Israel and the role of International Civil Society

Israel: A state in need of treatment

But where are the political medics, where are the counsellors, who might fulfil the role of true friends of Israel ready to guide, to persuade and, if necessary, to punish in hope of correction? Not among the warm-word friends – the international community, the UK, the EU, the countries of the West – all whose self-interest in oil, in arms, in trade, and who have allowed themselves to be captured by sectional interests, secular and religious, rendering them, at present, incapable of calling Israel to account. Which, paradoxically perhaps, makes them, ultimately, no friend at all.   A friend is someone who helps you get out of the trouble you have created for yourself. Helps you see yourself as you are, not as you purport to be.

Even hypocrisy seems too milder a word

We have become accustomed to the pious utterances mouthed by western countries in particular exclaiming their commitment to democracy and the rule of law. Not a few regimes have been the recipients of western nations’ finger-wagging rebukes as to deficiencies in their mode of government. And many rebukes are no doubt deserved.  

By way of contrast, Israel – the Apartheid state – is subject, if at all, only to occasional mild reproof. It nestles most contently within an approbatory cocoon fashioned by the very same states that are otherwise most strident in proclaiming their democratic, rule of law credentials. Yet hour by hour, day by day, Israel brazenly flouts international and humanitarian law. This position possible only because it rests on the firm foundation of international hypocrisy.

But even hypocrisy seems too milder a word to describe this toleration of gross offences against, ultimately, people – Palestinians. 

So, can it last in its present form?

Is it, therefore, to be believed that an Apartheid state, maintained to all intent and purposes by military might and unholy alliances, can ultimately survive in its present form?

I am not by nature an optimistic, I don’t believe the world is necessarily on a virtuous trajectory to a better, more benign future.  But there is, I hazard to suggest, an almost tangible liberatory urge globally that traverses the boundaries of age, ethnicity, religion and class which will, ultimately, find intolerable the existence of an Apartheid state in its midst.  Intimations of this are not hard to find, be that in the protests of Palestinians or the growth of dissenting Jewish voices in America, the UK and Europe.

From an article by George Zeidan (co-founder of Right to Movement Palestine) and Miran Khwais in Haaretz, 18 July 2021:

Now, we as Palestinians are rediscovering our common aspirations, our common goal of freedom, rejecting the artificial borders imposed and sustained by force and discrimination. We will be faced with critical questions and positions that we need to navigate together: finding common ground between political cultures, from Islamists to secularists.

But we’ve learnt a critical lesson from the recent harsh events. There is no chance of change or liberation relying on the regimes and their apparatchiks that are invested in oppressing us, the change has to come from within us.

Part two: some evidence

Here is an extract from the report (2017) commissioned by the UN Economic and Social Commission for Western Asia (ESCWA) from authors Mr. Richard Falk and Ms. Virginia Tilley. This report was withdrawn from the UN portal after protest from the USA and Israel.  However, the report can be found here.

This report concludes that Israel has established an apartheid regime that dominates the Palestinian people as a whole. Aware of the seriousness of this allegation, the authors of the report conclude that available evidence establishes beyond a reasonable doubt that Israel is guilty of policies and practices that constitute the crime of apartheid as legally defined in
instruments of international law.

The analysis in this report rests on the same body of international human rights law and principles that reject anti-Semitism and other racially discriminatory ideologies, including: the Charter of the United Nations (1945), the Universal Declaration of Human Rights (1948), and the International Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Racial Discrimination (1965). The report relies for its definition of apartheid primarily on article II of the International Convention on the Suppression and Punishment of the Crime of Apartheid…

Note here the emphasis, indeed the foundation, of the accusation against Israel. It is based on law:

‘[we]conclude that available evidence establishes beyond a reasonable doubt that Israel is guilty of policies and practices that constitute the crime of apartheid as legally defined in instruments of international law.’

Yet that law loving and – supposedly – law adhering nation,the USA, wrapped its arms around Israel, and had the UN withdraw the report.  

B’tselem ‘This is Apartheid’

B’tselem, an Israeli human rights organisation that, prior to issuing its report ‘This is Apartheid’ in January 2021 concentrated only on violations in the West Bank, Occupied East Jerusalem and Gaza. However, it now sees that because Israel controls the entirety of the land between the Mediterranean Sea and the River Jordan that its focus must similarly widen to encompass the entire area. ‘This is Apartheid’ explains B’tselem’s rationale:

The Israeli regime enacts in all the territory it controls (Israeli sovereign territory, East Jerusalem, the West Bank, and the Gaza Strip) an apartheid regime. One organizing principle lies at the base of a wide array of Israeli policies: advancing and perpetuating the supremacy of one group – Jews – over another – Palestinians. B’tselem rejects the perception of Israel as a democracy (inside the Green Line) that simultaneously upholds a temporary military occupation (beyond it). B’Tselem reached the conclusion that the bar for defining the Israeli regime as an apartheid regime has been met after considering the accumulation of policies and laws that Israel devised to entrench its control over Palestinians. (Emphasis added)

Human rights Watch: ‘A threshold crossed’

In April 2021 Human Rights Watch issued its report ‘A threshold crossed: Israeli Authorities and the Crimes of Apartheid and Persecution’.  An extract:

On the basis of its research, Human Rights Watch concludes that the Israeli government has demonstrated an intent to maintain the domination of Jewish Israelis over Palestinians across Israel and the OPT. In the OPT, including East Jerusalem, that intent has been coupled with systematic oppression of Palestinians and inhumane acts committed against them. When these three elements occur together, they amount to the crime of apartheid.

Israeli officials have also committed the crime against humanity of persecution. This finding is based on the discriminatory intent behind Israel’s treatment of Palestinians and the grave abuses carried out in the OPT that include the widespread confiscation of privately owned land, the effective prohibition on building or living in many areas, the mass denial of residency rights, and sweeping, decades-long restrictions on the freedom of movement and basic civil rights.

Part three

So, what to do? The pivotal role of International Civil Society

So, what to do?  What to do once one is apprised of the situation in Palestine/Israel? What to do to strengthen and amplify the voices of Palestinians and dissenting Israelis who resist and seek to counter the depredations visited upon Palestinians by an overweening, expansionist, seemingly unaccountable Israeli state? Two, essentially linked and overlapping perspectives, first from the BDS (Boycott, Divestment, Sanctions) movement:

BDS (Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions)

Boycott, Divestment, Sanctions (BDS) is a Palestinian-led movement for freedom, justice and equality. BDS upholds the simple principle that Palestinians are entitled to the same rights as the rest of humanity…

BDS is now a vibrant global movement made up of unions, academic associations, churches and grassroots movements across the world. Since its launch in 2005, BDS is having a major impact and is effectively challenging international support for Israeli apartheid and settler-colonialism.

You may wish to consider following, or joining, BDS: https://bdsmovement.net/what-is-bds

The other from Jeff Harper, Israeli citizen and founder of ICAHD UK, from the transcript of webinar ‘Israeli Dissident Voices: Breaking Away from Zionism’,

…look at South Africa as the most relevant precedent as to what could happen here [in Israel] because in some ways, we share some of the same things.

…the liberation struggle in South Africa had to face a dominant white society that wasn’t going to cooperate at all with the anti-apartheid movement and of course (that’s) very like the Israeli public.

 So, what the South Africans did…is they by-passed the whites. I mean they went right to the international community, especially international civil society: churches, trade unions, political groups, university groups, and really built a strong anti-apartheid movement globally. That then affected government policies that then came back and created economic realities through their BDS (Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions) movement that finally caused the collapse of apartheid.

You may wish to consider following, or joining ICAHD: https://icahd.org/

Non-Israelis are vital in this struggle

The role of international civil society is, therefore, crucial to creating the context and conditions for change. Absent a strong and unrelenting international voice in support of justice for Palestinians, then their struggle will likely as not be much extended and Israel, along with its powerful allies, will be content to push the issue into the shadows. Our job, non-Israelis, is to pressurise Governments and commercial entities to have no truck with an Apartheid regime. As indicated above, paradoxically, we’ll be doing Israel a favour, though the patient may take a little while to see it.

The final word:‘We don’t need your tears’

It’s fitting that this article concludes with the words of Bassem Tamimi, Palestinian grassroots activist, described by the European Union as a human rights defender, designated by Amnesty International as a prisoner of conscience, father of Ahed Tamimi’s who aged 16 slapped an Israeli soldier outside their home, an event that, unusually, actually broke through to mainstream media.

Internationals can’t come here just for tourism. If people come to do Palestinian cooking or dabka dancing, it’s part of learning about our culture and identity but I think that much more support and solidarity is needed.

We don’t need your tears because we have a lot of tears from tear gas.

And we don’t want the people to see us victims because we are freedom fighters.

 Internationals must support us in any way that is necessary. I think that we need more than emotion, we need your actions on the ground. Come here to learn and then go back to struggle to build an international movement to help us achieve peace. Do your duty. You must take responsibility for what is happening here. You can do a lot.


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