Apartheid over Palestine
In December 2019, the United Nations Committee on the Elimination of Racial Discrimination (CERD) completed its most-recent periodic review of Israel’s performance of the UN Convention against Racism (ICERD). CERD’s review cited multiple forms of material discrimination institutionalized in Israel’s policies and practices, especially those affecting human rights to adequate housing and natural resources. At its momentous 100th session, CERD observed Israel’s “racialization” of segregation and apartheid structures erected in the laws and parastatal organizations with the effect and purpose of dispossession and negating the national existence of the Palestinian people on both sides of the Green Line (1948 Armistice Lines).
In advance of the review, Palestinian, regional, and international civil society organisations (CSOs) actively engaged with the committee in the form of pre-session and parallel written reports, as well as oral consultations with the Committee. These organizations included Al-Haq, BADIL, the Palestinian Center for Human Rights (PCHR), Al Mezan Centre for Human Rights, Addameer, the Civic Coalition for Palestinian Rights in Jerusalem (CCPRJ), the Cairo Institute for Human Rights Studies (CIHRS), and Habitat International Coalition – Housing and Land Rights Network (HIC-HLRN). Their 60-page joint parallel report detailed Israel’s foundational institutions, legislation and policies that culminate in the crime of apartheid.
Erasing the Green Line with Cross-border Violations
In their report and a joint statement to the Committee on 2 December 2019, the CSOs examined the continuum of Israeli policy and practice toward the Palestinian people as a whole, resulting in the political, legal, geographic and social fragmentation imposed on the Palestinian people as a pillar of Israel’s apartheid regime. In turn, the Committee adopted observations and recommendations that point out the individual, collective, domestic and extraterritorial obligation of the State of Israel to end racial segregation and apartheid, in particular, with respect to Palestinian people on both sides of the Green Line, as well as those living in exile as refugees since 1948.
Consistent with foregoing reviews, the Committee urged Israel to ensure that its policies and practices “do not discriminate in purpose or in effect against Palestinian citizens of Israel [and] Palestinians in the Occupied Palestinian Territory” (para. 3). In addition, the Committee called on Israel to uphold its obligations toward the Palestinian people in the occupied Palestinian territory (oPt) in good faith and “in accordance with the letter and spirit of the Convention and international law” (paras. 9–10).
Human Rights to Housing, Land, Property and Other Natural Resources
The Committee called on Israel to uphold the rights of the Palestinian people on both sides of the Green Line to land, property, and sovereignty over natural resources, and to review its discriminatory planning and zoning laws, expressing concerns as to ongoing house demolitions in the southern Naqab and in the West Bank, including East Jerusalem, which lead to the displacement and dispossession of the indigenous Palestinian people. In particular, the Committee called on Israel to “take all necessary measures to… stop house demolitions and the eviction of Bedouin people from their homes and ancestral lands” (para. 29), also urging that the State follow-up on its implementation of this recommendation within a year (para. 54). Recalling the illegality of Israeli settler colonies in the occupied Palestinian territory (oPt) and Syrian Golan, the Committee was also “concerned at continuing confiscation and expropriation of Palestinian land, [and] continuing restrictions on access… to natural resources, inter alia, agricultural land and adequate water supply” (para. 42). CERD stressed that Israeli settlements “are not only illegal under international law but are an obstacle to the enjoyment of human rights by the whole population, without distinction as to national or ethnic origin” (para. 4).
The Committee also expressed demanded clarity as to “status and activities of certain quasi-government entities, which carry out specific decision-making functions without being part of the executive structure” (para. 17), such as the World Zionist Organization, the Jewish Agency, and the Jewish National Fund, which are chartered to carry out material discrimination against non-Jewish persons and operate extraterritorially as tax-exempt charities in some 50 other states parties to ICERD. Accordingly, CERD recommended that Israel “[e]nsure that all institutions carrying out governmental functions fully comply with the State party’s international legal obligations and are accountable on equal footing with other executive bodies” (para. 18(b)). The Committee further called on Israel to provide information and to follow up, within a year, on the implementation of this recommendation (para. 54).
In a related process, Israel also underwent its review of its performance under obligations arising from the Covenant on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights. The state party’s fourth report to the Committee on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights in 2018 did not address most of the hanging questions and recommendations. Consistent with foregoing observations, CESCR’s Concluding Observations on Israel in 2019 called on Israel to:
“Immediately halt and reverse all settlement policies and developments in the West Bank, including East Jerusalem, and the Occupied Syrian Golan, and rescind the delegated powers granted to organizations facilitating settlement such as the World Zionist Organization and the Jewish National Fund, and discontinue support to these organizations” (para. 11(d)).
CERD also considered further analysis pointing out how Regional Planning Councils and Admissions Committees, along with the statutory authorities and policies of Zionist institutions, form institutional tools to exclude Palestinian citizens from ownership and use of land, as well as access and use of adequate housing.
Within the oPt,theCommittee remained concerned “at the consequences of policies and practices which amount to segregation, such as the existence…of two entirely separate legal systems and sets of institutions for Jewish communities in illegal settlements on the one hand and Palestinian populations living in Palestinian towns and villages on the other hand.”
The Committee was also “appalled at the hermetic character of the separation of the two groups, who live on the same territory but do not enjoy either equal use of roads and infrastructure or equal access to basic services, lands and water resources.” As highlighted by the Committee, “[s]uch separation is materialized by the implementation of a complex combination of movement restrictions consisting of the Wall, the settlements, roadblocks, military checkpoints, the obligation to use separate roads and a permit regime that impacts the Palestinian population negatively” (para. 22), breaching Article 3 of the Convention, which obliges states to combat and put an end to apartheid.