Apartheid, Palestine, and Human Rights


Barbed Wire West Bank 

The humanitarian crisis in Palestine is not something you hear much about these days. It didn’t come up in the presidential foreign policy debate on Monday, though of course Obama and Romney spent a long time talking about Netanyahu’s “red line” with Iran. G8 nations were similarly silent on Palestine during the group’s conference back in May, although Israel’s ongoing blockade of Gaza was a major G8 talking point just two years ago, as was the peace process a year later.

When we do see Palestine in the news, it’s mostly about why and how the two-state solution is dead—a theme that’s been driven home repeatedly over the last year by the likes of Jimmy Carter, Atlantic senior editor Robert Wright, and Haaretz journalist Gideon Levy. Not that there’s much reason to believe otherwise. In fact, the crisis there only seems to be getting worse.

For one thing, Jews are now a minority in Israel and the Occupied Territories, raising serious questions about minority rule and apartheid. Last week, Israel officially declared that of the 12 million people living between the Jordan and the Mediterranean, Israeli Jews represent about 5.9 million (a fact Israeli demography expert Sergio Della Pergola had already pointed out in 2010). “Apartheid is here,” says Haaretz columnist Akiva Eldar. “The Jewish majority is history.”

And apartheid is not a subjective term, says UC Irvine professor Mark LeVine at Al-Jazeera. Since its formal implementation in 1948 in South Africa, a series of international treaties like International Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Racial Discrimination of 1966 and the 2002 Rome Statute have defined apartheid in no uncertain terms. Despite cosmetic differences in how it’s implemented, Israel’s policies toward Palestine fit the international definition—as Rome calls it, an “institutionalised regime of systematic oppression and domination”—to a bill, says LeVine. Arabs in Israel may have some basic political rights like voting and holding office, he says, but it's hard to ignore the widespread economic discrimination they face, "as well as in access to land and most components of social citizenship (education, healthcare, language and access to upper echelons of political life)." Not to mention the entangling maze of checkpoints, settlements, and walls dotting and dominating Palestinian territory.

Of course, the charge has been raised before, most famously by Jimmy Carter in 2006. A year later, John Dugard, a South African international law professor and UN human rights envoy to the Occupied Territories, echoed the same concern. “It is difficult to resist the conclusion that many of Israel's laws and practices violate the 1966 Convention on the Elimination of all forms of Racial Discrimination,” he wrote at the time. And late last year, Dugard reiterated his point, writing in Al-Jazeera that, “Most South Africans who visit the West Bank are struck by the similarities between apartheid and Israel's practices there.”

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