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The Great March of Return, 2018, outlined by Yara Derbas

Amnesty International explains its findings on segregation in Israel

The recent Amnesty International report on the extent to which Israel practises apartheid was the subject of a recent meeting at the White Rock Hotel. The local Hastings & Rye Palestine Solidarity Campaign (HRPSC) and Amnesty International Kent and East Sussex Network arranged it with the Amnesty International Country Coordinator for Israel/Palestine. London University’s SOAS Palestine Society was also represented. Bernard McGinley observed.

There was a time when Israel was the plucky underdog of the Middle East, but that was long ago. Now its domination of the area is permanently controversial. The lands gained in the 1967 Six Day War were expanded into, in breach of international law:  the Occupied Territories known as East Jerusalem, the West Bank and Gaza.

For decades South Africa had an elaborate system of racial segregation, until Nelson Mandela slowly came to power in the early 1990s. Is it helpful to compare Israeli governance to this? Garry Ettle of Amnesty explained why he thought it was, having spent nearly 20 years studying and visiting the Middle East. Although there were legalities around apartheid, he thought it a fair comparison.  

The 2022 report took four years of research and is 280 detailed pages long, with 51 recommendations. The title is Israel’s Apartheid Against Palestinians.

Ground conditions

Can Israelis and Palestinians peacefully co-exist? Possibly, but not under the current system of regulation. The long history of incompatibility and intractability, mayhem and woe, is indicated in the bible (Psalm 55 for instance).

Amnesty International analysed Israel’s governing system and identified oppression in the treatment of Palestinians. Key components were: 

territorial fragmentation, leading to displacement and others’ settlements

segregation and control, with an unequal nationality status

dispossession of land and property, and 

denial of economic and social rights. 

The conclusion was that this system amounts to apartheid, and is sustained by unlawful acts such as forcible transfers, detention and torture, curfews, unlawful killings, house demolitions, denial of basic rights and freedoms:  documented persecution. It was argued that such acts form part of a large and systematic attack against the Palestinian population:  a crime against humanity, and a flouting of international legal obligations.

West Bank segregated road (Photo: Norwegian Refugee Council)

On the one hand . . .

Some of the many legal instruments were explained, including the use of land acquisitions powers dating from the Britain’s League of Nations Mandate before Israeli independence was recognised in 1948. More recently there was the Citizenship and Entry into Israel Law (Temporary Order) 5763 of 2003. The absentee property laws are a rich tangle of ineligibility, though the pattern of benefits and disbenefits is clear.  

The deprivation statistics also indicate systemic discrimination, as do demolition orders and water availability and various forms of administrative Catch-22. There are juxtapositions, such as the land around Umm al-Khair, where settlers have benefits that the indigenous people lack. 

Talk of polarities obscures the role of many conscientious Jews who have addressed such issues, among them Uri Avnery, Zygmunt Bauman, Norman Finkelstein, and the ‘new’ historians such as Benny Morris. 

The history of this disputed land is a matter of contentious debate, where Palestinian hafrada (separation of people from one another) contends with Israeli hasbara (talking up Israel), and demolition is met with by rebuilding.

Other voices

Some Jewish organisations such as the Jewish Chronicle have reacted with indignation to the Amnesty report, but not much refutation or engagement. The AntiDefamation League (ADL), headquartered in New York City, was also hostile, though again with little detail about the report’s faults. Its urban neighbour, Nobel Peace Prize-winner Human Rights Watch, published in 2021 a report on Israel with harsh findings:  A Threshold Crossed, with much detail on apartheid and persecution. Amnesty has also commented critically on the record of the Palestinian Authority and Hamas.

The meeting continued with Yara Derbas discussing Palestnian history from a family perspective, and its diverse impacts:  the control of resources such as electricity, travel restrictions, resulting in demoralisation and other social effects, including the impact of discrimination. One constructive response was sumud, steadfastness to overcome frustration, resilience against inhumanity.

In conclusion, Pal Luthra of Amnesty explained what they did in Sussex and Kent with the help of its members:  investigation of possible human rights abuses, research and publication, mindful of free speech and the role of public opinion.

Katy Colley chaired with aplomb.

What next?

As an issue, this one is probably in for years on institutional agendas.  Amnesty advocate dialogue with relevant entities and people, such as the Foreign Office.  Pressure, raising the issue, linkage are all possible. Not so long ago change in South Africa was hardly imaginable, but it came. 

On Sunday 4 September a ‘Palestine on the Pier’ event is planned for Hastings. Those interested in contributing or finding out more should contact the Hastings & Rye Palestine Solidarity Campaign or Amnesty International Kent and East Sussex Network.

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Posted 09:55 Monday, Jul 4, 2022 In: Campaigns

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