South African study: Israel practicing apartheid and colonialism

9 June 2009

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A South African study has found that Israel is practicing apartheid and colonialism in the OPT. (MaanImages)


The Human Sciences Research Council of South Africa (HSRC) has released a report confirming that Israel is practicing both colonialism and apartheid in the Occupied Palestinian Territories (OPT).

The HSRC commissioned an international team of scholars and practitioners of international public law from South Africa, the United Kingdom, Israel and the West Bank to conduct this study. The resulting 300-page report, titled “Occupation, Colonialism, Apartheid?: A re-assessment of Israel’s practices in the occupied Palestinian territories under international law,” represents 15 months of research and constitutes an exhaustive review of Israel’s practices in the OPT according to definitions of colonialism and apartheid provided by international law. The project was suggested originally by the January 2007 report by eminent South African jurist John Dugard, in his capacity as Special Rapporteur to the United Nations Human Rights Council, when he indicated that Israeli practices had assumed characteristics of colonialism and apartheid.

Regarding colonialism, the team found that Israel’s policy and practices violate the prohibition on colonialism which the international community developed in the 1960s in response to the great decolonization struggles in Africa and Asia. Israel’s policy is demonstrably to fragment the West Bank and annex part of it permanently to Israel, which is the hallmark of colonialism. Israel has appropriated land and water in the OPT, merged the Palestinian economy with Israel’s economy, and imposed a system of domination over Palestinians to ensure their subjugation to these measures. Through these measures, Israel has denied the indigenous population the right to self-determination and indicated clear intention to assume sovereignty over portions of its land and natural resources. Permanent annexation of territory in this fashion is the hallmark of colonialism.

Regarding apartheid, the team found that Israel’s laws and policies in the OPT fit the definition of apartheid in the International Convention on the Suppression and Punishment of the Crime of Apartheid. Israeli law conveys privileges to Jewish settlers and disadvantages Palestinians in the same territory on the basis of their respective identities, which function in this case as racialized identities in the sense provided by international law. Israel’s practices are corollary to five of the six “inhuman acts” listed by the Convention. A policy of apartheid is especially indicated by Israel’s demarcation of geographic “reserves” in the West Bank, to which Palestinian residence is confined and which Palestinians cannot leave without a permit. The system is very similar to the policy of “Grand Apartheid” in Apartheid South Africa, in which black South Africans were confined to black Homelands delineated by the South African government, while white South Africans enjoyed freedom of movement and full civil rights in the rest of the country.

Quoting from the Executive Summary of the report, project leader Dr. Virginia Tilley explained that the three pillars of apartheid in South Africa are all practiced by Israel in the OPT. In South Africa, the first pillar was to demarcate the population of South Africa into racial groups, and to accord superior rights, privileges and services to the white racial group. The second pillar was to segregate the population into different geographic areas, which were allocated by law to different racial groups, and restrict passage by members of any group into the area allocated to other groups. And the third pillar was “a matrix of draconian ‘security’ laws and policies that were employed to suppress any opposition to the regime and to reinforce the system of racial domination, by providing for administrative detention, torture, censorship, banning, and assassination.”

The Report finds that Israeli practices in the OPT exhibit the same three “pillars” of apartheid:

The first pillar “derives from Israeli laws and policies that establish Jewish identity for purposes of law and afford a preferential legal status and material benefits to Jews over non-Jews.”

The second pillar is reflected in “Israel’s ‘grand’ policy to fragment the OPT [and] ensure that Palestinians remain confined to the reserves designated for them while Israeli Jews are prohibited from entering those reserves but enjoy freedom of movement throughout the rest of the Palestinian territory. This policy is evidenced by Israel’s extensive appropriation of Palestinian land, which continues to shrink the territorial space available to Palestinians; the hermetic closure and isolation of the Gaza Strip from the rest of the OPT; the deliberate severing of East Jerusalem from the rest of the West Bank; and the appropriation and construction policies serving to carve up the West Bank into an intricate and well-serviced network of connected settlements for Jewish-Israelis and an archipelago of besieged and non-contiguous enclaves for Palestinians.”

The third pillar is “Israel’s invocation of ‘security’ to validate sweeping restrictions on Palestinian freedom of opinion, expression, assembly, association and movement [to] mask a true underlying intent to suppress dissent to its system of domination and thereby maintain control over Palestinians as a group.”

The research team included scholars and international lawyers based at the HSRC, the School for Oriental and African Studies (London), the British Institute for International and Comparative Law, the University of Kwa-Zulu Natal (Durban), the Adalah/Legal Centre for Arab Minority Rights in Israel and al-Haq/West Bank Affiliate of the International Commission of Jurists. Consultation on the study’s theory and method was provided by eminent jurists from South Africa, Israel and Europe.

The HSRC serves as the national social science council for South Africa. The Middle East Project of the HSRC is an independent two-year project to conduct analysis of Middle East politics relevant to South African foreign policy, funded by the Department of Foreign Affairs of the Government of South Africa. The analysis in this report is entirely independent of the views or foreign policy of the Government of South Africa and does not represent an official position of the HSRC. It is intended purely as a scholarly resource for the South African government and civil society and the concerned international community.

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