Economic and Social Commission for Western Asia
Israeli Practices towards the Palestinian
People and the Question of Apartheid
Palestine and the Israeli Occupation, Issue No. 1
Economic and Social Commission for Western Asia (ESCWA)
Israeli Practices towards
the Palestinian People
and the Question of Apartheid
Palestine and the Israeli Occupation, Issue No. 1
© 2017 United Nations
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This report was commissioned by the Economic and Social Commission for
Western Asia (ESCWA) from authors Mr. Richard Falk and Ms. Virginia Tilley.
Richard Falk (LLB, Yale University; SJD, Harvard University) is currently Research
Fellow, Orfalea Center of Global and International Studies, University of California at
Santa Barbara, and Albert G. Milbank Professor of International Law and Practice
Emeritus at Princeton University. From 2008 through 2014, he served as United
Nations Special Rapporteur on the situation of human rights in the Palestinian
territories occupied since 1967. He is author or editor of some 60 books and hundreds
of articles on international human rights law, Middle East politics, environmental
justice, and other fields concerning human rights and international relations.
Virginia Tilley (MA and PhD, University of Wisconsin-Madison, and MA in
Contemporary Arab Studies, Georgetown University) is Professor of Political
Science at Southern Illinois University. From 2006 to 2011, she served as Chief
Research Specialist in the Human Sciences Research Council of South Africa
and from 2007 to 2010 led the Council’s Middle East Project, which undertook
a two-year study of apartheid in the occupied Palestinian territories. In addition to
many articles on the politics and ideologies of the conflict in Israel-Palestine, she is
author of The One-State Solution (University of Michigan Press and Manchester
University Press, 2005) and editor of Beyond Occupation: Apartheid, Colonialism
and International Law in the Occupied Palestinian Territories (Pluto Press, 2012).
This report benefited from the general guidance of Mr. Tarik Alami, Director of the
Emerging and Conflict-Related Issues (ECRI) Division at ESCWA. Mr. Rabi’ Bashour
(ECRI) coordinated the report, contributed to defining its scope and provided
editorial comments, planning and data. Ms. Leila Choueiri provided substantive
and editorial inputs. Ms. Rita Jarous (ECRI), Mr. Sami Salloum and Mr. Rafat
Soboh (ECRI), provided editorial comments and information, as well as technical
assistance. Mr. Damien Simonis (ESCWA, Conference Services Section) edited
Israeli Practices towards the Palestinian People and the Question of Apartheid
Appreciation is extended to the blind reviewers for their valuable input.
We also acknowledge the authors of and contributors to Occupation, Colonialism,
Apartheid? A Reassessment of Israel’s Practices in the Occupied Palestinian
Territories under International Law, whose work informed this report (see annex I)
and was published in 2012 as Beyond Occupation: Apartheid, Colonialism and
International Law in the Occupied Palestinian Territories.
The authors of this report, examining whether Israel has established an apartheid
regime that oppresses and dominates the Palestinian people as a whole, fully
appreciate the sensitivity of the question.
Even broaching the issue has been
denounced by spokespersons of the Israeli Government and many of its supporters
as anti-Semitism in a new guise. In 2016, Israel successfully lobbied for the
inclusion of criticism of Israel in laws against anti-Semitism in Europe and the
United States of America, and background documents to those legal instruments
list the apartheid charge as one example of attempts aimed at “destroying Israel’s
image and isolating it as a pariah State”.
The authors reject the accusation of anti-Semitism in the strongest terms. First, the
question of whether the State of Israel is constituted as an apartheid regime
springs from the same body of international human rights law and principles that
rejects anti-Semitism: that is, the prohibition of racial discrimination. No State is
immune from the norms and rules enshrined in the International Convention on
the Elimination of All Forms of Racial Discrimination, which must be applied
impartially. The prohibition of apartheid, which, as a crime against humanity, can
admit no exceptions, flows from the Convention. Strengthening that body of
international law can only benefit all groups that have historically endured
discrimination, domination and persecution, including Jews.
This report was prepared in response to a request made by member States of the United Nations Economic and Social
Commission for Western Asia (ESCWA) at the first meeting of its Executive Committee, held in Amman on 8 and 9 June 2015.
Preliminary findings of the report were presented to the twenty-ninth session of ESCWA, held in Doha from 13 to 15 December
2016. As a result, member States passed resolution 326 (XXIX) of 15 December 2016, in which they requested that the
secretariat “publish widely the results of the study”.
Coordinating Forum for Countering Antisemitism (CFCA): FAQ: the campaign to defame Israel. Available from
http://antisemitism.org.il/eng/FAQ:%20The%20campaign%20to%20defame%20Israel. The CFCA is an Israeli Government
“national forum”. “The new anti-Semitism” has become the term used to equate criticism of Israeli racial policies with anti-
Semitism, especially where such criticism extends to proposing that the ethnic premise of Jewish statehood is illegitimate,
because it violates international human rights law. The European Union Parliament Working Group on Antisemitism has
accordingly included in its working definition of anti-Semitism the following example: “Denying the Jewish people their right to
self-determination, e.g., by claiming that the existence of the State of Israel is a racist endeavour” (see
www.antisem.eu/projects/eumc-working-definition-of-antisemitism). In 2016, the United States passed the Anti-Semitism
Awareness Act, in which the definition of anti-Semitism is that set forth by the Special Envoy to Monitor and Combat Anti-
Semitism of the Department of State in a fact sheet of 8 June 2010. Examples of anti-Semitism listed therein include: “Denying
the Jewish people their right to self-determination, and denying Israel the right to exist.” (Available from https://2009-
Israeli Practices towards the Palestinian People and the Question of Apartheid
Secondly, the situation in Israel-Palestine constitutes an unmet obligation of the
organized international community to resolve a conflict partially generated by its
own actions. That obligation dates formally to 1922, when the League of Nations
established the British Mandate for Palestine as a territory eminently ready for
independence as an inclusive secular State, yet incorporated into the Mandate the
core pledge of the Balfour Declaration to support the “Jewish people” in their
efforts to establish in Palestine a “Jewish national home”.
Later United Nations
Security Council and General Assembly resolutions attempted to resolve the
conflict generated by that arrangement, yet could not prevent related proposals,
such as partition, from being overtaken by events on the ground. If this attention to
the case of Israel by the United Nations appears exceptional, therefore, it is only
because no comparable linkage exists between United Nations actions and any
other prolonged denial to a people of their right of self-determination.
Thirdly, the policies, practices and measures applied by Israel to enforce a system
of racial discrimination threaten regional peace and security. United Nations
resolutions have long recognized that danger and called for resolution of the
conflict so as to restore and maintain peace and stability in the region.
To assert that the policies and practices of a sovereign State amount to apartheid
constitutes a grave charge. A study aimed at making such a determination should
be undertaken and submitted for consideration only when supporting evidence
clearly exceeds reasonable doubt. The authors of this report believe that evidence
for suspecting that a system of apartheid has been imposed on the Palestinian
people meets such a demanding criterion. Given the protracted suffering of the
Palestinian people, it would be irresponsible not to present the evidence and legal
arguments regarding whether Israel has established an apartheid regime that
oppresses the Palestinian people as a whole, and not to make recommendations
for appropriate further action by international and civil society actors.
In sum, this study was motivated by the desire to promote compliance with
international human rights law, uphold and strengthen international criminal law,
and ensure that the collective responsibilities of the United Nations and its Member
States with regard to crimes against humanity are fulfilled. More concretely, it aims
to see the core commitments of the international community to upholding
international law applied to the case of the Palestinian people, in defence of its rights
under international law, including the right of self-determination.
The Council of the League of Nations, League of Nations Mandate for Palestine, December 1922, article 2. Available from
The Legal Context: Short History of the Prohibition of Apartheid
Alternative definitions of apartheid
Testing for an Apartheid Regime in Israel-Palestine
The political geography of apartheid
Israel as a racial State
Apartheid through fragmentation
Conclusions and Recommendations
I. Findings of the 2009 HSRC Report
II. Which Country?
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 (1973, hereinafter the
The term "the crime of apartheid", which shall include similar policies and practices of
racial segregation and discrimination as practiced in southern Africa, shall apply to…
inhuman acts committed for the purpose of establishing and maintaining domination by
one racial group of persons over any other racial group of persons and systematically
Although the term “apartheid” was originally associated with the specific instance
of South Africa, it now represents a species of crime against humanity under
customary international law and the Rome Statute of the International Criminal
Court, according to which:
“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
Against that background, this report reflects the expert consensus that the
prohibition of apartheid is universally applicable and was not rendered moot by
the collapse of apartheid in South Africa and South West Africa (Namibia).