Israel Has Once Again Been Declared An Apartheid State, And The World Can No Longer Ignore It

"The international community must take immediate action to hold Israel to account. For true peace will only ever come with freedom, liberation, and justice."

palestine israel apartheid photo

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Last week, Amnesty International released a report following a four-year-long investigation into the State of Israel’s treatment of Palestinians. The conclusion: the State of Israel is committing the crime of apartheid from the river to the sea and beyond, including Palestinian refugees in countries all around the world.

Amnesty’s report cited the definition of apartheid as follows:

“The crime against humanity of apartheid under the Apartheid Convention, the Rome Statute and customary international law is committed when any inhuman or inhumane act (essentially a serious human rights violation) is perpetrated in the context of an institutionalized regime of systematic oppression and domination by one racial group over another, with the intention to maintain that system.”

Amnesty’s report went further than the 2021 reports of Human Rights Watch and B’Tslem, both of whom released reports finding that Israel is practising the crime of apartheid.

Amnesty acknowledged the years of tireless work and campaigning by Palestinian civil organisations, such as Al Haq, and noted that the crime of apartheid is also being committed in 1948 Occupied Palestine (modern-day Israel) and against refugees in the diaspora whereas Human Rights Watch and B’Tslem confined their findings to Occupied territories, including West Bank, Gaza, and East Jerusalem.

The significance of Amnesty’s finding that Israel’s apartheid policies impact Palestinian refugees in other countries cannot be understated. It is an acknowledgment of the Nakba, of the expulsion in 1948 of around 800,000 Palestinians — 80 percent of the Palestinian population — who suddenly became stateless refugees.

The Crisis

The Palestinian refugee crisis remains the largest and longest refugee crisis in the world. In total, there are 5.6 million refugees registered with UNRWA, including those dispersed across the diaspora and 1.5 million Palestinians who live in live in UNRWA refugee camps. These refugees are denied both the moral and legal right to return to their homes.

As a third-generation Palestinian refugee living in the diaspora, Amnesty’s recognition of Israel’s denial of our inalienable right to return as constituting apartheid has felt surreal. For years now, in the so-called interests of ‘peace’, our rights as Palestinian refugees have been dismissed and denied, despite Palestine being our homeland, and a distinct aspect of our identity. We do not choose to live outside of Palestine — we are forced to.

A couple of years ago, I was asked by another student at university if I had ever been to Israel/Palestine (in their terms). I replied no. They then gushed about how wonderful it was and how I should consider taking a long trip to the region. My peer had been on a birthright trip, a fully-funded trip to Israel, where Jewish people all around the world get the opportunity to stay in historic Palestine for several months. I was happy they got to experience visiting an area that they felt close to. I was devastated that despite having cultural ties to the land, despite my family being from the region, I’ve been denied the same.

Israel’s Law of Return applies to any Jewish person in the world, with no proof of a family tree or ancestral connections to the region needing to be shown. We have generations of family buried in Palestine, the paperwork to our homes, and the memories and stories of our land — yet we are denied the same right.

Despite being internationally recognised as refugees, the State of Israel deliberately denies us, the descendants of Palestinians expelled from Palestine, this status. This denial is inconsistent with international law, where both descendants and those who were directly expelled from Palestine are recognised as refugees and have an inalienable right of return.

Israel’s denial of Palestinian refugees’ right of return for the past 74 years is a direct attempt to erase our right to self-determination, our Palestinian identity and our cultural distinctiveness as Palestinians in comparison to other Arabs. We have been reduced to just Arab, generic, deliberately erasing the existence of Palestinians, despite existing longer than the State of Israel.

This is colonial erasure at its finest and the consequence is apartheid.

The Lie

The foundational settler-colonial justification for establishing the State of Israel was the lie that Palestine was ‘a land without a people for a people without a land’.

Seventy four years on, Palestinians have exposed this lie and shown time and time again that we are indeed indigenous to the land; a people with a unique undying culture with ties to the land. The right to return is arguably based on principles of reparative justice but in reality it is the final step to decolonisation, to no longer erasing our identity as Palestinians, and to finally recognising that we have claims to sovereignty and self-determination on the land that our elders and their elders grew up on.

Israel’s denial of Palestinian refugees’ right of return for the past 74 years is a direct attempt to erase our right to self-determination.

This, therefore, is how Israeli apartheid works. In order to maintain domination in the territory, Palestinians are not allowed to return — not because they do not have a claim to the land, but because in order for the settler-colonial project to be complete, there can be no Palestinians.

Over time, the colonial reduction of our identity has come in two forms. On the one hand, we are not identified as Palestinian at all, but  as Arabs, who can live in any territory around the Arab Peninsula except Palestine. The onus is then thrown on Arab governments for mistreating Palestinian refugees and not allowing them to settle, failing to recognise that the reason Palestinians were made refugees in the first place was because they were expelled from their land and that the onus lies on Israel to allow refugees to return.

Instead, Israel hopes that the old will die and the young will forget. However, despite being so far away from home, our culture remains strong and undying. We remember who we are and where we are from and we know our freedom, and our ability to be whole will come when we can reunite on our land, in our cities, back home.

On the other hand, there are those who recognise Palestinian identity but limit our self-determination to Gaza and the West Bank, failing to acknowledge that many Palestinians in Gaza and the West Bank are refugees from 1948. This erases our ties to the various cities and villages and the nature of the land in those areas across historic Palestine. Indeed, it is common among conversations between Palestinians to ask what city your family originates from, as we all know the diversity of our people, our cities and our culture.

From Al Lydd to Yaffa, from Haifa to Ramallah, we all have unique ties to the cities our families originate from. This sentiment was captured in an interview with an NGO worker identified as H.S., cited in the Amnesty Report: “I am a refugee from Lod and grew up in Ramallah, so when I got married and moved to Lod it felt like going back home in a sense”.

I am from Al Lydd, and we have a right to return to Al Lydd.

However, despite H.S’s spouse living in Lod, and their family originating from the city, they were not allowed to live there, and their presence there became illegal, compelling them to live every day in fear of arrest, expulsion and separation. This quote highlights that we, Palestinians, are not a homogenous people but a diverse people with multiple unique cultures from the River to the Sea. Our homes are where our families originate from.

We are a diverse people — we are not just Arab — and for those who recognise our Palestinian identity but entrap us within the confines of the West Bank and Gaza, know our identity goes beyond that. I am from Al Lydd, and we have a right to return to Al Lydd.

In order for there to be justice and peace, the international community must take immediate action to hold Israel to account. For true peace will only ever come with freedom, liberation, and justice. Our freedom will come when we are allowed to return to our homes, not to the occupied and oppressive confines of the disingenuous Oslo framework, but to our original homes, where we can be free to travel around the land and rejoice with our friends and family in an apartheid-free, decolonised Palestine.

Amal is a proud Palestinian living on Gadigal land. She is currently in her third year of studying a Bachelor of Laws and Bachelor of Criminology and Criminal Justice at UNSW and has strong interest in the intersection of the law and the rights of Indigenous persons.

Photo Credit: Romy Arroyo Fernandez/NurPhoto via Getty Images