Why do we still need to Make Apartheid History?

Although South Africa is most associated with apartheid and is the context from which the term originates, the crime of apartheid has a far broader definition. ‘Apartheid’ isn’t a term of insult; it is a word with a specific legal meaning. [1]

While the regime that inspired the drafting of the Apartheid Convention came to an end in South Africa in 1990, apartheid continues to exist under international law as a crime against humanity that applies to other situations.

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 oppressing them.

Article II, International Convention on the Suppression and Punishment of the Crime of Apartheid, UN General Assembly Resolution 3068, 30 November 1973

Injustice and gross human rights violations were being perpetrated in Palestine. In the same period the UN took a strong stand against apartheid; … which helped us to bring an end to this ubiquitous system. But we know too well that our freedom is incomplete without the freedom of the Palestinians.

Address by President Nelson Mandela at the International Day of Solidarity with the Palestinian people, 1997

I know firsthand that Israel has created an apartheid reality within its borders and through its occupation. The parallels to my own beloved South Africa are painfully stark indeed.

Archbishop Desmond Tutu, June 2014

The following examples of the crime of apartheid specifically mentioned in the Convention are important to highlight in relation to Israel’s ongoing policies and practices towards the Palestinians:

  • Denial to a member or members of a racial group or groups of the right of life and liberty of person … by the infliction upon members of a racial group or groups of serious bodily or mental harm, by the infringement of their freedom or dignity, or by subjecting them to torture or to cruel, inhuman or degrading treatment or punishment
  • Any legislative measures and other measures calculated to prevent a racial group or groups from participation in the political, social, economic and cultural life of the country … [including] the right to leave and return to their country, the right to a nationality, the right to freedom of movement and residence …
  • Any measures including legislative measures designed to divide the population along racial lines by the creation of separate reserves and ghettos for the members of a racial group or groups … the expropriation of landed property belonging to a racial group. [2]

In 1998, the Rome Statute of the International Criminal Court (ICC) was adopted at an international conference. The ICC Statute includes the ‘crime of apartheid’ in a list of ‘crimes against humanity, describing apartheid as:

inhumane acts … committed in the context of an institutionalised regime of systematic oppression and domination by one racial group over any other racial group or groups and committed with the intention of maintaining that regime …

Israel was one of the seven countries (out of 148) to vote against the statute.

In 2012, the UN Committee on the Elimination of Racial Discrimination (CERD) criticised Israeli policies in terms of ‘apartheid’. The Committee’s observations covered Israel’s policies in the West Bank and Gaza and highlighted how the same discriminatory patterns are found on both sides of the Green Line (i.e. in both occupied territory and in Israel). It described ‘segregation between Jewish and non-Jewish communities’ a lack of ‘equal access to land and property’, and ‘the ongoing policy of home demolitions and forced displacement of the indigenous Bedouin communities’ in the Negev (Naqab).

CERD also focused on the lack of a ‘prohibition of racial discrimination’ in Israel’s Basic Law, as well as more recent developments, such as the restrictions on family unification affecting Palestinian citizens.

The Committee’s 2012 observations, which echo a stream of reports by respected human rights organisations and observers, have been described as the most cutting CERD recognition and condemnation of a legal system of segregation since apartheid South Africa.

The Russell Tribunal on Palestine

The Russell Tribunal was initiated by Lord Bertrand Russell to ‘prevent the crime of silence.’ It has no legal status but acts as a court of the people, a Tribunal of conscience, faced with injustices and violations of international law, that are not dealt with by existing international jurisdictions, or that are recognised but continue with complete impunity due to the lack of political will of the international community.

The Russell Tribunal on Palestine (RToP) was established in 2010, in response to the international community’s inaction towards Israel’s recognised violations of international law. The RToP was composed of eminent people – Nobel Prize Laureates, two former heads of state, writers, journalists, actors, film directors, scientists, professors, lawyers and judges – from all states, including Israel.

The final session in 2013 summarised the Tribunal’s findings which defined Israel’s overarching treatment of the Palestinians as apartheid and sociocide. In addition to the responsibility of states, the UN and the EU, it highlighted the responsibility of private corporations that assist Israel in its violations of international law.

Jurors brought the Tribunal to a close with an urgent appeal to all political actors and civil society to bring pressure to bear on Israel to halt its violations of international law, to dismantle its system of apartheid and rescind all discriminatory laws and practices.

Let’s heed their call. Take action. Make Apartheid History.

1. Saree Makdisi, Does the term ‘apartheid’ fit Israel? of course it does, Op-Ed, Los Angeles Times, 17 May 2014.

2. For further information and examples of how apartheid applies to the situation in Palestine, see Ben White’s Israeli Apartheid: A Beginners Guide, Pluto Press 2009.

March 2017: UN report is published

co-authored by Virginia Tilley and Richard Falk. Israeli Practices towards the Palestinian People and the Question of Apartheid commissioned by the UN Economic and Social Commission for Western Asia (ESCWA)

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).

Read the UN report here:


Richard Falk’s comments on the March 2017 UN report

At the launch of his new book “Palestine’s Horizon Toward a Just Peace” hosted by Middle East Monitor at the P21 Gallery in central London in April 2017, Richard Falk, former UN Special rapporteur said that the reality of apartheid for all Palestinians was the issue under scrutiny.

‘Palestinians are the collective victims of a deliberate process of sustaining Israeli dominance on the basis of race.’

He said we need to consider making an important shift ‘from ending the occupation to ending apartheid’ since this Israeli apartheid system affected Palestinians within and without the occupied territories.

Fifty years into an occupation he said ‘it’s intolerable and no longer acceptable to talk about ‘occupation’- ‘it is some kind of mixture of annexation and apartheid.’

Talking of recent UK government noises about ‘celebrating’ Balfour centenary, he described this as ‘colonialist memory cooked up as pride’ and said this was but one of a series of historic betrayals of the Palestinian people.

One such betrayal, he would lay at the door of the UN which pulled the recent report which he co-authored with Virginia Tilley for the Economic and Social Commission for Western Asia (ESCWA). The report entitled “Israeli Practices towards the Palestinian People and the Question of Apartheid” was launched on 15 March and concluded that Israel is guilty of policies and practices that constitute the crime of apartheid as legally defined in instruments of international law.

As MEMO reported: Rather than prompting a debate in the UN and the Security Council, its publication and conclusion was met with outrage by Israel and its ally the United States. Pressure was exerted on the recently appointed United Nations Secretary-General António Guterres to quash the report. This he did by directing ESCWA to withdraw the report because it did not have his approval. The demand was rejected. ESCWA’s Executive Secretary, Dr Rima Khalaf, eventually resigned from her role and the report was taken down form ESCWA’s website. A spokesman for the UN Chief confirmed “that Guterres had ordered that the report to be taken down but sought to make clear that the request was ‘not about content’ but about ‘process’.”

More here: https://www.middleeastmonitor.com/20170321-richard-falk-people-must-shame-un-for-quashing-apatheid-israel-report/

You can read the full report here:



‘There is overwhelming evidence that the system instituted by the Israeli government against the Palestinian people is correctly described as a system of apartheid. We have detailed some of this evidence, including the legal definition of apartheid. We encourage you to read about what apartheid means and why it has prompted Palestinian civil society to call for boycotts and divestment from companies and institutions complicit in Israel’s violations of international law, and trade and military sanctions on Israel, similar to those imposed on apartheid South Africa in the 1980s’.



Article by Richard Kuper May 2017

Richard Kuper was a founder member of Jews for Justice for Palestinians and its chair for many years. He remains active in campaigning for Palestinian rights, for pluralism in the Jewish community, against antisemitism and in supporting Free Speech on Israel.

Here I am more concerned about recognising that the attempt to outlaw its use carries real dangers of effectively stifling debate on an important issue – and possibly devaluing the term “antisemitism” in the process.


Apartheid applies within Israel as well as the Occupied Territories

Article by Jonathan Cook for Americans for Middle East Understanding


Not surprisingly, Israel’s supporters have been keen to restrict the use of the term “apartheid” to South Africa, as though a political system allocating key resources on a strictly racial or ethnic basis has only ever occurred in one place and at one time. It is often forgotten that the crime of apartheid is defined in international law, as part of the 2002 Rome Statute that created the International Criminal Court at The Hague. An apartheid system, the statute says, is “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 that regime.” In short, apartheid is a political system, or structure, that assigns rights and privileges based on racial criteria.

This definition, it will be argued in this essay, describes the political regime not only in the occupied territories – where things are actually even worse – but in Israel itself, where Jewish citizens enjoy institutional privileges over the 1.8 million Palestinians who have formal Israeli citizenship. These Palestinians are the remnants of the Palestinian people who were mostly dispersed by the 1948 war that established a Jewish state on the ruins of their homeland. These Palestinian citizens comprise about a fifth of Israel’s population.

Nowadays, when observers refer to Palestinians, they usually think of those living in the territories Israel occupied in 1967: the West Bank, Gaza and East Jerusalem.  Increasingly, observers (and peace processes) overlook two other significant groups.  The first are the Palestinian refugees who ended up beyond the borders of partitioned Palestine; the second are the 20 percent of Palestinians, some 150,000, who managed to remain on their land.  This figure was far higher than intended by Israel’s founders.