United Nations Economic and Social Commission for Western Asia (ESCWA) • March 2017
At the request of its member States, the United Nations Economic and Social Commission for Western Asia (ESCWA) commissioned this report on Israeli Practices towards the Palestinian People and the Question of Apartheid. It was prepared, with the help of ESCWA staff, by two prominent experts:
- Virginia Tilley, professor of political science at Southern Illinois University Carbondale
- Richard Falk, former United Nations special rapporteur on the situation of human rights in the Palestinian territories occupied since 1967 and professor emeritus of international law at Princeton University.
Apartheid is a crime against humanity
Apartheid is a crime against humanity under international law and international customary law. In particular, this report finds that Israel is in violation of the 1965 International Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Racial Discrimination (article 3), the 1973 International Convention on the Suppression and Punishment of the Crime of Apartheid and the 1998 Rome Statute of the International Criminal Court (ICC), which lists apartheid as a crime against humanity (articles 7(1)(j) and (2)(h)).
The fact that the South African apartheid regime, which gave rise to the term, was brought to an end in no way excludes the crime from being committed under other guises by other States.
According to the Rome Statute: “The ‘crime of apartheid’ means inhumane acts… committed in the context of an institutionalized regime of systematic oppression and domination by one racial group over any other racial group or groups and committed with the intention of maintaining that regime.”
The Palestinian people should be looked at as one entity
Analysing the laws, policies and practices of Israel towards different segments of the Palestinian people without considering their end result on the situation of this people as a whole leads to inaccurate, faulty or partial conclusions.
Israel operates an apartheid regime
In the light of detailed analysis of Israeli legislation, policies and practices, the report concludes that Israel has established an apartheid regime that systematically institutionalizes racial oppression and domination of the Palestinian people as a whole.
Demographic engineering, the impossibility of challenging legislation that enshrines and reinforces the domination of one racial group by another, and the exclusive nature of Jewish-national institutions demonstrate that Israel functions as a racial State.
The apartheid Israeli regime operates in various ways in what amounts to a system of divide and rule:
- Fragmentation of the Palestinian people politically and geographically:
- Is in and of itself a key to establishing and maintaining racial domination.
- Undermines Palestinian identity and political unity, and enfeebles resistance to oppression.
- Allows Israel to deny the existence of a comprehensive apartheid regime because of the differences in treatment reserved for the various segments of the Palestinian population.
- Oppression of each segment through distinct laws, policies and practices:
- Palestinian citizens of Israel are subject to a legal system that promotes oppression, outlaws legal challenges to that oppression and renders Palestinians second-class citizens. Israeli policies and practices aim to ensure that this part of the Palestinian population remains a demographic minority, thereby preventing them from acquiring the electoral weight needed to challenge discriminatory legislation or the essentially Jewish nature of the State in the Knesset.
- Palestinians in East Jerusalem are classified as permanent residents, not citizens, and are thus prevented from adding their demographic weight to that of the Palestinian citizens of Israel. They are subject to discrimination in terms of access to education, health care, building permits and other public services, are subject to unrelenting pressure to leave the city permanently and live with the constant threat of the revocation of their residence permits. All of that is part of a deliberate policy to reduce the Palestinian population of the city.
- Palestinians in the West Bank and Gaza are similarly cut off from Palestinians in Israel and those in East Jerusalem. Governed by military law while Jewish settlers come under Israeli civil law (itself a violation of the Fourth Geneva Convention), the Palestinian population of the West Bank is further weakened by its fragmentation into cantons divided by intervening Jewish-only areas (settlements), while Gaza remains under blockade. The sum of those measures helps to ensure Israeli domination over the Palestinians in the occupied territory.
- Palestinian refugees and exiles are expressly denied the right of return to their homes either in Israel or the occupied Palestinian territory because allowing them to do so would change the demographic balance.
Recommendations: Acting to dismantle the apartheid regime of Israel
- The United Nations and its Member States should encourage the reestablishment of the Special Committee against Apartheid and the United Nations Centre against Apartheid.
- An advisory opinion should be sought from the International Court of Justice on whether Israel has established an apartheid regime.
- United Nations agencies should advocate international cooperation to end apartheid.
- National Governments should oppose the apartheid system in Israel, including by supporting boycott, divestment and sanctions (BDS) initiatives and allowing criminal prosecutions of Israeli officials demonstrably connected with the practices of apartheid.
- Civil society actors should take up the findings of the report with the Human Rights Council.