Israel and the apartheid analogy

Criticism of the Israeli government has repeatedly involved the charge that Israel has practised a system akin to apartheid against Arabs and Palestinians in its occupation of the West Bank.[1] Israel has been described as an "apartheid" state by some scholars, United Nations investigators,[2] human rights groups critical of Israeli policy[3][4] and supporters of the Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions movement against Israel. The description has also been used by several Israeli former politicians.[5] Critics of Israeli policy say that "a system of control" in the Israeli-occupied West Bank, including the ID system; Israeli settlements; separate roads for Israeli and Palestinian citizens around many of these settlements; Israeli military checkpoints; marriage law; the West Bank barrier; use of Palestinians as cheaper labour; Palestinian West Bank exclaves; and inequities in infrastructure, legal rights (e.g. "Enclave law"), and access to land and resources between Palestinians and Israeli residents in the Israeli-occupied territories, resemble some aspects of the South African apartheid regime, and that elements of Israel's occupation constitute forms of colonialism and of apartheid, contrary to international law.[6]

Opponents of the idea of Israeli apartheid in the West Bank argue that the comparison is factually,[7] morally,[7] and historically[8][better source needed] inaccurate and intended to delegitimize Israel (many Arab states still do not recognize Israel).[9][10][11] Opponents state that the West Bank and Gaza are not part of sovereign Israel. They argue that though the internal free movement of Palestinians is heavily regulated by the Israeli government, the territories are governed by the elected Palestinian Authority and Hamas leaders, so they cannot be compared to the internal policies of apartheid South Africa.[12]

With regard to claims of apartheid within Israel-proper, some commentators extend the analogy to include treatment of Arab citizens of Israel, describing their citizenship status as second-class.[20]

Critics of the claim argue that Israel cannot be called an apartheid state because unlike South Africa, which enshrined its racial segregation policies in law, Israeli law is the same for Jewish citizens and other Israeli citizens, with no explicit distinction between race, creed or sex.[23]

However, others believe that certain laws do explicitly or implicitly discriminate on the basis of creed or race, in effect privileging Jewish citizens and disadvantaging non-Jewish, and particularly Arab, citizens of the state. These include the Law of Return, the Ban on Family Unification, and many laws regarding security, land and planning, citizenship, political representation in the Knesset (legislature), education and culture. The Nation-State Bill, which has been met with worldwide condemnation, has also been compared by members of PLO, opposition MPs, and other Arab and Jewish Israelis, to an "apartheid law".[24][25][26][27][28][29][30]

On 12 December, 2019, the Committee on the Elimination of Racial Discrimination decided that it has jurisdiction to investigate a complaint by Palestine against Israel for breaches of its obligations under the International Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Racial Discrimination.[31][32][33]


In 1961, the South African prime minister and architect of South Africa's apartheid policies, Hendrik Verwoerd, dismissed an Israeli vote against South African apartheid at the United Nations, saying, "Israel is not consistent in its new anti-apartheid attitude ... they took Israel away from the Arabs after the Arabs lived there for a thousand years. In that, I agree with them. Israel, like South Africa, is an apartheid state."[34] Since then, a number of sources have used the apartheid analogy in their examination of the Israeli–Palestinian conflict. In the early 1970s, Arabic language magazines of the PLO and PFLP compared the Israeli proposals for a Palestinian autonomy to the Bantustan strategy of South Africa.[34] In 1979 the Palestinian sociologist Elia Zureik argued that while not de jure an apartheid state, Israeli society was characterized by a latent form of apartheid.[35] The concept emerged with some frequency in both academic and activist writings in the 1980–90s,[36] when Uri Davis, Meron Benvenisti, Richard Locke and Anthony Stewart employed the term 'apartheid' to describe Israel's treatment of the Palestinians.

In the 1990s, the term "Israeli apartheid" gained prominence after Israel, as a result of the Oslo Accords, granted the Palestinians limited self-government in the form of the Palestinian Authority and established a system of permits and checkpoints in the Palestinian Territories. The apartheid accusation has gained additional traction following Israel's construction of the West Bank Barrier.[34] By 2013 the analogy between the West Bank and Bantustans of apartheid-era South Africa was widely drawn in international circles.[37] Also in the United States, where the notion had previously been taboo, Israel's rule over the occupied territories was increasingly compared to apartheid.[38][39]

Heribert Adam of Simon Fraser University and Kogila Moodley of the University of British Columbia, in their 2005 book-length study Seeking Mandela: Peacemaking Between Israelis and Palestinians, wrote that controversy over use of the term arises because Israel as a state is unique in the region. He writes that Israel is perceived as a Western democracy and is thus likely to be judged by the standards of such a state. Israel also claims to be a home for the worldwide Jewish diaspora.[40] Adam and Moodley note that Jewish historical suffering has imbued Zionism with a "subjective sense of moral validity" that the whites ruling South Africa never had.[41] They also suggested that academic comparisons between Israel and apartheid South Africa that see both dominant groups as "settler societies" leave unanswered the question of "when and how settlers become indigenous", as well as failing to take into account that Israeli's Jewish immigrants view themselves as returning home.[42] Adam and Moodley stress, "because people give meaning to their lives and interpret their worlds through these diverse ideological prisms, the perceptions are real and have to be taken seriously."[43]

Israeli historian Benny Morris said that those that equate Israeli efforts to separate the two populations to apartheid are effectively trying to undermine the legitimacy of any peace agreement based on a two-state solution.[44]

Hafrada–Apartheid Comparison

Hafrada (Hebrew: הפרדה‎ literally "separation") is the official description of the policy of the government of Israel to separate the Palestinian population in Palestinian territories from the Israeli population.[45][46][47] In Israel, the term is used to refer to the general policy of separation the Israeli government has adopted and implemented over the Palestinians in the West Bank and Gaza Strip.[48][49][50][51][52][53][54][55] The word has been compared to the term "Apartheid" by scholars and commentators,[49][55][56][57] and by some that hafrada and apartheid are equivalent[58][59]

The Israeli West Bank barrier, (Hebrew: גדר ההפרדהGeder Ha'hafrada, 'separation fence')[48] the associated controls on the movement of Palestinians posed by West Bank Closures;[48][50][60] and Israel's unilateral disengagement from Gaza have been cited as examples of hafrada.[48][50][60][61] Aaron Klieman has distinguished between partition plans based on hafrada, which he translated as "detachment"; and hipardut, translated as "disengagement."[62]

Since its first public introductions, the concept-turned-policy or paradigm has dominated Israeli political and cultural discourse and debate.[45][48][63]

In 2014, United Nations Special Rapporteur Richard A. Falk used the term in his "Report of the Special Rapporteur on the situation of human rights in the Palestinian territories occupied since 1967".[64][65][66]

Crime of apartheid and Israel

In 1973 the International Convention on the Suppression and Punishment of the Crime of Apartheid (ICSPCA) was adopted by the United Nations General Assembly.[67] The ICSPCA defines the crime of apartheid as "inhuman acts committed for the purpose of establishing and maintaining domination by one racial group ... over another racial group ... and systematically oppressing them".[68] In 2002 the crime of apartheid was further defined by Article 7 of the Rome Statute of the International Criminal Court as encompassing inhumane acts such as torture, murder, forcible transfer, imprisonment, or persecution of an identifiable group on political, racial, national, ethnic, cultural, religious, or other grounds, "committed in the context of an institutionalized regime of systematic oppression and domination by one racial group over any racial group or groups and committed with the intention of maintaining that regime".[69]

In a 2007 report, U.N. Special Rapporteur for Palestine John Dugard stated, "elements of the Israeli occupation constitute forms of colonialism and of apartheid, which are contrary to international law" and suggested that the "legal consequences of a prolonged occupation with features of colonialism and apartheid" be put to the International Court of Justice.[70] In 2009, South Africa's statutory research agency the Human Sciences Research Council (HSRC) published a legal study finding that, "the State of Israel exercises control in the [Occupied Palestinian Territories] with the purpose of maintaining a system of domination by Jews over Palestinians and that this system constitutes a breach of the prohibition of apartheid." In March 2011, U.N. Special Rapporteur for Palestine Richard A. Falk said, "The continued pattern of settlement expansion in East Jerusalem combined with the forcible eviction of long-residing Palestinians is creating an intolerable situation ... [and] can only be described in its cumulative impact as a form of ethnic cleansing."[71]

The question of whether Israelis and Palestinians can be said to constitute "racial groups" has been a point of contention in regard to the applicability of the ICSPCA and Article 7 of the Rome Statute. Political writer Ronald Bruce St John has argued that in regards to the ICSPCA Israeli policy in the West Bank cannot technically be defined as apartheid, because it lacks the racial component. However he then states that with the 2002 introduction of the Rome Statute of the International Criminal Court "the emphasis shifts to an identifiable national, ethnic or cultural group, as opposed to a racial group," in which case "Israeli policy in the West Bank clearly constitutes a form of apartheid with an effect on the Palestinian people much the same as apartheid had on the non-White population in South Africa."[67] The HSRC's 2009 report states that in the Occupied Palestinian Territories, Jewish and Palestinian identities are "socially constructed as groups distinguished by ancestry or descent as well as nationality, ethnicity, and religion". On this basis, the study concludes that Israeli Jews and Palestinian Arabs can be considered "racial groups" for the purposes of the definition of apartheid in international law.[72] Jacques De Maio, head of the International Committee of the Red Cross, rejected the claim that there is apartheid in Israel, saying there is "no regime of superiority of race, of denial of basic human rights to a group of people because of their alleged racial inferiority. There is a bloody national conflict, whose most prominent and tragic characteristic is its continuation over the years, decades-long, and there is a state of occupation. Not apartheid."[73]

Analysis coordinated by Human Sciences Research Council

In 2009, a study was commissioned and coordinated by the Human Sciences Research Council of South Africa on Israel’s practices in the occupied Palestinian territories under international law.[72]

The report cautioned against focusing exclusively on events within Israel proper and avoiding analysis of Israeli policies in the Occupied Territories.[74] The report noted that one of the most 'notorious' aspects of the Apartheid policy was the 'racial enclave policy' manifested in the Black Homelands called bantustans, and added: "As the apartheid regime in South Africa, Israel justifies these measures under the pretext of 'security'. Contrary to such claims, they are in fact part of an overall regime aimed at preserving demographic superiority of one racial group over the other in certain areas".[75]

According to the report Israel's practices in the occupied Palestinian territories correlate almost entirely with the definition of apartheid as established in Article 2 of the International Convention on the Suppression and Punishment of the Crime of Apartheid. Comparison to South African laws and practices by the apartheid regime also found strong correlations with Israeli practices, including violations of international standards for due process (such as illegal detention); discriminatory privileges based on ascribed ethnicity (legally, as Jewish or non-Jewish); draconian enforced ethnic segregation in all parts of life, including by confining groups to ethnic "reserves and ghettoes"; comprehensive restrictions on individual freedoms, such as movement and expression; a dual legal system based on ethno-national identity (Jewish or Palestinian); denationalization (denial of citizenship); and a special system of laws designed selectively to punish any Palestinian resistance to the system.

Initially released as a report, the report was later edited and published in 2012 (by Pluto Press) as Beyond Occupation: Apartheid, Colonialism and International Law in the Occupied Palestinian Territories.[76]

Issues in Israel proper

Adam and Moodley wrote that Israeli Palestinians are "restricted to second-class citizen status when another ethnic group monopolizes state power" because of legal prohibitions on access to land, as well as the unequal allocation of civil service positions and per capita expenditure on educations between "dominant and minority citizens." [77]

South African Judge Richard Goldstone, writing in The New York Times in October 2011, said that while there exists a degree of separation between Israeli Jews and Arabs, "in Israel, there is no apartheid. Nothing there comes close to the definition of apartheid under the 1998 Rome Statute". Concerning the West Bank, Goldstone wrote that the situation "is more complex. But here too there is no intent to maintain 'an institutionalized regime of systematic oppression and domination by one racial group'."[78][79] Goldstone also wrote in The New York Times, "the charge that Israel is an apartheid state is a false and malicious one that precludes, rather than promotes, peace and harmony."[80]

Ian Buruma has argued that even though there is social discrimination against Arabs in Israel and that "the ideal of a Jewish state smacks of racism", the analogy is "intellectually lazy, morally questionable and possibly even mendacious". Buruma argued that Arabs make up 20% of the Israeli population, and "enjoy full citizen's rights" adding that there is no apartheid within the national territory of the State of Israel.[81]

Fifty-three faculty members from Stanford University signed a letter expressing the view that "the State of Israel has nothing in common with apartheid" within its national territory. They argued that Israel is a liberal democracy in which Arab citizens of Israel enjoy civil, religious, social, and political equality. They said that likening Israel to apartheid South Africa was a "smear" and part of a campaign of "malicious propaganda".[82]


There has been a steady extension of Israeli Arab rights to lease or purchase land formerly restricted to Jewish applicants, such as that owned by the Jewish National Fund or the Jewish Agency. These groups, established by Jews during the Ottoman period to aid in building up a viable Jewish community in Ottoman Palestine, purchased land, including arid desert and swamps, that could be reclaimed, leased to and farmed by Jews, thus encouraging Jewish immigration. After the establishment of the state of Israel, the Israel Lands Authority oversaw the administration of these properties. On 8 March 2000, the Israeli Supreme Court ruled that Israeli Arabs, too, had an equal right to purchase long-term leases of such land, even inside previously solely Jewish communities and villages. The court ruled that the government may not allocate land based on religion or ethnicity and may not prevent Arab citizens from living wherever they choose: "The principle of equality prohibits the state from distinguishing between its citizens on the basis of religion or nationality," Chief Justice Aharon Barak wrote. "The principle also applies to the allocation of state land.... The Jewish character of the state does not permit Israel to discriminate between its citizens."[83] Commenting on this ruling, the British philosopher Bernard Harrison has written, in a book chapter dealing with the "apartheid Israel" accusation: "No doubt much more needs to be done. But we are discussing, remember, the question of whether Israel is, or is not, an 'apartheid state'. It is not merely hard, but impossible, to imagine the South African Supreme Court, under the premiership of Hendrik Verwoerd, say, delivering an analogous decision, because to have done so would have struck at the root of the entire system of apartheid, which was nothing if not a system for separating the races by separating the areas they were permitted to occupy."[84]

In 2006, Chris McGreal of The Guardian stated that as a result of the government's control over most of the land in Israel, the vast majority of land in Israel is not available to non-Jews.[85] In 2007 in response to a 2004 petition filed by Adalah, the Legal Center for Arab Minority Rights in Israel, Attorney General Menachem Mazuz ruled that the policy was discriminatory, it has been ruled that the JNF must sell land to non-Jews, and will be compensated with other land for any such land to ensure that the overall amount of Jewish-owned land in Israel remains unchanged.[86]

Community settlements legislation

In the early 2000s, several community settlements in the Negev and the Galilee were accused of barring Arab applicants from moving in. In 2010, the Knesset passed legislation that allowed admissions committees to function in smaller communities in the Galilee and the Negev, while explicitly forbidding committees to bar applicants on the basis of race, religion, sex, ethnicity, disability, personal status, age, parenthood, sexual orientation, country of origin, political views, or political affiliation.[87][88] Critics, however, say the law gives the privately run admissions committees a wide latitude over public lands, and believe it will worsen discrimination against the Arab minority.[89]

Israeli citizenship law

The Knesset passed Citizenship and Entry into Israel Law in 2003 as an emergency measure after Israel had suffered its worst ever spate of suicide bombings[90] and after several Palestinians who had been granted permanent residency on the grounds of family reunification took part in terrorist attacks in Israel.[91] The law makes inhabitants of Iran, Afghanistan, Lebanon, Libya, Sudan, Syria, Iraq, Pakistan, Yemen, and areas governed by the Palestinian Authority ineligible for the automatic granting of Israeli citizenship and residency permits that is usually available through marriage to an Israeli citizen. This applies equally to a spouse of any Israeli citizen, whether Arab or Jewish, but in practice the law mostly affects Palestinian Israelis living in the towns bordering the West Bank.[90] The law was intended to be temporary but has since been extended annually.[92][93]

In the Israeli Supreme Court decision on this matter, Deputy Chief Justice Mishael Cheshin argued that, "Israeli citizens [do not] enjoy a constitutional right to bring a foreign national into Israel ... and it is the right—moreover, it is the duty—of the state, of any state, to protect its residents from those wishing to harm them. And it derives from this that the state is entitled to prevent the immigration of enemy nationals into it—even if they are spouses of Israeli citizens—while it is waging an armed conflict with that same enemy."[94]

The law was upheld in May 2006, by the Supreme Court of Israel on a six to five vote. Israel's Chief Justice, Aharon Barak, sided with the minority on the bench, declaring: "This violation of rights is directed against Arab citizens of Israel. As a result, therefore, the law is a violation of the right of Arab citizens in Israel to equality."[95] Zehava Gal-On, one of the founders of B'Tselem and a Knesset member with the Meretz-Yachad party, stated that with the ruling "The Supreme Court could have taken a braver decision and not relegated us to the level of an apartheid state."[96] The law was also criticized by Amnesty International[97] and Human Rights Watch.[98] In 2007, the restriction was expanded to citizens of Iran, Iraq, Syria and Lebanon.[93]

Heribert Adam and Kogila Moodley cite the marriage law as an example of how Arab Israelis "resemble in many ways 'Colored' and Indian South Africans".[14] They write: "Both Israeli Palestinians and Colored and Indian South Africans are restricted to second-class citizen status when another ethnic group monopolizes state power, treats the minorities as intrinsically suspect, and legally prohibits their access to land or allocates civil service positions or per capita expenditure on education differentially between dominant and minority citizens."

In June 2008 after the law was extended for another year, Amos Schocken, the publisher of the Israeli daily Haaretz, wrote in an opinion article, that the law severely discriminates when comparing the rights of young Israeli Jewish citizens and young Israeli Arab citizens who marry, and that its existence in the law books turns Israel into an apartheid state.[99]


Sign in front of the Galil school, a joint ArabJewish primary school in Israel

Separate and unequal education systems were a central part of apartheid in South Africa, as part of a deliberate strategy designed to limit black children to a life of manual labor. Some disparities between Jews and Arabs in Israel's education system exist, although they are not nearly so significant and the intent not so malign.[85] The Israeli Pupils' Rights Law of 2000 prohibits educators from establishing different rights, obligations and disciplinary standards for students of different religions. Educational institutions may not discriminate against religious minorities in admissions or expulsion decisions, or when developing curricula or assigning students to classes.[100] Unlike apartheid South Africa, in Israel, education is free and compulsory for all citizens, from elementary school to the end of high school, and university access is based on uniform tuition for all citizens.[101]

Israel has Hebrew-language and Arabic-language schools, while some schools are bilingual. Most Arabs study in Arabic, while a small number of Arab parents choose to enroll their children in Hebrew schools. All of Israel's eight universities use Hebrew.[85] In 1992 a government report concluded that nearly twice as much money was allocated to each Jewish child as to each Arab pupil.[85] Likewise, a 2004 Human Rights Watch report identified significant disparities in education spending and stated that discrimination against Arab children affects every aspect of the education system. Exam pass-rate for Arab pupils were about one-third lower than that for their Jewish compatriots.[85] In 2007, Israeli Education Ministry announced a plan to increase funding for schools in Arab communities. According to a ministry official, "At the end of the process, a lot of money will be directed toward schools with students from families with low education and income levels, mainly in the Arab sector."[102] The Education Ministry prepared a five-year plan to close the gaps and raise the number of students eligible for high school matriculation.[103]

Population Registry Law

Chris McGreal, The Guardian's former chief Israel correspondent, compared Israel's Population Registry Law of 1965, which requires all residents of Israel to register their nationality, to South Africa's Apartheid-era Population Registration Act, which categorized South Africans according to racial definitions in order to determine who could live in what land. According to McGreal, the Israeli identification cards determine where people are permitted to live, affects access to some government welfare programs, and has impact on how people are likely to be treated by civil servants and policemen.[85]

'Jewish State' bill

The 'Jewish State' bill, which was passed July 2018, explicitly restricts the right of self-determination to Jews.[104][105][106] The bill would also allow the establishment of segregated towns in which residency would be restricted by religion or nationality — which has been compared to the 1950 Group Areas Act which established apartheid in South Africa.[107][108] Opposition members and other commentators have warned that the bill would establish or consolidate an apartheid regime;[108][109] a Haaretz editorial described it as "a cornerstone of apartheid".[110]

The Ministerial Committee for Legislation unanimously approved the bill in May 2017.[110]

Issues in the West Bank and Gaza Strip

Under Israeli military occupation

Leila Farsakh, associate professor of Political Science at University of Massachusetts Boston has said that after 1977, "the military government in the West Bank and Gaza Strip (WBGS) expropriated and enclosed Palestinian land and allowed the transfer of Israeli settlers to the occupied territories." She notes that settlers continued to be governed by Israeli laws, and that a different system of military law was enacted "to regulate the civilian, economic and legal affairs of Palestinian inhabitants." She says "[m]any view these Israeli policies of territorial integration and societal separation as apartheid, even if they were never given such a name."[111]

Under Palestinian Authority

Arabs living in the West Bank and Gaza Strip, areas occupied by Israel in the 1967 Six-Day War and deemed to be occupied territory under international law, are under the civil control of the Palestinian Authority, and are not Israeli citizens. In some areas of the West Bank, they are under Israeli security control.[citation needed]

Former U.S. President Jimmy Carter authored a 2006 book titled Palestine: Peace Not Apartheid. Carter's use of the term "apartheid" was calibrated to avoid specific accusations of racism against the government of Israel, and carefully limited to the situation in Gaza and the West Bank. In a letter to the Board of Rabbis of Greater Phoenix, Carter made it clear that he was not discussing the circumstances within Israel but exclusively within Gaza and the West Bank.[112]

In 2007, in advance of a report from the United Nations Human Rights Council, Special Rapporteur John Dugard said that "Israel's laws and practices in the OPT [occupied Palestinian territories] certainly resemble aspects of apartheid." Dugard asked: "Can it seriously be denied that the purpose [...] is to establish and maintain domination by one racial group (Jews) over another racial group (Palestinians) and systematically oppressing them?"[113][114] In October 2010, Richard A. Falk reported to the General Assembly Third Committee that "the nature of the occupation as of 2010 substantiates earlier allegations of colonialism and apartheid in evidence and law to a greater extent than was the case even three years ago." Falk described it as a "cumulative process" and said "the longer it continues...the more serious is the abridgment of fundamental Palestinian rights."[115]

Israeli Defense Minister and former prime minister Ehud Barak stated in 2010 regarding the occupied territories that "As long as in this territory west of the Jordan River there is only one political entity called Israel it is going to be either non-Jewish, or non-democratic. If this bloc of millions of Palestinians cannot vote, that will be an apartheid state."[5][116]

Under State of Palestine and Hamas Government in Gaza

In November 2014, former Attorney General of Israel (1993–1996) Michael Ben-Yair urged the European Economic Union to endorse the creation of a Palestinian state, arguing that Israel had imposed an apartheid regime on the West Bank. He stated that the Jews' "national-historical affiliation with the land of Israel" must not come "at the expense of another nation", advocating for co-existence.[117] In 2015, Meir Dagan argued that continuation of Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu's policies would result in an Israel that is either a binational state or an apartheid state. Dagan, a former head of the Israeli agency Mossad, said in particular that the Operation Cast Lead military effort in Palestinian territory had failed.[118]

West Bank barrier

In 2003, a year after Operation Defensive Shield, the Israeli government announced a project of "fences and other physical obstacles" to prevent Palestinians crossing into Israel.[119][120] Several figures, including Mohammad Sarwar, John Pilger, Mustafa Barghouti and others have described the resultant West Bank barrier as an "apartheid wall".[121][122][123][124][125][126]

The barrier has been called an "apartheid wall"[127] by Palestinian Environmental NGOs Network. Israeli officials describe the barrier, constructed in 2002, as a security fence, limiting the ability of Palestinian terrorist groups to enter Israel and making it difficult for them to carry out suicide bombings.[128]

Supporters of the West Bank barrier consider it to be largely responsible for reducing incidents of terrorism by 90% from 2002 to 2005.[129][130] Some Israelis have compared the separation plan to the South African apartheid regime. Political scientist, Meron Benvenisti, wrote that Israel's disengagement from Gaza created a bantustan model for Gaza. According to Benvenisti, Ariel Sharon' intention to disengage from Gaza only after construction of the fence was completed, "along a route that will include all settlement blocs (in keeping with Binyamin Netanyahu's demand), underscores the continuity of the bantustan concept. The fence creates three bantustans on the West Bank - Jenin-Nablus, Bethlehem-Hebron and Ramallah. He called this "the real link between the Gaza and West Bank plans.".[131]

The International Court of Justice ruled in 2004 in an advisory opinion that the wall is illegal where it extends beyond the 1967 Green Line into the West Bank. Israel disagreed with the ruling, but its supreme court subsequently ordered the barrier to be moved in sections where its route was seen to cause more hardship to Palestinians than security concerns could motivate.[132] The Supreme Court of Israel ruled that the barrier is defensive and accepted the government's position that the route is based on security considerations.[133]


Henry Siegman, a former national director of the American Jewish Congress, has stated that the network of settlements in the West Bank has created an "irreversible colonial project" aimed to foreclose the possibility of a viable Palestinian state. According to Siegman, in accomplishing this Israel has "crossed the threshold from 'the only democracy in the Middle East' to the only apartheid regime in the Western world". Siegman argues that denial of both self-determination and Israeli citizenship to Palestinians amounts to a "double disenfranchisement", which when based on ethnicity amounts to racism. Siegman continues to state that reserving democracy for privileged citizens and keeping others "behind checkpoints and barbed wire fences" is the opposite of democracy.[134]

John Dugard has compared Israel's confiscation of Palestinian farms and land, and destruction of Palestinian homes, to similar policies of Apartheid-era South Africa.[135]

A major 2002 study of Israeli settlement practices by the Israeli human rights organization B'Tselem concluded: "Israel has created in the Occupied Territories a regime of separation based on discrimination, applying two separate systems of law in the same area and basing the rights of individuals on their nationality. This regime is the only one of its kind in the world, and is reminiscent of distasteful regimes from the past, such as the apartheid regime in South Africa."

Criminal law

In 2007, the UN Committee on the Elimination of Racial Discrimination reported that Palestinians and Israeli settlers in the occupied territories are subject to different criminal laws, leading to longer detention and harsher punishments for Palestinians than for Israelis for the same offenses.[136] Amnesty International has reported that in the West Bank, Israeli settlers and soldiers who engage in abuses against Palestinians, including unlawful killings, enjoy "impunity" from punishment and are rarely prosecuted. However Palestinians detained by Israeli security forces may be imprisoned for prolonged periods of time, and reports of their torture and other ill-treatment are not credibly investigated.[137][138][139]

John Dugard has compared Israeli imprisonment of Palestinians to policies of Apartheid-era South Africa, saying "Apartheid's security police practiced torture on a large scale. So do the Israeli security forces. There were many political prisoners on Robben Island but there are more Palestinian political prisoners in Israeli jails."[135]

Access to water

The World Bank found in 2009 that Israeli settlements in the West Bank (which amount to 15% of the population of the West Bank) are given access to over 80% of its fresh water resources, despite the fact that the Oslo accords call for "joint" management of such resources. This has created, according to the Bank, "real water shortages" for the Palestinians.[140] In January 2012, the Foreign Affairs Committee of the French parliament published a report describing Israel's water policies in the West Bank as "a weapon serving the new apartheid". The report noted that the 450,000 Israeli settlers used more water than the 2.3 million Palestinians, "in contravention of international law", that Palestinians are not allowed to use the underground aquifers, and that Israel was deliberately destroying wells, reservoirs and water purification plants. Israeli Foreign Ministry spokesman Yigal Palmor said the report was "loaded with the language of vicious propaganda, far removed from any professional criticism with which one could argue intelligently".[141] A report by the Begin–Sadat Center for Strategic Studies concludes that Israel has fulfilled the water agreements it has made with the Palestinians, and the author has commented that the situation is "just the opposite of apartheid" as Israel has provided water infrastructure to more than 700 Palestinian villages.[142][143] The Association for Civil Rights in Israel concluded in 2008 that a segregated road network in the West Bank, expansion of Jewish settlements, restriction of the growth of Palestinian towns and discriminatory granting of services, budgets and access to natural resources are "a blatant violation of the principle of equality and in many ways reminiscent of the Apartheid regime in South Africa". The group reversed its previous reluctance to use the comparison to South Africa because "things are getting worse rather than better", according to spokeswoman Melanie Takefman.[144]

Travel and movement

Huwwara Checkpoint, one of many Israeli checkpoints and closures (dismantled 2011[145]) that restricted the movement of Palestinians in the occupied West Bank and have been compared to the apartheid pass laws.[146][147]

Palestinians living in the non-annexed portions of the West Bank do not have Israeli citizenship or voting rights in Israel, but are subject to movement restrictions of the Israeli government. Israel has created roads and checkpoints in the West Bank with the stated purpose of preventing the uninhibited movement of suicide bombers and militants in the region. The human rights NGO B'Tselem has indicated that such policies have isolated some Palestinian communities and state that Israel's road regime "based on the principle of separation through discrimination, bears striking similarities to the racist apartheid regime that existed in South Africa until 1994".[148][149][150]

The International Court of Justice stated that the fundamental rights of the Palestinian population of the occupied territories are guaranteed by the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights, and that Israel could not deny them on the grounds of security.[151] Marwan Bishara, a teacher of international relations at the American University of Paris, has claimed that the restrictions on the movement of goods between Israel and the West Bank are "a de facto apartheid system".[152] Michael Oren argues that none of this even remotely resembles apartheid, since "the vast majority of settlers and Palestinians choose to live apart because of cultural and historical differences, not segregation, though thousands of them do work side by side. The separate roads were created in response to terrorist attacks – not to segregate Palestinians but to save Jewish lives. And Israeli roads are used by Israeli Jews and Arabs alike."[153]

A permit and closure system was introduced in 1990. Leila Farsakh maintains that this system imposes "on Palestinians similar conditions to those faced by blacks under the pass laws. Like the pass laws, the permit system controlled population movement according to the settlers' unilaterally defined considerations." In response to the al-Aqsa intifada, Israel modified the permit system and fragmented the WBGS [West Bank and Gaza Strip] territorially. "In April 2002 Israel declared that the WBGS would be cut into eight main areas, outside which Palestinians could not live without a permit."[111]

John Dugard has said these laws "resemble, but in severity go far beyond, apartheid's pass system".[147] Jamal Zahalka, an Israeli-Arab member of the Knesset has also said that this permit system is a feature of apartheid.[154] Azmi Bishara, a former Knesset member, argued that the Palestinian situation had been caused by "colonialist apartheid".[155]

B'Tselem wrote in 2004, "Palestinians are barred from or have restricted access to 450 miles of West Bank roads" and has said this system has "clear similarities" with the apartheid regime in South Africa.[156]

In October 2005 the Israel Defense Forces stopped Palestinians from driving on Highway 60, as part of a plan for a separate Road Network for Palestinians and Israelis in the West Bank. The road had been sealed after the fatal shooting of three settlers near Bethlehem. As of 2005, no private Palestinian cars were permitted on the road although public transport was still allowed.

In 2011, Major General Nitzan Alon abolished separate public transportation systems on the West Bank, permitting Palestinians to ride alongside Israelis. The measure has been protested by settlers. The IDF order was reportedly overturned by Moshe Ya'alon who, responding to pressure from settler groups, issued a directive that would deny Palestinians passage on buses running from Israel to the West Bank. In 2014, the decision was said to be made on security grounds, though according to Haaretz, military officials state that Palestinian use of such transport poses no security threat. Justice Minister Tzipi Livini asked the Israeli Attorney General Yehuda Weinstein to examine the ban's legality and Weinstein immediately demanded that Ya'alon provide an explanation for his decision.[157] Israeli security sources were quoted saying the decision had nothing to do with public buses and said that the goal was to supervise the entrance into and exit out of Israeli territory, thereby decreasing the chance of terrorist attacks inside Israel. Critics on the left described the policy as tantamount to apartheid, and something that would render Israel a pariah state.[158]

On 29 December 2009 Israel's High Court of Justice accepted the Association for Civil Rights in Israel's petition against an IDF order barring Palestinians from driving on Highway 443. The ruling should come into effect five months after being issued, allowing Palestinians to use the road.[159] According to plans laid out by the Israeli Defence Forces to implement the court's ruling, Palestinian use of the road is seen to remain limited.[160] In March 2013, the Israeli Afikim bus company announced that, as from 4 March 2013, it would be operating separate bus lines for Jews and Arabs in the occupied territories.[161][162][163]

Comments by South Africans

Anglican Archbishop and Nobel Peace Prize winner Desmond Tutu has commented on the similarities between South Africa and Palestine and the importance of international pressure in ending apartheid in South Africa. He has drawn a parallel between the movement "aiming to end Israeli occupation" and the international pressure that helped end apartheid in South Africa, saying: "If apartheid ended, so can the occupation, but the moral force and international pressure will have to be just as determined."[164] In 2014, Tutu urged the General Assembly of the Presbyterian Church in the United States to divest from companies that contributed to the occupation,[165] saying that Israel "has created an apartheid reality within its borders and through its occupation", and that the alternative to Israel being "an apartheid state in perpetuity" was to end the occupation through either a one-state solution or a two-state solution.[166]

Howard Friel writes that Desmond Tutu "views the conditions in the occupied Palestinian territories as resembling apartheid in South Africa." BBC News reported in 2012 that Tutu "accused Israel of practicing apartheid in its policies towards Palestinians."[167] Both Friel and Israeli author Uri Davis have quoted the following comment from Tutu, published in the Guardian in 2002, in their own work: "I was deeply distressed in my visit to the Holy Land; it reminded me so much of what has happened to us black people in South Africa."[167][168][169] Davis has discussed the Tutu quote in his book Apartheid Israel: Possibilities for the Struggle Within where he has argued that "fundamental apartheid structures of the Israeli polity" with respect to property inheritance rights, access to state land and water resources and access to state welfare resources "fully justify the classification of Israel as an apartheid State."[168]

Other prominent South African anti-apartheid activists have used apartheid comparisons to criticize the occupation of the West Bank, and particularly the construction of the separation barrier. These include Farid Esack, a writer who is currently William Henry Bloomberg Visiting Professor at Harvard Divinity School,[170] Ronnie Kasrils,[171] Winnie Madikizela-Mandela,[172] Denis Goldberg,[173] and Arun Ghandhi,[174]

In 2008 a delegation of African National Congress (ANC) veterans visited Israel and the Occupied Territories, and said that in some respects it was worse than apartheid.[175][176] In May 2018, in the aftermath of the Gaza border protests, the ANC issued a statement comparing the actions of Palestinians to "our struggle against the apartheid regime". It also accused the Israeli military of "the same cruelty" as Hitler, and stated that "all South Africans must rise up and treat Israel like the pariah that it is".[177] Around the same time, the South African government withdrew indefinitely its Ambassador to Israel, Sisa Ngombane, to protest "the indiscriminate and grave manner of the latest Israeli attack".[178]

Human rights lawyer Fatima Hassan, a member of the 2008 ANC delegation, cited the separate roads, different registration of cars, the indignity of having to produce a permit, and long queues at checkpoints as worse than what they had experienced during apartheid. But she also thought the apartheid comparison was a potential "red herring":"... the context is different and the debate on whether this is Apartheid or not deflects from the real issue of occupation, encroachment of more land, building of the wall and the indignity of the occupation and the conduct of the military and police. I saw the check point at Nablus, I met with Palestinians in Hebron, I met the villagers who are against the wall—I met Israeli's and Palestinians who have lost family members, their land and homes. They have not lost hope though—and they believe in a joint struggle against the occupation and are willing in non-violent means to transform the daily direct and indirect forms of injustice and violence. To sum up—there is a transgression that is continuing unabated–call it what you want, apartheid/separation/closure/security—it remains a transgression".[179]

Poster for the 2009 Israeli Apartheid Week, designed by Carlos Latuff.

Gideon Shimoni, professor emeritus of Hebrew University, has said that the analogy is defamatory and say it reflects a double standard when applied to Israel and not to neighboring Arab countries, whose policies towards their own Palestinian minorities have been described as discriminatory.[180] He has said that while apartheid was characterized by racially based legal inequality and exploitation of Black Africans by the dominant Whites within a common society, the Israel–Palestinian conflict reflects "separate nationalisms," in which Israel refuses exploitation of Palestinians and on the contrary seeks separation and "divorce" from Palestinians for legitimate self-defense reasons.[180]

Sasha Polakow-Suransky notes that Israel's labour policies are very different from those of apartheid-era South Africa, and that Israel has never enacted miscegenation laws, and that liberation movements in South Africa and Palestine have had different "aspirations and tactics."[181] This notwithstanding, he argues that the apartheid analogy is likely to gain further legitimacy in coming years unless Israel moves to dismantle West Bank settlements and create a viable Palestinian state.[182] Polakow-Suransky also writes that the response of Israel's defenders to the analogy since 2007 has been "knee-jerk" and based on "vitriol and recycled propaganda" rather than an honest assessment of the situation.[183]


Government responses

A number of sitting Israeli premiers have warned that Israel could become like apartheid South Africa. Prime minister Yizhak Rabin warned in 1976 that Israel risked becoming an apartheid state if it annexed and absorbed the West Bank's Arab population.[5][184] Prime minister Ehud Olmert in 2007 warned that if the two-state solution collapsed, Israel would "face a South African-style struggle for equal voting rights, and as soon as that happens, the state of Israel is finished".[185]

In 2014, U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry warned that if Israel did not make peace soon, under a two-state solution, it could become an apartheid state.[186] In response to Kerry's statement, former South African state president F. W. de Klerk said: "You have Palestinians living in Israel with full political rights. You don’t have discriminatory laws against them, I mean not letting them swim on certain beaches or anything like that. I think it's unfair to call Israel an apartheid state. If Kerry did so, I think he made a mistake."[187]

In March 2011, Toronto Mayor Rob Ford has said that he will not allow city funding for the 2011 Toronto Pride Parade if organizers allow the group Queers Against Israeli Apartheid (QuAIA) march again this year. "Taxpayers dollars should not go toward funding hate speech," Ford said.[188] However, in April 2011, the city manager reported to the city's executive committee that the use of the phrase 'Israeli apartheid' does not violate the City's Anti-discrimination policy, nor does it constitute discrimination under the Canadian Criminal Code or the Ontario Human Rights Code.[189]

In June 2012, the Toronto city council voted to condemn the phrase "Israeli apartheid", as part of a resolution recognizing the gay Pride Toronto parade as a "significant cultural event that strongly promotes the ideals of tolerance and diversity". The resolution said it slams the term Israel Apartheid for undermining the values of Pride and diminishing "the suffering experienced by individuals during the apartheid regime in South Africa".[190]

Former US Ambassador to the United Nations (June 1975 – February 1976), Daniel Patrick Moynihan[191] voiced the strong disagreement of the United States with the General Assembly's resolution declaring that "Zionism is a form of racism and racial discrimination" in 1975 stated that unlike apartheid, Zionism is clearly not a racist ideology. He said that racist ideologies such as apartheid favor discrimination on the grounds of alleged biological differences, yet few people are as biologically heterogeneous as the Jews.[192]

Other responses

Irwin Cotler, a former lawyer for Nelson Mandela, said it was anti-semitic to call Israel an apartheid state because "it involves a call for dismantling Israel." He links this to efforts to delegitimize the Jewish State.[193]

Canadian political scientist Anne Bayefsky wrote that the apartheid label was used by Arab states at the Durban World Conference on Racism in 2001 was part of a campaign to delegitimize Israel and to legitimize violence against Israeli citizens.[194]

UN Response 2019

On 23 April, 2018 Palestine filed an inter-state complaint against Israel for breaches of its obligations under the International Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Racial Discrimination (ICERD).[195] On 12 December, 2019, the Committee on the Elimination of Racial Discrimination decided that it has jurisdiction regarding the complaint[196] and will now commence a review of the Palestinian complaint that Israel’s policies in the West Bank amount to apartheid.[197]

See also


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