Amjad Iraqi introduces an interview with Michael Sfard in +972:
When he was a rising human rights lawyer two decades ago, Michael Sfard vehemently rejected the word “apartheid” to describe Israel’s military rule over the West Bank and Gaza Strip. Despite being a fierce critic of the occupation and dedicating his career to defending Palestinian rights, he told himself that “words matter,” and that the occupation, while gravely unjust, was still a temporary structure that could be overturned with the help of international law.
Years later, Sfard — now a renowned advocate — has drastically changed his tune.
In what may go down as a significant moment in Israeli public discourse, human rights NGO Yesh Din released a detailed legal opinion on Thursday, chiefly authored by Sfard, who serves as the organization’s legal counsel, arguing that Israel’s 53-year occupation of the West Bank constitutes an “apartheid regime.”
Reviewing its development from white-minority rule in South Africa to its definition under the ICC’s Rome Statute, the opinion asserts that Israel is committing the international crime of apartheid by carrying out the “systematic oppression and domination” of one group over another in the territory “with the intention of maintaining that regime.”
“Up until now, Yesh Din would say that specific policies are illegal or are even war crimes, but now we are talking about the regime being illegitimate,” Sfard told +972 in an exclusive interview. The goal of the legal opinion, he says, “is to change the internal Israeli discourse, and no longer talk about our presence in the West Bank as an occupation that is temporary, but as an illegitimate crime.”