Israel accused of apartheid crimes in major new human rights report

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Palestinian labourers cross into Israel through a hole in a fence south of Hebron - AP
Palestinian labourers cross into Israel through a hole in a fence south of Hebron - AP

Human Rights Watch has accused Israel of apartheid crimes against Palestinian and Israeli Arabs in a landmark report outlining what it says are crimes against humanity.

The watchdog organisation accused Israeli authorities of methodically privileging Jewish Israelis and discriminating against Palestinians. At times the Jewish state’s subjugation of Palestinians has been “so severe that they amount to the crimes against humanity of apartheid and persecution.”

Kenneth Roth, executive director of HRW, said: "Prominent voices have warned for years that apartheid lurks just around the corner if the trajectory of Israel's rule over Palestinians does not change."

He said: "This detailed study shows that Israeli authorities have already turned that corner and today are committing the crimes against humanity of apartheid and persecution."

The Israeli government angrily rejected the 213-page report, labelling it "preposterous and false" and accusing the New York-based organisation of pursuing an "anti-Israeli agenda," saying the group had sought "for years to promote boycotts against Israel".

Palestinians gather on the beach in Gaza City as smoke and fire billow following airstrikes by Israel in response to rockets fired by Palestinian militants on May 4, 2019 - SAMI AL-SULTAN/AFP/Getty Images
Palestinians gather on the beach in Gaza City as smoke and fire billow following airstrikes by Israel in response to rockets fired by Palestinian militants on May 4, 2019 - SAMI AL-SULTAN/AFP/Getty Images

The report comes months after the International Criminal Court announced it would investigate war crimes in the occupied West Bank and Gaza Strip, naming both the Israeli military and armed Palestinian groups as possible perpetrators.

Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas welcomed the HRW report.

"It is urgent for the international community to intervene, including by making sure that their states, organisations, and companies are not contributing in any way to the execution of war crimes and crimes against humanity in Palestine," he said in a statement.

The report’s authors argued that Israeli restrictions on the movement of Palestinians, and the establishment of Jewish settlements on Palestinian-owned land in territory occupied in the 1967 Six-Day War amount to the crime of apartheid.

"Across Israel and the (Palestinian territories), Israeli authorities have pursued an intent to maintain domination over Palestinians by exercising control over land and demographics for the benefit of Jewish Israelis," the report says.

"On this basis, the report concludes that Israeli officials have committed the crimes against humanity of apartheid and persecution," as defined under the 1973 Apartheid Convention and the 1998 Rome Statute.

A Palestinian flag hangs on a tree during a protest against Jewish settlements in An-Naqura village near Nablus in the West Bank - REUTERS/Raneen Sawafta
A Palestinian flag hangs on a tree during a protest against Jewish settlements in An-Naqura village near Nablus in the West Bank - REUTERS/Raneen Sawafta

The report adopted the concept of apartheid as defined under international law, rather than seeking to compare Israel with South Africa under apartheid determine whether Israel is an apartheid state.

Nonetheless Israeli officials strenuously objected to the accusations.

"The purpose of this spurious report is in no way related to human rights, but to an ongoing attempt by HRW to undermine the State of Israel's right to exist as the nation state of the Jewish people," Strategic Affairs Minister Michael Biton said.

Israel's foreign ministry said HRW's Israel programme was being "led by a known (BDS) supporter, with no connection to facts or reality on the ground," referring to the pro-Palestinian Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions movement.

The report's author, HRW Israel and Palestine Director Omar Shakir, was expelled from Israel in 2019 over accusations he supported BDS.

Mr Shakir denies that his HRW work and pro-Palestinian statements he made before being appointed to the HRW post in 2016 constitute active support for BDS.

Mr Shakir told Reuters that HRW would send its report to the ICC prosecutor's office, "as we normally do when we reach conclusions about the commissions of crimes that fall within the Court's jurisdiction."