The crime of Apartheid refers to inhuman acts committed for the purpose of establishing and maintaining domination by one group of persons over another, and systematically oppressing them. According to 2002 Rome Statute of the International Criminal Court, it constitutes a crime against humanity, “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 concept of apartheid does not apply exclusively to events and policies in South Africa between 1948-1994, but has universal applicability in any situation that corresponds with the legal definition, which many today argue includes Israel.

Facts and Figures

  • In 1973, the United Nations General Assembly adopted the International Convention on the Suppression and Punishment of the Crime of Apartheid which presented a detailed description of what constitutes Apartheid. Among the convention’s list of inhuman acts that fall under the ambit of apartheid are the following
    • Denial to members of a racial group the right to life and liberty of person; inflicting upon them serious bodily or mental harm by infringing freedom or dignity or subjecting them to torture or inhuman, degrading treatment or punishment
    • Legislation and other discriminatory measures calculated to prevent racial groups from the participation in the political, social, economic and cultural life of the country including the right to leave or return to their country, the right to a nationality, the right to freedom of movement and residence etc.
    • Legislation and other measures designed to divide the population along racial lines by the creation of separate reserves and ghettos for the members of a racial group or groups
    • Legislation and other measures aimed at the expropriation of land belonging to a racial group
    • (Dr David Keane of Middlesex University has explained that the meaning of ‘racial group’ in the above definitions is a broad and practical one. “If a group identifies itself as such, and is identified as such by others, for example through discriminatory practices, then it comes under the protection of the convention..Ultimately, who is or is not a racial group under international law is not a scientific question, but a practical one”)
  • Describing Israel as an Apartheid State ‘does not mean completely equating Israel with South Africa’. Any comparison should highlight both ‘corresponding developments’ as well as ‘obviously different circumstances’.
  • Apartheid constitutes a lot more than ‘petty apartheid’ as was expressed by public areas being ‘whites-only’ or ‘blacks-only’ in South Africa. Architect Lindsay Bremner has observed that, beyond ‘petty apartheid’, in South Africa, the dispensation also involved “countless instruments of control and humiliation (racially discriminatory laws, administration boards, commissions of inquiry, town planning schemes, health regulations, pass books, spot fines, location permits, police raids, removal vans, bulldozers) … that delineated South African society during the apartheid years and produced its characteristic landscapes.” The same is true about the nature of Apartheid in Israel.
  • Apartheid in Israel in manifested differently depending on the territory under question:
    • Illegally Occupied Palestinian territories: Palestinians here are under Military Law and face the constant threat of arrest and detention without charge and can be held indefinitely. They have no right to representation or trial. Israelis living in illegal settlements on Palestinian land, to the contrary, have all the privileges of Israeli Civil Law. Palestinians are ghettoized in 12 percent of their original territory. The West Bank is divided up into 70 isolated cantons with no physical movement without Israel permission. There are over 500 military checkpoints where Palestinians often wait hours, and must have ID cards and passes just to travel short distances. Israeli settlers can travel easily on Israeli-only roads. Palestinian villages and towns face collective punishment in the form of bulldozing of family houses, extended 24 hour curfews, closures, military raids, violence and harassment. Israeli settlers face no such collective punishment. Palestinian land ownership (agricultural and residential) is subject to military and economic confiscation. Thousands of Palestinian homes have been demolished. Over a million Palestinian olive and fruit trees have been uprooted. The Israeli military authority controls virtually all the water in the West Bank. 73% of West Bank water is piped back to Israel. Illegal Jewish settlers use 10% of West Bank water. Palestinians have access to only 17% of their own water and must buy it from Isrrael at 4 times the price Israelis pay. The Apartheid Wall fragments Palestinian communities; it separates families from their land, their livelihood, health care and schools. The wall also divides communities and families from each other. The wall does not fragment Israeli settlements; it is built in such a way to as to annex them to Israel proper. In Gaza, Apartheid is maintained by a suffocating siege, and strict control of Gaza’s border crossings, airspace and coast. Palestinians have also faced recurrent brutish military assaults and extra-judicial assassinations, where Israeli perpetrators of such crimes are hardly ever brought to account for their actions.
    • In Israel: The descendants of Palestinians that were left in Israel after the 1948 conflict now number over 1 million people, approximately 20% of the Israeli population. These Palestinians face rampant discrimination. The discrimination is sometimes from individuals and at other times, systemic and codified in law. Israel is a very segregated society. Most Israeli Palestinians and Israeli Jews live in separate communities, go to separate schools, and shop at separate stores. The state also categorizes its Palestinian citizens separately: The Population Registry Law (1965) requires all residents of Israel to register their ethnic group and religion with the population registry and to obtain identity cards, that usually indicate these differences. While Jews receive citizenship to Israel for just being Jewish, even Palestinians who marry Israelis are denied citizenship and even the right to live with their family in Israel under a 2003 law. According to the United Nations, in Israel, “a dual system of law discriminates between Jewish Israelis and indigenous Palestinians based on a constructed status of ‘Jewish nationality’. This prejudicial application of law is apparent in all processes of the legal system, from the rights to information and fair trial to detention and prison treatment.” Apartheid is also manifest in the behaviour of institutions of state towards the Palestinian citizens: (67% of Palestinian families live below the poverty line; Arabs have lower levels of education: 35.3% did not attend high school, the proportion of Arabs in the workforce is low; Israeli Arabs have lower rates of employment and are over-represented in low-paying jobs; in 2004, only 3% of civil service employees in Israel were from the Arab sector; 70% of prisoners in Israel are Palestinian). Since the establishment of Israel, a combination of legislation and military might has also been used to confiscate large swathes of Palestinian land. Over time, Israel has passed at least 30 statues that expropriated and transferred land from Palestinian citizens to the state or Jewish ownership. Because of the above list of discriminatory instances, many have concluded that Israel is indeed still a democracy, but only for some of its citizens.
  • Adalah, the legal center for Arab minority rights in Israel has a dynamic database of more than 50 Israeli laws enacted since 1948 that directly or indirectly discriminate against Palestinian citizens of Israel in all areas of life, including their rights to political participation, access to land, education, state budget resources, and criminal procedures. Some of the laws also violate the rights of Palestinians living in the 1967 Occupied Territories and Palestinian refugees. Since the establishment of the state, Israel has relied upon these laws to ground their discriminatory treatment of Arab citizens and allow the unequal status and unequal treatment of Jewish and Arab citizens to persist.