The apartheid claim, Israel and the verdict of international law • City, University of London
Discrimination against Palestinians by Israeli laws and policies amounts to the crime of apartheid, according to a recent Human Rights Watch report. The 213 pages report, released on April 27, accuses Israel of exploiting an apartheid system in the occupied Palestinian territory. He concludes that “in certain areas… they constitute crimes against humanity of apartheid and persecution”.
This is not the first time that the term “apartheid” has been applied to the case of Israel and Palestine. Palestinians described their daily experience in this way since at least the mid-1960s. But the report of the international organization of human rights introduced the term in public debate general public.
Language plays an important role in the rhetoric about Israel and Palestine, as I explain in my book on Israeli activism against occupation and human rights. Referring to the “Israeli-Palestinian conflict”, “the Israeli military occupation”, “Israeli colonialism” or “Israeli apartheid” reflect different ideological perspectives. Beyond the level of rhetoric, these terms also mean different legal frameworks and therefore different obligations for Israelis and Palestinians.
While it is important to determine the accuracy of the report, it is equally important to understand the term “apartheid” and the implications of defining the situation as such.
Origin of the term “ apartheid ”
The word “apartheid” first spread as an ideology and political tool promoted by the National Party government in South Africa, under which they won the 1948 general election. The term is translated from Afrikaans, meaning “membership”. He promoted the separation of different racial groups.
Apartheid initially claimed “allow equal development and freedom of cultural expression“And allow groups to”manage their own affairs“. But in practice, the system has favored the white minority and discriminated against Native (black), colorful and Indian people.
Apartheid was based on the Afrikaner fear that their way of life would be threatened by the “rising tide of color“. The system aimed to reduce the power of non-whites by separating them from each other and dividing the black population along tribal lines.
Legislation imposing racial segregation had been enforced since the mid-1850s. But the overt ideology of the National Party was not enforced until 1950. It was then that the Population Registration Act detailed the basic apartheid framework by classifying all South Africans by race. Until the end of apartheid in the early 1990s, a system of laws ensured the separation of races and the discrimination of non-whites.
An international crime
Since 1962, the United Nations General Assembly has condemned South African apartheid every year as being contrary to the Charter of the United Nations. But it was not until 1973 that the UN declared acts of apartheid as a crime under international law, through the Convention on the Suppression and Punishment of the Crime of Apartheid.
In 2002, the Rome Statute of the International Criminal Court included the crime of apartheid as a “crime against humanity”. This is understood to include “inhumane acts… committed within the context of an institutionalized regime of systematic oppression and domination by one racial group over any other racial group”.
Thus, although the term “apartheid” originated in South Africa and international law was first formulated in response to the situation in South Africa, the crime described under international law is intended to apply to other situations.
Other countries have thus been accused of resorting to practices amounting to the crime of apartheid, in particular China and Saudi Arabia. Human Rights Watch conducted a similar study in the Israeli case and defined the abuses committed against ethnic minorities by the Myanmar government as crimes of apartheid.
Is terminology important?
Although apartheid is becoming a universal legal term, discussions arising from the Human Rights Watch report and previous accusations of Israeli apartheid often focus on the relevance of the term beyond the case of South Africa. Those who apply the term often cite similarities to South African apartheid and those who reject the term point out the differences.
In many cases, the term is used as a rhetorical tool to emphasize the seriousness of the abuses committed and to generate opposition to mimic that of the anti-apartheid movement. Others reject such accusations and use the expression “Israeli-Palestinian conflict”. This implies that there is a bilateral conflict which can only be resolved through negotiations between the two parties.
In South Africa, this is not to deny the existence of an apartheid policy or system. The debate focused on whether those who were racially different should have the same rights.
The terminology used is not just a matter of rhetoric, it determines the legal framework governing the situation. Under current international law, the West Bank, the Golan Heights and East Jerusalem are defined as occupied territories, under Israeli military occupation after the 1967 war. The laws of occupation are taken from the law of international armed conflict.
This legal framework seeks to balance the security interests of the occupying power with the interests of the local population until a solution is found.
The consequences, as explained by a lawyer Eyal benvenisti, are that “at the heart of all professions there is a potential – if not inherent – conflict of interest between occupier and occupied”.
However, it is the occupying forces that have the power to decide where the balance lies. Therefore, much of the opposition to military occupation is to restore balance and protect the rights of the occupied population.
Other considerations and problems arise if the framework is defined differently. Defining the situation using the legal term “apartheid” only points in one direction, accusing one party not only of being illegal, but of committing a crime against humanity. It removes the symmetry arising from the term “conflict” and the justifications for “reasonable” or “proportionate” acts that flow from the legal framework of the occupation. Terminology is important.
And yet, does terminology matter to those who face discrimination and daily violations of their rights? Whether it is apartheid, occupation or conflict, unless concrete steps are taken to resolve the situation, the question seems to remain as to who deserves rights and who does not. and who decides.
Photo: the West Bank separation wall in Bethlehem