Civic Freedoms in the Occupied Palestinian Territory: Israel’s Racist Policies towards Palestinians

Although the reasons may differ based on arguments, many believe Israel’s policy of demolishing Palestinian houses in the occupied Palestinian territory is politically motivated and racially informed. The purpose: to impoverish the Palestine people by confining the residents of the West Bank, East Jerusalem and Gaza to small enclaves or entirely chase them out of the region.

Thus, they foreclose the Palestinian entity and identity, the realization of Palestinian self-determination, and consolidating Israeli domination and illegal settlement expansion and de-facto annexation of the occupied territory. The sights from the homes of Palestinians are that of racial discrimination and ethnic displacement.

The policies are harsh on the Palestine community, and violate fundamental human rights and international law, an example being the commitments taken by state parties to the International Convention on the Elimination of Racial Discrimination earlier and constitute a major hindrance to achieving justice, peace and reconciliation between the Peoples of the region.

The United Nations Security Council and General Assembly have attempted several times to resolve the conflicts formed by the Israeli actions but have failed woefully. The case is peculiar because there is no comparable linkage between the United Nations actions and any other prolonged denial to a people of their right of self-determination.

Palestine People rights under Israeli Occupation in the Gaza Strip and West Bank and Arab lands

Over 4.6 million Palestinians live in the occupied Palestinian territory and they are not ruled by the de facto Israeli civil law, but by military law, codified as orders issued by the commander of the territories and administered by the Israeli Defense Forces (IDF) and other designated arms of the occupying power. However, with the withdrawal of settlers in 2005 due to the Israeli ‘engagement’, the Hamas Government has internally governed the Gaza Strip. Despite this, Israeli laws exclusively control Palestinian movement and trade, whether within or out of the territory, with unilaterally imposed “security zone”. In the eyes of the United Nations, Gaza remains under Israeli military occupation.

Based on a comprehensive report by the Human Rights Research Council of South Africa, Israeli practices in the occupied Palestinian territory are tremendously linked with apartheid. However, the Israeli government constantly denies those findings.

Here are basic ways the system denies Palestinians their basic rights.

Freedom of Expression:

Definitely the most widespread of all the abuse. Political rights and freedom of speech is not guaranteed for Palestinians under the army control of the area. The military serve as all three arms of government and acts at will for the best interest of the Israeli government. The basic rights to protest, the right to assemble, and the right to representation are limited or entire stamped during belligerent occupation.

Freedom of movement

Belligerent occupation designates occupied territories as closed military areas, meaning that no one can leave the area without obtaining adequate permission to do so.

Also, the prolonged nature of the occupation has led to more and more repression of movement. In the past, the Palestinian movement was accommodated and managed. Thus, during calmer political/social climates, permission is obtained to leave, with relative ease. But as attacks against Israeli citizens in the territories and in Israel became more frequent, movement was further clamped down. These restrictions, ironically, are in accordance with humanitarian law, and even with human rights law, which allows the restriction of freedom of movement for security reasons.

Due to the prolonged nature of the occupation, in the past the norm was to accommodate Palestinian movement in so far as possible. Therefore, during periods of relative calm, permission to leave was granted with comparative ease. Serious restrictions on leaving and entering the territories started as attacks against Israeli citizens in the territories and in Israel became more frequent.

Freedom of work

The imposed occupation on Gaza has generated a consistent unemployment crisis in the Occupied Palestinian Territory.

There is a major deficit on employment opportunities in the domestic economy and this coerces many working class Palestinians to travel to seek employment in Israel.

Many Palestinians are strained to find employment in Israeli settlements, and this is a violation of the obligations of Israel. These workers usually get the more dangerous and difficult jobs, for lesser pay despite their qualifications.

Israeli Apartheid Policies (Racial and Demographic)

The term “apartheid” may suggest that the system of racial discrimination as practiced by the South African regime.

Human Rights Watch published a report in 2010, titled Separate and Unequal, which was focused on documenting Israel’s discrimination against Palestinians in favor of settlers. According to the report, the effect of these harsh policies on Palestinians is a forcible removal of their people living in the occupied territory, and back to areas under Palestinian Authority control or moving entirely out of the West Bank, because many are unable to make a life for themselves – because there’s no sufficient work or freedom to move around to find work.

The most common methods used by Israel to restrict Palestinian development, is the denial of permit to legal Palestinians who are ready to work. According to the World Bank, if Israel lifts their harsh administrative controls, an example of which is construction and resource extraction in Area C, a total of $3.4 billion would have been generated annually for the Palestinian economy. This is a whopping, increase of 35 percent in its GDP. The additional income would generate $800 million in government tax receipts; this is half the Palestinian Authority’s debt. Rather than help, Israel have imposed laws banning Palestinians from harvesting minerals such as potash and bromine from the Dead Sea, amounting to a nearly $1 billion loss annually. Israel also has restricted Palestinians from access to massive land space, which it has designated as municipal areas andfiring zones etc.

International law and Israeli Apartheid (how apartheid deny the Rights of Palestinians)

“Apartheid is a loaded term, saturated with history and emotion.”

Apartheid, once mentioned, portrays an image of discrimination, indulgence, oppression, racism and emancipation. These images are with us, because we think of South Africa whenever we hear ‘apartheid’. There’s a vague meaning, because the law has never quite paid attention to it. As the apartheid system died in South Africa, the UN treaty-monitoring body for the International Convention on the Suppression and Punishment of the Crime of Apartheid was dissolved.

According to the Apartheid Convention, apartheid is a “domination by one racial group of persons over any other racial group of persons…”. The Rome Statute uses a close set of words: “…systematic oppression and domination by one racial group over any other racial group or groups…” The interesting thing:, neither Jews nor Palestinians are referred to as “races” in present day and age. Moreover, these days, Jews are popularly argued to include many “races” in the sense of the good old colour categories: black, white, Asian etc. Therefore, any accusation that suggests Israel sustains an apartheid regime is challenged with the idea that: the Israeli-Palestinian conflict is not racial in nature. The argument then goes thus Jews cannot be racist towards Palestinians because Jews themselves are not a race.

Race, through the first half of the century, was considered scientifically established and proved. Consequently, there can be no single, authoritative and global definition of race. The single way to gauge how racial identities are perceived, if done locally, is the historical studies of racial thought and by field observations in each local setting.

In Israel/Palestine there are two main ethno-national groups:

  • The Israeli Jews who are united by their status as full citizens of the country.
  • Palestinian Arabs who are divided by their confused  legal status into citizens in ‘Israel occupation’, resident non-citizens in ‘Greater Israel’, and non- resident non-citizens in ‘Greater Palestine’.

The two groups each have a different language, political identity, religion and ethnic origins. Just ten per cent of Palestinian Israeli citizens are completely bilingual. Most of the Jews have Arab cultural origins, but this legacy has been wiped clean over the years spanning three generations of political and cultural assimilation.

South African leading legal scholar of apartheid and jurist, John Dugard clarifies how the term ‘apartheid’ gains its universal application, as in the contested case of Israel.

“That the Apartheid Convention is intended to apply to situations other than South Africa is confirmed by its endorsement in a wider context in instruments adopted before and after the fall of apartheid… It may be concluded that the Apartheid Convention is dead as far as the original cause for its creation – apartheid in South Africa – is concerned, but that it lives on as a species of the crime against humanity, under both customary international law and the Rome Statute of the International Criminal Court (emphasis added).”

In the Occupied Palestinian Territory, Israel neglects the law of occupation and its duties as an occupying power.

A central violation of the law of occupation in the present context is the disregarding of the law of occupation, which states that the status quo in occupied areas has to be preserved as much as possible within the occupied territory – a responsibility that falls to the occupying power. Another major flout of this law is the expansion of Israeli settlements in the West Bank region.

Recommendation for the UN and European Union             

Erga Omnes is a basic norm of international order means that with regard to certain essential obligations, there is an interest in compliance that extends beyond the immediate parties to a situation. The crises in the Gaza Strip are something that must be tackled by all.

The United Nations and the EU have a holy obligation to ensure compliance by Israel with its obligations as an occupying power. The UN Security Council as well must ensure there is peace, in accordance with article 24 of the Charter of the United Nations. If the Security Council does not deliver in this task because it lacks agreement between the permanent members to take a decision, the responsibility automatically falls on the General Assembly. With regard to settlements in an occupied territory, the Security Council had called upon member states to refrain from providing funds to be used for settlements construction and expansion.

Also, the Security Council, in its resolution 2334, have called upon all Member States to “distinguish, in their relevant dealings, between the territory of the State of Israel and the territories occupied since 1967”. For example, European States have acted with unity in their joint trade policies to accentuate the idea that the Occupied Palestinian Territory is not under the sovereignty of Israel. is unlawful, constitutes a threat to peace.