The Amnesty International report describing Israel as a modern form of apartheid has generated an intense debate regarding the use of the word apartheid and much less debate on the substance of the report. The undeniable truth is that in the area under Israel’s direct control there are clear differences in the rights between Israeli Jews and Palestinian Arabs, be they citizens of Israel or residents of the Palestinian Authority areas. The entire geographic area of Israel and the West Bank is controlled by Israel, and it has total freedom of movement and access to all of the areas.
Fifty-five years after the Six-Day War (1967), we live in a binational reality that discriminates between Israeli Jews and Palestinian Arabs. After 1967, there was hope that territories conquered in the war would be exchanged for peace. That did not happen and instead of peace based on partition we have Israeli control with a binational reality that embodies a new form of apartheid – meaning two peoples under one controlling authority, which grants superior status to those who are part of the controlling authority.
Israel has never denied that it is the nation-state of the Jewish people and it is not the state of all of its citizens. It even passed a law to send the message to the Palestinian Arab citizens of Israel: This country will never be yours! This is a very bizarre way for a so-called democracy to define itself. Almost two million Israeli Palestinian citizens of Israel are not defined by their own state as full citizens and the state in which they were born and live tells them that this is not their state. The three and half million Palestinians living in the West Bank do not enjoy full citizenship of any country recognized by Israel.
The 350,000 Palestinians in east Jerusalem living under Israel’s direct unilaterally determined sovereignty are not citizens of Israel and in fact have no citizenship at all. Unlike the Palestinians in the West Bank, the Palestinians in east Jerusalem, nearly 40% of Jerusalemites don’t even have a passport that represents them and their nationality. They live under a completely different reality than the one I live in within the same city. The difference is that I am a Jewish Israeli and they are Palestinian Arabs. One state with two realities.
For decades, the two-states solution advocates have warned that the failure to partition the land of Israel into two states, as prescribed by the UN Resolution of November 29, 1947, into a Jewish state and an Arab (Palestinian) state, would lead to a one-state reality. We have been in that one state reality for decades, but with the failure of Israel to continue to adhere to a two-state solution and to advance it, what has emerged is a clear form of discrimination, which for lack of a better term is called apartheid. It is not racially based, as the official definition of apartheid is, and it is not based on full separation, as South African apartheid was, but it is clearly a situation of two peoples, two ethnicities, living in the same territory with two separate legal systems, two separate economies, with one side in power and control and the other at the mercy of the will of a great military force.
There is not a single area of life in which Jewish Israelis do not have significantly more privileges than Palestinian Arabs, regardless if they live in Israel, east Jerusalem or the West Bank. Under the Jewish State of Israel, Arabs are not equal to the Jewish citizens of Israel, regardless if they are living in Israel, east Jerusalem or the West Bank. The sharpest degree of inequality is in the West Bank where Jews live under Israeli law, despite the territory not being under the sovereignty of Israel, and where the Palestinians are subject to Israeli military rule and law.
Since Benjamin Netanyahu took over ruling Israel in 2009, he successfully removed the two-state solution from the table, and to a great extent removed the Palestinian issue from the agenda of Israel and the international community. It should be noted that Palestinian internal divisions and the increasing lack of legitimacy of the Palestinian Authority on the Palestinian street contribute a great deal to the demise of the importance of Palestine to the regional and international agenda as well. That being said, the issue is still with us and no solution, no negotiations and no progress is our reality.
The warnings of the advocates of two states are now more real than ever. The Bennett-Lapid government has committed itself not to negotiate with the Palestinians. The Palestinians have little power to bring the international community to entice or to force the parties to the table. The Biden Administration is not interested in catching the bull by the horns and leading a new US peace process. Few people in the region have the appetite for a peace process.
The Amnesty International report could be the launching pad to international action against Israel in the way that similar reports had the impact to generate global boycotts against South African apartheid. The detailed, researched report will be adopted by many actors around the world and Israelis attempts to deflect it with claims of antisemitism will not change the reality on the ground between the river and the sea. The Amnesty International report is a mirror of reality and even if the Israeli government rejects it, the reality remains with us and that is not changing.
The writer is a political and social entrepreneur who has dedicated his life to Israel, and to peace between Israel and her neighbors. He is now directing The Holy Land Bond.