The Washington PostDemocracy Dies in Darkness

Opinion Another group recognized Israel’s Palestinian apartheid. How will the world react?

A Palestinian demonstrator stands in front of an Israeli soldier during a protest of Israel's separation barrier in the West Bank in 2013. (Majdi Mohammed/AP)

Mariam Barghouti is a Palestinian writer and researcher based in Ramallah, West Bank.

Last week, I found myself with a group of friends hiding from the chill of Ramallah, West Bank, to discuss Amnesty International’s recent report designating Israel an apartheid regime. And even though we welcomed it, we couldn’t hide our frustration.

With the release of a 278-page report compiled over a period of four years, Amnesty joined Human Rights Watch and the Israeli rights group B’Tselem in laying out how Israel is committing the crime of apartheid against Palestinians.

Israeli representatives — after failing to stop Amnesty from publishing the report — were quick to denounce it, calling it radical and antisemitic. Commentators, meanwhile, applauded the “groundbreaking” reports, calling this moment a “reckoning.”

The fact is that Palestinians have painstakingly documented the reality of apartheid for the past seven decades. Our voices shouldn’t require validation from international organizations. Yet it’s still sobering to see these organizations receiving the same attacks that Palestinians often get for speaking the truth.

The Amnesty International and Human Rights Watch reports detail four major pillars of Israeli apartheid across the whole of Palestine and Palestinians: intent to oppress and dominate the Palestinian people; fragmentation into domains of control; segregation and control; and dispossession of land and property.

However, Amnesty makes the distinction of saying that apartheid and domination include Palestinians across the entirety of historic Palestine. This is a step in the right direction, given that human rights groups have often focused on Israeli discriminatory practices only in the West Bank and Gaza.

For too long the media, politicians and, yes, even human rights organizations have ignored the deep essence of apartheid. This isn’t just about the intentional discrimination between non-Jewish Palestinians and Jewish Israelis. The settler-colonialist practices of Israeli abuse and apartheid vary across the West Bank, Gaza, Jerusalem, historic Palestine and the diaspora, and have fractured the collective Palestinian experience.

The findings of human rights organizations are not just mere accusations and allegations; they outline Israeli apartheid practices through concrete evidence. But why are these organizations doing work that should be carried out by the International Criminal Court? It’s clear even our own corrupt Palestinian “representatives” have also failed in making the case, since they are more concerned with securing their own power rather than justice.

For too long Israel has been able to avoid deep scrutiny over its practices of systemic repression. But the campaign to discredit and vilify is intensifying. Rights groups are being targeted and labeled terrorist organizations.

But there are other, perhaps less obvious ways in which Israel distracts from its abuses. The fact that rights groups are now echoing each other, for instance, traps us all in a debate loop, protracting the necessary legal actions. Another strategic approach is the way Israel weaponizes charges of anti-Semitism to manipulate and gaslight.

An Israeli ambassador to the United Nations once accused the international body of colluding with “supporters of terror” for addressing Israel’s military occupation of the West Bank and Gaza. The head of the American Jewish Committee warned that to “equate the liberal democratic State of Israel with the system of apartheid in South Africa is nothing short of a canard, a libel.” Yet until today, as a state recognized in the United Nations, Israel has not ratified the apartheid convention.

The baseless attacks would be tragically comical if they didn’t pose a serious obstruction to our pursuit of dignity and freedom. One day Israel supporters are calling movie stars and ice cream companies antisemitic over social media, the next they’re trying to shut down debate with “What about Hamas?” or the paternalistic “Palestinian leadership is the real problem for Palestinians, not Israel.” They falsely conflate confronting Israeli repression as attacking the right of Jewish people to exist.

But now, some are seeing the reality that Palestinians have decried for decades. Israel, for its part, seems more intent on attacking the apartheid label than doing anything to actually dismantle its apartheid regime.