Palestinian officials welcome report accusing Israel of 'apartheid'

The explosive allegations were fiercely denounced by Israel

Palestinian Prime Minister Mohammad Shtayyeh gestures as he arrives for a cabinet meeting of the new Palestinian government, in Ramallah, in the Israeli-occupied West Bank April 15, 2019. REUTERS/Mohamad Torokman
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Top Palestinian officials on Tuesday welcomed a report by Human Rights Watch that accused Israel of committing the crime of "apartheid" by seeking to maintain Jewish "domination" over Palestinians and its own Arab population.

The explosive allegations were fiercely denounced by Israel.

Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas called for international action on what he said were “war crimes”.

"It is urgent for the international community to intervene, including by making sure that their states, organisations and companies are not contributing in any way to the execution of war crimes and crimes against humanity in Palestine," he said.

Palestinian Prime Minister Mohammad Shtayyeh also welcomed the report.

It “articulately defines Israeli policies and atrocities against the Palestinian people using the proper legal definition for crimes and criminals,” he said on Tuesday.

HRW said its finding that Israel is "committing the crimes against humanity of apartheid and persecution" against Palestinians was based on robust sourcing including government planning materials and statements by public officials.

The 213-page report finds that the Israeli government is the "single authority" with primary control "over the area between the Jordan River and the Mediterranean Sea".

Currently under investigation by the International Criminal Court for alleged war crimes, Israel blasted HRW's accusations as "preposterous and false", accusing the New York-based group of having "a long-standing anti-Israeli agenda".

"The purpose of this spurious report is in no way related to human rights, but to an ongoing attempt by HRW to undermine the State of Israel's right to exist as the nation state of the Jewish people," Strategic Affairs Minister Michael Biton said.

Israel's Foreign Ministry told AFP the HRW report amounted to a "propaganda pamphlet" from an organisation that has been "actively seeking for years to promote boycotts against Israel".

The ministry said HRW's Israel programme was being "led by a known [BDS] supporter, with no connection to facts or reality on the ground," referring to the pro-Palestinian Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions movement.

The report's author, HRW Israel and Palestine Director Omar Shakir, was expelled from Israel in 2019 over accusations he backs BDS.

Mr Shakir denies that his work and pro-Palestinian statements he made before being appointed to the HRW post in 2016 constitute active support for BDS.

He said HRW also sent the ICC its 2018 report about possible crimes against humanity by Mr Abbas's Palestinian Authority and the Islamist militant Hamas.

But, he told AFP there have been warnings for years that "apartheid is around the corner".

"I think it's quite clear that that threshold has been crossed," Mr Shakir said from Jordan.

Within Israeli controlled territory, there is "an overarching Israeli government policy to maintain the domination by Jewish Israelis over Palestinians," HRW said.

The group said its findings apply to Israeli treatment of Palestinians in the occupied West Bank, the blockaded Gaza Strip, occupied East Jerusalem as well as to Arab Israelis – a term referring to Palestinians who stayed on their land following Israel's creation in 1948.

HRW said that while apartheid was initially coined with respect to the institutional persecution of blacks in South Africa, it was now a universally recognised legal term.

An apartheid system is defined by "an effort to maintain domination by one racial group over another, a context of systematic oppression by the dominant group over the marginalised group [and] inhuman acts," the group said.

Israel has occupied the West Bank since 1967, the same year it annexed east Jerusalem.

Since then, Jewish settlers in both areas have absorbed increased amounts of land.

Palestinians in East Jerusalem and across much of the West Bank are regularly denied building permits, while Jewish home construction has steadily grown.

While HRW is the first major international organisation to level the controversial apartheid charge against Israel, it is following a move made last year by Israeli civil society group B'Tselem.

The settler watchdog charged that the "Israeli regime implements laws, practices and state violence designed to cement the supremacy of one group – Jews – over another – Palestinians."