A landmark report from Human Rights Watch appears to lend new well-researched and documented legal support to Palestine Action’s campaign (reported extensively by Real Media) against the Israeli arms company Elbit Systems.

Apartheid is defined as “an institutionalised regime of systematic oppression and domination by one racial group over any other committed with the intention of maintaining that regime”.

Activists have long used the term to describe the Israeli state’s actions in Palestine, but yesterday Human Rights Watch released a new report – A Threshold Crossed – based on many years of highly documented research. They used a mass of field research, both recent and historical, as well as reviewing Israeli law, government planning records, land ownership records and statements by officials.

All this was then analysed in relation to the Rome Statute legal definition of apartheid, and showed beyond doubt that the word enshrines Israel’s policy and actions towards Palestinian people. They also found that Israeli actions constituted a further crime of Persecution – the “intentional and severe deprivation of fundamental rights contrary to international law by reason of the identity of the group or collectivity”.

The report follows a UN ruling in February that as Palestine is a state party to the Rome Statute and the Apartheid Convention, the International Criminal Court has jurisdiction over such crimes committed in the Occupied Territories. A formal investigation was launched in March, and will need to prove three things:

  • The intent to maintain a system of domination by one group over another
  • Systematic oppression by one group over another
  • Inhumane acts carried out on a systematic or widespread basis

The HRW report appears to substantially confirm that all three aspects are present in the continuing illegal occupation of Palestinian land. Last year HRW wrote to Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu but he failed to respond.

According to the report, Israel’s generalised travel ban “fails any reasonable test of balancing security concerns against the right to freedom of movement of over 2 million people”. Israel’s control of borders has devastated the economy, limited access to basic services including electricity, and made the majority of the country unnecessarily dependent on humanitarian aid. It notes that 96% of the water supply in Gaza is “unfit for human consumption”.

The report describes deliberate attacks on civilians and civilian infrastructure during three large-scale military offensives since 2012, as well as lethal over-reaction to protest stemming from a “decades-long pattern of excessive and vastly disproportionate force” against protest and disturbance “at great cost to civilians”.

A study of Israel’s Citizenship Laws concludes that Jews and Palestinians are “treated separately and unequally”.

The Israeli government and its supporters often claim that its actions are necessary as a defence against what they claim is terrorist violence, but the report clearly demonstrates that many of the policies enacted have “no legitimate security concerns” associated with them. The other often quoted Israeli justification is that the situation is purely temporary. The HRW investigation concludes that continuing land confiscation, and the seamless integration of new sewage, water, electric and travel systems for illegal settlements points to permanent expansion and a willingness to “maintain its regime”.

Quoting the UN Guiding Principles on Business and Human Rights, the report recommends that “businesses should cease activities that directly contribute to the commission of the crimes of apartheid and persecution…and cease providing goods and services that will likely be used for such purposes”.

In 2017 the UN Economic and Social Commission for Western Asia published a report accusing Israel of apartheid, but it was later removed from the UN website after pressure from Israel. It’s still available courtesy of internet Wayback archive.

Last year in June, an Israeli human rights group, Yesh-Din, on the basis of 15 years of research and work around the Occupation of the West Bank, published a legal opinion which concluded that Israel was committing the crime of apartheid.

Earlier this year, two Israeli human rights groups, B’Tselem and Kerem Navot, published their report extensively cataloguing Israel’s domination of Palestinian territory, and that report followed B’Tselems’s own January paper describing Israel’s  “regime of Jewish supremacy from the Jordan River to the Mediterranean Sea” and reaching the conclusion that “This is Apartheid”.

Elbit Systems manufactures around 85% of the drones used by the Israeli Defence Force, and those drones are directly contributing to the maintenance of the system of domination and repression in the occupied territories.

Six Palestine Action activists who occupied, damaged, and stopped work at one of Elbit’s drone production factories last year are about to face trial beginning on 17th May. The jury will have to assess whether Human Rights Watch and the United Nations should be believed and if so, whether given the lack of any other restriction on Elbit’s business, the action was necessary and proportionate as part of a campaign to stop crimes against humanity, recognised by “civilised” societies as amongst the worst crimes imaginable.