Apartheid policies against Palestinians call for redress

2011-11-12 12:08

This week the Russell Tribunal sitting in Cape Town concluded that Israel subjects Palestinians living in Israel to an institutionalised regime of domination, which amounts to apartheid in terms of international law.

The tribunal found that Palestinians living in the Occupied Territories were subjected to an aggravated form of apartheid.

It is extraordinary that well over a decade after South Africa’s liberation from apartheid, Palestine has yet to experience freedom from oppressive policies and the systematic violation of the fundamental human rights of its people, and thus does not enjoy the right to self-determination – more than six decades after the Israel-Palestine conflict began.

The parallel between South Africa’s apartheid policies and Israel’s occupation of Palestinian territories deserves some scrutiny.

The Russell Tribunal on Palestine, which concluded its third session in Cape Town last weekend, provided that opportunity, in spite of the loud voices of dissension.

This tribunal was established as an international people’s tribunal in 2009 to respond to the international community’s failure to react to Israel’s contravention of international law, and the legal consequences of the establishment of a wall in the occupied Palestinian territories.

The work of past Russell Tribunals, in particular regarding US military intervention in Vietnam in the late 1960s and the investigation into internal repression in Latin America in the mid-1970s, has shown the potential of this people’s process to yield sound moral and legal arguments that strengthen respect for the rule of law. Many top legal experts including South African jurists have questioned the appropriateness of defining Israel in terms of the crimes of apartheid.

The legal definition of apartheid requires three core elements to exist: the identification of two distinct racial groups, the commission of inhumane and discriminatory acts committed against the subordinate group and that such acts are committed systematically in the context of an institutionalised regime of domination by one group over another.

Far from being a kangaroo court, these sessions seek to address how Israeli law, policies and discriminatory practices constitute the crime of apartheid.

As jurors, we should interrogate human rights violations perpetuated against Palestinians, and the daily suffering that people experience. We found that under Israeli law, Jews enjoy preferential status over Palestinians.

Even over those born in Israel and that the core elements of the crime of apartheid were met.

One consequence of our findings is that it provides a new basis for lobbying and advocacy, drawing in new human rights groups that are able to place this issue on national and international agendas, in advance of the next session in New York next year, so that UN member states will be shamed into doing the right thing.

The anti-apartheid struggle depended on the coherence of the solidarity movement internationally, and its critical role in making South Africa a pariah state, leveraging enormous power politically and economically.

So why do we not see the same level of solidarity regarding Palestine? Stephan Hessel, the older juror on the Russell Tribunal and a Buchenwald survivor has, through his own suffering, confirmed that Palestinian people are subject to the crime of apartheid.

A matter of great concern is the number of Palestinian youths who sit in Israeli jails, many as young as 15, bringing to mind the cases of “stone-throwing” youth in South Africa who were charged with public violence.

It is interesting how the global political apparatus ignores the very basis for the existence of the United Nations, and the obligation of states to ensure that transgressors are punished.

» Yasmin Sooka is executive director of the Foundation for Human Rights. She was a juror for the Russell Tribunal    

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