February 10, 2022
In 1977 Amnesty International (AI) was awarded the Nobel Peace Prize. The Nobel Committee pointed out their unique impact as a defender of “human rights…independent of all governments and…neutral in…relation to political groups, ideologies, and religious dividing lines.” Over decades, Amnesty International has been a welcome beacon, spotlighting the plight of those victimized by tyrannical, brutal governments, urging those of goodwill to speak out and act in their defense. Their research became so trusted that the US State Department regularly cites its research as trusted evidence when it speaks out about human rights violations by governments across the globe.
Just days ago, Amnesty International released another in-depth report. Based on four years of research, the report took a deep dive into Israel/Palestine. By daring to look at conditions in this troubled part of the world, Amnesty International instantly went from being trusted and respected to being labeled as an anti-Semitic demon by the Israeli Government and their supporters worldwide including our State Department.
What was the sin they were being pilloried for?
They simply refused to shut their eyes to the reality on the ground. Page after page, for 280 pages, “Israel’s Apartheid Against Palestinians: Cruel System of Domination and Crime Against Humanity” documents evidence that led AI to conclude that the State of Israel had “has perpetrated the international wrong of apartheid…that almost all of Israel’s civilian administration and military authorities, as well as governmental and quasi-governmental institutions, are involved in the enforcement of the system of apartheid…that the patterns of proscribed acts perpetrated by Israel both inside Israel and in the OPT form part of a systematic as well as a widespread attack directed against the Palestinian population…[that Israel ]has committed…the crime against humanity of apartheid under both the Apartheid Convention and the Rome Statute.“
Amnesty International looked at Israel’s practice of land acquisition and its control of Palestinian life, finding that (bold added for emphasis) “in the course of establishing Israel as a Jewish state in 1948, its leaders were responsible for the mass expulsion of hundreds of thousands of Palestinians and the destruction of hundreds of Palestinian villages in what amounted to ethnic cleansing….They chose to coerce Palestinians into enclaves within the State of Israel, the West Bank and Gaza Strip…They have appropriated the vast majority of Palestinians’ land and natural resources….They have introduced laws, policies and practices that systematically and cruelly discriminate against Palestinians…”
Amnesty International directly challenged the mythology that Israel is a beacon of democracy that ensures equality for its Palestinian citizens and challenged the claim that those rights are also protected by the supposed autonomy of the Palestinian Authority. “While Israeli laws and policies define the state as democratic, the fragmentation of the Palestinian people ensures that Israel’s version of democracy overwhelmingly privileges political participation by Jewish Israelis…Despite the establishment of the Palestinian Authority, more than 1,800 Israeli military orders continue to control and restrict all aspects of the lives of Palestinians in the West Bank: their livelihoods, status, movement, political activism, detention and prosecution, and access to natural resources. Since 1967, the Israeli authorities have arrested over 800,000 Palestinian men, women and children in the West Bank, including East Jerusalem, and Gaza Strip, bringing many of them before military courts that systematically fail to meet international standards of fair trial, and where the vast majority of cases end in conviction. “
Amnesty International highlights the impact of these policies on the economic lives of Palestinians living under Israeli control. “Palestinians…experience higher rates of poverty, and lower levels of labour force participation, educational attainment and health than Jewish Israelis, including settlers living in the occupied West Bank…Israel maintains Jewish domination over the Palestinian economy through the exclusion and intentional neglect of Palestinian communities inside Israel, and the creation of a regime of economic dependency in the OPT (Occupied Palestinian Territories) in the context of a prolonged military occupation. “
Damningly, “Amnesty International concludes that the State of Israel considers and treats Palestinians as an inferior non-Jewish racial group. …The segregation is conducted in a systematic and highly institutionalized manner through laws, policies and practices, all of which are intended to prevent Palestinians from claiming and enjoying equal rights to Jewish Israelis within the territory of Israel and within the OPT, and thus are intended to oppress and dominate the Palestinian people.” Wherever Palestinians live, and what ever the differences are in the legal frameworks that they live under all are controlled and coordinated by the Israeli government. In Amnesty’s perspective, this is the hallmark of Apartheid in this part of the world.
Amnesty International was not the first human rights organization to reach this conclusion and to accuse Israel of the crime of Apartheid. They were preceded by an extensive list of other organizations who, after they did their own investigation, reached the same conclusion:
- Palestinian Center for Human Rights
- Breaking the Silence
- Yesh Din
- Physicians for Human Rights – Israel
- European Council on Foreign Relations
- Kerem Navot
- War on Want
- Adalah Justice Project
- US Campaign for Palestinian Rights
- Human Rights Watch
If not the first they are, perhaps, the most prominent. The proof of this conclusion comes in the speed, breadth, and venom of voices that immediately denounced the report, denounced the accusation, and accused AI of being antisemitic because it questioned official Israeli policies. These voices and organizations were so threatened by AI that they began to speak before the report was officially published. Publishing the day before the report was released, The Forward reported that “In response, The Conference of Presidents of Major American Jewish Organizations, the Anti-Defamation League, American Israel Public Affairs Committee, American Jewish Committee, B’nai B’rith International and the Jewish Federations of North America slammed the “biased and one-sided report” and accused Amnesty of presenting an “unbalanced, inaccurate and incomplete review.” The report “inexplicably focuses on one aim: to demonize and delegitimize the Jewish and democratic State of Israel,” they charged.”
NGO Monitor, again before the report was released publicly, labeled AI as anti-Semitic. “Amnesty’s report can be considered antisemitic according to the IHRA definition of antisemitism, which notes that: “Denying the Jewish people their right to self-determination, e.g., by claiming that the existence of a State of Israel is a racist endeavor. Likewise, Amnesty’s report criminalizes Israeli laws and practices designed to safeguard Jewish identity – such as the Law of Return – which are enshrined under international law and parallel the practices of many nation-states.”
Central to Amnesty International’s conclusion is the stark reality that in all spheres of their lives and in every part of Israel/Palestine Israeli law and Policy treat Israeli Jews differently and preferentially. Jews have a right of return but Palestinians do not. Jews have the right to reclaim property lost during the War of Independence but Palestinians do not. Jews have a right of reunifying their families and Palestinians do not. And these are just some of the differences that led AI to conclude the conditions for Apartheid.
Gideon Levy, columnist for the Israeli newspaper Haaretz put the issue to doubters of AI’s research in a series of telling questions. “Was Israel not founded on an explicit policy of maintaining Jewish demographic hegemony, while reducing the number of Palestinians within its boundaries? Yes or no? True or false? Does this policy not exist to this day? Yes or no? True or false? Does Israel not maintain a regime of oppression and control of Palestinians in Israel and in the occupied territories for the benefit of Israeli Jews? Yes or no? True or false? Do the rules of engagement with Palestinians not reflect a policy of shoot to kill, or at least maim? Yes or no? True or false? Are the evictions of Palestinians from their homes and the denial of construction permits not part of Israeli policy? Yes or no? True or false? Is Sheikh Jarrah not apartheid? Is the nation-state law not apartheid? And the denial of family reunification? And the unrecognized villages? And the “Judaization”? Is there a single sphere, in Israel or the territories, in which there is true, absolute equality, except in name?”
Just dismissing these tough questions does not make them go away. In doing so, Israel and its supporters simply ignore the glaring reality that is right in front of their faces. If one challenges the policies and practices that discriminate on behalf of Jews because they are Jews, you are being antisemitic, end of discussion. And if these practices inflict ongoing, significant harm on Palestinian men, women, and children because they are Palestinians and not Jews, that is to be ignored. To protest is to hate Jews.
Amnesty International and the other Human Rights Organizations have done their jobs bravely.
As a Jew, because I am a Jew, I applaud AI. Israel’s policies offend me. In the name of a people whose religion teaches “That which is hateful to you, do not do to your fellow. That is the whole Torah.” So, I must then ask, how can we turn our back on what is in front of our eyes just because it is to our benefit?
Solving the Gordian knot that has been created since 1948 will not be easy. The solutions that Amnesty International proposed at the end of their investigation may or may not be the correct ones. But the wrong of what is being done in the name of the Jewish People by the State of Israel and those who are blindly supporting it will not end by ignoring that wrong. Only when we are all ready to open our eyes will there be a hope that a resolution can be reached. And only then will that resolution be one that is not a brutal beat down by one side or the other.