'This report concludes, on the basis of overwhelming evidence, that Israel is guilty of the crime of apartheid, and urges swift action to oppose and end it.'
The UN report
Economic and Social Commission for Western Asia
Israeli Practices towards the Palestinian People and the Question of Apartheid
Economic and Social Commission for Western Asia (ESCWA)
Israeli Practices towards the Palestinian People and the Question of Apartheid
Palestine and the Israeli Occupation, Issue No. 1
Israeli Practices towards the Palestinian People and the Question of Apartheid
Palestine and the Israeli Occupation, Issue No. 1
This report was commissioned by the Economic and Social Commission for Western Asia (ESCWA) from authors Mr. Richard Falk and Ms. Virginia Tilley.
This report was commissioned by the Economic and Social Commission for Western Asia (ESCWA) from authors Mr. Richard Falk and Ms. Virginia Tilley.
Richard Falk (LLB, Yale University; SJD, Harvard University) is currently Research
Fellow, Orfalea Center of Global and International Studies, University of California at
Santa Barbara, and Albert G. Milbank Professor of International Law and Practice
Emeritus at Princeton University. From 2008 through 2014, he served as United
Nations Special Rapporteur on the situation of human rights in the Palestinian
territories occupied since 1967. He is author or editor of some 60 books and hundreds
of articles on international human rights law, Middle East politics, environmental
justice, and other fields concerning human rights and international relations.
Virginia Tilley (MA and PhD, University of Wisconsin-Madison, and MA in
Contemporary Arab Studies, Georgetown University) is Professor of Political
Science at Southern Illinois University. From 2006 to 2011, she served as Chief
Research Specialist in the Human Sciences Research Council of South Africa
and from 2007 to 2010 led the Council’s Middle East Project, which undertook
a two-year study of apartheid in the occupied Palestinian territories. In addition to
many articles on the politics and ideologies of the conflict in Israel-Palestine, she is
author of The One-State Solution (University of Michigan Press and Manchester
University Press, 2005) and editor of Beyond Occupation: Apartheid, Colonialism
and International Law in the Occupied Palestinian Territories (Pluto Press, 2012).
This report benefited from the general guidance of Mr. Tarik Alami, Director of the
Emerging and Conflict-Related Issues (ECRI) Division at ESCWA. Mr. Rabi’ Bashour
(ECRI) coordinated the report, contributed to defining its scope and provided
editorial comments, planning and data. Ms. Leila Choueiri provided substantive
and editorial inputs. Ms. Rita Jarous (ECRI), Mr. Sami Salloum and Mr. Rafat
Soboh (ECRI), provided editorial comments and information, as well as technical
assistance. Mr. Damien Simonis (ESCWA, Conference Services Section) edited
iv | Israeli Practices towards the Palestinian People and the Question of Apartheid
Appreciation is extended to the blind reviewers for their valuable input.
We also acknowledge the authors of and contributors to Occupation, Colonialism,
Apartheid? A Reassessment of Israel’s Practices in the Occupied Palestinian
Territories under International Law, whose work informed this report (see annex I)
and was published in 2012 as Beyond Occupation: Apartheid, Colonialism and
International Law in the Occupied Palestinian Territories.
The authors of this report, examining whether Israel has established an apartheid
regime that oppresses and dominates the Palestinian people as a whole, fully
appreciate the sensitivity of the question.1 Even broaching the issue has been
denounced by spokespersons of the Israeli Government and many of its supporters
as anti-Semitism in a new guise. In 2016, Israel successfully lobbied for the
inclusion of criticism of Israel in laws against anti-Semitism in Europe and the
United States of America, and background documents to those legal instruments
list the apartheid charge as one example of attempts aimed at “destroying Israel’s
image and isolating it as a pariah State”.2
The authors reject the accusation of anti-Semitism in the strongest terms. First, the
question of whether the State of Israel is constituted as an apartheid regime
springs from the same body of international human rights law and principles that
rejects anti-Semitism: that is, the prohibition of racial discrimination. No State is
immune from the norms and rules enshrined in the International Convention on
the Elimination of All Forms of Racial Discrimination, which must be applied
impartially. The prohibition of apartheid, which, as a crime against humanity, can
admit no exceptions, flows from the Convention. Strengthening that body of
international law can only benefit all groups that have historically endured
discrimination, domination and persecution, including Jews.
This report was prepared in response to a request made by member States of the United Nations Economic and Social
Commission for Western Asia (ESCWA) at the first meeting of its Executive Committee, held in Amman on 8 and 9 June 2015.
Preliminary findings of the report were presented to the twenty-ninth session of ESCWA, held in Doha from 13 to 15 December
2016. As a result, member States passed resolution 326 (XXIX) of 15 December 2016, in which they requested that the
secretariat “publish widely the results of the study”.
Coordinating Forum for Countering Antisemitism (CFCA): FAQ: the campaign to defame Israel. Available from
http://antisemitism.org.il/eng/FAQ:%20The%20campaign%20to%20defame%20Israel. The CFCA is an Israeli Government
“national forum”. “The new anti-Semitism” has become the term used to equate criticism of Israeli racial policies with anti-
Semitism, especially where such criticism extends to proposing that the ethnic premise of Jewish statehood is illegitimate,
because it violates international human rights law. The European Union Parliament Working Group on Antisemitism has
accordingly included in its working definition of anti-Semitism the following example: “Denying the Jewish people their right to
self-determination, e.g., by claiming that the existence of the State of Israel is a racist endeavour” (see
www.antisem.eu/projects/eumc-working-definition-of-antisemitism). In 2016, the United States passed the Anti-Semitism
Awareness Act, in which the definition of anti-Semitism is that set forth by the Special Envoy to Monitor and Combat Anti-
Semitism of the Department of State in a fact sheet of 8 June 2010. Examples of anti-Semitism listed therein include: “Denying
the Jewish people their right to self-determination, and denying Israel the right to exist.” (Available from https://2009-
vi | Israeli Practices towards the Palestinian People and the Question of Apartheid
Secondly, the situation in Israel-Palestine constitutes an unmet obligation of the
organized international community to resolve a conflict partially generated by its
own actions. That obligation dates formally to 1922, when the League of Nations
established the British Mandate for Palestine as a territory eminently ready for
independence as an inclusive secular State, yet incorporated into the Mandate the
core pledge of the Balfour Declaration to support the “Jewish people” in their
efforts to establish in Palestine a “Jewish national home”.3 Later United Nations
Security Council and General Assembly resolutions attempted to resolve the
conflict generated by that arrangement, yet could not prevent related proposals,
such as partition, from being overtaken by events on the ground. If this attention to
the case of Israel by the United Nations appears exceptional, therefore, it is only
because no comparable linkage exists between United Nations actions and any
other prolonged denial to a people of their right of self-determination.
Thirdly, the policies, practices and measures applied by Israel to enforce a system
of racial discrimination threaten regional peace and security. United Nations
resolutions have long recognized that danger and called for resolution of the
conflict so as to restore and maintain peace and stability in the region.
To assert that the policies and practices of a sovereign State amount to apartheid
constitutes a grave charge. A study aimed at making such a determination should
be undertaken and submitted for consideration only when supporting evidence
clearly exceeds reasonable doubt. The authors of this report believe that evidence
for suspecting that a system of apartheid has been imposed on the Palestinian
people meets such a demanding criterion. Given the protracted suffering of the
Palestinian people, it would be irresponsible not to present the evidence and legal
arguments regarding whether Israel has established an apartheid regime that
oppresses the Palestinian people as a whole, and not to make recommendations
for appropriate further action by international and civil society actors.
In sum, this study was motivated by the desire to promote compliance with
international human rights law, uphold and strengthen international criminal law,
and ensure that the collective responsibilities of the United Nations and its Member
States with regard to crimes against humanity are fulfilled. More concretely, it aims
to see the core commitments of the international community to upholding
international law applied to the case of the Palestinian people, in defence of its rights
under international law, including the right of self-determination.
The Council of the League of Nations, League of Nations Mandate for Palestine, December 1922, article 2. Available from
1. The Legal Context: Short History of the Prohibition of Apartheid
Alternative definitions of apartheid
2. Testing for an Apartheid Regime in Israel-Palestine
The political geography of apartheid
Israel as a racial State
Apartheid through fragmentation
3. Conclusions and Recommendations
I. Findings of the 2009 HSRC Report
II. Which Country?
This report concludes that Israel has established an apartheid regime that
dominates the Palestinian people as a whole. Aware of the seriousness
of this allegation, the authors of the report conclude that available evidence
establishes beyond a reasonable doubt that Israel is guilty of policies and
practices that constitute the crime of apartheid as legally defined in
instruments of international law.
The analysis in this report rests on the same body of international human rights
law and principles that reject anti-Semitism and other racially discriminatory
ideologies, including: the Charter of the United Nations (1945), the Universal
Declaration of Human Rights (1948), and the International Convention on the
Elimination of All Forms of Racial Discrimination (1965). The report relies for its
definition of apartheid primarily on article II of the International Convention on the
Suppression and Punishment of the Crime of Apartheid (1973, hereinafter the
The term "the crime of apartheid", which shall include similar policies and practices of
racial segregation and discrimination as practiced in southern Africa, shall apply to…
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
Although the term “apartheid” was originally associated with the specific instance
of South Africa, it now represents a species of crime against humanity under
customary international law and the Rome Statute of the International Criminal
Court, according to which:
“The crime of apartheid” means inhumane acts… committed in the context of an
institutionalized regime of systematic oppression and domination by one racial group
over any other racial group or groups and committed with the intention of maintaining
Against that background, this report reflects the expert consensus that the
prohibition of apartheid is universally applicable and was not rendered moot by
the collapse of apartheid in South Africa and South West Africa (Namibia).
2 | Israeli Practices towards the Palestinian People and the Question of Apartheid
The legal approach to the matter of apartheid adopted by this report should not be
confused with usage of the term in popular discourse as an expression of
opprobrium. Seeing apartheid as discrete acts and practices (such as the
“apartheid wall”), a phenomenon generated by anonymous structural conditions
like capitalism (“economic apartheid”), or private social behaviour on the part of
certain racial groups towards others (social racism) may have its place
in certain contexts. However, this report anchors its definition of apartheid in
international law, which carries with it responsibilities for States, as specified
in international instruments.
The choice of evidence is guided by the Apartheid Convention, which sets forth
that the crime of apartheid consists of discrete inhuman acts, but that such acts
acquire the status of crimes against humanity only if they intentionally serve
the core purpose of racial domination. The Rome Statute specifies in its definition
the presence of an “institutionalized regime” serving the “intention” of racial
domination. Since “purpose” and “intention” lie at the core of both definitions,
this report examines factors ostensibly separate from the Palestinian dimension —
especially, the doctrine of Jewish statehood as expressed in law and the design
of Israeli State institutions — to establish beyond doubt the presence of such
a core purpose.
That the Israeli regime is designed for this core purpose was found to be evident in
the body of laws, only some of which are discussed in the report for reasons of
scope. One prominent example is land policy. The Israeli Basic Law (Constitution)
mandates that land held by the State of Israel, the Israeli Development Authority or
the Jewish National Fund shall not be transferred in any manner, placing its
management permanently under their authority. The State Property Law of 1951
provides for the reversion of property (including land) to the State in any area
“in which the law of the State of Israel applies”. The Israel Lands Authority (ILA)
manages State land, which accounts for 93 per cent of the land within the
internationally recognized borders of Israel and is by law closed to use,
development or ownership by non-Jews. Those laws reflect the concept of
“public purpose” as expressed in the Basic Law. Such laws may be changed by
Knesset vote, but the Basic Law: Knesset prohibits any political party from
challenging that public purpose. Effectively, Israeli law renders opposition to
racial domination illegal.
Demographic engineering is another area of policy serving the purpose of
maintaining Israel as a Jewish State. Most well known is Israeli law conferring on
Jews worldwide the right to enter Israel and obtain Israeli citizenship regardless of
their countries of origin and whether or not they can show links to Israel-Palestine,
Executive Summary | 3
while withholding any comparable right from Palestinians, including those with
documented ancestral homes in the country. The World Zionist Organization and
Jewish Agency are vested with legal authority as agencies of the State of Israel to
facilitate Jewish immigration and preferentially serve the interests of Jewish
citizens in matters ranging from land use to public development planning and
other matters deemed vital to Jewish statehood. Some laws involving
demographic engineering are expressed in coded language, such as those that
allow Jewish councils to reject applications for residence from Palestinian citizens.
Israeli law normally allows spouses of Israeli citizens to relocate to Israel but
uniquely prohibits this option in the case of Palestinians from the occupied
territory or beyond. On a far larger scale, it is a matter of Israeli policy to reject the
return of any Palestinian refugees and exiles (totalling some six million people) to
territory under Israeli control.
Two additional attributes of a systematic regime of racial domination must be
present to qualify the regime as an instance of apartheid. The first involves the
identification of the oppressed persons as belonging to a specific “racial group”.
This report accepts the definition of the International Convention on the
Elimination of All Forms of Racial Discrimination of “racial discrimination” as “any
distinction, exclusion, restriction or preference based on race, colour, descent, or
national or ethnic origin which has the purpose or effect of nullifying or impairing
the recognition, enjoyment or exercise, on an equal footing, of human rights and
fundamental freedoms in the political, economic, social, cultural or any other field
of public life”. On that basis, this report argues that in the geopolitical context of
Palestine, Jews and Palestinians can be considered “racial groups”. Furthermore,
the International Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Racial
Discrimination is cited expressly in the Apartheid Convention.
The second attribute is the boundary and character of the group or groups
involved. The status of the Palestinians as a people entitled to exercise the
right of self-determination has been legally settled, most authoritatively by
the International Court of Justice (ICJ) in its 2004 advisory opinion on Legal
Consequences of the Construction of a Wall in the Occupied Palestinian Territory.
On that basis, the report examines the treatment by Israel of the Palestinian people
as a whole, considering the distinct circumstances of geographic and juridical
fragmentation of the Palestinian people as a condition imposed by Israel. (Annex II
addresses the issue of a proper identification of the “country” responsible for the
denial of Palestinian rights under international law.)
This report finds that the strategic fragmentation of the Palestinian people is the
principal method by which Israel imposes an apartheid regime. It first examines
4 | Israeli Practices towards the Palestinian People and the Question of Apartheid
how the history of war, partition, de jure and de facto annexation and prolonged
occupation in Palestine has led to the Palestinian people being divided into
different geographic regions administered by distinct sets of law. This
fragmentation operates to stabilize the Israeli regime of racial domination over the
Palestinians and to weaken the will and capacity of the Palestinian people to mount
a unified and effective resistance. Different methods are deployed depending on
where Palestinians live. This is the core means by which Israel enforces apartheid
and at the same time impedes international recognition of how the system works
as a complementary whole to comprise an apartheid regime.
Since 1967, Palestinians as a people have lived in what the report refers to as four
“domains”, in which the fragments of the Palestinian population are ostensibly
treated differently but share in common the racial oppression that results from the
apartheid regime. Those domains are:
1. Civil law, with special restrictions, governing Palestinians who live as citizens
2. Permanent residency law governing Palestinians living in the city of
3. Military law governing Palestinians, including those in refugee camps, living
since 1967 under conditions of belligerent occupation in the West Bank and
4. Policy to preclude the return of Palestinians, whether refugees or exiles, living
outside territory under Israel’s control.
Domain 1 embraces about 1.7 million Palestinians who are citizens of Israel. For
the first 20 years of the country’s existence, they lived under martial law and to this
day are subjected to oppression on the basis of not being Jewish. That policy of
domination manifests itself in inferior services, restrictive zoning laws and limited
budget allocations made to Palestinian communities; in restrictions on jobs and
professional opportunities; and in the mostly segregated landscape in which
Jewish and Palestinian citizens of Israel live. Palestinian political parties can
campaign for minor reforms and better budgets, but are legally prohibited by the
Basic Law from challenging legislation maintaining the racial regime. The policy is
reinforced by the implications of the distinction made in Israel between
“citizenship” (ezrahut) and “nationality” (le’um): all Israeli citizens enjoy the
former, but only Jews enjoy the latter. “National” rights in Israeli law signify
Jewish-national rights. The struggle of Palestinian citizens of Israel for equality and
civil reforms under Israeli law is thus isolated by the regime from that of
Executive Summary | 5
Domain 2 covers the approximately 300,000 Palestinians who live in East
Jerusalem, who experience discrimination in access to education, health care,
employment, residency and building rights. They also suffer from expulsions
and home demolitions, which serve the Israeli policy of “demographic balance”
in favour of Jewish residents. East Jerusalem Palestinians are classified as
permanent residents, which places them in a separate category designed to
prevent their demographic and, importantly, electoral weight being added to that
of Palestinians citizens in Israel. As permanent residents, they have no legal
standing to challenge Israeli law. Moreover, openly identifying with Palestinians
in the occupied Palestinian territory politically carries the risk of expulsion to the
West Bank and loss of the right even to visit Jerusalem. Thus, the urban epicentre
of Palestinian political life is caught inside a legal bubble that curtails its
inhabitants’ capacity to oppose the apartheid regime lawfully.
Domain 3 is the system of military law imposed on approximately 4.6 million
Palestinians who live in the occupied Palestinian territory, 2.7 million of them in
the West Bank and 1.9 million in the Gaza Strip. The territory is administered in a
manner that fully meets the definition of apartheid under the Apartheid
Convention: except for the provision on genocide, every illustrative “inhuman act”
listed in the Convention is routinely and systematically practiced by Israel in the
West Bank. Palestinians are governed by military law, while the approximately
350,000 Jewish settlers are governed by Israeli civil law. The racial character of this
situation is further confirmed by the fact that all West Bank Jewish settlers enjoy
the protections of Israeli civil law on the basis of being Jewish, whether they are
Israeli citizens or not. This dual legal system, problematic in itself, is indicative of
an apartheid regime when coupled with the racially discriminatory management of
land and development administered by Jewish-national institutions, which are
charged with administering “State land” in the interest of the Jewish population.
In support of the overall findings of this report, annex I sets out in more detail the
policies and practices of Israel in the occupied Palestinian territory that constitute
violations of article II of the Apartheid Convention.
Domain 4 refers to the millions of Palestinian refugees and involuntary exiles, most
of whom live in neighbouring countries. They are prohibited from returning to their
homes in Israel and the occupied Palestinian territory. Israel defends its rejection
of the Palestinians’ return in frankly racist language: it is alleged that Palestinians
constitute a “demographic threat” and that their return would alter the
demographic character of Israel to the point of eliminating it as a Jewish State.
The refusal of the right of return plays an essential role in the apartheid regime by
ensuring that the Palestinian population in Mandate Palestine does not grow to a
point that would threaten Israeli military control of the territory and/or provide the
6 | Israeli Practices towards the Palestinian People and the Question of Apartheid
demographic leverage for Palestinian citizens of Israel to demand (and obtain) full
democratic rights, thereby eliminating the Jewish character of the State of Israel.
Although domain 4 is confined to policies denying Palestinians their right of
repatriation under international law, it is treated in this report as integral to the
system of oppression and domination of the Palestinian people as a whole, given
its crucial role in demographic terms in maintaining the apartheid regime.
This report finds that, taken together, the four domains constitute one
comprehensive regime developed for the purpose of ensuring the enduring
domination over non-Jews in all land exclusively under Israeli control in whatever
category. To some degree, the differences in treatment accorded to Palestinians
have been provisionally treated as valid by the United Nations, in the absence of
an assessment of whether they constitute a form of apartheid. In the light of this
report’s findings, this long-standing fragmented international approach may
In the interests of fairness and completeness, the report examines several counter-
arguments advanced by Israel and supporters of its policies denying the
applicability of the Apartheid Convention to the case of Israel-Palestine. They
include claims that: the determination of Israel to remain a Jewish State is
consistent with practices of other States, such as France; Israel does not owe
Palestinian non-citizens equal treatment with Jews precisely because they are not
citizens; and Israeli treatment of the Palestinians reflects no “purpose” or “intent”
to dominate, but rather is a temporary state of affairs imposed on Israel by the
realities of ongoing conflict and security requirements. The report shows that none
of those arguments stands up to examination. A further claim that Israel cannot be
considered culpable for crimes of apartheid because Palestinian citizens of Israel
have voting rights rests on two errors of legal interpretation: an overly literal
comparison with South African apartheid policy and detachment of the question of
voting rights from other laws, especially provisions of the Basic Law that prohibit
political parties from challenging the Jewish, and hence racial, character of
The report concludes that the weight of the evidence supports beyond a
reasonable doubt the proposition that Israel is guilty of imposing an apartheid
regime on the Palestinian people, which amounts to the commission of a crime
against humanity, the prohibition of which is considered jus cogens in
international customary law. The international community, especially the United
Nations and its agencies, and Member States, have a legal obligation to act within
the limits of their capabilities to prevent and punish instances of apartheid that are
responsibly brought to their attention. More specifically, States have a collective
Executive Summary | 7
duty: (a) not to recognize an apartheid regime as lawful; (b) not to aid or assist a
State in maintaining an apartheid regime; and (c) to cooperate with the United
Nations and other States in bringing apartheid regimes to an end. Civil society
institutions and individuals also have a moral and political duty to use the
instruments at their disposal to raise awareness of this ongoing criminal
enterprise, and to exert pressure on Israel in order to persuade it to dismantle
apartheid structures in compliance with international law. The report ends with
general and specific recommendations to the United Nations, national
Governments, and civil society and private actors on actions they should take in
view of the finding that Israel maintains a regime of apartheid in its exercise of
control over the Palestinian people.
This report examines the practices and policies of Israel with regard to the
Palestinian people in its entirety. This is not an arbitrary choice. The legal existence
of the “Palestinian people” and its right, as a whole people, to self-determination
were confirmed by the International Court of Justice (ICJ) in its advisory opinion on
the separation wall in occupied Palestinian territory:1
As regards the principle of the right of peoples to self-determination, the Court observes
that the existence of a “Palestinian people” is no longer in issue. Such existence has
moreover been recognized by Israel in the exchange of letters of 9 September 1993
between Mr. Yasser Arafat, President of the Palestine Liberation Organization (PLO) and
Mr. Yitzhak Rabin, lsraeli Prime Minister. In that correspondence, the President of the PLO
recognized “the right of the State of Israel to exist in peace and security” and made various
other commitments. In reply, the Israeli Prime Minister informed him that, in the light of
those commitments, “the Government of Israel has decided to recognize the PLO as the
representative of the Palestinian people”. The Israeli-Palestinian Interim Agreement on the
West Bank and the Gaza Strip of 28 September 1995 also refers a number of times to the
Palestinian people and its “legitimate rights” (preamble, paras. 4, 7, 8; article II, para. 2;
article III, paras. 1 and 3; article XXII, para. 2). The Court considers that those rights include
the right to self-determination, as the General Assembly has moreover recognized on a
number of occasions (see, for example, resolution 58/163 of 22 December 2003).
The status of the Palestinians as a people is therefore legally settled (although
Israel contests it), and so the practices and policies of Israel towards the whole
Palestinian people, despite the Palestinians being fragmented geographically and
politically, should be addressed as a single, unified matter. That view is reinforced
by the realization that there is no prospect for achieving fundamental Palestinian
rights, above all the right of self-determination, through international diplomacy as
long as this question remains open.
The authors hope that this report will assist United Nations Member States in
making responsible and full use of their national legal systems in the service of the
Legal Consequences of the Construction of a Wall in the Occupied Palestinian Territory, Advisory Opinion, I.C.J. Reports
2004, p. 136. Available from www.icj-cij.org/docket/files/131/1671.pdf.
10 | Israeli Practices towards the Palestinian People and the Question of Apartheid
global common good. Civil society organizations are also urged to align their
agendas and priorities with the findings of this report. Nonetheless, it is primarily
incumbent on Israel to comply with international criminal law. Apartheid as an
international crime is now viewed by jurists as a peremptory norm (jus cogens) of
international customary law, which creates obligations erga omnes. In other
words, it is an overriding principle, from which no derogation is permitted, and
which is therefore binding, regardless of the consent of sovereign States, and
cannot be renounced by national Governments or their representatives.2 In effect,
this means that even States that do not accede to the International Convention on
the Suppression and Punishment of the Crime of Apartheid (hereinafter the
Apartheid Convention) are responsible for adhering to its obligations. Israel is thus
bound by its obligations to end a crime of apartheid if authoritative findings
determine that its practices and policies constitute such a criminal regime.
John Dugard, ”Introductory note to the Convention on the Suppression and Punishment of the Crime of Apartheid”, United
Nations Audiovisual Library of International Law, 2008. Available from http://legal.un.org/avl/ha/cspca/cspca.html.
The Legal Context
Short History of the Prohibition of Apartheid
The prohibition of apartheid in international human rights law draws primarily
from two areas: (1) prohibitions of discrimination on the basis of race; and (2)
rejection of the racist regime that governed in the Republic of South Africa
between 1948 and 1992.6
The prohibition of racial discrimination traces to the earliest principles of the
United Nations. While a full list would overburden this report, foundational
statements include Article 55 of the United Nations Charter and article 2 of the
Universal Declaration of Human Rights (1948). Later instruments, particularly the
International Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Racial Discrimination,
spelled out the prohibition in greater detail. Thus Member States of the United
Nations are obligated to abide by the prohibition of apartheid whether or not they
are parties to the Apartheid Convention.
The juridical history of international rejection of apartheid in South Africa dates to
the early years of the existence of the United Nations. General Assembly resolution
395(V) of 1950 was the first to make explicit reference to apartheid in southern
Africa, which it defined as a form of racial discrimination.7 Resolution 1761(XVII) of
1962 established what came to be called the Special Committee against Apartheid.8
In the preamble to the 1965 International Convention on the Elimination of All
Forms of Racial Discrimination, alarm is expressed about “manifestations of racial
discrimination still in evidence in some areas of the world… such as policies of
apartheid, segregation or separation” (emphasis added). In article 3, signatories to
the Convention “particularly condemn racial segregation and apartheid and
The precise date given for the end of apartheid varies with the benchmark used: decriminalization of the African National
Congress (ANC) in 1990; the launching or closure of the CODESA (Convention for a Democratic South Africa) talks in 1991 or 1993
respectively; the assassination of Chris Hani in 1993, which triggered the capitulation of the apartheid regime; the election of
Nelson Mandela as President in 1994; or passage of the new Constitution in 1995. Taking the meaningful collapse of apartheid’s
legitimacy as a rough signpost, the fall of apartheid is here dated to 1992.
Resolution 395(V) addressed racial discrimination against people of Indian origin in South Africa (A/RES/395(V)). Concern for
that population had been expressed earlier, beginning with resolution 44 (I) of 1946 (A/RES/44(I)).
12 | Israeli Practices towards the Palestinian People and the Question of Apartheid
undertake to prevent, prohibit and eradicate all practices of this nature in territories
under their jurisdiction” (emphasis added).
The Apartheid Convention of 1973 classifies apartheid as a crime against humanity
(in articles I and II) and provides the most detailed definition of it in international
law.9 It also clarifies international responsibility and obligations with regard to
combating the crime of apartheid. In the 1977 Protocol Additional to the Geneva
Conventions of 12 August 1949, and Relating to the Protection of Victims of
International Armed Conflicts (hereinafter Additional Protocol I to the 1949 Geneva
Conventions), apartheid is defined as a war crime. The 1998 Rome Statute of the
International Criminal Court (ICC), hereinafter the Rome Statute, lists apartheid as a
crime against humanity (article 7 (1) (j)), bringing its investigation and possible
prosecution under the jurisdiction of the ICC.
Although only 109 States are parties to the Apartheid Convention, most States
(currently 177) are parties to the International Convention on the Elimination of All
Forms of Racial Discrimination, under which they commit themselves to “prevent,
prohibit and eradicate” apartheid (article 3). As of 31 January 2017, 124 States had
ratified the Rome Statute. Hence, most States have a legal responsibility to oppose
apartheid and take measures to end it wherever it may arise. That responsibility
concerns not only human rights violations resulting from apartheid but the threat it
poses to international peace and security. The Apartheid Convention further
provides that States parties should act at the national level to suppress and
prevent the crime of apartheid, through legislative action and prosecutions and
legal proceedings in any competent national court.
This report proceeds on the assumption that apartheid is a crime against
humanity and that all Member States of the United Nations are legally
responsible for acting to prevent, end and punish its practice.
Alternative definitions of apartheid
Arguments about whether a State practices apartheid rest on how apartheid is
defined. Several definitions are currently used in polemical debate with regard to
Israel, which is frequently labelled an “apartheid State” for its practice of discrete
When the Convention was drafted, apartheid had already been described as a crime against humanity by the General
Assembly, as in resolution 2202 (XXI) of 1966 (A/RES/2202(XXI) A-B).
The Legal Context: Short History of the Prohibition of Apartheid | 13
“acts of apartheid”, such as the “apartheid wall”.10 Those who insist that Israel
cannot be held culpable for apartheid argue that the country’s laws are
fundamentally different from those of apartheid South Africa: for example, because
Palestinian citizens of Israel have the right to vote.11 These diverse arguments
arguably fall outside a study grounded in the tenets of international law as set forth
in the pertinent instruments, but a quick overview of them here is warranted. This
brevity should not be taken to imply a dismissal of such definitions, which have
their place beyond strict considerations of international law. Rather, the overview
serves to explain why they are not employed in this report. Neat divisions cannot
always be made between these definitions, and some clearly overlap, but they can
be identified as types or tendencies.
1. Defining only regimes consistent with the apartheid regime in South Africa as
being apartheid, so that, by definition, digressions from South African
practices preclude any charge of apartheid.
2. Treating discrete practices considered to have qualities of apartheid, such as
the so-called “apartheid wall” (“separation fence” or “separation barrier” in
official Israeli discourse), as signifying that a State has established a
comprehensive apartheid regime.
3. Defining apartheid as the outcome of anonymous structural global forces, such
as global corporate influences or neoliberalism, as enforced by Bretton Woods
4. Defining apartheid as the aggregate body of private racist practices by the
dominant society as a whole, whereby State involvement is a contingent tool
for enforcing a draconian social system based on racial hierarchy,
discrimination and segregation.
5. Treating apartheid as pertaining only to Palestinian citizens of Israel, or only to
Palestinians in the occupied territory, or excluding Palestinian refugees and
involuntary exiles living outside territory under Israeli control.12
These types of definition, and the reasons that make them unsuitable for this
report, are elaborated upon below.
10 A literature review of such references exceeds the scope of this report.
12 Palestinians expelled from the occupied Palestinian territory by Israel and not allowed to return.
14 | Israeli Practices towards the Palestinian People and the Question of Apartheid
1. The comparison with southern Africa
Arguments about whether Israel has established an apartheid regime often
compare the policies and practices of Israel with the system of apartheid in
southern Africa (South Africa and Namibia).13 The very term “apartheid” may
suggest that the system of racial discrimination as practised by the South African
regime constitutes the model for a finding of apartheid elsewhere.14 The
comparison does sometimes provide illuminating insights: for instance, by
clarifying why existing proposals for a two-State solution in Mandate Palestine are
most likely to generate a Palestinian Bantustan.15 Such insights are found by
examining the South African distinction between so-called “petty apartheid” (the
segregation of facilities, job access and so forth) and “grand apartheid”, which
proposed solving racial tensions with the partition of South African territory and by
establishing black South African “homelands” delineated by the regime. Be that as
it may, the South African comparison will be mostly avoided in this report, because
(1) such comparison contradicts the universal character of the prohibition of
apartheid and (2) because apartheid systems that arise in different countries will
necessarily differ in design. Nonetheless, because they tend to have much in
common, this approach requires brief elaboration.
Reasons for the error of comparison
The first reason people turn to the South African case is that the collective memory
of the South African struggle and the term “apartheid” itself encourage this error.
On coming to power in 1948, the Afrikaner-dominated Nationalist Party translated
its constituency’s long-standing beliefs about racial hierarchy into a body of racial
laws designed to secure white supremacy and determine the life conditions and
chances of everyone in the country on the basis of race. The Nationalists’ term for
this comprehensive system was apartheid (Afrikaans for “apart-hood” or “separate
development”).16 The opposition to apartheid (coordinated by the African National
Congress, the Pan-African Congress, the domestic United Democratic Front and
13 The term “southern” Africa reflects the practice of South Africa in extending apartheid to South West Africa (now Namibia),
which South Africa had held under a League of Nations mandate and refused to relinquish after the Second World War.
14 Afrikaans is the adapted Dutch of the indigenized Dutch-European “Afrikaner” settler society in southern Africa.
15 For a study of how arrangements for the Palestinian Interim Self-Government Authority replicate the South African
“homelands”, or Bantustans, see Virginia Tilley, “A Palestinian declaration of independence: implications for peace”, Middle East
Policy, vol. 17, No. 1 (March 2010). Available from http://mepc.org/journal/middle-east-policy-archives/palestinian-declaration-
16 The National Party was the principal party in South Africa expressing the Afrikaner worldview and white-nationalist political
goals. Hold-outs against United Nations denunciations of apartheid in South Africa included Israel, which maintained a close
alliance with the regime throughout its duration, and the United States of America, which had close business ties with South
The Legal Context: Short History of the Prohibition of Apartheid | 15
other southern African actors, as well as sympathetic international human rights
networks) accordingly adopted the term in order to denounce it. The General
Assembly did the same, using the term for a series of measures concerning South
Africa. For many people, this long history of legal activism naturalized the
association between apartheid and South Africa to the point of conflation.
That this conflation is a legal error can be seen in the history of usage through
which the term gained universal application:
1962 – The General Assembly established the Special Committee on the
Policies of Apartheid of the Government of South Africa, later renamed the
Special Committee against Apartheid;
1965 – Under the International Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of
Racial Discrimination, apartheid was classified as a form of racial
discrimination (preamble and article 3) with no mention of South Africa;
1973 – The Apartheid Convention clarified that “inhuman acts” that constitute
the crime of apartheid would “include” acts that are “similar to” those of
apartheid South Africa;
1976 – The Secretariat of the United Nations set up the Centre against
1998 – Apartheid was listed in the Rome Statute as a crime against humanity,
with no mention of South Africa.
That the term has come to have universal application is clarified by South African
jurist John Dugard (a leading legal scholar of apartheid):
That the Apartheid Convention is intended to apply to situations other than South Africa is
confirmed by its endorsement in a wider context in instruments adopted before and after
the fall of apartheid… It may be concluded that the Apartheid Convention is dead as far as
the original cause for its creation – apartheid in South Africa – is concerned, but that
it lives on as a species of the crime against humanity, under both customary
international law and the Rome Statute of the International Criminal Court
This report assumes that the term “apartheid” has come to have universal
application in international law and is accordingly not confined to the South
17 John Dugard, “Introductory note to the Convention on the Suppression and Punishment of the Crime of Apartheid”. Available
16 | Israeli Practices towards the Palestinian People and the Question of Apartheid
The paucity of precedents
A second reason people turn to the South African comparison is that, because
no other State has been accused of the crime of apartheid, South Africa stands as
the only case providing a precedent. Given the importance of precedents in the
interpretation of law, it is arguably natural for people to look at the “inhuman acts”
of apartheid in southern Africa as the models or benchmarks for what apartheid
“looks like”. For example, some claim that Israel clearly does not practise
apartheid because Palestinian citizens of Israel have the right to vote in national
elections, while black South Africans did not. That the design of apartheid regimes
in other States must necessarily differ — due to the unique history of their societies
and the collective experience shaping local racial thought, such as settler
colonialism, slavery, ethnic cleansing, war or genocide — is neglected in such a
simplified search for models.
Nevertheless, the case of southern Africa does serve to expose some legal
arguments as specious. For example, it might be argued that the treatment by
Israel of Palestinian populations outside its internationally recognized borders (that
is, in the occupied Palestinian territory and abroad) falls beyond the scope of the
question, making its policies on Palestinian refugees and Palestinians living under
occupation irrelevant to a charge of apartheid. That this argument is unsupportable
is confirmed by reference to ICJ advisory opinions regarding the behaviour of
South Africa in South West Africa (Namibia).18 In 1972, the ICJ found South African
rule over Namibia illegal partly on the grounds that it violated the rights of the
Namibian people by imposing South African apartheid laws there.19 South Africa
was thus held to account for apartheid practices outside its own sovereign territory
and in respect to non-citizens.
This report assumes that the question of formal sovereignty is not germane
to a finding of apartheid.
18 In the 1960s, South Africa administered South West Africa (Namibia) as a fifth province and applied to it its doctrine of
apartheid, complete with Bantustans. The policy attracted repeated criticism from the General Assembly.
19 The ICJ was addressing the legality of South Africa's continued rule of South West Africa in violation of a Security Council
resolution calling for its withdrawal. See especially the last of four opinions issued between 1950 and 1971: International Status
of South-West Africa, Advisory Opinion, I.C.J. Reports 1950, p. 128; Voting Procedure on Questions Relating to Reports and
Petitions Concerning the Territory of South West Africa, Advisory Opinion, I.C.J. Reports 1955, p. 67; Admissibility of Hearings of
Petitioners by the Committee on South-West Africa, Advisory Opinion, I.C.J. Reports 1956, p. 23; Legal Consequences for States
of the Continued Presence of South Africa in Namibia (South West Africa) Notwithstanding Security Council Resolution 276
(1970), Advisory Opinion, I.C.J. Reports 1971, p. 16 (especially paras. 131 and 133).
The Legal Context: Short History of the Prohibition of Apartheid | 17
2. Apartheid as discrete practices
Discrete acts by Israel are frequently labelled as examples of “apartheid”: for
example, as noted earlier, in references to the “apartheid wall”. Such references
are useful to those wishing to highlight how the forcible segregation of groups
strongly suggests apartheid. Yet it would be erroneous to take such isolated
practices as indicative that a State is constituted as an apartheid regime.20 Rather,
the Apartheid Convention provides a definition that stresses the combination of
acts with their “purpose” or intent:
For the purpose of the present Convention, the term "the crime of apartheid", which shall
include similar policies and practices of racial segregation and discrimination as practiced
in southern Africa, shall apply to the following inhuman acts committed for the purpose
of (emphasis added) establishing and maintaining domination by one racial group of
persons over any other racial group of persons and systematically oppressing them
The Convention then lists six categories of such “inhuman acts”. In article 7 (2) (h),
the Rome Statute formulates the same concept differently, but again places
emphasis on such acts as reflecting an “intention”:
“The crime of apartheid” means inhumane acts of a character similar to those referred to in
paragraph 1 [i.e., “when committed as part of a widespread or systematic attack directed
against any civilian population, with knowledge of the attack”], committed in the context of an
institutionalized regime of systematic oppression and domination by one racial group over any
other racial group or groups and committed with the intention of maintaining that regime.
Both instruments thus establish that discrete acts are crimes of apartheid only if
they are part of an institutionalized regime and have the “intention” or “purpose”
of racial domination and oppression. The same acts, if not observably part of such
a regime or lacking such a clear purpose, may be denounced as reprehensible
instances of racism but do not meet the definition of a crime of apartheid. For that
reason, a check-list method alone — such as looking for the “inhuman acts”
mentioned in the Apartheid Convention — would be a misreading of the
20 Former special rapporteurs John Dugard and Richard Falk highlighted the problem of determining when “features of
apartheid” signify that an apartheid regime is operating, which would constitute a matter that might be referred to the ICJ. For
both rapporteurs, the question arose with regard to the legality of the Israeli occupation. Mr. Dugard described “road apartheid”
in the occupied Palestinian territory and noted that the Israeli occupation has “features” or “elements” of apartheid. However,
whether Israel is constituted as an apartheid regime remained for Mr. Dugard a question still to be legally determined
(A/62/275). Mr. Falk adopted a similar position (A/HRC/25/67, p. 21).
18 | Israeli Practices towards the Palestinian People and the Question of Apartheid
Convention’s intention. In article II, it explicitly establishes that such acts are
illustrative, not mandatory, and are crimes of apartheid only if they serve the
overarching purpose of racial domination. Hence, such acts can be considered
crimes of apartheid only after the existence of an “institutionalized regime of
systematic oppression and domination” has been conclusively established.
The very existence of the Apartheid Convention indicates that apartheid is rightly
distinguished from other forms of racial discrimination, already prohibited under
instruments such as the International Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of
Racial Discrimination, by its character as a regime. The Rome Statute expressly refers
to apartheid as a regime. In political science, a State regime is the set of institutions
through which the State is governed, principally regarding its arrangements for
exercising power. In the oft-cited formulation by political scientist Robert Fishman:
A regime may be thought of as the formal and informal organization of the centre of
political power, and of its relations with the broader society. A regime determines who has
access to political power, and how those who are in power deal with those who are not…
Regimes are more permanent forms of political organization than specific governments, but
they are typically less permanent than the State.21
On the basis of this definition, relevant evidence for an apartheid regime in Israel-
Palestine must go beyond identifying discrete acts and determine whether the
regime blocks access to “the centre of political power” on the basis of race.
Moreover, the Apartheid Convention specifies that “organizations, institutions and
individuals” may be culpable for the crime of apartheid (article I, para. 2). This, too,
means that the State as a whole may be held accountable for committing that crime.
Finally, identifying apartheid as a regime clarifies one controversy: that ending
such a regime would constitute destruction of the State itself. This interpretation is
understandable if the State is understood as being the same as its regime. Thus,
some suggest that the aim of eliminating apartheid in Israel is tantamount to
aiming to “destroy Israel”. However, a State does not cease to exist as a result of
regime change. The elimination of the apartheid regime in South Africa in no way
affected the country’s statehood.
To determine whether specific acts constitute evidence of apartheid, this report
examines whether they contribute to the overarching purpose of sustaining an
institutionalized regime of racial oppression and domination.
21 Fishman, Robert M., “Rethinking State and regime: Southern Europe's transition to democracy”, World Politics, vol. 42, No. 3
The Legal Context: Short History of the Prohibition of Apartheid | 19
3. Apartheid as generated by anonymous structural conditions
Some writers have begun to define apartheid as the racialized impact of
anonymous socioeconomic forces, such as the capitalist mode of production. It
may indeed be heuristically useful to use the term “economic apartheid” to
describe situations where economic inequality feeds into racial formation and
stratification, even in the absence of any deliberate State policy to achieve this
result.22 (Scholars of race relations will identify this as the illimitable race-class
debate.) In this model, “apartheid” is used to flag discrimination that emerges
spontaneously from a variety of economic conditions and incentives. Some argue
that the entire global economy is generating a kind of “global apartheid”.23
The trouble with this hyper-structural approach is that it renders agency,
particularly the role of a given State, unclear or implicitly eliminates it altogether.
International law interprets apartheid as a crime for which individuals (or States)
can be prosecuted, once their culpability is established by authoritative legal
procedures. No such criminal culpability could pertain when treating apartheid as
the product of the international structure itself, as this would not signify whether
the State regime is configured deliberately for the purpose of racial domination
and oppression — the distinguishing quality of apartheid according to the
Apartheid Convention and Rome Statute.
This report considers that the question of whether or not an apartheid system
is in place should be analysed at the level of the State, and that the crime
of apartheid is applicable only to that level.
4. Apartheid as private social behaviour
The term apartheid is also used to describe racial discrimination where the main
agent in imposing racial domination is the dominant racial group, whose members
collectively generate the rules and norms that define race, enforce racial hierarchy
and police racial boundaries. The primary enforcers of such systems are private,
such as teachers, employers, real estate agents, loan officers and vigilante groups,
but they also rely to varying degrees on administrative organs of the State, such as
the police and a court system. It follows that maintaining these organs as
compliant with the system becomes a core goal of private actors, because
22 For more on this, see Cass Sunstein, “Why markets don't stop discrimination”, Social Philosophy and Policy, vol. 8, issue 2
23 Anthony H. Richmond, Global Apartheid: Refugees, Racism, and the New World Order (Toronto, Oxford University Press,
20 | Israeli Practices towards the Palestinian People and the Question of Apartheid
excluding dominated groups from meaningful voting rights that might alter that
compliance is essential to maintaining the system.
Social racism doubtless plays a vital role in apartheid regimes, by providing popular
support for designing and preserving the system, and by using informal methods
(treating people with hostility and suspicion) to intimidate and silence subordinated
groups.24 Social racism is rarely entirely divorced from institutionalized racism. Law
and practice are so interdependent that the difference between them may seem
irrelevant to those oppressed by the holistic system they create.
Nonetheless, one significant difference distinguishes the two: the role of
constitutional law. Where a State’s constitutional law provides equal rights to the
entire citizenry, it can provide an invaluable resource for people challenging
discrimination at all levels of the society. However, if constitutional law defines the
State as racial in character — as in Israel (as a Jewish State), and apartheid South
Africa (as a white-Afrikaner State) — movements against racial discrimination not
only lack this crucial legal resource but find themselves in the far more dangerous
position of challenging the regime itself. Such a challenge will naturally be seen by
regime authorities as an existential threat and be persecuted accordingly.25
In short, it is crucial for a finding of apartheid to establish whether the State’s
constitutional law (the Basic Law in Israel) renders discrimination illegal or renders
resistance to discrimination illegal. The latter case fits the definition of apartheid in
the Apartheid Convention, which lists as a crime against humanity “persecution of
organizations and persons, by depriving them of fundamental rights and freedoms,
because they oppose apartheid” (article II (f)).
5. Apartheid and the question of race
The Apartheid Convention defines apartheid as “domination by one racial group of
persons over any other racial group of persons…”. The Rome Statute uses similar
wording: “…systematic oppression and domination by one racial group over any
other racial group or groups…”. However, neither Jews nor Palestinians are
24 Surveys of Jewish Israeli attitudes towards “Arabs” and Palestinians are omitted here because they do not pertain to a
study of the State’s institutionalized regime. This omission in no way intends to suggest that popular views are not key guardians
and enforcers of that regime.
25 Although the Constitution of the United States of America states that “We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men
are created equal”, race relations always complicated this principle in practice. Constitutional law favouring white supremacy
included the key “separate but equal” provisions in Plessy v. Ferguson, 163 US 537 (1896). They were overturned only in 1954, in
Brown v. Board of Education of Topeka, 347 US 483, which was later followed by the Civil Rights Act of 1964 and the Voting
Rights Act of 1965.
The Legal Context: Short History of the Prohibition of Apartheid | 21
referred to as “races” today. Moreover, Jews are correctly argued to include many
“races” in the sense of the old colour categories: black, white, Asian and so forth.
Thus, one challenge to any accusation that Israel maintains an apartheid regime is
that the Israeli-Palestinian conflict is not racial in nature. Hence, the argument
goes, Jews cannot be racist toward Palestinians (or anyone else) because Jews
themselves are not a race.
Such arguments reflect a mistaken and obsolete understanding of race. Through
the first half of the twentieth century, the idea of race was seen as scientifically
established and measurable. Since the Second World War, however, it has come to
be recognized as a social construction that varies over time and may be contested
within each local context. One illustration of such variability is the North American
“one-drop rule”, which has long operated to label as “black” anyone with a
perceptible element of African phenotypes or known black ancestry. Yet the same
“black” person, travelling to Latin America, finds the one-drop rule working in
reverse, such that s/he is not considered “black” if s/he has any portion of “white”
blood, instead being called mestizo or mulatto. Thus racial identity changes with
Consequently, there can be no single, authoritative, global definition of any race.
The only way to determine how racial identities are perceived and practiced locally
is through historical studies of racial thought and by field observations in each
local setting. The question is therefore not whether Jewish and Palestinian
identities are innately racial in character wherever they occur, but whether those
identities function as racial groups in the local environment of Israel-Palestine.
This point raises another question on how race is handled in United Nations
instruments.26 For the purposes of human rights law, a finding of racial
discrimination is based less on how groups are labelled than how they are treated.
For example, although Jews today are not normally referred to as a “race”, anti-
Semitism is correctly seen as a form of racism. It would indeed be unethical and
politically regressive sophistry to argue that Jews cannot be subject to racial
discrimination simply because they are not normally referred to as a “race”.
The International Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Racial
Discrimination captures that point by defining “racial discrimination”
as embracing a range of identities:
26 The exception that proves the rule regarding definitions of race is the isolated effort by the International Criminal Tribunal
for Rwanda: see Prosecutor v. Jean-Paul Akayesu, case No. ICTR-96-4-T, Judgement (TC), 2 September 1998, Akayesu Trial
Judgment, paras. 511-515.
22 | Israeli Practices towards the Palestinian People and the Question of Apartheid
In this Convention, the term “racial discrimination” shall mean any distinction, exclusion,
restriction or preference based on race, colour, descent, or national or ethnic origin
which has the purpose or effect of nullifying or impairing the recognition, enjoyment or
exercise, on an equal footing, of human rights and fundamental freedoms in the political,
economic, social, cultural or any other field of public life (part I, article 1) (emphasis added).
By invoking that Convention in its preamble, the Apartheid Convention suggests
that its language regarding “racial group or groups” embraces the same range
Recognizing this contextual meaning of “race” is not haphazard. Since the mid-
twentieth century, scholars of international law have joined social scientists in
coming to understand racial identity as fundamentally a matter of perception,
rather than objectively measurable qualities. Racial identities are usually signally
somatic and so are seen as stable and permanent, acquired at birth and thus
immutable. That races are actually social constructions is evidenced by how such
constructions vary from society to society: that is, the significance of specific
somatic criteria, such as skin colour or eye shape, to a racial typology. Where such
perceptions of an essential identity persist, the difference disappears between
language about groups understood as racial or “ethnic”, as descent groups, and
that which sees them as sharing a particular national or ethnic origin. What matters
in all those cases is that all members of a group — including infants and others
who cannot possibly constitute a “racial threat” — are embraced by one policy. A
pertinent example of this conflation of terms has been discrimination against Jews,
for whom a mix of labels (race, religion and ethnicity) has been used by those
pursuing anti-Semitic segregation, persecution or genocide. The question here is,
therefore, whether relations between Jews and Palestinians in Mandate Palestine
rest on ideas that each group has an immutable character, such that their relations
fit the definition of “racial” discrimination.
A comprehensive review of how Jewish and Palestinian identities are understood
locally in Israel-Palestine would overburden this report. Fortunately, one factor
confirms the racial quality of both identities in this context: both are considered
descent groups (one of the categories in the International Convention on the
Elimination of All Forms of Racial Discrimination). Palestinian identity is explicitly
based on origins or ancestral origins in the territory of Mandate Palestine. The
1964 Charter of the Palestinian Liberation Organization (PLO)27 expresses this
27 See https://web.archive.org/web/20101130144018/http://www.un.int/wcm/content/site/palestine/pid/12363.
The Legal Context: Short History of the Prohibition of Apartheid | 23
principle by affirming that Palestinian identity is passed down through the paternal
line and is intergenerational:
Article 5: The Palestinian personality is a permanent and genuine characteristic that does
not disappear. It is transferred from fathers to sons.
Palestinian national identity has always been nested within pan-Arabism, an ethno-
national identity formulated first as a modern territorial nationalism by Sherif
Hussein of Mecca. “Arab” was certainly the generic term for Arabic-speaking
people in Palestine when the Zionist movement began to settle the area. General
Assembly resolution 181(II) of 1947,28 which recommended the partition of
Mandate Palestine into an “Arab State” and a “Jewish State”, drew from that
discourse. Updated and promoted especially by Egyptian President Gamal Abdul
Nasser to craft an anticolonial Arab identity bloc across the Middle East and North
Africa, Arab identity became a vital identity and political resource for the PLO, as
reflected in its Charter:
Article 1: Palestine is an Arab homeland bound by strong Arab national ties to the rest of
the Arab countries and which together form the great Arab homeland.
… Article 3: The Palestinian Arab people has the legitimate right to its homeland and is an
inseparable part of the Arab Nation. It shares the sufferings and aspirations of the Arab
Nation and its struggle for freedom, sovereignty, progress and unity…
In this conception, Palestinians are integral members of the Arab “Nation”, but
it is the “Palestinian people” that holds the right to self-determination in Mandate
Palestine, thus conveying the international legal meaning of “nation” to the
In contrast, Jewish identity combines several contradictory elements.29 “Jewish” is
certainly a religious identity in the sense that Judaism is a religious faith to which
anyone may convert if willing and able to follow the required procedures. On that
basis, opponents of Israeli policy insist that Jewishness is not a national identity
but simply a religious one, and so Jews qua Jews are not a “people” in the sense
of international law and therefore lack the right to self-determination. Supporters
of Israel use the same point to deny that Jewish statehood is racist, on the grounds
29 Internal debates about “who is a Jew” are irrelevant to the State’s construction of Jewishness as a single people, and thus
not pertinent to this report. On such debates, see, for example, Noah Efron, Real Jews: Secular Versus Ultra-Orthodox: The
Struggle For Jewish Identity In Israel (New York, Basic Books, 2003).
24 | Israeli Practices towards the Palestinian People and the Question of Apartheid
that Zionism and Israel cannot be racist if Jews are not a race. However, those
arguments are flawed, even disingenuous, as religious criteria alone are not
adequate for defining what it is to be “Jewish”.
Like many other groups that today are now commonly called “ethnic” or
“national”, until the mid-twentieth century Jews were often referred to as a “race”.
Jewish-Zionist thinkers adopted the same approach, reflecting contemporary
concepts of what races were, how races composed peoples and nations, and how
on that basis they had the right to self-determination. For example, Zionist
philosopher and strategist Max Nordau commonly used the term “race” for Jews
in speaking of Jewish interests in Palestine.30 For decades, the founder of
Revisionist Zionism, Vladimir Jabotinsky, wrote passionately about the Jewish
“race” and how the “spiritual mechanism” associated with it granted
transcendental value to a Jewish State.31 Today, this usage persists in the
Memorandum of Association of the Jewish National Fund (JNF), which in article 2
(c) cites one of its objectives as being to “benefit, directly or indirectly, those of
Jewish race or descent”. In none of those sources is religious faith even mentioned
(because it is recognized to vary): the concern is entirely with descent. Halachah
(often translated as “Jewish law”) and social norms in Jewish communities
provide that Jewish identity is conveyed from mother to child, irrespective of the
individual’s actual religious beliefs or practice. The State of Israel enshrined the
central importance of descent in its Law of Return of 1950 (amended in 1970),32
which states that:
For the purposes of this Law, “Jew” means a person who was born of a Jewish mother or
has become converted to Judaism and who is not a member of another religion.
Descent is crucial to Jewish identity discourse in Israel because direct lineal
descent from antiquity is the main reason given by political-Zionist philosophers
for why Jews today hold the right to self-determination in the land of Palestine. In
this view, all Jews retain a special relationship and rights to the land of Palestine,
granted by covenant with God: some schools of Zionism hold that Israel is the
successor State to the Jewish kingdoms of Saul, David and Solomon. That claim is
30 See, for example, Max Nordau, “Address to the First Zionist Congress”, 29 August 1897. Available from
31 See Vladimir Jabotinsky, A lecture on Jewish history (1933), cited in David Goldberg, To the Promised Land: A History of
Zionist Thought (London, Penguin, 1996), p. 181.
32 Passed by the Knesset on 5 July 1950 and amended on 10 March 1970.
The Legal Context: Short History of the Prohibition of Apartheid | 25
expressed, inter alia, in the Declaration of Independence of Israel,33 which affirms
that Jews today trace their ancestry to an earlier national life in the geography of
Palestine and therefore have an inalienable right to “return”, which is given
precedence over positive law:
The Land of Israel 34 was the birthplace of the Jewish people. Here their spiritual, religious
and political identity was shaped. Here they first attained to statehood, created cultural
values of national and universal significance and gave to the world the eternal Book
After being forcibly exiled from their land, the people kept faith with it throughout their
Dispersion and never ceased to pray and hope for their return to it and for the restoration in
it of their political freedom.
Impelled by this historic and traditional attachment, Jews strove in every successive
generation to re-establish themselves in their ancient homeland. In recent decades they
returned in their masses. […]
That claim to unbroken lineal descent from antiquity attributes collective rights to
the “land of Israel” to an entire group on the basis of its (supposed) bloodlines.
The incompatible claim that Jewishness is multiracial, by virtue of its character as
a religion to which others have converted, is simply absent from this formula.
The emphasis on descent implicitly portrays all other descent groups — including
Palestinians — as lacking any comparable right by virtue of their different descent.
Thus the claim to Palestine as the exclusive homeland of the Jewish people rests
on an expressly racial conception of both groups. This means that Jews and
Palestinians are “racial groups” as defined by the International Convention on the
Elimination of All Forms of Racial Discrimination and, accordingly, for the purposes
of the Apartheid Convention.
33 Provisional Government of Israel, The Declaration of the Establishment of the State of Israel, Official Gazette, No. 1 (Tel
Aviv, 14 May 1948). It is also commonly referred to as the Declaration of Independence. Available from
34 Eretz-Israel in Hebrew.
Testing for an Apartheid
Regime in Israel-Palestine
The design of an apartheid regime in any State will necessarily reflect the country’s
unique history and demography, which shape local perceptions of racial hierarchy
and doctrines of racial supremacy. The first task here is, therefore, to consider how
local conditions in Israel-Palestine constitute such an environment. The main
feature, stemming from the history of wars and expulsions, is the geographic
fragmentation of the Palestinian people into discrete populations that are then
administered differently by the State regime. Those components include
Palestinians living under direct Israeli rule in three categories (as citizens of the
State of Israel, residents of occupied East Jerusalem, and under occupation in the
West Bank and Gaza) and Palestinians living outside direct Israeli rule: refugees
and involuntary exiles expelled from the territory of Mandate Palestine who
are prohibited by Israel from returning. The next section clarifies how those
four categories have emerged from the territory’s history of warfare and
The political geography of apartheid
The geographic unit of “Mandate Palestine” was established by the League of
Nations in 1922 with the stated intention of fostering the future independence of
Palestine as a State, as specified in the League of Nations Charter.35 Famously, the
Palestine Mandate included contradictory provisions for a Jewish “national home”
(not a State) and the special authority of the Jewish Agency in establishing that
“home”. Later British commissions and white papers specified that “national
home” had not been intended to signify a Jewish State, but that position was not
35 The borders of Mandate Palestine were derived from the Sykes-Picot agreement, which divided Ottoman imperial territory
after the First World War and placed it under British or French Mandates. Article 22 of the Covenant of the League of Nations
provided for various classes of mandate territory. Palestine was considered one of the most advanced areas, whose “existence
as independent nations can be provisionally recognized subject to the rendering of administrative advice and assistance by a
Mandatory until such time as they are able to stand alone”. In that context, “independent nations” signified independent
statehood, thus informing language in the Mandate for Palestine. The early history of Palestine’s mandate borders, which
combined Transjordan and Palestine, is not considered material to this report, but for that history, see especially Victor Kattan,
From Coexistence to Conquest: International Law and the Origins of the Arab-Israeli Conflict, 1891-1949 (London, Pluto Press,
28 | Israeli Practices towards the Palestinian People and the Question of Apartheid
accepted by the Zionist leadership. Endemic violence that emerged from this
contradictory formula, combined with imperial exhaustion after the Second World
War, ultimately led Great Britain to withdraw from its role as Mandatory Power and
submit the fate of Palestine to the United Nations. In 1947, the General Assembly
passed resolution 181(II) by a modest majority of 36 Member States,
recommending the territory’s partition into a “Jewish State” and an “Arab State”.
The same resolution specified conditions and measures deemed essential to make
partition viable, including borders that provided for racial majorities in each titular
State, constitutional protections for minorities, economic union between the two
States and a special international regime for the city of Jerusalem.36
In the 1948 war, however, the Zionist movement took over territory far beyond
what had been assigned to the Jewish State under resolution 181(II) and, by so
doing, rendered moot its labyrinthine provisions, including acquiescence by the
internationally recognized representatives of the Palestinian people. In 1948, the
Zionist leadership declared the independence of Israel in territory under its military
control, although its final borders had yet to be established. In 1949, the General
Assembly recommended admission of the State of Israel to membership even
though its borders had still not been finalized. Palestinians remaining in Israel, who
had not fled or been expelled in the 1948 war, became citizens of Israel, but Israel
administered them under emergency laws and denied them civil rights, such as the
franchise, until 1966.
From 1948 until 1967, the West Bank (including East Jerusalem) was governed by
Jordan, while the Gaza Strip was administered by Egypt. As a result of the 1967
Arab-Israeli war, both territories came under Israeli military occupation and rule,
yet were not formally annexed.37 The geographic separation of the West Bank and
Gaza Strip has suggested the existence of two discrete territories. However, the
United Nations commonly refers to the West Bank and Gaza Strip in the singular as
the “occupied Palestinian territory”, treating both as geographic fragments of
“Palestine” as established under the League of Nations Mandate.38 Pursuant to
article XI of the 1995 Israeli-Palestinian Interim Agreement on the West Bank and
36 Resolution 181(II) was the result of work by the United Nations Special Committee on Palestine (UNSCOP), with its two
subcommittees providing options for a partitioned or unified State.
37 Although effectively annexed, the occupied Syrian Golan is excluded from the scope of this report because that territory was
not part of the Palestine Mandate and is considered legally to be Syrian territory. However, many of this report’s findings could
apply to Israeli policy in the Golan and may be consistent with apartheid, as Israel has used Jewish settlement to stake a claim
to the land and the population of the four Druze villages there live in conditions of relative deprivation.
38 Steps taken by the General Assembly to recognize a “State of Palestine” have prompted some to suggest that occupied
Palestinian territory should now be referred to as “occupied Palestine”. However, since recognition of such a State still lacks any
final agreement about its borders, the authors here continue to use the term “occupied Palestinian territory” to refer to territory
delineated by the 1949 Armistice Agreement and occupied by Israel in the 1967 war.
Testing for an Apartheid Regime in Israel-Palestine | 29
the Gaza Strip (also known as the Oslo II Accord or Oslo II), for the purposes of
negotiation those areas were considered a “single territorial unit” (article XI).
Hence, international jurists and the United Nations consider Palestinians in the
West Bank and Gaza Strip to be under one legal category: that is, civilians under
belligerent occupation, whose rights and protections are stipulated primarily in the
Fourth Geneva Convention Relative to the Protection of Civilian Persons in Times
of War (1949).
East Jerusalem (that part of Jerusalem on the east side of the Armistice Line or
“green line” of 1949) obtained a special status. Although seamlessly integrated
with the West Bank between 1948 and 1967, East Jerusalem retained the aura of
the diplomatic character, proposed by resolution 181(II), of a corpus separatum,
reflecting its vital importance to all three Abrahamic faiths. After the 1967 war,
however, Israel passed legislation making East Jerusalem part of the unified city of
Jerusalem, radically expanding the city’s borders, and extending Israeli civil law
throughout. After the second intifada (from September 2000), parts of East
Jerusalem were re-segregated from Jewish areas physically by the separation wall
and its security gates and Israeli checkpoints. This forced separation has allowed
Israel to separate East Jerusalem from the West Bank in juridical terms and so has
generated the category of Palestinian “residents” of East Jerusalem, whose rights
stem largely from Israeli law on permanent residency.39
The territory’s history has further generated the separate case of Palestinian
citizens of Israel: people who remained inside the internationally recognized
borders of Israel after 1949 and their descendants. Granted Israeli citizenship
although not full “national” equality as non-Jews in a Jewish-national State, this
Palestinian population now makes up 20 per cent of the country’s citizenry.40
How Israeli law and doctrine has defined this population as citizens but not
“nationals” of the State is addressed below. Here it is incumbent only to
recognize that Palestinian citizens of Israel comprise a distinct legal category. The
situation of refugees and involuntary exiles comprises the final category, distinct
from the others in that they are governed by the laws of the other States in which
39 The Knesset passed Basic Law: Jerusalem, Capital of Israel on 30 July 1980 (published in Sefer Ha-Chukkim No. 980 of 5
August 1980, p. 186).
40 Jewish Virtual Library, Vital Statistics: Latest Population Statistics for Israel (January 2017). Available from
30 | Israeli Practices towards the Palestinian People and the Question of Apartheid
By developing discrete bodies of law, termed “domains” in this report, for each
territory and their Palestinian populations, Israel has both effected and veiled a
comprehensive policy of apartheid directed at the whole Palestinian people.41
Warfare, partition, de jure and de facto annexation and occupation in Palestine have,
over the decades, generated the complex geography in which the Palestinian people
have become fragmented into different juridical categories and are administered by
different bodies of law. What matters for the purposes of a study of apartheid is how
Israel has exploited this fragmentation to secure Jewish-national domination.
Israel as a racial State
A test of apartheid cannot be confined, methodologically, to identifying discrete
policies and practices, such as those listed under the Apartheid Convention. Such
policies and practices must be found to serve the purpose or intention of imposing
racial domination and oppression on a subordinated racial group. In somewhat
circular reasoning, international law provides that discrete “inhuman acts” acquire
the status of a crime against humanity only if they intentionally serve that purpose,
but establishes that such a purpose requires the identification of related inhuman
acts. The solution is to examine the context in which acts and motives are
configured: that is, whether the State itself is designed to ensure “the domination
of a racial group or groups over any other racial group or groups”. (For example,
in South Africa, State institutions were designed to ensure incontestable
domination by whites and, particularly, Dutch-Afrikaners.)
In this study, it is vital to establish the racial character of the regime that the
system of domains is designed to protect. Otherwise, their internal diversity —
the laws that comprise them — can convey the incorrect impression of
That Israel is politically constructed as the State of the Jewish people requires
no extended explanation here, but will be discussed briefly.42 Since the turn of the
twentieth century, the history of the Zionist movement has been centred on creating
and preserving a Jewish State in Palestine. That aim remains the cornerstone of
41 “Domain” is used in the report in the sense of logic or discourse analysis, in which concepts and actors are understood as
part of one “universe” of references. Hence, the domains in Israeli policy consist of definitions of the populations themselves
(domestic, foreign, citizens or otherwise, “Palestinians” oriented toward Palestinian self-determination or “Arabs” as an Israeli
minority, and so forth), as well as the laws, practices, norms and other measures, formal and informal, by which Israeli
definitions of those identities are imposed on Palestinian populations in each domain.
42 For a more complete discussion, see Tilley (ed.), Beyond Occupation, chaps. 3 and 4.
Testing for an Apartheid Regime in Israel-Palestine | 31
Israeli State discourse. During the Mandate years, the Jewish Agency and Zionist
leadership argued that the “Jewish national home” promised under the Mandate
was to be a sovereign Jewish State. The Declaration of the Establishment of the
State of Israel specifically referred to the new State as a “Jewish State in Eretz-
Israel”. The Basic Law: Human Dignity and Liberty43 and Basic Law: Freedom of
Occupation44 specify concerns with “the values of the State of Israel as a Jewish and
democratic State”.45 The 1952 World Zionist Organisation–Jewish Agency (Status)
Law,46 which establishes those organizations as “authorized agencies” of the State
on a range of responsibilities, including land settlement, specifies that Israel is “the
creation of the entire Jewish people, and its gates are open, in accordance with its
laws, to every Jew wishing to immigrate to it”.
The mission of preserving Israel as a Jewish State has inspired or even compelled
Israel to pursue several general racial policies.
1. Demographic engineering
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.
Related practices have included:
1. A global programme, organized by the World Zionist Organization and Jewish
Agency, launched at the end of the nineteenth century and accelerating into
the early 1930s, to bring Jewish immigrants to Palestine in numbers large
enough to ensure the demographic majority needed for building a Jewish
State with democratic characteristics;
43 Passed by the Knesset on 17 March 1992 (published in Sefer Ha-Chukkim No. 1391 of 25 March 1992). Available from
44 The law amending the original 1992 legislation was passed by the Knesset on 9 March 1994 (published in Sefer Ha-Chukkim
No. 1454 of 10 March 1994). Available from https://www.knesset.gov.il/laws/special/eng/basic4_eng.htm.
45 A controversial bill to declare this principle as a central tenet had been tabled in the Knesset but not yet passed at the time
of writing. See Basic Law: Israel as the Nation-State of the Jewish People, Ministry of Justice. Available from
http://index.justice.gov.il/StateIdentity/InformationInEnglish/Documents/Basic%20Law%20110911%20(1).pdf. Accessed 5
46 The Status Law was amended in 1975 to restructure this relationship: see World Zionist Organisation–Jewish Agency for
Israel (Status) (Amendment) Law, 1975.
32 | Israeli Practices towards the Palestinian People and the Question of Apartheid
2. Ethnic cleansing (forcible displacement) in 1948 of an estimated 800,000
Palestinians from areas that became part of the internationally recognized
territory of Israel;47
3. Subsequent measures undertaken by Israel to maintain an overwhelming
Jewish majority within its internationally recognized territory, including by:
(a) Preventing Palestinian refugees from the wars of 1948 and 1967 from
returning to homes in Israel or in the occupied Palestinian territory, which
they had abandoned due to fighting, dispossession, forced expulsion and
(b) Composing the Law of Return and Citizenship Law (often wrongly
translated as Nationality Law) to provide Israeli citizenship to Jews from
any part of the world, while denying citizenship even to those Palestinians
who have a documented history of residency in the country;
(c) A range of other policies designed to restrict the size of the Palestinian
population, including harsh restrictions placed on immigration, the return
of refugees, and rules prohibiting Palestinian spouses of Israeli citizens
from gaining legal residency rights in Israel.
4. The affirmation in the Basic Law that Israel is a “Jewish and democratic State”,
thus establishing Jewish-racial domination as a foundational doctrine.
Together, those measures have been highly effective in maintaining an
overwhelming Jewish majority in Israel. In 1948, the ratio of Palestinians to Jews
in Palestine was approximately 2:1 (some 1.3 million Arabs to 630,000 Jews).49
Today, Palestinian citizens of Israel constitute only about 20 per cent of the
population, rendering them a permanent minority.
2. Bans on challenges to racial domination
Israel reinforces its race-based immigration policy with measures designed to
prevent Palestinian citizens of Israel from challenging the doctrine and laws that
purport to establish Israel as a Jewish State. Article 7 (a) of the Basic Law: Knesset
(1958), for instance, prohibits any political party in Israel from adopting a platform
that challenges the State’s expressly Jewish character:
47 See Ilan Pappe, The Ethnic Cleansing of Palestine (London, Oxford One World Press, 2006).
48 Ibid. The right of refugees to return is specified in the International Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Racial
Discrimination (article 5 (d) (ii)).
49 Censuses categories under the British Mandate were ordered by “religion” rather than ethnicity. Statistics therefore
grouped together Arab and non-Arab Christians. In 1947, Christians and Muslims numbered 143,000 and 1,181,000 respectively.
Testing for an Apartheid Regime in Israel-Palestine | 33
A candidates list shall not participate in elections to the Knesset, and a person shall not be
a candidate for election to the Knesset, if the objects or actions of the list or the actions of
the person, expressly or by implication, include one of the following:
(1) Negation of the existence of the State of Israel as a Jewish and democratic
State (emphasis added)…50
Voting rights lose their significance in terms of equal rights when a racial group is
legally banned from challenging laws that perpetuate inequality. An analogy would
be a system in which slaves have the right to vote but not against slavery. Such
rights might allow slaves to achieve some cosmetic reforms, such as improved
living conditions and protection from vigilante violence, but their status and
vulnerability as chattels would remain. Israeli law bans organized Palestinian
opposition to Jewish domination, rendering it illegal and even seditious.
3. Israeli Jewish-national institutions
Israel has designed its domestic governance in such a way as to ensure that the
State upholds and promotes Jewish nationalism. The term “Jewish people” in
political Zionist thought is used to claim the right to self-determination. The quest
of an ethnic or racial group for its own State amounts to a national project, and so
Israeli institutions designed to preserve Israel as a Jewish State are referred to in
this report as “Jewish-national” institutions.
In Israel, an interplay of laws consolidates Jewish-national supremacy. For
example, regarding the central question of land use, Basic Law: Israel Lands51
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. It
further establishes the Israeli Lands Authority (ILA) as administrator of such lands.
The ILA (as successor of the Israeli Lands Administration) is charged with
administering land in accordance with the JNF Covenant, which requires that land
held by the JNF be held in perpetuity for the exclusive benefit of the Jewish
people. The ILA also operates in accordance with the World Zionist Organization-
Jewish Agency Status Law (1952), which sets forth the responsibility of those
conjoined organizations for serving Jewish settlement and development. Thus,
State land, which accounts for 93 per cent of land within the country’s
50 Basic Law: Knesset. Available from https://www.knesset.gov.il/laws/special/eng/basic2_eng.htm.
51 Passed by the Knesset on 19 July 1960 (published in Sefer Ha-Chukkim No. 312 of 29 July 1960).
34 | Israeli Practices towards the Palestinian People and the Question of Apartheid
internationally recognized borders, is managed through laws prohibiting its use by
In a legal process that Israeli lawyer Michael Sfard has called “channelling”, Israel
has extended the application of laws regarding land to the occupied Palestinian
territory.53 Large areas of the West Bank have been declared “State lands”, closed
to use by Palestinians and administered in accordance with Israeli regime policies
that, as described above, by law must serve the Jewish people.54 In other words,
much of the West Bank, including East Jerusalem, is under the authority of an
Israeli State institution that is legally bound to administer that land for the
exclusive benefit of the Jewish people. The same arrangement once governed
Israeli Jewish settlements in the Gaza Strip, but since the Israeli “disengagement”
of 2005 and the withdrawal of Jewish settlements, such laws apply only to small
portions of the Strip, such as the unilaterally imposed security zone by the fence.
The Jewish Agency and World Zionist Organisation (hereafter JA-WZO) deserve
special attention for their role in establishing the racial character of the Israeli
regime. According to Israeli law, they remain the “authorised agencies” of the
State regarding Jewish-national affairs in Israel and the occupied Palestinian
territory.55 Their authority is detailed in the Covenant signed on 26 July 1954
between the Government of Israel and the Zionist Executive, representing the JA-
WZO.56 The Covenant provides for a coordinating board, composed half of State
officials and half of JA-WZO members, which is granted broad authority to serve
the Jewish people, extending to development plans for the entire country. Powers
accorded to the JA-WZO by its Covenant are:
The organising of [Jewish] immigration abroad and the transfer of immigrants and their
property to Israel; participation in the absorption of immigrants in Israel; youth immigration;
agricultural settlement in Israel; the acquisition and amelioration of land in Israel by the
institutions of the Zionist Organisation, the Keren Kayemeth Le-Israel [Jewish National
Fund] and the Keren Hayesod [United Jewish Appeal]; participation in the establishment
52 ILA website. Available from www.mmi.gov.il/Envelope/indexeng.asp?page=/static/eng/f_general.html.
53 For details on how this is done, see Tilley (ed.), Beyond Occupation.
54 Provisions of humanitarian law prohibiting the occupant from altering the infrastructure, laws and economic institutions that
existed in occupied territory prior to its coming under belligerent occupation include articles 43 and 55 of the 1907 Hague
Regulations (Convention (IV) respecting the Laws and Customs of War on Land and its annex: Regulations concerning the Laws
and Customs of War on Land) and article 64 of the Fourth Geneva Convention. See also Tilley (ed.), Beyond Occupation, chap. 2.
55 The World Zionist Organisation–Jewish Agency (Status) Law of 1952 was amended in 1975. Available from
56 See www.israellobby.org/ja/12311970_JAFI_Reconstitution.pdf, appendix I.
Testing for an Apartheid Regime in Israel-Palestine | 35
and the expansion of development enterprises in Israel; the encouragement of private
capital investments in Israel; assistance to cultural enterprises and institutions of higher
learning in Israel; the mobilisation of resources for financing these functions; the
coordination of the activities in Israel of Jewish institutions and organisations acting within
the sphere of these functions with the aid of public funds.
A principle task of the JA-WZO is to work actively to build and maintain Israel as a
Jewish State, particularly through immigration policy:
… 5. The mission of gathering in the [Jewish] exiles, which is the central task of the
State of Israel and the Zionist Movement in our days, requires constant efforts by the
Jewish people in the Diaspora; the State of Israel, therefore, expects the cooperation of
all Jews, as individuals and groups, in building up the State and assisting the immigration
to it of the masses of the [Jewish] people, and regards the unity of all sections of Jewry as
necessary for this purpose (emphasis added).57
Such explicit language by the State’s authorized agencies conclusively underlines
the State’s essentially racist character.
The World Zionist Organisation-Jewish Agency (Status) Law is linked to a second
body of Israeli law and jurisprudence that distinguishes between citizenship (in
Hebrew, ezrahut) and nationality (le’um). Other States have made this distinction:
for example, in the former Soviet Union, Soviet citizens also held distinct
“national” identities (Kazakh, Turkmen, Uzbek and so forth), but all nationalities
had equal legal standing. In Israel, by contrast, only one nationality, Jewish, has
legal standing and only Jewish nationality is associated with the legitimacy and
mission of the State. According to the country’s Supreme Court, Israel is indeed
not the State of the “Israeli nation”, which does not legally exist, but of the
“Jewish nation”.58 National rights are reserved to Jewish nationality. For instance,
the Law of Return serves the “in-gathering” mission cited above by allowing any
Jew to immigrate to Israel and, through the Citizenship Law59, to gain immediate
citizenship. No other group has a remotely comparable right and only Jews enjoy
any collective rights under Israeli law.
57 World Zionist Organisation-Jewish Agency (Status) Law of 1952.
58 George Rafael Tamarin v. State of Israel (20 January 1972), Decisions of the Supreme Court of Israel (Jerusalem: Supreme
Court, 1972), vol. 25, pt. 1, 197 (in Hebrew). See also Roselle Tekiner, “On the inequality of Israeli citizens”, Without Prejudice,
vol. 1, No. 1 (1988), pp. 9-48.
59 Passed by the Knesset on 1 April 1952 and amended in 1958, 1968 and 1971.
36 | Israeli Practices towards the Palestinian People and the Question of Apartheid
The operational platform of the JA-WZO, reformulated in 2004 as the Jerusalem
Programme, further clarifies how the State of Israel will serve as a “Jewish State”.
Its language is illuminating, especially in the light of the broad powers held by the
JA-WZO, cited above:
Zionism, the national liberation movement of the Jewish people, brought about the
establishment of the State of Israel, and views a Jewish, Zionist, democratic and
secure State of Israel to be the expression of the common responsibility of the
Jewish people for its continuity and future. The foundations of Zionism are:
The unity of the Jewish people, its bond to its historic homeland Eretz Yisrael,
and the centrality of the State of Israel and Jerusalem, its capital, in the life of
Aliyah to Israel from all countries and the effective integration of all [Jewish]
immigrants into Israeli Society.
Strengthening Israel as a Jewish, Zionist and democratic State and shaping it as
an exemplary society with a unique moral and spiritual character, marked by
mutual respect for the multi-faceted Jewish people, rooted in the vision of the
prophets, striving for peace and contributing to the betterment of the world.
Ensuring the future and the distinctiveness of the Jewish people by furthering
Jewish, Hebrew and Zionist education, fostering spiritual and cultural values and
teaching Hebrew as the national language.
Nurturing mutual Jewish responsibility, defending the rights of Jews as
individuals and as a nation, representing the national Zionist interests of the
Jewish people, and struggling against all manifestations of anti-Semitism.
Settling the country as an expression of practical Zionism (emphasis added, bullet
points in the original).60
This discussion, although incomplete, should suffice to demonstrate that Israel is
designed to be a racial regime. To remain a “Jewish State,” uncontested Jewish-
nationalist domination over the indigenous Palestinian people is essential — an
advantage secured in the democracy of Israel by population size — and State laws,
national institutions, development practices and security policies all focus on that
mission. Different methods are applied to Palestinian populations depending on
where they live, requiring variations in their administration. Within Israel that
discriminatory feature is exhibited by the deceptive distinction between citizenship
laws that treat all Israelis more or less equally, and nationality laws that are
blatantly discriminatory in favour of Jews. The distinction allows Israel to continue
60 See www.wzo.org.il/The-Jerusalem-Program. Accessed 19 February 2017.
Testing for an Apartheid Regime in Israel-Palestine | 37
its insistence on being “a democracy”, while discriminating in fundamental ways
against its non-Jewish citizens.
Most important here is that Israel uses different methods of administration to
control Palestinian populations depending on where they live, generating
distinctive conditions. Fragmentation of the Palestinian people is indeed the core
method through which Israel enforces apartheid.
Apartheid through fragmentation
Different methods of administration are used to control Palestinian populations
depending on where they live. The practical onus of that administrative complexity
also benefits Israel, as the fragmentation of the Palestinian people is the core
method through which Israel enforces apartheid.
It would be an error to assume that, although comprising one regime, apartheid is
effected through a single monolithic body of laws, applied everywhere to everyone
without variation. The South African case is relevant here: even within the
comprehensive body of law that defined life chances for everyone in the country,
apartheid included important variations: for instance, different laws for black South
Africans living in townships and in the Bantustans and different privileges for
Indians and Coloureds. Similarly, the apartheid regime of Israel operates by
splintering the Palestinian people geographically and politically into different
The international community has unwittingly collaborated with this manoeuvre by
drawing a strict distinction between Palestinian citizens of Israel and Palestinians in
the occupied Palestinian territory, and treating Palestinians outside the country as
“the refugee problem”. The Israeli apartheid regime is built on this geographic
fragmentation, which has come to be accepted as normative. The method of
fragmentation serves also to obscure this regime’s very existence. That system,
thus, lies at the heart of what is to be addressed in this report.
The four domains
This report finds that Israel maintains an apartheid regime by administering
Palestinians under different bodies of law, identified here as constituting four
Domain 1: laws curtailing the capacity of Palestinian citizens of Israel to obtain
equal rights within the State’s democracy.
38 | Israeli Practices towards the Palestinian People and the Question of Apartheid
Domain 2: permanent residency laws designed to maintain a highly insecure
legal status for Palestinian residents of occupied East Jerusalem.
Domain 3: military law governing Palestinians in occupied Palestinian territory
as a permanently alien population, which rejects any claim they may want to
make on Israeli political representation for equal rights and conditions.
Domain 4: policy preventing Palestinian refugees and involuntary exiles from
returning to their homes in Mandate Palestine (all territory under the direct
control of Israel).
These domains interplay so as to enfeeble Palestinian resistance to Israeli
apartheid oppression in each of them, thereby reinforcing oppression of the
Palestinian people as a whole. The following sections describe how the
61 Much of the following section represents an edited version of the discussion in Tilley (ed.), Beyond Occupation, chap. 4.
of the Gaza Strip
and the West
Testing for an Apartheid Regime in Israel-Palestine | 39
Domain 1: Palestinian citizens of Israel
Approximately 1.7 million Palestinians are citizens of Israel and have homes within
its internationally recognized borders. They represent those who were not expelled
or did not flee in the 1948 or 1967 wars. As citizens, they purportedly enjoy equal
rights along with all Israeli citizens. For the first 20 years of the country’s existence,
however, they were subjected to martial law and they continue to experience
domination and oppression solely because they are not Jewish. Empirically, this
policy of domination is manifest by the provision of inferior social services,
restrictive zoning laws, and limited budget allocations benefitting their
communities, in formal and informal restrictions on jobs and professional
opportunities, and in the segregated landscapes of their places of residence:
Jewish and Palestinian citizens overwhelmingly live separately in their own
respective cities and towns (the few mixed areas, as in some neighbourhoods in
Haifa, are exceptional).62
Those problems are not only the result of discrete policies. The dilemma for
Palestinian Muslim, Christian and other non-Jewish citizens is to seek equal rights in a
regime that openly privileges Jews.63 Any actions to weaken or eliminate that regime
are considered “national” (that is, Jewish-national) threats. Even constitutional law
providing for equal treatment before the law, such as Basic Law: Human Dignity and
Liberty and Basic Law: Freedom of Occupation (see above), allows for discrimination
on those “national” grounds. Israeli constitutional law therefore, rather than providing
tools for combatting oppression, makes resistance to oppression illegal.
The concern of the regime is that Palestinian citizens of Israel could eliminate its
discriminatory design if they were able to revise the Basic Law and other key
legislation (such as the Law of Return). Such changes require only a simple
majority vote in the Knesset. However, as long as Palestinians represent only 20
per cent of the population, they will be unable to win the necessary proportion of
Knesset seats. For example, even after forming an unprecedented unity list for
elections to the Knesset in 2015, Palestinian parties held only 13 (10.6 per cent) of
120 seats. Because the Basic Law: Knesset disallows political parties from adopting
a platform containing any challenge to the identity of Israel as a Jewish State,
62 See Ian Lustick, Arabs in the Jewish State: Israel's Control of a National Minority (Austin, University of Texas Press, 1980);
Nadim Rouhana, Palestinian Citizens in an Ethnic Jewish State: Identities in Conflict (New Haven, Yale University Press, 1997)
and Ben White, Palestinians in Israel: Segregation, Discrimination and Democracy (London, Pluto Press, 2011).
63 Druze citizens of Israel have fallen into a different category under Israeli policy. They serve in the military and are accorded
rights and treatment superior to those of Palestinian Muslims and Christians.
40 | Israeli Practices towards the Palestinian People and the Question of Apartheid
Palestinian parties can campaign only for minor reforms and better municipal
budgets. They are legally prohibited from challenging the racial regime itself.
Thus the right to vote is circumscribed by laws regarding party platforms.64
Any study of domain 1 will involve interpreting coded language. For example, the
Admissions Committee Law of 2011 authorizes the creation of private Jewish
councils in small rural Jewish towns to exclude applications for residency on the
basis of the applicants’ “social suitability”. This is a proxy term for Jewish identity
and provides a legal mechanism for such communities to reject Palestinian
Israeli law must be evaluated in its application in order to determine whether a
racist agenda lies beneath the apparently neutral legal language. A plethora of
Israeli laws reserve public benefits to those who qualify as citizens under the
Citizenship Law and the Law of Return — an oblique reference to Jews — thus
creating a nested system of covert racism that is invisible to the casual observer.
Effectively interchangeable under international law, the terms “citizenship”
(ezrahut) as “nationality” (le’um) have distinct meanings in Israel, where
citizenship rights and national rights are not the same thing. Any citizen enjoys the
former, but only Jews enjoy the latter, as only Jewish nationality is recognized
under Israeli law. These and other laws comprise a regime of systematic racial
discrimination that imposes second-class citizenship on Palestinian citizens of
Israel.66 The broad impact is confirmed even by Israeli data, which detail, for
instance, inferior funding for Palestinian schools, businesses, agriculture and
health care, as well as limits on access to jobs and freedom of residence.
Thus, domain 1 sustains the myth that one portion of the Palestinian people enjoys
the full benefits of democracy, while at the same strengthening the apartheid
64 The Arab-Israeli party Balad has uniquely adopted an openly anti-Zionist platform and calls for Israel to become a State of
all its citizens. The arrests, attacks, investigations and Supreme Court cases involving Balad illustrate the determination of the
Israeli authorities not to let this stand spread.
65 Human Rights Watch, “Israel: New Laws Marginalize Palestinian Arab Citizens”, 30 March 2011: “The "admissions
committee" law requires anyone seeking to move to any community in the Negev and Galilee regions with fewer than 400
families to obtain approval from committees consisting of town residents, a member of the Jewish Agency or World Zionist
Organization, and several others. The law empowers these committees to reject candidates who, among other things, “are ill-
suited to the community's way of life” or “might harm the community's fabric”. Available from
66 A particularly valuable source on this discrimination is the database of discriminatory laws maintained by Adalah: Centre for
Legal Rights of the Arab Minority in Israel, which in 2016 listed more than 50 discriminatory laws of Israel, and reports on related
legal challenges. Available from www.adalah.org/en/law/index.
Testing for an Apartheid Regime in Israel-Palestine | 41
regime that serves to preserve Israel as a Jewish State. Israel uses the trappings of
token universal democracy to lead many observers astray and deflect international
opprobrium. The success of this approach depends on limiting Palestinian citizens
to a politically ineffectual minority. However, it is impossible to fully appreciate this
outcome without examining Israeli policies and practices in the other three
domains. Indeed, the success of domain 1 depends on the workings of the
Domain 2: Palestinians in East Jerusalem
Israeli policies towards the some 300,000 Palestinians in East Jerusalem can be
addressed more concisely.67 The discrimination evident in domain 1 is reproduced:
Palestinians in East Jerusalem experience discrimination in areas such as
education, health care, employment, residency and building rights, experience
expulsion from their homes and house demolitions consistent with a project of
ethnic engineering of Greater Jerusalem, and suffer harsher treatment at the hands
of the security forces.68
The central question here, however, is not whether Israel discriminates against
Palestinians — amply confirmed by the data — but how the domain for
Palestinians in East Jerusalem operates as an integral element of the apartheid
regime. In brief, domain 2 situates Jerusalem Palestinians in a separate category
designed to prevent them from adding to the demographic, political and electoral
weight of Palestinians inside Israel. Specific policies regarding their communities
and rights are designed to pressure them to emigrate and to quell, or at least
minimize, resistance to that pressure. The “grand apartheid”69 dimension of this
domain can be appreciated by observing how the Israeli Jerusalem municipality
has openly pursued a policy of “demographic balance” in East Jerusalem. For
instance, the Jerusalem 2000 master plan seeks to achieve a 60/40 demographic
balance in favour of Jewish residents.70 As long ago as the 1980s, the
municipality had drafted master plans to fragment Palestinian neighbourhoods
67 The figure of 300,000 was provided by the Association for Civil Rights in Israel in March 2015.
68 For more details, see A/HRC/31/73; B’Tselem, “Statistics on Palestinians in custody of the Israeli security forces” (January
2017, available from http://www.btselem.org/statistics/detainees_and_prisoners); Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian
Affairs (OCHA), Humanitarian Bulletin (16 November 2015, available from
https://www.ochaopt.org/documents/ocha_opt_the_humanitarian_monitor_2014_12_11_english.pdf); Alternative Information
Center (AIC), “OCHA: One in two Palestinians to need humanitarian assistance in 2017” (26 January 2017, available from
69 See Tilley, “A Palestinian declaration of independence”.
70 A/HRC/22/63, para. 25.
42 | Israeli Practices towards the Palestinian People and the Question of Apartheid
with intervening Jewish ones, stifling the natural growth of the Palestinian
population and pressuring Palestinians to leave.71 Describing Jewish
settlements in East Jerusalem as “neighbourhoods” is part of the wider tactic of
disguising violations of international humanitarian law through the use of
Such policies have a significant impact because Jerusalem has such importance
for the collective identity of Palestinians as a people. For them, the city is the
administrative, cultural, business and political capital of Palestine, home to the
Palestinian elite, and site of hallowed places of worship and remembrance.
Although many Palestinians in East Jerusalem maintain networks of family and
business connections with Palestinian citizens in Israel, the West Bank and (now to
a lesser extent) the Gaza Strip, their primary interest is to go about their lives and
pursue their interests in the city where they have homes, businesses, a vigorous
urban society, strong cultural resonances, and, in some cases, ancestral roots
going back millennia.
Israel pursues efforts to weaken the Palestinians politically and contain their
demographic weight in several ways. One is to grant Palestinians in East
Jerusalem the status of permanent residents: that is, as foreigners for whom
residency in the land of their birth is a privilege rather than a right, subject to
revocation. That status is then made conditional on what Israeli law terms their
“centre of life”, evaluated by documented criteria such as home and business
ownership, attendance at local schools and involvement in local organizations. If
the centre of life of an individual or family appears to have shifted elsewhere, such
as across the Green Line, their residency in Jerusalem may be revoked.
A Palestinian resident of Jerusalem who has spent time abroad may also find
that Israel has revoked his or her residency in Jerusalem.
Proving that Jerusalem is one’s “centre of life” is burdensome: it requires
submitting numerous documents, “including such items as home ownership
papers or a rent contract, various bills (water, electricity, municipal taxes), salary
slips, proof of receiving medical care in the city, certification of children’s
school registration”.72 The difficulty in meeting the criteria is suggested
71 For further discussion of the Jerusalem master plans, see Francesco Chiodelli, “The Jerusalem Master Plan: planning into
the conflict”, Journal of Palestine Studies, No. 51 (2012). Available from www.palestine-studies.org/jq/fulltext/78505. For
related maps, see Bimkom, Trapped by Planning: Israeli Policy, Planning and Development in the Palestinian Neighborhoods of
East Jerusalem (Jerusalem, 2014). Available from http://bimkom.org/eng/wp-content/uploads/TrappedbyPlanning.pdf.
72 B’tselem, “Revocation of residency in East Jerusalem”, 18 August 2013. Available from
Testing for an Apartheid Regime in Israel-Palestine | 43
by the consequences of failure to do so: between 1996 (a year after the “centre of
life” legislation was passed) and 2014, Jerusalem residency was revoked for more
than 11,000 Palestinians.73 To avoid that risk, a growing, albeit relatively low,
number of Palestinians are seeking Israeli citizenship. Israel has granted only about
half of those requests.74
Their fragile status as permanent residents leaves Palestinians in East Jerusalem
with no legal standing to contest the laws of the State or to join Palestinian
citizens of Israel in any legislative challenge to the discrimination imposed on
them. Openly identifying with Palestinians in the occupied Palestinian territory
politically carries with it the risk of Israel expelling them, for violating security
provisions, to the West Bank and removing their right even to visit Jerusalem.
Thus, the urban epicentre of Palestinian nationalism and political life is caught
inside a legal bubble that neutralizes Palestinians’ capacity to oppose the
Domain 3: Palestinians in occupied Palestinian territory
The roughly 4.6 million Palestinians who live in the occupied Palestinian territory
(2.7 million in the West Bank and 1.9 million in the Gaza Strip) are governed not by
Israeli civil law, but by military law, codified as orders issued by the commander of
the territories and administered by the Israeli Defence Forces (IDF) and other
designated arms of the occupying power.76 Since the Israeli “disengagement” and
withdrawal of settlers in 2005, the Gaza Strip has been internally governed by the
Hamas Government (elected in 2006 to head the Palestinian Authority but later
deposed). Still, Israeli military law continues to apply for Gaza regarding exclusive
Israeli control over Palestinian movement and trade in and out of the territory, the
unilaterally imposed “security zone” along the perimeter fence, and Palestinian
73 Data from B’tselem, Statistics on Revocation of Residency in East Jerusalem. Available from
74 Maayan Lubell, “Breaking taboo, East Jerusalem Palestinians seek Israeli citizenship in East Jerusalem”, Haaretz, 5 August
2015. Available from www.haaretz.com/israel-news/1.669643. According to the article, the number of Jerusalem Palestinians
applying for Israeli citizenship has grown to between 800 and 1,000 annually, although in 2012 and 2013 only 189 out of 1,434
applications were approved.
75 Nonetheless, Palestinians in Jerusalem have made formidable contributions to critiques of Israeli policies, the more
impressive for their having done so under such conditions.
76 Until the Oslo Accords of 1993 and 1995, governance of the occupied Palestinian territory was assigned to a “civil
administration” operating within the IDF. In 1994, much of its authority was transferred to the Palestinian Authority (also known
as the Palestinian National Authority), an interim self-government body.
44 | Israeli Practices towards the Palestinian People and the Question of Apartheid
access to fishing areas and sea routes. Gaza remains, therefore, under military
occupation in the eyes of the United Nations.77
In 2009, a comprehensive report by the Human Rights Research Council of South
Africa found that Israeli practices in the occupied Palestinian territory were
overwhelmingly consistent with apartheid (see annex I). Israel has not accepted
those findings, however, on several grounds. Those who claim that Israel does not
govern Palestinians in an apartheid regime invariably cite conditions and rights for
Palestinians in domain 1 (citizens of Israel). Leaving aside the issue of domain 2, they
say that the situation of Palestinians in the occupied territory is irrelevant to the
question. That approach can be persuasive at first glance. Palestinians in the
occupied Palestinian territory are not citizens of Israel and, under the laws of war (cf.
the Fourth Geneva Convention), are not supposed to be. The differential treatment
by Israel of citizens and non-citizens in the occupied Palestinian territory could
therefore seem admissible or, at least, irrelevant. In this common view, Israel would
be practicing apartheid only if it annexed the territory, declared one State in all of
Mandate Palestine and, thereafter, continued to deny equal rights to Palestinians.
Influential voices such as former Israeli Prime Minister Ehud Olmert, former United
States President Jimmy Carter, former United States Secretary of State John Kerry,
and a host of Israeli, American and other critics and pundits have warned that Israel
should withdraw from the West Bank precisely to avoid that scenario.
However, those warnings rest on flawed assumptions. First, Israel already
administers the occupied Palestinian territory in ways consistent with apartheid,
given that the territory has not one population but two: (a) Palestinian civilians,
governed by military law; and (b) some 350,000 Jewish settlers, governed by Israeli
civil law. The racial character of this situation is evidenced by the fact that all West
Bank settlers are administered by Israeli civil law on the basis of being Jewish,
whether they are Israeli citizens or not.78 Thus, Israel administers the West Bank
77 The authors of this report concur with those scholars who have concluded that Gaza remains under military occupation.
Although governed entirely by Palestinians, key elements of apartheid as defined by the Apartheid Convention remain. In
particular, Israel has exclusive control of the borders of Gaza and, since 2007, has imposed a blockade, which translates into
draconian restrictions on Palestinian movement that affect trade, work, education and access to health care (article II (c)), and
repression of any resistance to those conditions (article II (f)). The Palestinian Authority has suffered from de facto separation,
particularly since the 2006 legislative election victory of Hamas and the clashes that led to its taking effective control over the
Gaza Strip in 2007. Between then and 2014, there were two de facto Palestinian Governments, one in Gaza and the other in
Ramallah, controlled by Hamas and the Fatah movement respectively. In 2014, they formed a national unity Government,
although Hamas retained effective control of the Gaza Strip.
78 Limor Yehuda and others, One Rule Two Legal Systems: Israel’s Regime of Laws in the West Bank (Association for Civil
Rights in Israel (ACRI), October 2014), p. 108. Available from www.acri.org.il/en/wp-content/uploads/2015/02/Two-Systems-of-
Testing for an Apartheid Regime in Israel-Palestine | 45
through a dual legal system, based on race, which has led to expressions of concern
by, among many others, former special rapporteurs Mr. Dugard and Mr. Falk.
Secondly, the character of this dual legal system, problematic in itself, is
aggravated by how the State of Israel manages land and development on the basis
of race. By denying Palestinians essential zoning, building and business permits,
Israeli military rule has crippled the Palestinian economy and society, leaving
Palestinian cities and towns (outside the Ramallah enclave) increasingly under-
resourced and suffocating their growth and the welfare of their inhabitants. The
Israeli blockade of Gaza has resulted in even worse living conditions for the
entrapped Palestinian population there.
In contrast, Jewish settlements in the West Bank are flourishing. All State
ministries provide support for their planning, funding, building and servicing;
some, such as the Ministry of Construction and Housing and the Ministry of
Agriculture and Rural Development, have been entirely committed to doing so.
They also offer financial incentives for Jews to move to the settlements, including
interest-free loans, school grants, special recreational facilities, new office blocks,
agricultural subsidies, job training and employment guarantees. State complicity is
further demonstrated by measures to integrate the economy, society and politics
of Jewish settlements into those of Israel, generating seamless travel and
electricity networks, a unified banking and finance system for Jews, Jewish
business investment, and, in particular, a customs union.79
This vast State involvement belies any claim that the settlements are the work of
maverick religious zealots, and challenges the plausibility of claims that Israel will
leave the West Bank as soon as a negotiated settlement is achieved.80 The scale,
complexity and cost of the settlement grid, estimated by some researchers at
hundreds of billions of United States dollars, further underline the intensity of the
Israeli commitment to the settlements. The potential cost of (and political resistance
to) withdrawal far exceed the political will or capacity of any Israeli Government.
The dual legal system applied by Israel in the occupied Palestinian territory
justifies two brief digressions from the report’s method: of eschewing a check-list
method (comparing a State’s behaviour with the Apartheid Convention’s sample
“inhuman acts”) and avoiding comparisons with southern Africa. A check-list
79 Eyal Benvenisti, The International Law of Occupation (Princeton, Princeton University Press, 1993), p. 135.
80 In July 2014, Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu announced: “I think the Israeli people understand now what I
always say: that there cannot be a situation, under any agreement, in which we relinquish security control of the territory west of
the River Jordan.” See David Horovitz, “Netanyahu finally speaks his mind”, The Times of Israel, 13 July 2014.
46 | Israeli Practices towards the Palestinian People and the Question of Apartheid
approach helps to clarify how Israel imposes apartheid on one racial group in
order to ensure the domination of another. Such an item-by-item comparison of
Israeli practices with the “inhuman acts” listed in the Apartheid Convention was
undertaken for the Human Sciences Research Council of South Africa (HSRC)
report issued in 2009. The findings of that study, summarized in annex I, were
conclusive: except for the provision on genocide (which was not practiced in
southern Africa either), every “inhuman act” listed in the Apartheid Convention is
practiced by Israel in the West Bank.
The architects of South African apartheid adopted a strategy of “grand apartheid” to
secure white supremacy in the long term through the country’s geographic partition
into white areas (most of the country) and disarticulated black areas. That policy
inspired the clause in the Apartheid Convention denouncing as a crime the creation
of “separate reserves and ghettos for the members of a racial group or groups”
(article II (d)). “Bantu” or “black” reserves were controlled by black South Africans
appointed as leaders by the State. In the rhetoric of “grand apartheid”, those
reserves or “homelands” were slated to become independent States that would
provide self-determination to black South African peoples (language groups). Black
South African governors were authorized (and armed) to suppress resistance by
their African inhabitants, many of whom had been forcibly transferred into them,
and to govern their territories in ways compatible with white development interests.
That model so closely resembles current premises supporting a two-State solution in
Palestine that it calls for sober reflection, not least because of the violent and
destabilizing effects it had throughout sub-Saharan Africa.
The question arises as to whether Israel has deliberately pursued fragmentation of
the West Bank into an archipelago of Palestinian cantons, divided by intervening
Jewish-only areas (the Bantustan model). Certainly, this geography will
permanently enfeeble any putative Palestinian sovereignty, preserving the
prerogative of Israel to administer intervening land for the Jewish people. Oslo II,
paradoxically, facilitated this “grand” strategy by establishing borders for the
Palestinian autonomy enclaves. The comparison with South Africa helps to clarify
an essential observation: with Israeli Jewish-national domination over an area
dotted with Palestinian autonomy zones, apartheid is expressed as fully in a
partition strategy as it is in a unified State.
In sum, domain 3 has been configured to exclude indefinitely the 4.6 million
Palestinians living under Israeli military law from mounting any claim against the
State of Israel for rights under Israeli civil law. International law and diplomacy, with
its commitment to reject the acquisition of territory by force, has led to the
population of the occupied Palestinian territory being projected as a permanently
separate and distinct Palestinian-national entity. Well intentioned and based on
Testing for an Apartheid Regime in Israel-Palestine | 47
international law, this approach has had the effect of splitting Palestinians in the
occupied territory from the 1.7 million Palestinian citizens of Israel and those in East
Jerusalem. In that way, the demographic balance in Israel can be maintained as
Jewish and a united Palestinian challenge to its apartheid regime can be avoided.
Domain 4: Palestinian refugees and involuntary exiles
In early 2016, 3,162,602 Palestinians living outside Mandate Palestine were
officially registered as refugees by the United Nations Relief and Works Agency for
Palestine Refugees in the Near East (UNRWA).81 Estimates of the entire refugee
population, including those not registered with UNRWA and people who left
Palestine under other circumstances and are not allowed to return (referred to as
“involuntary exiles” in this report), range from six to eight million people.
Although an exact count is difficult given the global diaspora of Palestinians now in
their fourth and fifth generations, by any responsible estimate more Palestinians
live outside Mandate Palestine than in it.82
Palestinian refugees are widely distributed. Approximately two million live in the
occupied Palestinian territory: 792,000 in camps in the West Bank and 1.3 million in
the Gaza Strip. Living under Israeli occupation, these people fall under domain 3,
although they benefit from some protections and special services from UNRWA.
The rest live mostly in the frontline States of Jordan (around 2.1 million), Lebanon
(around 458,000) and the Syrian Arab Republic (around 560,000).83 Only about 5 per
cent live outside the Middle East. Lacking any citizenship, they are subject, without
recourse, to the laws of their host State (not always comfortably, as some States —
notably Lebanon — impose special restrictions on Palestinian refugees).84 Those
conditions have contributed to sustaining a strong nationalist nostalgia and
sentiment among the great majority of Palestinian refugees regarding their origins
in Palestine and a potent sense of enduring injustice resulting from Israeli policies.
Their inability to return to their country thus remains a central grievance and a key
81 UNRWA lists of total of 5,266,603 refugees, the difference being accounted for by those living in the occupied Palestinian
territory. See https://www.unrwa.org/where-we-work. Accessed 8 February 2017.
82 The figure is a middle estimate, as the number of Palestinians who fled in the 1948 war has not been firmly established.
Some scholars suggest 700,000 and 750,000 left; the Israelis provide a figure of 520,000; and Palestinian authorities estimate
the number at between 900,000 and 1 million.
83 UNRWA, UNRWA in figures as of 1 Jan 2016. Available from
84 For a short summary of the conditions in which Palestinian refugees live in Lebanon, see Meghan Monahan, Treatment of
Palestinian refugees in Lebanon, Human Rights Brief (2 February 2015). Available from http://hrbrief.org/2015/02/treatment-of-
48 | Israeli Practices towards the Palestinian People and the Question of Apartheid
issue in peace talks. Politically, no Palestinian leadership can acquiesce to a peace
agreement that ignores the refugees.
In 1948, General Assembly resolution 194(III) resolved that “the [Palestinian]
refugees wishing to return to their homes and live at peace with their neighbours
should be permitted to do so” and that compensation should be provided to the
rest. Israel has rejected the application of that resolution on security grounds and
on the basis of the “demographic threat” of a Palestinian majority: in the unlikely
event that the entire Palestinian population of refugees and involuntary exiles
returned to Palestine en masse, the Palestinian population under Israeli rule would
total some 12 million, electorally overwhelming the 6.5 million Jews in Israel. Even
if that refugee population returned in numbers sufficient only to generate a
Palestinian majority (as is far more likely), Israel would be forced into either
adopting an explicitly apartheid policy in order to exclude them, and abandoning
democracy altogether, or enfranchising them and abandoning the vision of Israel
as a Jewish State. As expressed in an article posted on the Israeli Ministry of
Foreign Affairs website:
According to Palestinian sources, there are about 3.5 million Palestinian refugees
nowadays registered with UNRWA. If Israel were to allow all of them to return to her
territory, this would be an act of suicide on her part, and no State can be expected
to destroy itself (emphasis added).85
Thus, domain 4 plays an essential role in the apartheid regime of Israel. Its refusal
to allow refugees and involuntary exiles to return ensures that the Palestinian
population never gains the demographic weight that would either threaten Israeli
military control of the occupied Palestinian territory, or provide the demographic
leverage within Israel to allow them to insist on full democratic rights, which would
supersede the Jewish character of the State of Israel. In short, domain 4 ensures
that Palestinians will never be able to change the system in ways that would lead
to political equality between the two peoples.
Several arguments can be and have been made to deny that the Apartheid
Convention is even applicable to the case of Israel-Palestine. Some of them, such
85 Ruth Lapidoth, “Do Palestinian refugees have a right to return to Israel?”, posted on Israeli Ministry of Foreign Affairs, 15
January 2001. Available from www.mfa.gov.il/mfa/foreignpolicy/peace/guide/pages/do%20palestinian%20refugees%20have
Testing for an Apartheid Regime in Israel-Palestine | 49
as the contention that Jews and Palestinians are not “races” and that, because
Palestinian citizens of Israel enjoy the right to vote, the treatment of them by the
Israeli State cannot constitute apartheid, are addressed and rejected above. Other
Consistency with international practice: The Israeli doctrine of maintaining a
Jewish majority, enabling the Jewish people to have its own nation-State, is
consistent with the behaviour of States around the world, such as France, which
express the self-determination of their respective ethnic nations. It is therefore
unfair and exceptional treatment — and implicitly anti-Semitic — to target Israel
as an apartheid State when it is only doing the same.
This common argument derives from miscasting how national identities function in
modern nation States. In France, for example, anyone holding French citizenship,
regardless of whether they are indigenous or of immigrant origin, are equal
members of the French nation and enjoy equal rights. According to the Supreme
Court, Israel is not the State of the “Israeli nation” but of the “Jewish nation”.86
Collective rights in Israeli law are explicitly conferred on Jews as a people and on no
other collective identity: national rights for Jews, embedded in such laws as the Law
of Return and the Citizenship Law (discussed above) do not extend to any other
group under Israeli rule. Hence, racial-nationalist privileges are embedded in the
legal and doctrinal foundations of the State. That is exceptional and would meet with
opprobrium in any other country (as it did in apartheid South Africa).
The standing of Palestinians as foreigners: Palestinian residents of the
occupied Palestinian territory are not citizens of the State and so the State does
not owe them rights and treatment equal to that accorded to Israeli Jewish
citizens and settlers.
The similarities between the legal situation in Palestinian territory under Israeli
occupation and in Namibia under South African occupation have already been noted.
Israel has denied Palestinians in the occupied Palestinian territory Israeli citizenship
because they are not Jews. As the “in-gathering” of Jews is a central mission of
Israeli State institutions and the State promotes naturalisation of Jews from other
parts of the world, it is fair to assume that the Palestinians, born in territory under the
State’s exclusive control, would have been granted Israeli citizenship had they been
Jewish (and had they wanted it). In its General Recommendation No. 30 on
discrimination against non-citizens, the Committee on the Elimination of Racial
86 George Rafael Tamarin v. State of Israel (1972) C.A.630/70.
50 | Israeli Practices towards the Palestinian People and the Question of Apartheid
Discrimination recommends that States parties to the International Convention on the
Elimination of All Forms of Racial Discrimination should:
Recognize that deprivation of citizenship on the basis of race, colour, descent, or national or
ethnic origin is a breach of States parties' obligations to ensure non-discriminatory
enjoyment of the right to nationality.87
The Apartheid Convention cites as crimes of apartheid “measures calculated to deny
members of a racial group or groups” basic human rights, including “the right to a
nationality” (article II (c)).Thus, the argument that Israel cannot be responsible for
Palestinians who are non-citizens reinforces a finding of apartheid when one asks
why they are not citizens. At the heart of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict is indeed the
exclusion of the Palestinians, as non-Jews, from citizenship in the State that governs
their country. (The liminal condition of living in a “State of Palestine” recently
recognized by the General Assembly yet lacking all attributes of sovereignty has not
provided Palestinians with a “citizenship” that has concrete application.)
The purpose clause. Israeli policies that oppress Palestinians are motivated
by security concerns, and not the intention or desire to impose racial domination.
The Apartheid Convention and the Rome Statute define crimes of apartheid as acts
committed for the purpose of establishing and maintaining domination by one
racial group over another. It could be argued that Israeli practices are only
temporary measures, the purpose of which is not racial domination, but only to
maintain order until a peace agreement removes the need for such measures.
However, the security issues related to Israeli measures relevant to this study are
usually cited only in relation to the occupied Palestinian territory, while the
apartheid regime is applied to the Palestinian people as a whole. Moreover,
apartheid is prohibited under international law irrespective of its duration.88 The
Apartheid Convention makes no distinction in terms of the period of time apartheid
is carried out or the State’s ultimate vision for the future.89
87 CERD/C/64/Misc.11/rev.3, para. 14.
88 The uniquely extended character of the Israeli occupation has generated a new body of literature on the legal implications
of “prolonged occupation”. For more on this, see Tilley (ed.), Beyond Occupation, chap. 2.
89 The Government of apartheid South Africa also argued that racial domination was not a goal in itself but a defensive
measure designed to preserve the way of life of the white population. Apartheid was presented as merely a stage on the path to
a mutually beneficial end, in which all “peoples” of South Africa would enjoy self-determination and peaceful coexistence. In
practice, the “homelands” system was geared towards stabilizing the low-cost workforce and white land tenure.
Conclusions and Recommendations
This report establishes, on the basis of scholarly inquiry and overwhelming
evidence, that Israel is guilty of the crime of apartheid. However, only a ruling by
an international tribunal in that sense would make such an assessment truly
authoritative. The authors therefore urge the United Nations to implement this
finding by fulfilling its international responsibilities in relation to international law
and the rights of the Palestinian people as a matter of urgency, for two reasons.
First, the situation addressed in the report is ongoing. Many investigations of
crimes against humanity have concerned past behaviour or events, such as civil
wars involving genocides, which have formally concluded. In such cases, the
international community faces no particular pressure to act in a timely way to
terminate an ongoing crime prior to investigating the legal facts of culpability. In
the case of Israel-Palestine, any delay compounds the crime by prolonging the
subjugation of Palestinians to the active practice of apartheid by Israel. Prompt
action is accordingly imperative to avert further human suffering and end a crime
against humanity that is being committed now.
Secondly, the extreme gravity of the charge requires prompt action. Since the
1970s, when the international campaign to oppose apartheid in southern Africa
gathered momentum, apartheid has been considered in the annals of the United
Nations and world public opinion to be second only to genocide in the hierarchy of
criminality.90 This report accordingly recommends that the international
community act immediately, without waiting for a more formal pronouncement
regarding the culpability of the State of Israel, its Government and its officials for
the commission of the crime of apartheid.
While urging swift action to oppose and end this apartheid regime, the authors of
this report urge as a matter of highest priority that authoritative bodies be
requested to review its findings. Opinions of the General Assembly, ICJ and ICC
are especially crucial, although assessments by national courts would also be
relevant to interpreting international criminal law and appraising its
90 Genocide and apartheid are the only two international crimes, the commission of which States have a duty to prevent.
52 | Israeli Practices towards the Palestinian People and the Question of Apartheid
implementation by Member States. On the basis of such findings, States and
United Nations bodies could deliberate on a firm foundation of international law
how best to discharge their responsibility to address and bring to an end the crime
of apartheid and domination of the Palestinian people. In any event, pending that
longer deliberative process, the authors of this report conclude that the weight of
the evidence supports beyond a reasonable doubt the contention that Israel is
guilty of imposing an apartheid regime on the Palestinian people.
The prohibition of apartheid is considered jus cogens in international customary
law. States have a separate and collective duty (a) not to recognize an apartheid
regime as lawful; (b) not to aid or assist a State in maintaining an apartheid
regime; and (c) to cooperate with the United Nations and other States in bringing
apartheid regimes to an end. A State that fails to fulfil those duties could itself be
held legally responsible for engaging in wrongful acts involving complicity with
maintaining an apartheid regime. The United Nations and its agencies, and all
Member States, have a legal obligation to act within their capabilities to prevent
and punish instances of apartheid that are responsibly brought to their attention.
Civil society institutions and individuals also have a moral duty to use the
instruments at their disposal to raise awareness of this ongoing criminal
enterprise, and to exert pressure on Israel to dismantle apartheid structures and
negotiate in good faith for a lasting peace that acknowledges the rights of
Palestinians under international law and makes it possible for the two peoples to
live together on the basis of real equality.
Apartheid in southern Africa was brought to an end, in part, by the cumulative
impact of a variety of measures, including economic sanctions and sports boycotts,
undertaken with the blessing of United Nations bodies and many Member States,
and with grassroots support in States with strong strategic and economic ties with
South Africa. The effectiveness of the anti-apartheid campaign was in large part
due to the transnational activism of civil society, which reinforced the
intergovernmental consensus that took shape in the United Nations.
The following recommendations cover general responsibilities and those of
specific institutional actors. Their purpose is, first of all, to focus attention on the
principal finding of this report, that Israel has imposed a regime of apartheid on the
Palestinian people as a whole, thereby challenging the United Nations and other
international, national and civil society actors (including private citizens) to act in
Conclusions and Recommendations | 53
response. They are also designed to encourage the implementation of practical
measures in accordance with international law to exert pressure on Israel to
dismantle its apartheid regime and end the unlawful status quo by engaging in a
peace process that seeks a just solution.
United Nations bodies, national Governments and civil society actors,
including religious organizations, should formally endorse the principal finding
of this report that the treatment by Israel of the Palestinians is consistent with
the crime of apartheid.
On that basis, those actors should examine what measures can be taken in
accordance with their legal obligations, as set forth under the Apartheid
Convention. As the crime of apartheid qualifies as a peremptory or jus cogens
norm of international law, States are bound by the Convention even if they are
not parties to it, and would have similar legal obligations even in the absence
of the convention, because the crime of apartheid is prohibited under
customary international law.
Recommendations for the United Nations
Each United Nations body should promptly consider what action to take in
view of the finding that Israel maintains a racist regime of apartheid in its
exercise of control over the Palestinian people, taking due account of the
fragmentation of that people by Israel, which is itself an aspect of the control
arrangements that rely on “inhuman acts” for the purpose of systematic racial
ESCWA should take a central role in advocating international cooperation to
end the apartheid regime. Its special role in this respect derives not only from
the Commission’s geographic position but also its mandate.
United Nations entities should cooperate with one another, and in particular
with ESCWA, to discuss and disseminate this report. They should consider,
possibly in cooperation with the Palestinian Government and other Palestinian
institutions, convening a special meeting to assess how to follow up on and
implement the recommendations of the report.
The General Assembly should, taking inspiration from resolution 1761(XVII) of
6 November 1962, revive the Special Committee against Apartheid, and the
United Nations Centre against Apartheid (1976-1991), which would report
authoritatively on Israeli practices and policies relating to the crime of
apartheid, including the legal and administrative instrumentalities used to
carry out the underlying criminal enterprise. Those bodies gathered and
54 | Israeli Practices towards the Palestinian People and the Question of Apartheid
disseminated vital legal analysis and information with respect to South African
apartheid. Those resources benefited not only jurists and scholars, but also
civil society activists around the world, helping them to shape media
presentations and public opinion, legitimating calls for boycotts, divestments
and sanctions, and contributing overall to the formation of a transnational
movement against apartheid in South Africa.
The Human Rights Council should be vested with particular responsibility for
examining the findings of this report and reinforcing its recommendations. The
Special Rapporteur on the situation of human rights in the Palestinian Territory
occupied since 1967 should be instructed to report annually to the Council and
the Third Committee of the General Assembly on steps taken to comply with
the terms of the Apartheid Convention and to encourage member States of the
Council to take appropriate action.
The competent bodies of the United Nations should consider seeking an
advisory opinion from the ICJ as to whether the means used by Israel to
maintain control over the Palestinian people amount to the crime of apartheid
and, if so, what steps should be taken to end that situation promptly.
Pursuant to article 7 (1) (j) of the Rome Statute, the ICC should be formally
encouraged to investigate, as a matter of urgency, whether the State of Israel,
its Governments and individuals, in implementing policies and practices with
respect to the Palestinian people, are guilty of the crime of apartheid and, if so,
to act accordingly.
On the basis of this report, the Secretary-General should be respectfully urged
to recommend to the General Assembly and the Security Council that a global
conference be convened at an early date in order to consider what action
should be taken by the United Nations and what might be recommended to
civil society and private sector actors.
Recommendations for national Governments of Member States
National Governments should be reminded of their legal duty under
international law to take appropriate action to prevent the crime of apartheid
and punish its perpetrators, taking cognizance of the findings of this report and
any parallel findings by competent bodies.
National Governments should, within the limits of their legislative, executive
and judicial institutions, take appropriate action, including allowing criminal
prosecutions of Israeli officials demonstrably connected with the practices of
apartheid against the Palestinian people.
National Governments, especially of member States of ECSWA, should explore
ways of cooperating in the discharge of their duty to oppose and overcome the
regime of apartheid.
Conclusions and Recommendations | 55
National Governments should support boycott, divestment and sanctions
activities and respond positively to calls for such initiatives.
Recommendations for civil society and private sector actors
Civil society actors should be invited to submit to the Human Rights Council
reactions to this report. A special meeting should be convened to consider
those reactions and to plan appropriate next steps, including
recommendations to the Human Rights Council and to the Office of the United
Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights (OHCHR).
Efforts should be made to broaden support for boycott, divestment and
sanctions initiatives among civil society actors.
Private sector actors should be made aware of the findings of this report and
requested to act accordingly, including by informing the public about the
criminality of the apartheid regime, and urging Governments to fulfil their
obligations under the Apartheid Convention and to propose initiatives that
could be undertaken by civil society. Private sector actors should also be
reminded of their legal, moral and political responsibility to sever ties with
commercial ventures and projects that directly or indirectly aid and abet the
apartheid regime imposed.
Findings of the 2009 HSRC Report
Legal analysis cited here from Beyond Occupation draws from work by
contributors to a study conducted between 2007 and 2009, under the auspices of
the Human Sciences Research Council of South Africa (HSRC) and at the request of
the South African Ministry of Foreign Affairs. Coordinated, co-authored and edited
by Virginia Tilley, that study was issued in 2009 under the title Occupation,
Colonialism, Apartheid? A Reassessment of Israel’s Practices in the Occupied
Palestinian Territories under International Law. Principal contributors included Iain
Scobbie, Professor and Chair of International Law, University of Manchester (Great
Britain); Max du Plessis, Associate Professor of Law, University of KwaZulu-Natal
(Durban) and Senior Research Associate, Institute for Security Studies; Rina
Rosenberg, Esq., International Advocacy Director of Adalah/Legal Centre for Arab
Minority Rights in Israel (Haifa); John Reynolds, formerly researcher at Al-Haq
(Ramallah) and now lecturer in international law and critical legal studies, National
University of Ireland-Maynooth; Victor Kattan, Senior Research Fellow at the
Middle East Institute and an Associate Fellow at the Faculty of Law at the National
University of Singapore; and Michael Kearney, now Senior Lecturer in Law at
Sussex University (Great Britain).
The method was to review Israeli practices in accordance with the list of “inhuman
acts” described in the Apartheid Convention. The team determined that Israel was
practicing every act listed in the Convention except genocide and the ban on mixed
marriages. Subsequently, Israel passed a law banning mixed marriages by people
registered as having different religious identities. The revised version of the report
published in 2012 was amended accordingly.
The list provided here is a summary of findings regarding those acts. Detailed
empirical evidence, data and citations on each category are available in Beyond
Occupation (chapter 4).
58 | Israeli Practices towards the Palestinian People and the Question of Apartheid
Apartheid Convention, article II
(a) denial to a member or members of a racial group or groups of the right to life
and liberty of person:
(i) by murder of members of a racial group or groups;
(ii) by the infliction upon the members of a racial group or groups of
serious bodily or mental harm, by the infringement of their freedom or
dignity, or by subjecting them to torture or to cruel, inhuman or
degrading treatment or punishment;
(iii) by arbitrary arrest and illegal imprisonment of the members of a racial
group or groups;
Article II (a) is satisfied by Israeli measures serving to repress Palestinian dissent
against the occupation and its system of domination. Israeli policies and practices
include murder, in the form of targeted extrajudicial killings; torture and other
cruel, inhuman or degrading treatment or punishment of detainees; a military court
system that falls far short of international standards of due process, including fair
trial; and arbitrary arrest and detention of Palestinians, including administrative
detention imposed, often for extended periods, without charge or trial and lacking
adequate judicial review. All of those practices are discriminatory, in that
Palestinians are subject to different legal systems and different courts, which apply
different standards of evidence and procedure that result in far more severe
penalties than those applied to Jewish Israelis.
(b) deliberate imposition on a racial group or groups of living conditions
calculated to cause its or their physical destruction in whole or in part;
Article II (b) takes its language from the Convention on the Prevention and
Punishment of Crime of Genocide and is interpreted here as signifying a policy of
genocide. Israeli policies and practices in the occupied Palestinian territory are not
found to have the intent of causing the physical destruction of the Palestinian
people in this sense. Israel pursues policies that are inimical to human health and
life and so are serious violations of international humanitarian and human rights
law: they include policies that cause human suffering, such as closures imposed on
the Gaza Strip, thereby depriving Palestinians of access to essential health care,
medicine, fuel and adequate nutrition. However, those policies do not meet the
threshold of a deliberate policy of mass physical extermination.
Annex I. Findings of the 2009 HSRC Report | 59
(c) any legislative measures and other measures calculated to prevent a racial
group or groups from participation in the political, social, economic and
cultural life of the country and the deliberate creation of conditions preventing
the full development of such a group or groups, in particular by denying to
members of a racial group or groups basic human rights and freedoms,
including the right to work, the right to form recognized trade unions, the
right to education, the right to leave and to return to their country, the right to
a nationality, the right to freedom of movement and residence, the right to
freedom of opinion and expression, and the right to freedom of peaceful
assembly and association;
Article II (c) is satisfied on all counts:
(i) Restrictions on the Palestinians’ right to freedom of movement are
endemic, stemming from Israeli control of the occupied Palestinian
territory border crossings, the wall in the West Bank, a matrix of
checkpoints and separate roads, and obstructive and all-encompassing
permit and ID systems.
The right of Palestinians to choose their own place of residence within
their territory is severely curtailed by systematic administrative restrictions
on residency and building in East Jerusalem, by discriminatory legislation
that operates to prevent Palestinian spouses from living together on the
basis of which part of the occupied Palestinian territory they originate
from, and by the strictures of the permit and ID systems.
Palestinians are denied the right to leave and return to their country.
Palestinian refugees living in the occupied Palestinian territory are not
allowed to return to their homes inside Israel, while Palestinian refugees
and involuntary exiles outside Israel and the territory are not allowed to
return to their homes in either the territory or Israel. Similarly, hundreds of
thousands of Palestinians displaced from the West Bank and Gaza Strip in
1967 have been prevented from returning. Many Palestinian residents of
the occupied territory must obtain Israeli permission (often denied) to
leave it; political activists and human rights defenders are often subject to
arbitrary and undefined “travel bans”, and many Palestinians who
travelled abroad for business or personal reasons have had their residence
IDs revoked and been prohibited from returning.
Israel denies Palestinian refugees living in the occupied Palestinian
territory the right to a nationality, denying them citizenship of the State
(Israel) that governs the land of their birth, and also obstructing the
exercise by the Palestinians of the right to self-determination and
preventing the formation of a Palestinian State in the West Bank (including
East Jerusalem) and Gaza Strip.
60 | Israeli Practices towards the Palestinian People and the Question of Apartheid
Palestinians are denied the right to freedom and residence through the
cantonization of the West Bank, which confines them to designated areas
on the basis of race; through bans on their returning to homes in the
occupied Palestinian territory from which they were displaced by fighting
and terror; and through restrictions on building permits that prevent them
from establishing homes where they wish to live.
Palestinians are restricted in their right to work through Israeli policies that
severely curtail Palestinian agriculture and industry in the occupied
Palestinian territory, restrict exports and imports, and impose pervasive
obstacles to internal movement that impair access to agricultural land and
travel for employment and business. Since the second intifada, access for
Palestinians to work inside Israel, once significant, has been dramatically
curtailed and is now negligible. The unemployment rate in the occupied
Palestinian territory as a whole has reached almost 50 per cent.
Palestinian trade unions exist but are not recognized by the Israeli
Government or by the Histadrut (the largest Israeli trade union) and cannot
effectively represent Palestinians working for Israeli employers and
businesses in the occupied Palestinian territory. Palestinian unions are not
permitted to function at all in Israeli settlements. Although they are
required to pay dues to the Histadrut, the interests and concerns of
Palestinian workers are not represented by the Histadrut; nor do they have
a voice in its policies.
Israel does not operate the school system in the occupied Palestinian
territory, but severely impedes Palestinian access to education on a routine
basis through extensive school closures; direct attacks on schools; severe
restrictions on movement, including travel to schools; and the arrest and
detention of teachers and students. The denial by Israel of exit permits,
particularly for Palestinians from the Gaza Strip, has prevented thousands
of students from pursuing higher education abroad. Discrimination in
education is further underlined by the parallel and greatly superior Jewish
Israeli school system in Jewish settlements throughout the West Bank, to
which Palestinians have no access.
Palestinians in the occupied Palestinian territory are denied the right to
freedom of opinion and expression through censorship laws enforced by
the military authorities and endorsed by the Supreme Court. Palestinian
newspapers must have a military permit and articles must be pre-approved
by the military censor. Since 2001, the Israeli Government Press Office has
drastically limited press accreditation for Palestinian journalists, who are
also subjected to systematic harassment, detention and confiscation of
materials, and in some cases assassination. The accreditation of foreign
journalists working in the occupied territory may be revoked at the
Annex I. Findings of the 2009 HSRC Report | 61
discretion of the Government Press Office Director on security grounds,
which include writing stories that are deemed to “delegitimize” the State.1
Foreign journalists are regularly barred from entering the Gaza Strip.
The right to freedom of peaceful assembly and association is impeded
through military orders. Military legislation bans public gatherings of 10 or
more persons without a permit from the Israeli military commander. Non-
violent demonstrations are regularly suppressed by the Israeli army with
live ammunition, tear gas and arrests. Most Palestinian political parties
have been declared illegal and institutions associated with those parties,
such as charities and cultural organisations, are regularly subjected to
closure and attack.
The prevention of full development in the occupied Palestinian territory
and participation of Palestinians in political, economic, social and cultural
life is most starkly demonstrated by the effects of the ongoing Israeli
blockade of the Gaza Strip.
(d) any measures, including legislative measures, designed to divide the
population along racial lines by the creation of separate reserves and ghettos
for the members of a racial group or groups, the prohibition of mixed
marriages among members of various racial groups, the expropriation of
landed property belonging to a racial group or groups or to members thereof;
Article II (d) is satisfied in the following ways:
(i) Israeli policies have divided the occupied Palestinian territory into a series
of non-contiguous enclaves (Areas A and B in the West Bank, as a whole
separated from the Gaza Strip) in which Palestinians are allowed to live
and maintain a degree of local autonomy. Land between those enclaves is
reserved exclusively for Jewish and State use: the Jewish settlement grid,
nature reserves, agro-industry, military zones and so forth. Land not
already used is considered “State land” and administered by State
institutions for the benefit of the Jewish people. Segregation of the
populations is ensured by pass laws that restrict Palestinians from visiting
Jewish areas without a permit and ban Jewish-Israeli travel into
Palestinian zones. The wall and its infrastructure of gates and permanent
and “floating” checkpoints enforce those restrictions.
“Cards will not be given under these rules to any applicant if the Director is of the opinion, after consultation with security
authorities, that providing the Cards may endanger the State security”, article 3 (f), Rules regarding cards for foreign media
journalists, press technicians and media assistants. Available from http://gpoeng.gov.il/media/54705/gpo-rules.pdf.
62 | Israeli Practices towards the Palestinian People and the Question of Apartheid
Inter-faith marriages between Muslims or Christians with Jews are
prohibited by law.2 No civil marriage exists in Israel except for the tiny
minority whose faith is not declared. Mixed-faith couples must leave the
State to marry. Mixed marriages conducted outside of Israel are
recognized by the State, provided that marriages among Jews accord with
Orthodox Jewish law.
Israel has extensively appropriated Palestinian land in the occupied
Palestinian territory for exclusively Jewish use. Private Palestinian land
comprises about 30 per cent of the land unlawfully appropriated for Jewish
settlement in the West Bank. Approximately 40 per cent of the West Bank
is completely closed to use by the Palestinians, and significant restrictions
are placed on access by them to much of the rest.
(e) Exploitation of the labour of the members of a racial group or groups, in
particular by submitting them to forced labour;
Article II (e) is today not significantly satisfied, as Israel has raised barriers to
Palestinian employment inside Israel since the 1990s and Palestinian labour is now
used extensively only in the construction and services sectors of Jewish-Israeli
settlements in the occupied Palestinian territory. Otherwise, exploitation of labour
has been replaced by practices that fall under article II (c), regarding the denial of
the right to work.
(f) Persecution of organizations and persons, by depriving them of fundamental
rights and freedoms, because they oppose apartheid.
Arrest, imprisonment, travel bans and the targeting of Palestinian
parliamentarians, national political leaders and human rights defenders, as well as
the closing down of related organisations by Israel, represent persecution for
opposition to the system of Israeli domination in the occupied Palestinian territory,
within the meaning of article II (f). Article II (f) is especially important in the
occupied Palestinian territory, where “security” measures are focused on
resistance to occupation.
The Israeli prohibition of mixed marriages is mainly concerned with marriages involving Jews. This is effected by requiring
that all marriages be conducted by religious authorities. Since Muslim law permits mixed marriages, marriage between Muslims
and Christians is not prohibited. The aim of this arrangement is clear: to avoid blurring the social divisions between Jews and
non-Jews. Similarly, under apartheid in South Africa, the Prohibition of Mixed Marriages Act of 1949 banned marriages between
“Europeans and non-Europeans” but not between non-Europeans and other non-Europeans.
Israeli policies confuse the issue in relation to the categorization under the
Apartheid Convention of all acts fitting the purpose clause and preventing
“participation in the political, social, economic and cultural life of the country”
(article II (c)) as crimes of apartheid. The question is, from which “country” are
Palestinians being denied equal rights and full participation? This question
engages larger questions about the nature of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict itself.
The “country” from which Palestinians in the occupied Palestinian territory are
excluded could arguably be Mandate Palestine as established by the League of
Nations. The League’s intention was for it to gain independence as a State
representing the shared patrimony of the entire multi-sectarian population of
Palestine. That model, overtaken by events, was confused from the start by
language about a “Jewish national home” and in any case was rendered moot
by war, expulsion and other events on the ground. However, exclusive Israeli
control since 1967 over all of Mandate Palestine has preserved the original
geographical unit of Palestine. Hence the “country” in which Palestinians are
being deprived of rights could be the Palestine that was never allowed to form,
and arguably should form. The remedy in that case is to restore the standing of
the original Mandate, which holds that the region is properly one country that
has wrongfully been divided by racial agendas.
The country from which Palestinians are excluded could be the “Arab State”
recommended by resolution 181(II), which also never formed. This view
accepts as authoritative the findings of the Special Committee on Palestine in
1947 and as irreversible the events of the 1948 war, in which a “Jewish State”
was formed in part of Mandate territory. What in more recent times has been
declared the State of Palestine and sought recognition by the United Nations is
a much reduced version of that “Arab State”. Israeli policies remain aimed at
depriving such a State of the essential attributes of sovereignty; those policies
would have to be reversed for this approach to generate a true State. Since
Israel shows no indication of changing its position, the alternative is that a
Palestinian State be granted some political rights as “reserves” enjoying local
autonomy, comparable to the Bantustans of southern Africa or Native
American reservations in the United States. Such an arrangement is unlikely to
64 | Israeli Practices towards the Palestinian People and the Question of Apartheid
satisfy Palestinian aspirations for self-determination, however. It is more likely
to lead ultimately to violence and insurrection by a terminally frustrated
The “country” from which Palestinians are wrongfully deprived of equal rights
may be the State of Israel. Accepting as irreversible the annexation measures
of Israel in East Jerusalem and the West Bank, this approach would see Israel
incorporating the occupied Palestinian territory fully into its governing
institutions but dismantling the policies of racial oppression and domination
that make Israel an apartheid State. Jews and Palestinians may, however, fear
the consequences: enduring security perils for the former and enduring
discrimination against the latter.
This report examines, based on key instruments of international law,
whether Israel has established an apartheid regime that oppresses and
dominates the Palestinian people as a whole. Having established that
the crime of apartheid has universal application, that the question of the
status of the Palestinians as a people is settled in law, and that the crime of
apartheid should be considered at the level of the State, the report sets out
to demonstrate how Israel has imposed such a system on the Palestinians
in order to maintain the domination of one racial group over others.
A history of war, annexation and expulsions, as well as a series of practices,
has left the Palestinian people fragmented into four distinct population
groups, three of them (citizens of Israel, residents of East Jerusalem and
the populace under occupation in the West Bank and Gaza) living under
direct Israeli rule and the remainder, refugees and involuntary exiles,
living beyond. This fragmentation, coupled with the application of discrete
bodies of law to those groups, lie at the heart of the apartheid regime. They
serve to enfeeble opposition to it and to veil its very existence. This report
concludes, on the basis of overwhelming evidence, that Israel is guilty of
the crime of apartheid, and urges swift action to oppose and end it.