Omitting Israel’s Colonial History Dilutes Amnesty’s Apartheid Report

While Amnesty International’s detailed report has succeeded in raising awareness of Israel’s apartheid system, its defense of “Israel’s right to exist” exonerates it of colonial violence, which provided the framework for its current racial and segregation practices.

“Australia has been one of the closest and strongest friends of Israel of any nation in the world, other than the United States. And we continue to be a very strong friend of Israel,” Australian Prime Minister Scott Morrison declared after Amnesty International’s recent report detailing Israeli apartheid sent Israel into a lobbying frenzy. “No country is perfect,” he added.

But not all countries practice apartheid as a derivative of settler-colonial ideology.

Governments across the world have been reticent to endorse Amnesty International’s report, but strong reactions were expressed against the apartheid designation by Amnesty International, one of the most prominent international human rights organizations, which followed in the footsteps of US-based Human Rights Watch and the Israeli human rights organization B’Tselem in 2021.

Governments across the world have been reticent to endorse Amnesty International’s report.

Germany’s Foreign Ministry rejected the designation, stating, “We reject expressions like ‘apartheid’ or a one-sided focusing of criticism on Israel. That is not helpful to solving the conflict in the Middle East.”

Ireland’s Taoiseach Micheál Martin also said he would refuse to use the apartheid terminology in discussing Israel’s actions against the Palestinian people. “I will not use the term ‘apartheid’ because I am not sure it will add anything right now.”

US State Department Spokesman Ned Price told reporters, “I think that it is important, as the world’s only Jewish state, that the Jewish people must not be denied their right to self-determination, and we must ensure there isn’t a double standard being applied.”


Palestinian protesters scuffle with Israeli security forces as a sound bomb goes off during a demonstration after Jewish settlers tried to block Palestinian children from entering a school in the village of al-Lubban al-Sharqiya, near the West Bank city of Nablus, Feb. 27, 2022. (AP Photo/Majdi Mohammed)

By Israel’s own Basic Law, however, Israel is “The national state of the Jewish people” and “The exercise of the right to national self-determination in the State of Israel is unique to the Jewish People.”

By Israel’s own Basic Law, however, Israel is “The national state of the Jewish people.”

To put it succinctly, Israel has legally enshrined apartheid by asserting Jewish exclusivity and is now enraged that a prominent international organization has not only pointed out its international law violations but is also urging governments worldwide to act accordingly.

Far from endorsing Amnesty International’s report, however, world leaders mostly focused on the two-state compromise. The response itself is protective of Israeli colonialism, and it also plays into the unfortunate dismissal by Amnesty International’s own interpretation of Israel’s settler-colonial origins and military occupation. Israel’s apartheid practices are derivatives of its colonial ideology.

If the international community was truly committed to the political rights of the Palestinian people, Amnesty International’s reluctance to assert that Israel’s apartheid practices are part of its colonial identity would have put the organization in a quandary.

Israel is Reminded of its Origins and Character

Amnesty International’s report starts with a quote by former Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu from 2019, when he stated, “Israel is not a state of all its citizens … [but rather] the nation-state of the Jewish people and only them.”

The quote is followed by an overview of Israel’s establishment in 1948, when the intent to dominate, in terms of territory and demography, was established. On the basis of Israel’s crimes against humanity, forced transfers of the Palestinian population, and denial of basic rights and freedoms —which constitute racial discrimination— Amnesty has urged governments and businesses to recognize Israeli apartheid and cease their complicity to maintain the system.

The report urged the UNSC to implement sanctions, asset freezes, and arms embargoes on Israel.

The report also clearly called out the international community’s inaction, particularly the non-binding UN Security Council (UNSC) resolutions which were never implemented. It also urged the UNSC to implement sanctions, asset freezes, and arms embargoes on Israel – actions the council has taken when the countries in question were targets of the US and NATO.

One major strength of Amnesty International’s report is its research, which allows Israeli apartheid to be seen through Israel’s violations and the Palestinian experience, as opposed to earlier and more mainstream comparisons to South Africa’s apartheid experience.

Israel’s actions supersede the South African government’s apartheid system, and the Israeli government has managed to maintain impunity for so long because it has not directly enshrined apartheid as a legal term. Instead, it opted for implementing a system of segregation and discrimination against Palestinians through specific actions, which the international community classified as singular actions, rather than an intricate system excluding Palestinians from their basic human and political rights.

Israel’s current actions can be traced back to the Zionist plan for colonization. Early Zionist leaders had no illusions about Palestinian tenacious attachment to their land – the solution to creating the Jewish state was found in ethnic cleansing. Israel’s apartheid policies are a more subtle form of maintaining Jewish exclusivity and a demographic majority, both disguised under the security narrative which Israel sold all too well to an international community heavily reliant on Israeli surveillance technology.

A Glaring Contradiction

Amnesty International’s report resonated well internationally, and not in Israel’s favor. However, as the Israeli government and diplomats lobbied for the report’s rejection, the omissions in the human rights organization’s report became more evident, as pointed out on social media by Palestinians.

While mainstream media focused on Israel’s reaction, Amnesty International started clarifying its position. As this tweet by the US branch of the organization illustrates, “Amnesty has taken no position on the occupation itself.”

The Palestinian people themselves are once again excluded from articulating their experience.

The bottom line, therefore, is that while Amnesty International’s report brings Israeli apartheid to a mainstream discussion, the Palestinian people themselves are once again excluded from articulating their experience. Several Palestinians have pointed out the contradictions in Amnesty Internationals’ positioning and its report, notably the defensive opening of its press conference launching the report by emphasizing Israel’s right to exist.

Claiming that only Israel has the right to exist contradicts the Palestinian people’s legitimate right to anti-colonial struggle in international law.

Keeping in mind that Israel’s apartheid system has its foundations in its settler-colonial ideology, how does Amnesty International expect the Israeli apartheid to be dismantled without decolonization?

For decades, the international community has clamored for “ending the occupation” while turning a blind eye to settler-colonialism. Isolating Israeli apartheid from its settler-colonial origins will only strengthen the violations which Israeli governments have been perfecting since 1948.

A Consistent Narrative is Necessary

So far, Palestine remains an international conjecture based upon resolutions that promote Israeli colonization. And sadly, the biggest promoter of the two-state farce, which also indirectly promotes Israeli apartheid by forcing Palestinians into the humanitarian paradigm, is by far the Palestinian Authority (PA).

Many Palestinians are now advocating for decolonization and a single democratic state with equal rights for all.

The PA has adopted international designations of Palestine and communicates them as part of the Palestinian narrative. But many Palestinians are now advocating for decolonization and a single democratic state with equal rights for all. This means a thorough reckoning with Israel’s violent origins which have provided the framework for today’s apartheid system.

The PA’s spokesman, Nabi Abu Rudeineh, stated, “There is no legitimacy for an occupier implicated in apartheid as proclaimed by civil society organizations.”

Apartheid on its own can become another catchphrase and all the momentum generated by the recent reports can swiftly be lost. Especially if the underlying motive is to dissociate Israeli settler-colonialism from its apartheid system.

To keep the momentum, Palestinians need to be on board and their voices must be amplified. The Palestinian people have consistently called for their history to be recognized, and the international community has punished them with manageable fragments. A humanitarian crisis, after all, is easier to normalize and overlook, which is what happened with Palestine.

Now is the time to demand a step further – the reports must be read within Israel’s colonial context and the ethnic cleansing it is still carrying out against the Palestinian people. Without historical truths, there can be no justice.

Omitting Israel’s Colonial History Dilutes Amnesty’s Apartheid Report

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