Amnesty International discusses landmark report on Israeli Apartheid following International Day of Elimination of Racial Discrimination
For The International Day of Elimination of Racial Discrimination, we sat down with Tom Guha, a campaigner from Amnesty International UK, to discuss Amnesty’s recent report “Israel’s Apartheid Against Palestinians: Cruel Sytems of Domination and Crime Against Humanity”.
This year’s theme focuses on VOICES FOR ACTION AGAINST RACISM, centred on strengthening meaningful and safe public participation in all areas of decision making, and reaffirming the importance of full respect for the rights to freedom of expression and freedom of assembly. The International Day for the Elimination of Racial Discrimination is observed annually, marked by the yearly anniversary of the killing of 69 people at a peaceful anti-apartheid demonstration in South Africa in 1960. A cornerstone development from this horrific event is the International Convention on the Elimination of Racial Discrimination. Despite the convention’s increasingly close universal ratification, communities and societies still suffer from the injustices and stigma racism and discriminatory policies bring.
What impact does Amnesty hope this report will have?
Fundamentally, it was predictable that the report would attract controversy, but this is a really positive anti-racist campaign. Our end goal is the dismantling of Israeli Apartheid. Clearly a huge goal, and I’m not surprised in the slightest we’ve attracted a bit of controversy at the beginning. We (Amnesty) are committed to working on this campaign for a minimum of 10 years.
The first phase of the campaign is all about recognition, and once we’ve achieved widespread recognition that apartheid is actually being committed, then can we focus on concrete actions to dismantle the apartheid system. Central to the process over 3 stages is accountability, and we are right at the beginning of the recognition phase. In the immediate future, this means political activists, MPs across the political spectrum, and anyone influential in a political sense, becoming comfortable with using the word Apartheid to describe the Israeli government’s treatment of the Palestinian people.
Regarding the criticism the report has faced, interestingly we’ve also attracted a lot of criticism from other organisations, namely asking why we’ve taken so long to reach this conclusion. Organisations such as Al-Haq (Palestinian Human Rights Group) and Israeli B’tselem (Israeli Information Center for Human Rights in The Occupied Territories) and Human Rights Watch have been using the language of Apartheid for quite some time. If anything, Amnesty is quite late to the game. Compared to other studies, our report does certainly go further. Other organisations have concluded that Apartheid is being committed only in the Occupied Territories, whereas Amnesty’s report concludes the Israeli state is committing the crime of Apartheid wherever it has control over Palestinian rights, including Gaza, the West Bank, and even the treatment of Palestinian refugees in Israel itself.
Can you talk a bit more about how Amnesty will be aiming to normalise the use of ‘Apartheid’ given the financial/lobbying/political resources the Israeli state is renowned for, particularly in Europe and America?
Central to this is convincing people that our research is credible, which I belive it is. I would encourage any skeptic to read the report and interrogate and engage with the evidence we have presented. Amnesty is a credible organisation, and this report is a result of 4 years on the ground research and legal analysis conducted by experts.
The actual study and evidence gathering was conducted from 2017 to 2021, the reason being that Amnesty developed a legal framework on Apartheid in 2017, using international legal definitions (defined as “a crime against humanity committed when any inhumane acts are being committed within the context of a system that is designed to opress one racial group in order to benefit another”). The study itself involved a lot of field visits in Israel and the Occupied Territories itself, including with the organisations mentioned above (Al-Haq and B’tselem), interviews with Palestinians, and of course the necessary legal analysis into the laws, policies and practices that have been enacted by successive Israeli governments. Reading the study, a few things did stick out – water usage for example: 95% of people in the Gaza Strip, compared to 1% of Israelis, do not have access to clean and safe drinking water, alongside the use of live rounds by the Israeli Defense Force to disperse protests.
A major focus of the campaign is home demolitions, something we’ve campaigned on for a long time; policies that prohibit Palestinians from acquiring permits for the construction of property, meaning they have to build without permits and subsequently the homes are demolished by the Israeli state and replaced by Israeli settlements. Going back to what I said earlier, a good example of a concrete policy we want to achieve is the end of home demolitions and the provision of construction permits. A lot of this work includes working with Amnesty activists, ensuring that they feel comfortable talking about Israeli Apartheid in their communities, working with Parliamentarians, Members of Parliament, and ensuring the language is adopted by the mainstream, not just here in the UK, but internationally (this report was led by Amnesty International, not just Amnesty UK).
What is Amnesty’s view on Israel re-settling Ukrainian refugees in OPT (Occupied Palestinian Territories)?
All countries, Israel included, must take measures to enable refugees safe and swift exit from Ukraine and offer protection without discrimination. However, states must not tackle human rights violations by committing other human rights violations. Israel’s policy of settling people in the occupied West Bank contravenes international law.
Is Amnesty calling for any sanctions against Israel?
Amnesty is calling on the UN Security Council to impose targeted sanctions such as travel bans and asset freezes against Israeli officials most implicated in the crime of apartheid – that means people with command responsibility. We are also calling for a comprehensive arms embargo on Israel. The embargo should cover the direct and indirect supply, sale or transfer, including transit and trans-shipment of all weapons, munitions and other military and security equipment, including the provision of training and other military and security assistance. It is also crucial that states institute and enforce a ban on products from Israeli settlements in their markets and regulate companies domiciled in their jurisdiction in a manner to prohibit companies’ operation in settlements or trade-in settlements goods.