis of race or ethnicity. While Palestinians often claim such mistreatment, their claims – often amplified and lent authority (the “halo effect”) by HRW and similar NGOs – are overwhelmingly false, exaggerated, or lacking in context (e.g., the claim is commonly made that a Palestinian was “executed” when he was shot in the act of stabbing a Jew or running one down with a car).
HRW also adds that
The reference to a racial group is understood today to address not only treatment on the basis of genetic traits but also treatment on the basis of descent and national or ethnic origin, as defined in the International Convention on the Elimination of all Forms of Racial Discrimination. Human Rights Watch applies this broader understanding of race.
In other words, apartheid doesn’t have to involve “race.” Any alleged discrimination against a national group can be considered apartheid. And given that “Palestinians” have diverse origins, including Egypt, Syria, Arabia, Jordan, Turkey, and even the same Canaanite tribes as the forbears of the Jewish people, they don’t even fit this broader definition.
When I hear “apartheid” I think of white, black, and colored beaches and restrooms, laws against interracial marriage or even sexual relationships, laws establishing segregated housing, employment, and public transportation, denial of the right to vote or hold office, and so forth. I think of official classification of people by color. It is not an exaggeration to say that such a system, brutally imposed by force (as it was in South Africa), is a crime against humanity.
And that, of course, is why HRW, an organization that has changed over the years from a legitimate human rights watchdog into part of the well-oiled (and thickly greased with dollars and euros) machine for the delegitimization and demonization of Israel, wishes to accuse the Jewish state of apartheid, a crime that today evokes revulsion throughout the world – and which, following the precedent set by the treatment of the Republic of South Africa, justifies the boycotting, sanctioning, and total expulsion from the international order of Israel.
As the Kohelet Forum notes in its response to the report, no country other than South Africa has ever been deemed an “apartheid state” by a majority of the international community, including China, Sudan, and others that have engaged in massive systematic oppression of minorities.
None of the characteristics of South African apartheid can reasonably be applied to Israel. Everyone who knows anything about apartheid South Africa and Israel knows that. There is simply no resemblance, and HRW’s abstraction of the crime of apartheid and application of the word to Israel is dishonest and is part of the cognitive war that is being waged against her as a prelude to her hoped for physical destruction.
But never mind. Israel is being accused of seriously mistreating Palestinian Arabs, both its Arab citizens and the residents of the Palestinian Authority and Gaza, simply because they are Palestinians. If that is true, it is certainly reprehensible. So we should consider if the report even succeeds in making that case.
The report is 213 pages long, so it is impossible for me to critique it in detail in a short blog. But here are some things that I noticed in the first few pages (see the Kohelet response to HRW for more):
The report says that
From 1967 until the present, [Israel] has militarily ruled over Palestinians in the OPT, excluding East Jerusalem. By contrast, it has since its founding governed all Jewish Israelis, including settlers in the OPT since the beginning of the occupation in 1967, under its more rights-respecting civil law.
This is untrue. There is no military government in Gaza – there is zero Israeli presence there at all – and areas A and B of Judea and Samaria are ruled by the PA. There is a military administration of Area C, the territory that is under full Israeli control according to the Oslo Accords, but that administration governs both Israeli communities and Palestinian ones. There is no “separate law” for the two populations.
In general, the report ignores the existence of the PA and the Hamas government of Gaza. It’s true that Israel controls the borders and airspace between the river and the sea (with the exception of the border between Gaza and Egypt). But it does not control the daily lives of all of the residents of those areas as the report asserts.
HRW criticizes Israel for not allowing free movement of Palestinian Arabs from the territories into pre-1967 Israel, and for not allowing those Arabs outside of Israel recognized by the UN as “Palestinian refugees” to enter the territories or pre-1967 Israel. It dismisses Israeli explanations that this is a consequence of the amply-demonstrated Palestinian propensity to commit murderous terrorist acts against Israelis, saying “[e]ven when security forms part of the motivation, it no more justifies apartheid and persecution than it would excessive force or torture.” Tell it to those thousands of Israelis who have lost friends and family members to Palestinian terrorists.
There is almost no mention of Palestinian terrorism throughout the full report, even though most restrictions placed on Palestinian movement, such as the Judea/Samaria security barrier, were instituted after the murderous Second Intifada, in which more than 1,000 Israelis were murdered by terrorists. The selective blockade of Gaza is criticized without reference to the thousands of rockets that have been fired into Israeli towns, or the numerous tunnels intended to infiltrate terrorists into Israel. There is no mention of the 2015-2018 “stabbing intifada” which took the lives of dozens of Israelis.
The report claims that within pre-1967 Israel, “Palestinian [sic] citizens [have] a status inferior to Jewish citizens by law” as a result of the Nation-State Law, which in fact does not restrict them in any way, and which is similar to constitutional provisions in other ethnic nation-states, including the proposed constitution for the State of Palestine. It also invents or misrepresents other laws, including those concerning citizenship and residence.
The report will probably be a prime exhibit in the upcoming “Durban IV” conference on racism which will be held this September at the UN in New York, on the 20th anniversary of the first Durban conference, which devolved into an “anti-Israel hate-fest.”
Accusations of apartheid and persecution are tremendously powerful, especially in the US in today’s climate of racial antagonisms. But the Israeli-Palestinian conflict is actually a national/political one, and not a racial one (although antisemitism plays an important role). It has little in common with pre-1991 South Africa or the racial problems of the USA. It is also a small part of a much larger project by a group of nations, international institutions, NGOs, and others to eliminate the Jewish state. These antagonists are motivated by geopolitics, religion, ideology, antisemitism, or all of these. By focusing only on the Palestinians, the HRW report has the effect of hiding this broader context.
Israel’s domestic political paralysis, which has been ongoing for at least two years, makes it hard enough to respond to the military challenges it faces from its enemies. But it is impossible for an essentially leaderless nation to properly fight a cognitive war. Fixing this has to be Israel’s top priority today.