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Message from Cape Town: Israel applies apartheid to Palestinians

Nov. 18, 2011 6:07 P.M. (Updated: Nov. 20, 2011 10:15 P.M.)
By Frank Barat and Victor Kattan

The Russell Tribunal on Palestine, an international citizen-based tribunal of conscience, has found that "Israel subjects the Palestinian people to an institutionalized regime of domination amounting to apartheid as defined under international law."

The Tribunal met in November at the District Six Museum in Cape Town, which commemorates the destruction and forced relocation of Cape Town’s multi-cultural District Six community by the apartheid government.

The convening of the tribunal in a country where apartheid was established and dismantled is significant. There is already a feeling in South Africa that Israel’s discrimination against the Palestinian people amounts to apartheid.

As Nelson Mandela once said: "We cannot feel free until the Palestinians are free."

The jury included concentration camp survivor Stephane Hessel, and member of the African National Congress Ronnie Kasrils, as well as a Nobel Peace Prize winner, former US Congresswoman and Pulitzer prize-winning author.

They called 25 expert witnesses to present testimony, including people who experienced apartheid in South Africa, and others who live in Israel and Palestine.

Many had traveled to South Africa from all over the world, including Israel and the occupied Palestinian territories, although Israel prevented some Palestinian witnesses from traveling.

The Israeli government was invited to present its case before the tribunal but it chose not to exercise this right and provided no answer to correspondence from the tribunal.

During the second day of the tribunal's Cape Town session, Israeli lawmaker in the Kadima party Otniel Schneller called for the Israeli parliament's Ethics Committee to revoke the Israeli citizenship of Haneen Zoabi, a Palestinian member of Israel’s Knesset who testified before the tribunal.

Under the 1973 Apartheid Convention it is a crime to persecute individuals who oppose apartheid.

The tribunal found that Israel’s system of discrimination is manifested in varying intensity and forms against different categories of Palestinians depending on their location.

"Palestinian citizens of Israel, while entitled to vote, are not part of the Jewish nation as defined by Israeli law and are therefore excluded from the benefits of Jewish nationality and subject to systematic discrimination across the broad spectrum of recognized human rights," its findings note.

In the West Bank, Palestinians "are subject to a particularly aggravated form of apartheid," the tribunal found.

"Palestinians are subject to military law enforced by military courts that fall far short of international fair trial standards; Israeli Jews living in illegal settlements are subject to Israeli civil law and a civil court system. The result is a vastly different procedure and sentence for the same crime, committed in the same jurisdiction, by members of a different group."

The tribunal called on states "to exert sufficient pressure on Israel, including the imposition of sanctions, the severing of diplomatic relations collectively through international organizations, or in the absence of consensus, individually by breaking bilateral relations with Israel."

It also called on global civil society "to replicate the spirit of solidarity that contributed to the end of apartheid in South Africa, including by making national parliaments aware of the findings of this Tribunal and supporting the campaign for Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions."

Another recommendation calls for "the UN General Assembly to reconstitute the UN Special Committee against Apartheid, and to convene a special session to consider the question of apartheid against the Palestinian people."

It suggested that it "compile a list of individuals, organizations, banks, companies, corporations, charities, and any other private or public bodies which assist Israel’s apartheid regime with a view to taking appropriate measures."

Palestinian human rights group Al-Haq said the tribunal's findings "represent an important step towards mobilizing public opinion and putting pressure on decision makers with regard to Israeli practices against the Palestinian people in breach of the prohibition on apartheid."

It is to be hoped that the Russell Tribunal on Palestine has now made the case against Israeli apartheid even stronger and that civil society will use its findings with great effect in the coming months.

It is after all, down to us, the people, to make things change and to struggle, together for a just peace for all, regardless of ethnicity, religion, nationality, or political views.

The quest for global justice is a universal one.

Victor Kattan is the program director of Al Shabaka, the Palestinian policy network. Frank Barat is a human rights activist and coordinator of the Russell Tribunal on Palestine.
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