Amnesty: ‘Arrest Israeli officials, to counter Apartheid’
Amnesty International last week made clear that it advocates for the arrest of Israeli government officials on UK soil in the fight against apartheid.
The powerful recommendation came during a meeting hosted jointly by Amnesty International (AI) and the Hastings and Rye Palestine Solidarity Campaign (HRPSC) at the White Rock Hotel where AI representative Garry Ettle presented the findings of their report published in February: ‘Israel’s Apartheid Against Palestinians: A Cruel System of Domination and Crime Against Humanity.’
The report, four years in the making, makes clear the Israeli system meets the legal criteria of apartheid, a crime against humanity, and calls on the international community to fulfil it legal obligations, including the arrest of any responsible Israeli government officials crossing their territory.
The facts are, he said, …that ‘inhumane acts’ take place within ‘an institutionalised regime of repression and domination’ with the intention of controlling Palestinians so they ‘have no means of competing with the aims of the Jewish majority’.
He outlined the four key components of this system, the first being ‘fragmentation’ which meant physically and socially breaking up the area to prevent ‘a united resistance to what is happening by the oppressed people, the Palestinians’.
The second component is ‘segregation and control’, laws and practices which restrict Palestinians to enclaves, controlling their lives and segregating them from Jewish Israelis.
Third, is ‘dispossession of land and property’.
Garry explained this was ‘ensuring the oppressed minority do not gain any foothold in the area by actually gaining property or land and certainly stripping them of the land if at all possible.’
And finally, the fourth component ‘Deprivation of economic and social rights’, described by Garry as ‘Making sure they’re not allowed to develop any self-sustaining economy and that their social rights are not fully operating.’
After illustrating each of these components with concrete examples [see images], Garry addressed the necessary international response.
‘There needs to be some sort of cost for the Israelis, economically and politically,’ he said. ‘At the moment there is no cost at all. The international community is aware of all the facts in this report but nothing is actually done.’
THERE NEEDS TO BE A COST TO ISRAEL
He said that AI is realistic in its timeline for change and that the first step is to gain significant recognition that apartheid is taking place, but he added that the Amnesty International is calling on third party states to act with immediate effect.
‘Apartheid being a breach of international humanitarian law means there are obligations on other countries to act to stop it,’ he said. ‘For example, if an Israeli official is moving through Heathrow, in theory the UK could arrest that person on the grounds that they are a perpetrator or playing a part in illegal acts such as apartheid.’
Other recommendations include stopping business with illegal settlements, or ‘colonies’ as he preferred to call them, and banning arm sales to Israel.
He said that it would take a lot of pressure from below to bring accountability but that the report was a useful tool in achieving that.
SOAS Palestine Society President Yara Derbas took up the conversation from this point to discuss her own experience of apartheid and address how individuals can help to fight it. Yara’s family were directly impacted by the occupation: her father’s family were ethnically cleansed during the Nakba in 1948 from Haifa and her mother’s family are from Nablus. The family were refugees from Lebanon before coming to the UK.
She described how, during visits to family in Palestine, she became aware of the oppressive practice of restricting resources like water and electricity with ‘random blackouts’ taking place at any time of the day or night.
‘Israel can literally turn it off and on, whenever they want to, like a switch,’ she said. ‘Even in hospitals. This is obviously ridiculous, it’s unheard of here, it wouldn’t happen. It was a shock to me and when you’re a kid you’re afraid of the dark.’
RANDOM BLACKOUTS ANY TIME OF THE DAY OR NIGHT
She added that curfews imposed on Palestinian families had had a lingering effect on those living in the diaspora.
‘They could happen at any time,’ she said. ‘And wherever you are, you’ll be stuck there for god knows how long, you won’t know so wherever you are, you’re stuck. That was a fear my mum had. It can affect a lot of things, for example if someone is sick in your house, the ambulance can’t come and get you so there’s no guarantee you can get medical help. If there’s a wedding, there’s no guarantee you can get to that wedding.
‘My mum couldn’t go to her dad’s funeral because there was a curfew at the time, so it does really impact you if you have commitments. It’s meant to destroy life, it’s meant to demoralise.’
She highlighted the fact that Israeli apartheid includes all 7 million refugees in the diaspora who are refused the right of return, like her own family, suffering discrimination, deprivation and exile for generations. Apartheid, she said, serves a purpose.
‘They are physically fragmenting us, there’s a geographical separation, because it causes social and political fragmentation.’
Political fragmentation, she said was particularly important since it is ‘harder to maintain a united opposition if we’re all over the place’.
‘It’s intentional because if we were able to get to each other we would be a massive, united force against Israel. But they don’t want that. Apartheid is a tool of control and subjugation for these reasons. It aims to dehumanise, to frustrate Palestinians, humiliate and demoralise us and to make us feel hopeless so we can’t fight back.’
IT AIMS TO DEHUMANISE PALESTINIANS
She analysed the strengths and weaknesses of the AI report, recognising the strength of a large, mainstream international organisation illuminating the fact that apartheid is practiced against ‘all Palestinians in the diaspora’ as well as inside Israel, the West Bank and Gaza, while pointing out that Palestinian voices were side-lined and silenced when they made the same apartheid claims twenty years ago. She also talked about the limited framework of ‘international law’, failing to address the issues of liberation and self-determination.
However, Yara acknowledged that the report was a useful tool and described the Palestinian practice of ‘sumud’ or steadfastness in their fight against occupation and oppression, drawing attention to the different ways individuals can do the same in their own lives.
‘Many Palestinians share the sentiment that Israel’s apartheid regime is only allowed to be maintained because of international support for Israel,’ she said.
‘So in 2005 117 Palestinian civil society organisations called on the international community to support them and apply pressure from wherever they are in the world and they give three specific ways to do that. This is BDS.
‘B stands for boycott so they are asking for us to boycott Israeli products and institutions as well. D stands for divestment so to divest from any complicit companies which uphold Israel’s apartheid regime. S is for sanctions, to call on governments to sanction Israel essentially.’
She went on: ‘There is so much we can do. What I tell people is to assess your own environment, look around you and assess how and where apartheid is being maintained because I can tell you there is always something. Is there a Palestine solidarity group near where you are? If not, start one.’
She encouraged people to examine the places they spend their time and to take time to research whether those institutions have links or investment in companies complicit in the apartheid regime. She said the next step would be to start a campaign to end those links.
‘Through a campaign you are directly tackling an aspect of Israel’s settler colonial regime and you are aiming to dismantle that regime.
‘There is so much within campaigning that is directly helping Palestinians on the ground resisting apartheid. There is a difference between doing something as an individual and doing something in a group. If you join a campaign, you learn a lot of skills, you learn how to do things which you can then apply to different spaces and aspects. There is something really powerful in intersectionality.’
EDUCATE YOURSELF, EDUCATE OTHERS
She went on: ‘Educate people and educate yourself. You have to do research, you have to know what you’re talking about. Because if you don’t you’re not going to be taken seriously.
‘You have to know how to mobilise people, build networks, build relationships and friendships. We’re not going to liberate Palestine on our own, it’s not a one woman show, it has to be a group, multiple people who tell multiple people.’
She suggested bringing people on board in fun, creative ways, like poster and banner making workshops.
‘It doesn’t have to be sitting people down in a lecture style way, there are different ways to do campaigning.’
At a very basic level, Yara encouraged boycotting all Israeli goods.
‘When you go to Sainsbury’s just check the label,’ she suggested. ‘Make sure that you’re not getting your avocados and peppers from Israel, tell your other friends to do that. If you want your concerns addressed by parliament, write to your MP.
‘If you want to spread your message more widely, join a social media campaign, there are always twitter storms going on and email campaigns for political prisoners to get Israel to release them.
‘If you don’t like the tone — the neutrality — when news is reported from Palestine, write to the BBC, attend protests, organise campaigns, there is so much we can do from where we are. Thinking we can’t do anything makes us feel hopeless and as if we don’t have a voice in this but thinking that we’re powerful is far more powerful. There is so much we can do.’
Hastings PSC: https://www.hastingspalestinecampaign.org