/ 5 May 2021

BDS: South Africa must support the ending of Israeli apartheid and colonisation

Palestinian and peace activist demonstrators are hosed by a water cannon during a protest against Israel's controversial barrier near the West Bank village of Bilin.
Palestinian and peace activist demonstrators are hosed by a water cannon during a protest against Israel's controversial barrier near the West Bank village of Bilin. (Reuters/Gil Cohen Magen)

Last week, the Human Rights Watch released a report titled A Threshold Crossed: Israeli Apartheid and the Crimes of Apartheid and Persecution, which “demonstrates that Israel is carrying out apartheid” against the Palestinians through actions that constitute persecution and apartheid — crimes against humanity in international law.

In 2009, the Human Sciences Research Council of South Africa (HSRC) released a 300-page study showing that Israel is practicing colonialism and apartheid. The HSRC commissioned an international team of scholars and practitioners of international public law from South Africa, the United Kingdom, Israel and the West Bank to conduct the study. It represented 15 months of research. The project was suggested in the January 2007 report by eminent South African jurist John Dugard, in his capacity as special rapporteur to the United Nations Human Rights Council.

Palestinian rights organisations such as Badil, Al Haq, Adalah, and Stop the Wall have pointed out Israel practices persecution and apartheid. UN reports from the Economic and Social Council for Western Asia, the Committee on the Elimination of Racial Discrimination as well as UN special rapporteurs, and international legal experts have repeatedly made this point. B’Tselem, the largest Israeli human rights organisation, came out clearly against Israeli apartheid earlier this year.

The narrative has moved towards characterising Israeli actions as crimes against humanity in terms of international law.

The UN Convention on the Suppression and Punishment of the Crime of Apartheid defines this crime against humanity as “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.” 

Omar Shakir, the Human Rights Watch director for Israel and Palestine who was deported by Israel in November 2019, said in an interview: “Israeli authorities maintain a two-tier system which privileges Jewish Israelis over Palestinians. The means used by Israeli authorities in the occupied territory amount to the systematic oppression needed to establish the crime of apartheid. Israeli authorities have committed a range of abuses against Palestinians. In the occupied territory, those abuses include mass land confiscation, the denial of residency rights and the suspension of civil rights, and rise to the threshold of inhumane acts and severe abuses of the fundamental rights of Palestinians. The international community should recognise the reality on the ground for what it is and press the Israeli authorities to end apartheid and persecution.”

The South African cabinet has signed the UN Apartheid Convention. The government should support the recommendations in the report, which include targeted sanctions; an embargo on military and security equipment; the establishment of a UN global envoy for crimes of apartheid; the launch of a UN commission of inquiry to investigate systematic discrimination and repression in the Occupied Palestinian Territories (OPT) and an international commission of inquiry to investigate discrimination and repression based on group identity in the OPT and Israel.

It is not enough to leave the findings of the Human Right Watch report, like reports before it, to the international legal system. Rather, the goals of ending Israeli apartheid and colonisation, full equality and the Palestinian right of return to their land must be supported.

It is 27 years since South Africa’s first democratic elections and Nelson Mandela said: “We know too well that our freedom is incomplete without the freedom of the Palestinians.”