The word “apartheid” is the Afrikaans word for “apartness” or “separate.” In 1948, apartheid became the official policy of the white South African government, referring to the laws, policies, and practices established by the South African government to maintain the supremacy of the white minority over the non-white majority.
In 1973, the United Nations General Assembly adopted the International Convention on the Suppression and Punishment of the Crime of Apartheid, defining apartheid as a crime against humanity, not specific to South Africa. The crime of apartheid is defined by “inhuman acts” committed with the purpose of imposing racial segregation and discrimination on a targeted group, and establishing domination of one group over another. The Convention specifically prohibits acts “designed to divide the population...by the creation of separate reserves and ghettos for the members of a racial group or groups, the prohibition of mixed marriages...the expropriation of landed property.” The Convention also prohibits measures that deprive people and organizations of their basic human rights including “the right to work, …the right to education, the right to leave and to return to their country, the right to a nationality, the right to freedom of movement and residence.
How does Israel practice apartheid? In 1948, Israel was founded as a Jewish state on land ethnically cleansed of its indigenous Palestinian population. As a result, most Palestinians became refugees and to this day are not allowed by Israel to return to their lands, despite their internationally recognized right to return as guaranteed by UN General Assembly Resolution 194. Meanwhile, Jewish people from anywhere in the world are entitled to Israeli citizenship through a special law, while the original Palestinian inhabitants of the land, many of whom remain stateless, are barred.
In 1967, Israel annexed the West Bank (including East Jerusalem) and the Gaza Strip, beginning its military occupation of these areas. Since then, Israeli settlements have been built on expropriated Palestinian land in those areas. The colonization of the West Bank continues at a rapid pace, and has been accelerated by Israel’s construction of an apartheid wall, which it continues to build despite the advisory ruling of the International Court of Justice, which found the wall to be illegal.
The West Bank has been carved into isolated cantons, akin to the Bantustans under South African apartheid, to which Palestinians are confined. Palestinians face restricted movement between these Bantustans, which is enforced through an extensive checkpoint system. On a regular basis, Palestinians living in the occupied territories experience frequent harassment, arrest, administrative detention, torture by the Israeli occupying army, incursions and invasions often accompanied by house demolitions, and land confiscations to make room for new Israeli settlements and the apartheid wall.
Since June 2007, Israel (in collaboration with Egypt) has maintained a complete blockade of the Gaza Strip, which has strangled Gaza’s civilian population. In December 2008/January 2009, Israel attacked Gaza’s densely populated civilian areas by land, air, and sea with sophisticated military technologies. In a recent report, Human Rights Watch has joined other human rights organizations in condemning Israel’s brutal and unlawful use of its weaponry during the bombardment of the Gaza Strip.
Aside from the denial of Palestinian refugee rights and Israel’s occupation of the West Bank and Gaza Strip, the minority of Palestinians who do have citizenship in Israel are relegated to the place of second class citizens and are systematically discriminated against by Israeli laws, courts, and society.