– When the UN’s Beirut-based Economic and Social Commission for Western Asia (ESCWA) released a landmark 2017 report on “apartheid” in Israel, the United Nations disassociated itself with the study and left it to die— unceremoniously and unsung.
According to a March 2017 report in Foreign Policy Journal, both the Israeli and the Trump administrations put “enormous pressure on UN Secretary-General António Guterres to withdraw the report”.
But the head of the ESCWA, Rima Khalaf, refused to withdraw it and resigned from her UN position in protest. Later, Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas announced he will award Khalaf the Palestine Medal of the Highest Honor for her “courage and support” for the Palestinian people.
And now, more than four years later, the apartheid policies of Israel have come back to haunt the United Nations with the release, on April 27, of a detailed report which says Israel’s abusive apartheid policies towards Palestinians constitute “crimes against humanity.”
Authored by Human Rights Watch (HRW), a widely known international human rights organizations, the 213-page report, “A Threshold Crossed: Israeli Authorities and the Crimes of Apartheid and Persecution,” singles out “the overarching Israeli government policy to maintain the domination by Jewish Israelis over Palestinians and grave abuses committed against Palestinians living in the occupied territory, including East Jerusalem.”
Originally coined in relation to South Africa, “apartheid” today is a universal legal term, says HRW, pointing out that the prohibition against particularly severe institutional discrimination and oppression or apartheid constitutes a core principle of international law.
But whether the new report will have any impact on the UN is doubtful.
Asked whether the UN should re-visit its own 2017 report on Israel and apartheid, UN spokesperson Farhan Haq told reporters April 27: “Well, again, without characterizing it one way or another, we have been getting the various facts out about the situation on the ground, including in the report, by the way, that you mentioned, which, I believe, the facts of the report were released, and we’ll continue to do that. Ultimately, it’s important to have a solid base of information about what’s happening, and that’s what we try to provide.”
Dr Richard Falk, professor emeritus of international law at Princeton University who co-authored the 2017 UN report, told IPS the narrative of the apartheid discourse (extends) from the original smears at the UN to the B’Tselem Report, and now the HRW Report.
“The Israeli Basic Law of 2018 proclaimed Israel as an apartheid state without using the word,” Falk said.
“The one large issue in which the critical discourse still lags behind what we argued in 2017 is the insistence that Israeli apartheid is best conceptualized by reference to the Palestinian people rather than land”
“We believed this is an essential element because Israeli apartheid unlike South African apartheid created a victimized Palestinian diaspora by way of ethnic cleansing, and still shout the slogan ‘less Arabs, more land,’ said Dr Falk, who served a six-year term as the UN Special Rapporteur on “the situation of human rights in the Palestinian territories occupied since 1967.”
Kenneth Roth, executive director of Human Rights Watch, said “prominent voices have warned for years that apartheid lurks just around the corner if the trajectory of Israel’s rule over Palestinians does not change.”
“This detailed study shows that Israeli authorities have already turned that corner and today are committing the crimes against humanity of apartheid and persecution,” he added.
Dr. Ramzy Baroud, a journalist and Editor of The Palestine Chronicle, told IPS the HRW report was indeed historic, though overdue. “As pointed out by an equally earth-shattering UN report in March 2017, Israel is already an apartheid state”.