Human Rights Groups Agree: Israel is Practicing Apartheid

One day last spring, Palestinians in Israel and the occupied West Bank declared a general strike to protest years of repression they faced under Israeli rule.

The nonviolent strike came as Israel attempted to evict seven Palestinian families from their homes in occupied East Jerusalem, part of a longstanding effort to expand illegal Israeli settlements and transfer Jewish settlers to what had been Palestinian land and homes.

How did Israeli forces respond to this peaceful protest?

According to a new report from Amnesty International, they “arbitrarily arrested peaceful demonstrators, threw sound and stun grenades at crowds,” and “dispersed them with excessive force.” They even “fired concussion grenades at worshippers and protesters gathered in the Al-Aqsa mosque compound.”

Amnesty is arguably the most influential international human rights organization in the world.

It examines conditions on the ground, applies international law, and issues reports documenting human rights violations by governments all over the world. It then mobilizes its millions of supporters to write letters, send messages, and protest.

Amnesty’s February report on Israel-Palestine goes far beyond what happened last spring. Entitled “Israel’s Apartheid Against Palestinians,” its 280 pages dramatically illustrate Israel’s discriminatory treatment of Palestinians in Israel, in the occupied territories, and in exile.

The report finds that Israel has engaged in a “system of oppression and domination” of Palestinians, including through segregation, military rule, and restrictions on Palestinians’ right to political participation. It documents how Israel has dispossessed Palestinians of their land and property and denied Palestinians their economic and social rights, among many other abuses.

According to the report, Israel has done all this “against the Palestinian population with the intent to maintain this system of oppression and domination,” with a goal of “maximizing resources for the benefit of its Jewish population at the expense of Palestinians.”

When it comes to establishing apartheid, intent is key. International law defines apartheid as inhumane acts carried out “for the purpose of establishing and maintaining domination by one racial group of persons over any other racial group of persons and systematically oppressing them.”

In this case, it’s a system of oppression by Jewish Israelis over Palestinians — something Israeli leaders themselves have confirmed. “Israel is not a state of all its citizens,” then Israeli prime minister Benjamin Netanyahu said in 2019. It’s “the nation-state of the Jewish people and only them.”

Amnesty isn’t the first to identify and condemn Israeli apartheid. Palestinian human rights defenders, international law and UN experts, members of Congress, faith leaders, and advocates all over the world have applied the apartheid framework to Israeli violations for years.

Human Rights Watch and the Israeli human rights organization B’tselem have each issued recent reports on Israeli apartheid. Amnesty’s report essentially closes the circle. There are no longer any globally known and respected human rights organizations who don’t recognize Israeli apartheid.

But even though the United States has long relied on Amnesty’s research to bolster State Department reports and other findings on human rights, U.S. government officials and their spokespeople rejected this report without even engaging with its research or conclusions.

Perhaps that wasn’t surprising. The U.S. has a long history of supporting Israel regardless of its human rights violations — from giving its military $3.8 billion annually to preventing the United Nations from holding Israel accountable for abuses.

But accountability is exactly what’s needed. U.S. foreign policy everywhere should be based on human rights, international law, and equality for all — including when it comes to Israel. That means treating Israel like any other country and cutting off military aid when it’s used for human rights abuses, something U.S. law already requires.

Amnesty’s newest report provides us with the information we need to fight for exactly that.


Phyllis Bennis directs the New Internationalism Project at the Institute for Policy Studies. Her most recent book is Understanding ISIS and the New Global War on Terror: A Primer.