Landmark UN report scores Israeli apartheid

April 2017 Israeli checkpointBy MARK UGOLINI

A powerful United Nations report labels Israel “an apartheid regime” that “dominates the Palestinian people as a whole.” It also calls for “boycott, divestment and sanctions (BDS) activities and [urges governments to] respond positively to calls for such initiatives.”

Issued by the UN Economic and Social Commission for Western Asia (ESCWA) on Mar. 15, it concludes that “beyond a reasonable doubt,” in accord with existing international law, “Israel is guilty of policies and practices that constitute the crimes of apartheid.” According to these covenants, apartheid is categorized as the second gravest crime against humanity, second only to genocide.

While numerous past UN reports have been highly critical of Israel, this is the first to explicitly describe Israel as both an apartheid and racist state. Not surprisingly, the report was quickly disavowed by UN Secretary-General Antonio Guterres after it met with angry condemnations from the U.S. and Israel. U.S. UN envoy Nikki Haley denounced the report as “anti-Israel propaganda.”

ESCWA Director Rima Khalaf was forced to resign her position due to pressure from UN officials to remove the report from its website. Khalaf is a Jordanian national held in high regard in the international community. She played a major role in previous reports highly critical of Arab regimes.

This new report was co-authored by Richard Falk, former UN special rapporteur on human rights in the Palestinian territories, and Virginia Tilley, of Southern Illinois University. Both are well-known experts on Middle-East politics and history; and Falk is an eminent international law expert.

The full version originally appeared on the UN site, but only a summary remains there. The full 75-page report is available in PDF format at: https://electronicintifada.net/blogs/ali-abunimah/un-official-resigns-after-pressure-withdraw-israel-apartheid-report and elsewhere. It describes a full range of laws, practices, and administrative mechanisms through which the Israeli state maintains a system that segregates Palestinians from Jews throughout the territories it controls.

In describing Israeli apartheid, the UN report does not compare Israel to apartheid South Africa, but instead to the “1973 International Convention on the Suppression and Punishment of the Crime of Apartheid,” which defines 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.”

It refers to the “state’s essentially racist character.” It also strongly implies that apartheid currently exists not only throughout the occupied territories, but also within the pre-1967 borders. It points to how apartheid policies and laws, implemented via “demographic engineering,” have been veiled in a shroud of “democracy’ since the inception of the Israeli state:

“The first general policy of Israel has been one of demographic engineering, in order to establish and maintain an overwhelming Jewish majority in Israel. As in any racial democracy, such a majority allows the trappings of democracy—democratic elections, a strong legislature—without threatening any loss of hegemony by the dominant racial group. In Israeli discourse, this mission is expressed in terms of the so-called “demographic threat,” an openly racist reference to Palestinian population growth or the return of Palestinian refugees.”

This “demographic engineering” includes the expulsion of nearly 800,000 Palestinians in 1948 and denial of the right of return of more than 6 million Palestinians in the worldwide diaspora. The report discusses how Israel’s “Law of Return” provides automatic citizenship and all associated rights to Jews living anywhere in the world regardless of where they were born. At the same time, it “denies citizenship even to those Palestinians who have a documented history of residency in the country.”

Within the pre-1967 borders, Israel points to its “democratic” elections in which Palestinians have a formal right to vote. However, according to Israel’s Basic Law, a set of laws similar to a constitution, all parties are barred from holding positions that run counter to the concept of a Jewish-exclusive state. So, a political platform upholding democratic rights for all—equal rights—is essentially illegal. Palestinians are allowed to vote, but not for Palestinian rights or in opposition to Jewish exclusivity.

The report says: “Voting rights lose their significance in terms of equal rights when a racial group is legally banned from challenging laws that perpetuate inequality … Israeli law bans organized Palestinian opposition to Jewish domination, rendering it illegal and even seditious.

“In Israel, an interplay of laws consolidates Jewish-national supremacy. For example, regarding the central question of land use, Basic Law: Israel Lands provides that real property held by the State of Israel, the Development Authority or the Keren Kayemet Le-Israel (JNF-Jewish National Fund) must serve “national” (that is, Jewish-national) interests and cannot be transferred to any other hands.”

This UN report is published amid strong worldwide opposition to the rapid growth of illegal Jewish settlements in the West Bank and East Jerusalem. This further exposes Israel’s determined drive for a single Jewish-exclusive state. Emboldened by Trump’s victory in the U.S. elections, Israel has recently announced plans to construct nearly 6000 new illegal settlement housing units. This new construction has been accompanied by a sharp increase in demolition of Palestinian homes.

Other recent developments include a high profile and well-financed campaign to criminalize and suppress support for Palestinian rights. On Mar. 6 Israel’s legislature enacted a new law barring entry or residency to non-Israelis who advocate boycott of Israeli products produced in any part of Israel and its occupied territories.

Already, Israel restricts nearly all entry to territories it occupies and controls, and for years has used broad discretion to deny access to political activists, Palestinians, and other Arabs. This new law, modeled on Trump’s attempted travel bans in the U.S., will allow even broader latitude in implementing racist immigration policies. It will have greatest impact on Palestinian citizens of Israel who are applying for reunification with family members living in the occupied West Bank and Gaza Strip or outside the country.

AFP photo: Palestinian women hoping to enter Jerusalem for Friday prayers at a mosque are confronted by an Israeli checkpoint.