Israel: UN Rights Body Finds Apartheid

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Israel: UN Rights Body Finds Apartheid
By: HIC-HLRN and Al-Haq
19 December 2019

Palestinian, regional, and international human rights organisations welcome CERD finding of Israeli policies and practices of racial segregation and apartheid on both sides of the Green Line

Palestinian, regional, and international human rights organisations welcome the United Nations (UN) Committee on the Elimination of Racial Discrimination (CERD) adoption of its Concluding Observations [RM1] on Israel on 12 December 2019. Once again, the periodic review of a Human Rights Treaty Body has addressed the forms of social and material discrimination institutionalized in Israel’s policies and practices. As an outcome of its momentous 100th session of dialog with the state party’s delegation on 4–5 December 2019, CERD’s observed the consequent “racialization” of segregation and apartheid structures erected in the laws and parastatal organizations with the effect and purpose of dispossession and negating the national existence of the Palestinian people on both sides of the Green Line (1948 Armistice Lines).

Issued following Israel’s review by the Committee at its 100th session, the Concluding Observations reflect the active engagement of in the review process.

In advance of the review, Palestinian, regional, and international civil society organisations (CSOs) actively engaged with the committee in the form of pre-session and parallel written reports, as well as oral consultations with the Committee. These organizations included Al-Haq, BADIL, the Palestinian Center for Human Rights (PCHR), Al Mezan Centre for Human Rights, Addameer, the Civic Coalition for Palestinian Rights in Jerusalem (CCPRJ), the Cairo Institute for Human Rights Studies (CIHRS), and Habitat International Coalition – Housing and Land Rights Network (HIC-HLRN). Their 60-page joint parallel report presented in early December detailed Israel’s foundational institutions, legislation and policies that constitute systematic racial domination and oppression over the Palestinian people as a whole, which amounts to the crime of apartheid, in violation of Article 3 of the International Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Racial Discrimination (‘the Convention’).

In a joint statement to the Committee on 2 December 2019, the CSOs argued that “[s]ince the Nakba [start of ethnic cleansing] of 1948, the State of Israel has instituted a series of discriminatory laws, policies, and practices that form the foundation of its institutionalised regime of racial domination and oppression over the Palestinian people.” Accordingly, the statement urged CERD to examine the continuum of Israeli policy and practice toward the Palestinian people as a whole, resulting in the political, legal, geographic and social fragmentation imposed on the Palestinian people as a a pillar of Israel’s apartheid regime.

The Committee adopted a number of important observations and recommendations that point out the individual, collective, domestic and extraterritorial obligation of the State of Israel to end racial segregation and apartheid, in particular, with respect to Palestinian people on both sides of the Green Line, as well as those living in exile as refugees since 1948.

The Committee has urged Israel, once again, to ensure that its policies and practices “do not discriminate in purpose or in effect against Palestinian citizens of Israel [and] Palestinians in the Occupied Palestinian Territory” (para. 3). In addition, the Committee called on Israel to uphold its obligations toward the Palestinian people in the occupied Palestinian territory (oPt) in good faith and “in accordance with the letter and spirit of the Convention and international law” (paras. 9–10).

“Racial” Domination and Oppression is Structural, Institutionalised and Systematic

In its Concluding Observations, CERD noted that Israel’s Basic Laws provide “no general provision for equality and the prohibition of racial discrimination” (para. 11), while observing instead “the discriminatory effect of the Basic Law: Israel – the Nation State of the Jewish People (2018),” which stipulates that the right to self-determination is “unique to the Jewish people,” downgrades the status of the Arabic language, and elevates Jewish settlements “as a national value” (para. 13). Therefore, the Committee urged Israel to bring the Jewish Nation-State Basic Law in line with the Convention, reaffirming that “all peoples have the right to determine freely their political status” (para. 14).

In alignment with the international law criteria for the modern state, CERD urged Israel to “ensure equal treatment for all persons on the [Palestinian and Syrian] territories under its effective control and subject to its jurisdiction… [and] amend or revoke any legislation that do not comply with the principle of non-discrimination” (para. 16), including those territories under its effective control. This came with a requirement to follow-up these recommendations in the State’s upcoming review (para. 55).

The Committee further highlighted that Palestinians continue to face structural discrimination, including “limitations in the enjoyment of their right to work,” while they are “concentrated in low-paying sector,” have a “disproportionately poor health status… including shorter life expectancy and higher rates of infant mortality” (paras. 38(b) and (c)), and face high dropout rates with “significant gaps in the educational achievements between Arab students and Jewish students, as well as the shortage of classrooms and kindergartens” (para. 38(a)). Accordingly, the Committee called on Israel to “take effective measures to improve the quality of education provided to Arab students with a view to enhancing their academic achievements” (para. 39(a)), and “[t]ake concrete measures to improve the health status of the Palestinian and Bedouin populations” (para. 39(c)).

Laws, Policies and Practices Fragmenting the Palestinian People

CERD also expressed concern as to the maintenance of Israeli laws, policies, and practices, which discriminate against and fragment the Palestinian people (para. 15). In particular, the Committee was “concerned about the adoption of Amendment No. 30 of 2018 to the already discriminatory Entry into Israel Law (1952), which grants the Israeli Minister of Interior broad discretion to revoke the permanent residency permit of Palestinians living in East Jerusalem” (para. 15).

The Committee further highlighted Israel’s discriminatory family unification laws, expressing deep concerns “about the disproportionate and adverse restrictions imposed by the Citizenship and Entry into Israel Law (Temporary Provision), which suspends the possibility, with certain rare exceptions, of family reunification of Israeli citizens or residents of East Jerusalem with Palestinian spouses living in the West Bank or Gaza Strip” (para. 24). CERD therefore recommended that Israel “review its legislation in order to ensure the respect of the principles of equality, non-discrimination and proportionality, and further facilitate family reunification of all citizens and permanent residents of the State party” (para. 25).

As detailed in the CSO parallel report, Israel has imposed draconian restrictions on freedom of movement and residence within the oPt and across the Green Line, severely violating the Palestinian people’s human rights to family life, choice of residence, family (e.g., choice of spouse and family unification) and adequate housing. These policies and practices have fragmented the Palestinian people and ensured that Palestinians from within different geographical areas their territory are unable to meet, interact, trade, live together, participate in their culture, and exercise other collective rights, including to their right to self-determination and permanent sovereignty over natural resources, while entrenching Israel’s apartheid regime.

Rights to Housing, Land, Property and Other Natural Resources

The Committee called on Israel to uphold the rights of the Palestinian people on both sides of the Green Line to land, property, and sovereignty over natural resources, and to review its discriminatory planning and zoning laws, expressing concerns as to ongoing house demolitions in the southern Naqab and in the West Bank, including East Jerusalem, which lead to the displacement and dispossession of the indigenous Palestinian people. In particular, the Committee called on Israel to “take all necessary measures to… stop house demolitions and the eviction of Bedouin people from their homes and ancestral lands” (para. 29), also urging that the State follow-up on its implementation of this recommendation within a year (para. 54). Recalling the illegality of Israeli settlements in the occupied Palestinian territory and in the occupied Syrian Golan, the Committee was also “concerned at continuing confiscation and expropriation of Palestinian land, [and] continuing restrictions on access… to natural resources, inter alia, agricultural land and adequate water supply” (para. 42), and stressed that Israeli settlements “are not only illegal under international law but are an obstacle to the enjoyment of human rights by the whole population, without distinction as to national or ethnic origin” (para. 4).

The Committee also expressed concerns as to “the unclear status and activities of certain quasi-government entities, which carry out specific decision-making functions without being part of the executive structure” (para. 17), such as the World Zionist Organization (WZO), the Jewish Agency (JA), and the Jewish National Fund (JNF), which are chartered to carry out material discrimination against non-Jewish persons and operate extraterritorially as tax-exempt charities in some 50 other states parties to ICERD. Accordingly, CERD recommended that Israel “[e]nsure that all institutions carrying out governmental functions fully comply with the State party’s international legal obligations and are accountable on equal footing with other executive bodies” (para. 18(b)). The Committee further called on Israel to provide information and to follow up, within a year, on the implementation of this recommendation (para. 54).

The CSOs’ joint statement to the Committee also had highlighted the historical role Israel’s Zionist parastatal institutions have played in preventing the indigenous Palestinian people on both sides of the Green Line from accessing or exercising control over their means of subsistence, by exploiting and diverting Palestinian natural resources for the benefit of Israeli-Jewish settlers.

Racial Segregation and Apartheid across the Green Line

In light of the above, and a result of civil society engagement with the Committee, CERD recognised Israeli policies and practices, which amount to racial segregation and apartheid, on both sides of the Green Line, arguing that “the Israeli society continues to be segregated as it maintains Jewish and non-Jewish sectors, including two systems of education with unequal conditions, as well as separate municipalities… The Committee is particularly concerned about the continued full discretion of the Admissions Committees to reject applicants deemed ‘unsuitable to the social life of the community’” (para. 21). Regional Planning Councils and Admissions Committees are among the main institutional tools used to exclude Palestinian citizens from ownership and use of land, as well as access and use of adequate housing, along with the statutory authorities and policies of Zionist institutions.[1]

Within the oPt,theCommittee remained concerned “at the consequences of policies and practices which amount to segregation, such as the existence…of two entirely separate legal systems and sets of institutions for Jewish communities in illegal settlements on the one hand and Palestinian populations living in Palestinian towns and villages on the other hand.” The Committee was also “appalled at the hermetic character of the separation of the two groups, who live on the same territory but do not enjoy either equal use of roads and infrastructure or equal access to basic services, lands and water resources.” As highlighted by the Committee, “[s]uch separation is materialized by the implementation of a complex combination of movement restrictions consisting of the Wall, the settlements, roadblocks, military checkpoints, the obligation to use separate roads and a permit regime that impacts the Palestinian population negatively,” and amounts to policies and practices of racial segregation and apartheid, in violation of Article 3 of the Convention, obliging states to combat and put an end to apartheid (para. 22).

Accordingly, the Committee recalled its general recommendation 19 (1995) concerning the prevention, prohibition and eradication of all policies and practices of racial segregation and apartheid, and “urge[d] the State party to give full effect to article 3 of the Convention to eradicate all forms of segregation between Jewish and non-Jewish communities and any such policies or practices which severely and disproportionately affect the Palestinian population in Israel proper and in the Occupied Palestinian Territory” (para. 23). The Committee also cited that recommendation as being of particular importance and called on the State party to provide detailed information in its next periodic report on concrete measures taken to ensure its implementation (para. 55).

Closure, Blockade, Racial Segregation and Apartheid in Gaza

CERD newly reviewed Israel’s prolonged blockade of the Gaza Strip, which “continues to violate the right to freedom of movement, access to basic services, especially to health care, and impedes the ability to access safe drinking water” (para. 44), as inconsistent with Article 3 of the Convention on policies and practices of racial segregation and apartheid. Accordingly, the Committee urged that Israel “review its blockade policy and urgently allow and facilitate the rebuilding of homes and civilian infrastructures, ensure access to necessary urgent humanitarian assistance as well as to the right to freedom of movement, housing, education, health, water and sanitation, in compliance with the Convention” (para. 45).

In the CSOs’ parallel report, the organisations highlighted Israel’s illegal 12-year closure of the Gaza Strip, as amounting to prohibited collective punishment, as an integral part of Israel’s fragmentation of the Palestinian people. They argued that Israel’s discriminatory policies and practices in Gaza are committed with the intention of maintaining its institutionalised regime of systematic racial domination, oppression, segregation, separation and persecution of the Palestinian people. Accordingly, they urged the Committee “to demand Israel cease forthwith the ongoing closure and lift the blockade of Gaza with immediate effect…and to recognise that Israel’s discriminatory policies and practices, amounting to the crime of apartheid, have already made the Gaza Strip uninhabitable and violate the full spectrum of rights owed to the Palestinian people” in violation of Article 3 of the Convention.

The organisations note that the Committee still has yet to fully grasp the nature of Israel’s fragmentation of the Palestinian people and its consequences. Notably, they question CERD’s reference to “the Bedouin people” (paras. 2829, 54), is if the Palestinian Bedouin constitute a people and nation apart from the Palestinian people as a whole.

Nonetheless, they welcome CERD’s finding of Israeli policies and practices of racial segregation and apartheid as a step toward undoing Israel’s fragmentation of the Palestinian people. They urge third States to take effective measures to ensure the implementation of the Committee’s Concluding Observations, to bring an end to the illegal situation created as a result of Israel’s apartheid regime throughout historic Palestine, in addition to its occupation of Palestinian, Syrian and Lebanese sovereign territories. These violations are aimed at the Palestinian people as a whole, on both sides of the Green Line and as refugees and exiles abroad. This illegal state behaviour also affects all peoples in the region.

The CSOs have hailed the opening of an investigation by the International Criminal Court (ICC) into the situation in Palestine to ensure justice and accountability for widespread and systematic human rights violations, including suspected crimes, committed against the Palestinian people.

Photos: An image from a street in central Hebron/al-Khalil. Source: Middle East Monitor.

[1] See Adalah, Reply to List of Themes in relation to the combined seventeenth to nineteenth periodic reports of Israel, 31 October 2019, p. 4, available at:

[RM1]Link as PDF

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