UN expert: Israel practices apartheid against Palestinians

Palestinians look at the rubble of a shop destroyed by Israeli occupation forces on the pretext that it was built without a permit in Silwan, East Jerusalem, June 2021. Hundreds of Palestinians in the neighborhood face forced displacement as Israel seeks to build a Jewish archeological park at the site.


Israel perpetrates the crime of apartheid against Palestinians and third states should support accountability efforts at international courts.

So states Michael Lynk, an independent United Nations human rights expert from Canada, in a new report submitted to the UN Human Rights Council in Geneva this week.

Last year, that body voted in favor of establishing a permanent commission of inquiry into Israel’s violations of Palestinian rights in all the territory under its control, including inside the 1949 armistice line demarcating Israel from the occupied West Bank and Gaza Strip.

Israel is nervous that the commission led by three experts, whose report is expected to be published in June, will characterize it as an ‘apartheid state,” according to a foreign ministry cable seen by the news publication Axios.

Lynk’s new periodic report as a special rapporteur to the UN Human Rights Council follows a handful of studies from high-profile Israeli and international human rights organizations concluding that Israel practices apartheid against Palestinians – mainstreaming an aspect of what their Palestinian counterparts have been saying about Israeli rule for decades.

Acknowledging the seeming permanence of Israel’s military occupation, human rights groups are also calling for an approach centered on rights and accountability rather than the moribund “peace process” towards a two-state solution championed by the United Nations and other entities complicit in the prolonged situation of injustice in Palestine.

Israel has refused to cooperate with the Human Rights Council’s commission of inquiry and has denied entry and boycotted Lynk and experts who have previously held the role of special rapporteur for human rights in the West Bank and Gaza Strip.

Built with concrete

Lynk notes that “consistent with the mandate of the special rapporteur,” his periodic report focuses “on Israeli practices in the West Bank, including East Jerusalem, and Gaza.”

As such, he does not examine policy towards Palestinian citizens of Israel or Palestinian refugees in exile but acknowledges that Palestinian, Israeli and international groups have concluded that “it is impossible to have ‘democracy here and apartheid there.’”

Lynk observes that “by their very nature, occupations are required to be built with wood, not concrete.” With the establishment of 300 Jewish-only settlements in the West Bank since 1967, and a massive wall built mostly on Palestinian land in the same territory, Israel’s occupation has involved a great amount of concrete.

Meanwhile in Gaza, for the past 15 years Palestinians there have been barricaded into an “open-air prison,” Lynk states, “a method of population control unique in the modern world.”

People in Gaza have “endured four highly asymmetrical wars with Israel” during that time, “with enormous loss of civilian life and immense property destruction.”

Israeli leaders have “regularly and openly proclaimed that the country’s rule over the Palestinians and their land is permanent and that no Palestinian state will emerge,” Lynk adds.

“The intent is for the Palestinians to be encased in a political ossuary, a museum relic of 21st century colonialism,” Lynk says.

The human rights expert observes that an institutionalized regime of systematic racial oppression is “at the heart of Israel’s settler-colonial project” in Palestine.

For example, Israelis residing in Jewish-only settlements in the West Bank enjoy comprehensive rights while Palestinians in the same territory live under “military rule and control.”

Israel’s settlement enterprise is meanwhile “meant to demographically engineer an unlawful sovereignty claim through the annexation of territory.”

And because it is impossible for a colonial power to expropriate land and resources for its own population “without also immiserating the indigenous people and triggering their perpetual rebellion,” Israel has imposed increasingly harsh methods of control over Palestinians.

Legal definition

Israel’s practices against Palestinians in the West Bank and Gaza therefore pass the test of the applicability of an international legal definition of apartheid, Lynk states.

He observes that only the International Convention on the Suppression and Punishment of the Crime of Apartheid, adopted by the UN General Assembly in 1973, and the Rome Statute providing the foundation of the International Criminal Court, drafted 25 years later, provide legal definitions for apartheid.

A contemporary legal definition of apartheid drawn from and consistent with both the convention and the Rome Statute would stipulate:

“There exists an institutionalized regime of systematic racial oppression and discrimination, established with the intent to maintain the domination of one racial group over another, and which features inhuman(e) acts committed as an integral part of the regime.”

All three features must be fulfilled for a situation to be considered one of apartheid, Lynk adds. “Examples or patterns of racial discrimination by themselves are insufficient.”

The social construction of racial identity “should be seen as a matter of perception, particularly in the eyes of a dominant group that distinguishes itself from other groups,” based on social markers such as “nationality, ethnicity, religion, ancestry and descent,” Lynk says.

In the case of Israel and the Palestinians, the former has “determined the allocation, and the denial, of rights in the occupied Palestinian territory through a series of laws, practices and policies which define who is a Jew and who is not a Jew (the non-Jewish population being overwhelmingly Palestinian),” according to Lynk.

“Under this system the freedoms of one group are inextricably bound up in the subjugation of another.”

Lie of Israeli democracy

Palestinian human rights groups welcomed Lynk’s “seminal report” – the first by a UN special rapporteur to definitively state that Israel practices apartheid.

Unsurprisingly, Israeli government officials rejected Lynk’s findings.

Meirav Eilon Shahar, Israel’s permanent representative to the United Nations in Geneva, accused the independent expert of recycling “baseless and outrageous libels.”

She added that Lynk aims to “delegitimize and criminalize the state of Israel for what it is: the nation state of the Jewish people, with equal rights for all its citizens, irrespective of religion, race or sex.”

As Lynk notes in his report, however, the 5 million Palestinians under Israeli military occupation are stateless and “living without rights, in an acute state of subjugation and with no path to self-determination.”

And as for the more than 1.5 million Palestinians with Israeli citizenship, the lie of democracy is dispelled by Benjamin Netanyahu, whose office as prime minister ended last year after more than a decade:

“Israel is not a state of all its citizens, but the nation-state of the Jewish people and them alone.”




[Revised version of my comment. Please use this version]:

The U.S. -- the political, economic and military hegemon of the present-day international capitalist world system of nation-states -- has for many years led the world in bankrolling and giving political, military and moral support to the settler-colonial state of Israel, just as it did for French Indo-China after the defeat of French forces at Điện Biên Phủ in 1954 (and for South Vietnam under petty dictators from 1955 – 1976). Without the United States' unconditional support, the different apartheid regimes governing Israel since at least 1967 would have come under severe political and economic sanctions from states around the world. It comes as no surprise to anyone familiar with the history of this settler-colonial state that the U.N. Special Rapporteur Michael Lynk has recently stated in unambiguous language -- as many other experts in international law have done before him -- that the administrative structure of the state Israel and it laws meet "the prevailing evidentiary standard" to convict Israel of the crime of apartheid, a crime against humanity punishable under the Rome Statute of the International Criminal Court. Lynk writes, "The past 70 years has taught us that a covetous alien power has two choices: [1] either to abandon the fever-dream of settler-colonialism and recognize the freedom of the indigenous people, or [2] instead to double-down with increasingly more sophisticated and harsher methods of population control." Lynk concludes in unequivocal terms that the leaders of Israel have chosen [2], the latter course.

Maureen Clare Murphy

Maureen Clare Murphy's picture

Maureen Clare Murphy is senior editor of The Electronic Intifada.