23rd January 2021
The Israeli democratic rights group, B’Tselem, which tracks human rights violations, published a report this month claiming that the Israeli state is effectively running a system of apartheid in relation to its treatment of the Palestinian population in the occupied Gaza Strip and West Bank.
“Israel is not a democracy that has a temporary occupation attached to it,” said the body’s executive director, Hagai El-Ad. “It is one regime between the Jordan River to the Mediterranean Sea, and we must look at the full picture and see it for what it is: apartheid.”
The response of the Israeli establishment has been predictably dismissive with Ohad Zemet, the spokesperson for Israel’s UK embassy, dismissing the report as “a propaganda tool”, stating that,
“Israel rejects the false claims in the so-called report as it is not based on reality but on a distorted ideological view.”
B’Tselem’s report illustrates that Israel has created a system over all of the state of Israel and the illegally occupied territories, in which Jewish citizens have full rights. Palestinians on the other hand are divided into four tiers with various levels of rights depending on where they live, but always below Jewish people.
At the lowest end are the roughly 2 million Palestinians in the Gaza Strip, ruled by the militant group, Hamas, subject to an Israeli blockade, which effectively gives the Israeli state complete control over people, goods and services which can enter or leave the territory.
Only slightly better off are the roughly 2.7 million Palestinian “subjects” in the West Bank, who are described by B’Tselem as living in “dozens of disconnected enclaves, under rigid military rule and without political rights”.
The roughly 350,000 Palestinians who live in East Jerusalem fare marginally better. Although Israel has offered citizenship to these residents, many have refused on principle and the rejection rate is high for those that try.
Palestinian citizens of Israel, also called Arab-Israelis, have full citizenship and make up about a fifth of the population of Israel. However, as B’Tselem point out, they are also subject to land ownership discrimination, immigration laws that favour Jews and laws that give Jewish people extra political rights.
While Israeli Prime Minister, Benjamin Netanyahu, has put on hold plans to annexe part of the West Bank, B’Tselem argue that there is already a “de facto” annexation, with more than 400,000 Jewish settlers living there and enjoying the same rights, and many of the same services, as other Israelis.
The report comes at a time when the Israelis are gaining huge international media profile for their COVID-19 rapid vaccination programme, with 25% of the 9 million population already having had a first shot and 850,000 a second jab, including 80% of the population over 60 years old.
However, while the Jewish population enjoy the benefits of vaccine protection the Palestinian population are excluded from the programme. In the West Bank the vaccine is distributed to Jewish ‘settlers’ but not to the Palestinian population. In Gaza the impact of the Israeli blockade makes a desperate situation even worse, with even routine medical supplies being difficult to access.
The route to the vaccine for Palestinians is through the World Health Organisation (WHO) programme, Covax, designed to support poorer nations gain access to vaccines. Even this route, should supplies get through, would only see vaccines reaching the Palestinian population by mid-February at the earliest. Gerald Rockenschaub, the head of office at WHO Jerusalem, said it could be “early to mid-2021” before vaccines on the Covax scheme were available for distribution to the Palestinian territories.
While Israelis claim that they are not responsible for the Palestinians in the occupied territories, the ongoing occupation places humanitarian and legal obligations upon the Israeli state. Moreover, while the Israeli rapid vaccination programme aims for a quick return to some form of normality, Palestinians could remain trapped by the virus. That may have a negative impact on Israel’s goal of herd immunity, as thousands of West Bank Palestinians work in Israel and the settlements, which could keep infection rates up.
Israel’s obligations under international humanitarian law include a duty to maintain “public health and hygiene in the occupied territory, with particular reference to the adoption and application of the prophylactic and preventive measures necessary to combat the spread of contagious diseases and epidemics” (Article 56 of the Fourth Geneva Convention).
The Palestine Solidarity Campaign (PSC) has placed particular emphasis upon the plight of those in the blockaded Gaza Strip stating,
“Israel’s blockade on Gaza will have catastrophic effects on the spread and fatality of coronavirus within the besieged strip. We must urge the UK to use its diplomatic power to put end to this, so that Palestinians can gain access to the healthcare they need during this crisis.”
The Israelis continue to claim that they are not presiding over an apartheid regime. On this evidence it is difficult to see how else to characterise it.
While the likelihood of the British government taking up the Palestinian cause is slim, the same can also be said of the Labour opposition. Labour leader, Kier Starmer, has just appointed former Israeli spy, Assaf Kaplan, to a key post in his office to manage social media output and surveillance.
Kaplan spent five years in Israeli military intelligence cyberwarfare outfit, Unit 8200, specialising in spying, hacking and encryption. This included spying on Palestinian civilians living under Israeli occupation.
The appointment hardly inspires confidence that the Leader of the Opposition’s Office will be providing objective information on the situation in the occupied territories and the Middle East generally.
PSC has asked Keir Starmer to make a public statement making clear his abhorrence of the activities of Unit 8200, in accordance with Labour’s stated commitment to an ethical foreign policy rooted in respect for international law and human rights. PSC have also demanded that he should outline the steps he has taken to ensure that these values are held by all of those working in his office.
More information on the Palestine Solidarity Campaign can be found here https://www.palestinecampaign.org/