United Nations Under-Secretary-General and Executive Secretary of the UN Economic and Social Commission for Western Asia (ESCWA) Rima Khalaf pointed out today that it is not an easy matter for a United Nations entity to conclude that a State has established an apartheid regime. In recent years, some have labelled Israeli practices as racist, while others have warned that Israel risks becoming an apartheid State. A few have raised the question as to whether in fact it already has.
Khalaf’s remarks were given during a press conference held this afternoon at the UN House, in Beirut, when she launched a report by ESCWA on “Israeli Practices towards the Palestinian People and the Question of Apartheid.”
Khalaf noted that Israel, encouraged by the international community’s disregard for its continual violations of international law, has succeeded over the past decades in imposing and maintaining an apartheid regime that works on two levels. First, the political and geographic fragmentation of the Palestinian people which enfeebles their capacity for resistance and makes it almost impossible for them to change the reality on the ground. Secondly, the oppression of all Palestinians through an array of laws, policies and practices that ensure domination of them by a racial group and serve to maintain the regime.
The Executive Secretary stressed that the importance of this report is not limited to the fact that it is the first of its kind published by a United Nations body, clearly concluding that Israel is a racial State that has established an apartheid regime. It also provides fresh insight into the cause of the Palestinian people and into how to achieve peace.
Khalaf maintained that the report shows that there can be no solution, be it in the form of two States, or following any other regional or international approach, as long as the apartheid regime imposed by Israel on the Palestinian people as a whole has not been dismantled. Apartheid is a crime against humanity. Not only does international law prohibit that crime, it obliges States and international bodies, and even individuals and private institutions, to take measures to combat it wherever it is committed and to punish its perpetrators. The solution therefore lies in implementing international law, applying the principles of non-discrimination, upholding the right of peoples to self-determination and achieving justice.
Khalaf concluded that the report recognizes that only a ruling by an international tribunal would lend its conclusion that Israel is an apartheid State greater authority. It recommends the revival of the United Nations Centre against Apartheid and the Special Committee against Apartheid, the work of both of which came to an end by 1994, when the world believed that it had rid itself of apartheid with its demise in South Africa. It also calls on States, Governments and institutions to support boycott, divestment and sanctions initiatives and other activities aimed at ending the Israeli regime of apartheid.
The report was prepared, at the request of ESCWA, by two specialists renowned for their expertise in the field: Richard Falk, a former United Nations special rapporteur on the situation of human rights in the Palestinian territories occupied since 1967 and professor emeritus of international law at Princeton University; and Virginia Tilley, a researcher and professor of political science at Southern Illinois University with a wealth of experience in Israeli policy analysis.
Two former special rapporteurs on the situation of human rights in the occupied Palestinian territory, Falk and his predecessor, John Dugard, raised in their reports the issue of whether Israel has actually become an apartheid State and recommended that it be examined more closely. About two years ago, member States requested that the ESCWA secretariat prepare a study on the matter. At the Commission’s twenty-ninth session, held in Doha, Qatar in December 2016, member States adopted a resolution stressing the need to complete the study and disseminate it widely.
The report concludes, on the basis of scholarly enquiry and overwhelming evidence, that Israel has imposed a regime of apartheid on the Palestinian people as a whole, wherever they may be. A regime that affects Palestinians in Israel itself, in the territory occupied in 1967 and in the diaspora.
During the press conference, Khalaf gave the floor to Falk and Tilley who participated by video conference. Falk said that this study concludes with clarity and conviction that Israel is guilty of the international crime of apartheid as a result of the manner in which exerts control over the Palestinian people in their varying circumstances. It reached this important conclusion by treating contentions of Israeli responsibility for the crime of apartheid by rigorously applying the definition of apartheid under international law.
Falk added that the study calls, above all, on the various bodies of the United Nations to consider the analysis and conclusions of this study, and on that basis endorse the central finding of apartheid, and further explore what practical measures might be taken to uphold the purpose of the Convention on the Suppression and Punishment of the Crime of Apartheid. It should also be appreciated that apartheid is a crime of the greatest magnitude, treated by customary international law as peremptory norm, that is a legal standard that is unconditionally valid, applies universally, and cannot be disavowed by governments or international institutions.
For her part, Dr Tilley noted that it has become entirely clear that “we are no longer talking about risk of apartheid but practice of apartheid. There is an urgency for a response as Palestinians are currently suffering from this regime. There are many references to apartheid in polemics on the Israel-Palestine conflict.” She added that reference for a finding of apartheid in Israel-Palestine is not South Africa but International Law. She concluded that the key finding is that Israel has designed its apartheid regime around a strategic fragmentation of the Palestinian people geographically and legally.
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