By Ben White
21 March 2012
This is Israel in 2012 according to a top UN body. Using unprecedented strong language, the UN Committee on the Elimination of Racial Discrimination (CERD) criticised Israeli policies in terms of “apartheid”, as part of their published observations following a regular review.
Affirming the kind of analysis that Israel’s advocates try to dismiss as lies or rhetorical excess, the Committee slammed Israel for violating the right to equality in numerous policy areas. CERD described “segregation between Jewish and non-Jewish communities”, a lack of “equal access to land and property”, and “the ongoing policy of home demolitions and forced displacement of the indigenous Bedouin communities” in the Negev.
The lack of a “prohibition of racial discrimination” in Israel’s Basic Law was highlighted, and more recent developments, such as the restrictions on family unification affecting Palestinian citizens were also part of CERD’s wide-ranging criticisms.
The Committee’s observations also covered Israel’s policies in the Occupied Territories, showing how the same discriminatory patterns are found on both sides of the Green Line. Israeli settlements in the West Bank form part of a regime of “de facto segregation” severe enough to cause the Committee to remind Israel of the “prohibition” of policies of “apartheid”.
According to Dr David Keane, senior lecturer in law at Middlesex University and author of ‘Caste-based Discrimination in International Human Rights Law’, this is “the most cutting CERD recognition and condemnation of a legal system of segregation since apartheid South Africa”.
CERD’s conclusions echo the stream of reports from Palestine/Israel by respected human rights organisations and observers. Last month, the UN’s Special Rapporteur on the right to adequate housing Raquel Rolnik returned from a visit to Palestine/Israel saying she had witnessed “a land development model that excludes, discriminates against and displaces minorities”, including “the implementation of a strategy of Judaization and control of the territory”.
Human Rights Watch have also recently condemned Israel’s “control over the Palestinian population registry” and the way it has been manipulated to affect “the arbitrary exclusion by the Israeli military of hundreds of thousands of Palestinians since 1967”. In January, the UN Humanitarian Coordinator for the occupied Palestinian territory said Israel was carrying out the “wholesale destruction” of Palestinians’ “homes and livelihoods”.
This is the ‘routine’ nature of colonial rule, something I was reminded of again in person when I made my most recent trip to the region earlier this month. Pass papers and checkpoints, land confiscation and settlements, evictions and exclusive housing developments. As you travel across Palestine/Israel, one is struck not just by how a ‘two state solution’ is dead, but also how what has emerged over the decades is a de facto single state or regime, that across the land between the Jordan River and Mediterranean Sea, controls people’s lives on an ethnocratic basis.
The Israeli government maintains a system that, when examined on the basis of the facts, is racially discriminatory and intended to make sure that land, resources, and certain privileges are kept for the benefit of Jews, at the expense of Palestinians. This is a territory characterised by physically and bureaucratically enforced segregation, that makes a mockery of international law.
Until the appalling, systematic racism that CERD has drawn attention to is challenged, peace will remain elusive. Palestinians denied basic rights, whether with citizenship in the Galilee or under military rule in Bethlehem, need the international community to move beyond reporting on violations – and end them.