Saro Thiruppathy discusses the systemic apartheid and persecution of Palestinian people living in Gaza and the West Bank by their occupier

On 7 May, during the holy month of Ramadan, Israeli forces fired tear gas, stun grenades and rubber-coated steel bullets to clear worshippers at the Al-Aqsa mosque in Jerusalem. The Israelis attacked the mosque several times after that as well. As a result, Hamas then fired rockets at Israel from Lebanon but the Iron Dome, part-funded by the US, held up and the damage was minimal.

A week or so later on 13 May, US House Speaker Nancy Pelosi sanctimoniously called for a boycott of the 2022 Winter Olympics in Beijing over alleged human rights abuses against ethnic minorities in China.

But of course, she blithely ignored Israel’s systemic apartheid and persecution of Palestinians in the Occupied Palestinian Territory (OPT). The US is unable to condemn Israel because of the powerful Jewish lobby that controls pretty much how its government thinks and acts with regard to Israel.

Meanwhile, the Israelis had begun evicting some Palestinian families from East Jerusalem in a bid to cement its occupation of the area. This sector in the West Bank was annexed by force in 1967 but is considered an occupied territory under international law.

ISRAELI APARTHEID The recent provocation by the Israelis and ensuing atrocities against the Palestinian people in their own land received vociferous opposition by several sections of the global community.

In spite of biased Western media narratives, protests against Israeli actions took place in many cities around the world since it has become evident that the Israelis are the oppressors and provocateurs in the OPT.

Approximately 6.8 million Jewish Israelis and 6.8 million Palestinians live in the combined areas of Israel. Nearly 8.8 million people in Israel occupy 20,770 square kilometres (formerly Palestine) while the occupied territory of the West Bank and East Jerusalem is home to a population of 3.2 million and covers 5,655 square kilometres; and the Gaza Strip has a population of about 735,000 and occupies an area of 365 square kilometres.

Israel is changing the demography of the OPT by settling Jewish Israelis in those areas and giving them superior status over Palestinian residents in the case of civil rights, access to land and freedom of movement, the right to build and residency rights for close relatives.

It also has rights over borders, airspace, movement of goods and persons, security and the registration of the population.

According to Human Rights Watch (HRW), the objective
of maintaining Israeli Jewish control is demonstrated in the demographics, politics and land in the OPT, by means of the systematic privilege afforded to Jewish Israelis and discrimination against Palestinians. This is seen in the laws, policies and statements issued by Israeli authorities.

For instance, Israel vaccinated all its Jewish and Palestinian citizens (living in Israel) and only Jewish settlers in the West Bank against COVID-19, and then denied responsibility for the Palestinians residing there.

Since Israel prefers Pfizer and Moderna vaccines, it may donate the millions of AstraZeneca vaccines it had pre-ordered to other countries. But according to Coronavirus Czar Nachman Ash, it’s also possible they may be thrown away.

By early June, only 3.6 percent of Palestinians had received even one dose of the COVID-19 vaccine and less than one percent had received both. Of the latter group, Israel had vaccinated more than 100,000 Palestinians who come into contact with Israelis due to their work.

INTERNATIONAL LAW In its report titled ‘A Threshold Crossed: Israeli Authorities and the Crimes of Apartheid and Persecution,’ HRW says: “In pursuit of this goal, authorities have dispossessed, confined, forcibly separated and subjugated Palestinians by virtue of their identity to varying degrees of intensity. In certain areas… these deprivations are so severe that they amount to the crimes against humanity of apartheid and persecution.”

According to international criminal law, there are two crimes against humanity for “situations of systematic discrimination and repression – apartheid and persecution. Crimes against humanity stand among the most odious crimes in international law.”

The Rome Statute considers the intentional and severe deprivation of fundamental rights on racial, ethnic and other grounds to constitute persecution, and have the same gravity as apartheid in terms of crimes against humanity.

Palestine is a state party to both the Rome Statute and the Apartheid Convention. And the International Criminal Court (ICC) recently ruled that its jurisdiction covers serious international crimes in the “entirety of the OPT including East Jerusalem.”

In March, the ICC Office of the Prosecutor announced that formal investigations will be carried out into the situation in Palestine.

The UN needs to set up a mechanism to investigate systemic discrimination and oppression of Palestinians in the OPT and also provide a forum through the General Assembly for member states to discuss the issues pertaining to the plight of these people.

And in turn, member states need to mobilise the United Nations to bring pressure on Israel to end its policies of apartheid.

Instead of waiting around for a peace deal that may never materialise, the global community needs to speak up now and protect the fundamental and existential rights of Palestinians in the OPT.