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Israel is an apartheid state, Amnesty International says

Amnesty International has labeled Israel an apartheid state over its policies toward Palestinians. The Israeli government rejects the accusation. Here, Agnes Callamard, the secretary general of Amnesty International, speaks during a news conference as activist Orly Noy (right) looks on in Jerusalem.
Ronaldo Schemidt
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AFP via Getty Images
Amnesty International has labeled Israel an apartheid state over its policies toward Palestinians. The Israeli government rejects the accusation. Here, Agnes Callamard, the secretary general of Amnesty International, speaks during a news conference as activist Orly Noy (right) looks on in Jerusalem.

The state of Israel's treatment of Palestinians is a crime against humanity and is illegal under international law, Amnesty International said on Tuesday. The rights group says Israel's "oppression and domination" of Palestinians amounts to apartheid.

"The Israeli government is committing the crime against humanity of apartheid against Palestinians and must be held accountable," the organization said as it released its nearly 280-page report.

Amnesty said Israel has embraced laws and practices that "are intended to maintain a cruel system of control over Palestinians, have left them fragmented geographically and politically, frequently impoverished, and in a constant state of fear and insecurity."

Amnesty is the latest rights advocate to accuse Israel of operating an apartheid system, joining former President Jimmy Carter, Human Rights Watch and the Israeli human rights group B'Tselem.

Israel says the Amnesty report is anti-Semitic

Israel said it rejects Amnesty's findings. Even before the report was officially issued, the Israeli foreign ministry urged the group to withdraw it, and called it "false, biased, and antisemitic." Foreign Minister Yair Lapid added, "Amnesty quotes lies spread by terrorist organizations."

Israel's embassy in the U.K., where Amnesty is based, said the group's apartheid declaration is a "shameful misrepresentation of Israel's diverse and dynamic society."

In contrast, the report states that Israel's treatment of Palestinians amounts to apartheid in part because "all territories controlled by Israel continue to be administered with the purpose of benefiting Jewish Israelis to the detriment of Palestinians, while Palestinian refugees continue to be excluded."

Amnesty's report comes less than three years after then-Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu said Israel is "the national state, not of all its citizens, but only of the Jewish people."

The report cites decades of Israeli actions toward Palestinians

In Israel, the debate over whether the country imposes apartheid on Palestinians took on a new tone in 2020, when as NPR's Daniel Estrin reported, Netanyahu "vowed to annex some of the West Bank into Israel without giving Palestinians there voting rights in Israel."

Palestinian Arab citizens make up about a fifth of Israel's population and have Israeli voting rights. But Palestinians in the Israeli-occupied West Bank and the Gaza Strip do not have Israeli voting rights. Even within Israel, the report states, Israel has dispossessed Palestinians of their land and property and imposed segregation and discriminatory policies.

Language in the Amnesty report echoes sections of the International Criminal Court's founding treaty, which took effect in 2002. Here's how it defines apartheid:

"'The crime of apartheid' means inhumane acts ... committed in the context of an institutionalized regime of systematic oppression and domination by one racial group over any other racial group or groups and committed with the intention of maintaining that regime."

The "inhumane acts" referred to in that clause include crimes Israel has been repeatedly accused of, such as the deportation or forcible transfer of a population and the persecution of an "identifiable group or collectivity" on the grounds of their political, racial, national, ethnic, cultural, religious or gender identity.

Israel's international identity is at issue

While many of the most recent accusations against Israel stem from its annexations of land in the West Bank, the Amnesty report says the problems it sees stem from Israel's creation.

"In the course of establishing Israel as a Jewish state in 1948, Israel expelled hundreds of thousands of Palestinians and destroyed hundreds of Palestinian villages, in what amounted to ethnic cleansing," the report said.

In response to Amnesty, Israel's embassy to the U.S. retweeted and amplified an editorial in The Wall Street Journal criticizing the findings, highlighting a line that states, "the report all but ignores that Israel is a democracy that accords more rights to Arabs and Palestinians than does any other state in the region."

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Bill Chappell is a writer and editor on the News Desk in the heart of NPR's newsroom in Washington, D.C.
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