For many years anyone going into the occupied territories came out saying they’d seen apartheid– separate roads for Jews and Palestinians, crippling checkpoints for Palestinians, township areas to which Palestinians were confined and moved. “Apartheid on steroids,” the former chancellor of Brown University said in 2011. “Worse” than apartheid South Africa, a South African told me in 2006.
Now Human Rights Watch has joined the chorus with a bombshell 213-page deeply-documented report alleging the crimes of “apartheid and persecution” that has excited the rage of the rightwing Israel lobby and of course no substantive rebuttal.
But it’s been known on the left so long, why now? The answer is essentially political. For years, Human Rights Watch bent over backwards to give Israel the benefit of the doubt: that it intended to get out of the persecution business. But stark political events in the last few years, the disavowal of a Palestinian state by Israeli leaders, and the passage of the racist Nation State law in 2018, cast the die. HRW began compiling this report in the months after that law was passed, granting Jews the exclusive right of self-determination in the “land of Israel” and derogating Palestinian land and language rights.
The report’s author Omar Shakir told Arno Rosenfeld of the Forward that the key element of the finding was not showing the many inhumane acts against Palestinians, or the systematic oppression of Palestinians — but the Israeli government’s “intent to dominate” Palestinians.
While many of the abuses go back many years, there was long a debate about whether Israeli leaders had the intent to dominate Palestinians… In the 1990s and in the 2000s there was hope and a sense among many that maybe there would be a political resolution to this situation that would lead to and end to the systematic repression that takes place… Israeli government officials would publicly say… this is temporary. That’s how they justified settlements in the [Israeli] Supreme Court.
What’s changed in the last four or five years…. Israeli officials now openly proclaim their intent to rule over the West Bank in perpetuity and treat Palestinians there as subjects.
Secondly we have seen the massive expansion of settlements and the connection of settlements with Israel proper.
Third, we saw the passage of the Nation State Law, which… codified as a constitutional value the idea that one group of people on the ground had rights denied to the other.
When we put all those things together, it became impossible to say that there was not a clear intent to dominate.
HRW’s repeated reference to Israeli politicians’ statements reveals the larger politics of the report: rage on the part of the establishment toward Israel over the two-state solution. World leaders arrived in the ’90s through a tortuous process at a solution for the Israel-Palestine problem, two states, and insisted even as Israel moved hundreds of thousands of its citizens into occupied lands that the two-state solution was the consensus position of the global community. We on the left laughed at the folly of the notion. Still the world stuck to the program. Now Israel has made an open mockery of the two-state solution in its politics. The report often cites Israeli political decisions– including the fact that Israel’s two leading parties in the 2020 election– Likud and Blue/White– said that they would annex the West Bank.
So Israeli actions have consequences. Policymakers have had enough of Israeli bullshit– even if the Democratic Party is still singing the two-state hymn — and this report is one result.