Amnesty International on Tuesday accused Israel of a crime against humanity in its treatment of Palestinians, while criticising other countries for emboldening a regime committing apartheid.
In a report compiled over more than four years, the global rights organisation analysed decades of legislation and policy which it said proved Palestinians were treated as an inferior racial group.
“Israel has established and maintained an institutionalised regime of oppression and domination of the Palestinian population for the benefit of Jewish Israelis — a system of apartheid — wherever it has exercised control over Palestinians’ lives since 1948,” Amnesty said.
Israel’s Ministry of Foreign Affairs dismissed the findings as “false, biased and anti-Semitic”, while the US called it "absurd".
Agnes Callamard, Amnesty’s secretary general, said research had shown an “extremely worrisome” and worsening situation for Palestinians.
“I’m not sure that people outside [of] here understand what apartheid looks like here,” she told The National in Jerusalem.
“The reality of it is extremely disturbing.”
The report comes more than a year after Israeli rights group B'Tselem accused Israel of apartheid, followed by Human Rights Watch in April.
Through more than 200 pages, Amnesty detailed a system that reportedly discriminates against Palestinians in everything from family life to a shoot-to-kill policy.
The report quotes various Israeli political leaders whose statements demonstrate their explicit “intention to maintain this system” of apartheid, Amnesty said.
The organisation strongly criticised other countries for issuing “formulaic condemnations” following reported crimes committed by Israel.
“The international community has stood by as Israel has been given free rein to dispossess, segregate, control, oppress and dominate Palestinians,” the report said.
Amnesty named the EU, UK and US as having particularly close ties to Israel and called on them to “not support the system of apartheid”.
It pressed the UN Security Council to impose sanctions on Israeli officials “most implicated in the crime of apartheid” and an arms embargo on Israel.
US Ambassador Tom Nides said Amnesty's conclusion that Israel is committing apartheid is "absurd".
"That is not language that we have used and will not use," he wrote on Twitter.
The UK said it engaged in “encouraging the government of Israel to abide by its obligations under international law".
Many of the issues raised have attracted international attention in recent months.
They include demonstrations in occupied East Jerusalem, particularly in the Sheikh Jarrah neighbourhood and Al Aqsa Mosque compound, which Amnesty said were met with “brutal repression”.
Protests mounted last year over Palestinians being threatened with eviction under a law that allows deed holders to reclaim land that was owned by Jews in East Jerusalem before the establishment of Israel in 1948.
Separate legislation bans those residents and all other Palestinians from making equal claims to land or property they owned in what became Israel.
The EU on Tuesday said any state-sanctioned seizure of Palestinian property in occupied territory "risks entrenching a one-state reality of unequal rights, perpetual occupation and conflict".
Amnesty's findings were being given "due attention" by Brussels, which said it would "continue to closely monitor the developments on the ground".
The report also highlights separate legal systems employed in the occupied West Bank, where Israelis are subject to civilian courts, while Palestinians face military law.
The conviction rate of military courts in the West Bank is 99.74 per cent, the report said.
Amnesty also addressed a “planned and persistent policy of shooting to kill or maim Palestinians” by Israeli forces.
UN data show that 5,917 Palestinians have been killed by Israelis since 2008. Over the same period, 261 Israelis were killed by Palestinians.
Other matters detailed in the report include the 15-year Israeli blockade of Gaza, described as “collective punishment” of the enclave’s two million residents.
In rejecting the findings, Israel’s Ministry of Foreign Affairs said the report uses “extremist language” and distorts historical context “to demonise Israel and pour fuel on to the fire of anti-Semitism".
Foreign Minister Yair Lapid described Amnesty as “another radical organisation that echoes propaganda with no serious examination".
Aida Touma-Suleiman, a legislator with the opposition Joint List, said Parliament “is still in its majority living in total denial of the situation".
“What is established is an apartheid regime evolving in front of the world, and the world has to interfere in order to stop this,” she told The National.
Amnesty said it reached out to Israel’s foreign ministry in October regarding the report, but received no response. Its recommendations for the Israeli government include a review of all laws and policies that it identified as discriminatory.
“We recognise the state of Israel. We oppose, denounce anti-Semitism and anti-Semitic acts the world over,” Ms Callamard said on Tuesday.
“But we defend our right and the right of anyone else to critique, impartially and against international human rights law, Israel's treatment of the Palestinians,” she added.