Today, on the International Day for the Elimination of Racial Discrimination, the world comes together to reaffirm that racial discrimination is an assault on the foundation of the human rights system - the principle of equality. On this occasion, Louise Arbour, the UN High Commissioner for Human Rights stated, “a society that tolerates discrimination holds itself back, foregoing the contribution of whole parts of its population, and potentially sowing the seeds of violent conflict.” She added that despite the fact that many states have accepted to fight racial discrimination “a reality check demonstrates that formal commitments are not enough.”
Thirteen years after the fall of the apartheid regime in South Africa, Palestinians in the Occupied Palestinian Territories (OPT) and in Israel still face multiple forms of racial discrimination, including occupation, apartheid and colonization.
In the past few weeks, Israel has come under criticism from both the UN Committee on the Elimination of Racial Discrimination (CERD) and the UN Special Rapporteur for Human Rights in the OPT for its regime of institutionalized discrimination.
Since 1948, Israeli laws have been shaped not only to prevent the return of about 7 million Palestinian refugees and internally displaced persons, but also to change the demographic composition of Israel and the OPT. This population transfer is aided by the Israeli Law of Return, which allows any Jew in the world to ‘return’ to Israel and be granted citizenship. According to CERD, the denial of the rights of many Palestinians to return and possess their homes in Israel “is discriminatory and perpetuates violations of fundamental human rights.” CERD also applied the concept of apartheid to some of Israel’s practices towards Palestinian citizens of Israel, notably in the managment of land and resources.
The UN Special Rapporteur for Human Rights in the OPT, Prof. John Dugard concluded that Israel’s discriminatory practices towards Palestinians amount to apartheid and colonization. Since 2002, thousands of Palestinians have been displaced by the construction of the Wall and its associated regime, something that Dugard criticized saying that “the “closed zone” is gradually being “cleansed” of Palestinians, where land will in due course be transferred to land-greedy settlers.” He called upon the International Court of Justice to rule over the legal consequences arising from the Israeli regime of occupation in the OPT, as was done in the case of apartheid South Africa.
Similarly, in the pursuit of its discriminatory policies against the Palestinian citizens of Israel, the Israeli government confiscated over 12,000 dunams of Kafr Bir’im village inside Israel refusing to allow the residents, who were forced out in 1948 and are now internally displaced, to return to their village. The same applies to the Palestinian Bedouin of Arab As-Shubeih whose lands were and continue to be nationalized for the purpose of exclusive Jewish settlement and development.
Israel’s policies aim to create a Jewish majority through the de-Palestinization of Palestinian land, a fact concluded by the Committee on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights in 2003 which said that “Jewish nationality” is ground for “exclusive preferential treatment” resulting “in discriminatory treatment against non-Jews, in particular Palestinian refugees.”
On the International Day for the Elimination of Racial Discrimination, BADIL asks states to act according to their obligations and to ensure Israel’s respect for humanitarian law and human rights, because in the words of Dugard, “if the West, which has hitherto led the promotion of human rights throughout the world, cannot demonstrate a real commitment to the human rights of the Palestinian people, the international human rights movement, which can claim to be the greatest achievement of the international community of the past 60 years, will be endangered and placed in jeopardy.”