Israel/OPT: Palestinian lives in peril as Israel reinforces apartheid

Israeli authorities must dismantle the system of apartheid which is causing so much suffering and bloodshed, Amnesty International said today. Since the organization launched a major campaign against apartheid one year ago, Israeli forces have killed almost 220 Palestinians, including 35 in January 2023 alone. Unlawful killings help maintain Israel’s apartheid system and constitute crimes against humanity, as do other serious and ongoing violations by Israeli authorities such as administrative detention and forcible transfer.

Over the past few days, a series of deadly attacks has underscored the urgent need for accountability. On 26 January, Israeli forces carried out a raid on Jenin refugee camp and killed 10 Palestinians, including a 61-year-old woman. On 27 January, seven Israeli civilians were killed when a Palestinian gunman opened fire in Neve Ya’akov, an Israeli settlement in occupied East Jerusalem. In response to this attack, Israeli authorities have stepped up collective punishment against Palestinians, carrying out sweeping mass arrests and threatening punitive home demolitions.

“The devastating events of the past week have exposed yet again the deadly cost of the system of apartheid. The international community’s failure to hold Israeli authorities to account for apartheid and other crimes has given them free rein to segregate, control and oppress Palestinians on a daily basis, and helps perpetuate deadly violence. Apartheid is a crime against humanity, and it is frankly chilling to see the perpetrators evade justice year after year,” said Agnès Callamard, Amnesty International’s Secretary General. 

“Israel has long attempted to silence findings of apartheid with targeted smear campaigns, and the international community allows itself to be cowed by these tactics. Until apartheid is dismantled there is no hope of protecting civilian lives, and no hope of justice for grieving families in Palestine and Israel.”

Under apartheid, Israeli authorities control virtually every aspect of Palestinians’ lives and subject them to daily oppression and discrimination through territorial fragmentation and legal segregation. Palestinians in the Occupied Palestinian Territories (OPT) are segregated into separate enclaves, with those living in the Gaza Strip isolated from the rest of the world through Israel’s illegal blockade, which has caused a humanitarian crisis and is a form of collective punishment.

Daily evidence of apartheid 

 On 1 February 2022, Amnesty International released a report setting out how Israel enforces an institutionalized system of oppression and domination against Palestinians  wherever it has control over their rights: in Israel, the OPT and against displaced refugees by denying their right to return. It showed how Israeli laws, policies and practices are enacted with the overarching aim of maintaining a Jewish demographic majority, and maximizing control of land and resources to benefit Jewish Israelis to the detriment of Palestinians.

 2022 went on to become one of the deadliest years for Palestinians in the occupied West Bank since at least 2005, with some 153 Palestinians, including dozens of children, killed by Israeli forces, mostly in the context of increased military raids and arrest operations. Research by Amnesty International found that 33 Palestinians, including 17 civilians, were killed by Israeli forces during their August 2022 offensive on Gaza, and that at least seven civilians were killed by rockets launched by Palestinian armed groups. 

Meanwhile, incidents of Israeli settler violence against Palestinians increased for the sixth consecutive year in 2022, with attacks including physical assaults, damage to property, and destruction of olive groves. There is extensive documentation of the Israeli authorities condoning and facilitating this violence, including by arresting the Palestinians who are under attack, providing armed escort to settlers, or simply looking on from the sidelines while Palestinians are beaten and their property destroyed. his culture of impunity has encouraged further violence, as demonstrated by the spate of attacks by settlers which have taken place in recent days.

Following the Neve Ya’akov shooting attack, Israeli authorities have appeared to incite further violence against Palestinians by announcing plans to expedite gun licenses “in order to enable thousands of additional citizens to carry weapons”. Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, who has already pledged to massively expand illegal settlements across the OPT, also said the government was planning to “strengthen settlements”.

All Israeli settlements in the OPT are illegal under international law, and Israel’s long-running policy of settling civilians in occupied territory amounts to a war crime.

Increased settlement expansion will put countless more Palestinians at risk of forcible transfer – a crime against humanity which Israeli authorities have committed on a systematic basis. A recent example is the May 2022 Supreme Court ruling which greenlighted the forcible transfer of more than 1,150 Palestinians from Masafer Yatta in the West Bank. In the past year Israeli authorities also scaled up plans to demolish the unrecognized village of Ras Jrabah in Israel’s Negev/Naqab region and displace its 500 Palestinian-Bedouin residents, while in January 2023 the Bedouin village of Al-Araqib was demolished for the 212th time. Amnesty International’s apartheid report showed how forced evictions in the Negev/Naqab, and across the OPT, are carried out in pursuit of Israel’s demographic objectives.

Growing recognition

Amid these violations, there is growing international recognition that Israeli authorities are committing apartheid. Palestinians have long been calling for an understanding of Israel’s rule as apartheid, and Palestinian organizations such as Al-Haq, the Palestinian Center for Human Rights, and Al Mezan have been at the forefront of UN advocacy to this end.  

 The push for such recognition gained momentum in 2022 with two UN Special Rapporteurs concluding that Israeli authorities are committing apartheid. The number of states at the Human Rights Council referring to apartheid by Israel doubled from nine in 2021 to 18 in 2022. Notably, South Africa and Namibia are among the states who have expressed concern that Israel’s treatment of Palestinians constitutes apartheid. Several international and Israeli human rights organizations have also called for an end to apartheid, including Human Rights Watch, B’Tselem and Yesh Din.  

Israeli authorities have gone to great lengths to suppress and discredit findings of apartheid. The consequences are particularly serious for Palestinian human rights defenders – in August last year, Israeli authorities raided the offices of seven leading Palestinian NGOs after branding them “terrorist entities” and outlawing them. In December, Salah Hammouri, a field researcher at prisoners’ rights organization Addameer, was stripped of his Jerusalem residency and deported to France after spending nine months in Israeli administrative detention.  

Disregard for international law 

In May 2023, Israel’s human rights record will come under scrutiny through the Universal Periodic Review (UPR) at the UN Human Rights Council. Amnesty International has written to the Israeli authorities urging them to engage, but they have yet to submit to the review process. Israeli authorities have ignored most of the recommendations put forward by reviewing states and endorsed by the Human Rights Council during the previous UPR cycle in 2018. For example, despite being urged repeatedly over the years, and then again in 2018, to end administrative detention, Israel is currently holding over 860 Palestinians without charge or trial – the highest number in 15 years.

“The Israeli authorities’ longstanding disregard for their obligations under international law and the recommendations of the international community continues to have dire consequences for Palestinians and undermines rights protection for Israelis as well,” said Agnès Callamard.  

 “No state should be able to systematically flout international law, including binding UN Security Council resolutions, with impunity. We call on states to end all forms of support for Israel’s violations, and to break with years of complicit inaction by holding the Israeli authorities to account.”