After weeks of an historic cultural boycott of the 2022 Sydney Festival for "doing business with an apartheid regime", we are at a critical juncture. On February 1, a mere two days after the close of the festival, Amnesty International published a landmark 280-page report: Israel's apartheid against Palestinians: a cruel system of domination and a crime against humanity. If vindication was needed, this was it.
Joining dozens of Palestinian, international and Israeli human rights organisations, Amnesty's report reveals how Israel has developed political, legal and military systems to exercise control over every aspect of Palestinian life, through fragmentation, deprivation, dispossession, segregation and institutionalised laws, policies and practices intending to oppress and dominate.
For Palestinians, none of this is new. In a world where Palestinian testimonies, expertise and evidence are frequently silenced and dismissed, our argument that Israel practises the crime against humanity of apartheid has long been central in conversations and our archives.
The importance of Amnesty's report is that now, those who discount Palestinian voices cannot ignore the fact that one of the world's leading and most respected human rights agencies has affirmed, through meticulous evidence and detail, what Palestinian organisations and experts have been documenting for years. It also means Amnesty supporters who have traditionally left Palestine out of their progressive politics will need to reconcile the inconsistencies in their views.
Significantly, the Amnesty report goes further than other recently issued reports, like that of Human Rights Watch. It emphasises the right of return for Palestinians and their descendants, it acknowledges the Nakba as ethnic cleansing and therefore challenges Israel's foundational mythology, and it finds that Israel's apartheid regime transcends geography and impacts Palestinian people as a whole, including displaced Palestinian refugees in other countries.
In this sense, the report represents a momentous paradigm shift in the conversation. A shift from the occupation paradigm (as though the Palestinian struggle starts at 1967) to one which includes the 1948 Nakba and the Palestinian refugees expelled from their land.
Yet the report falls one crucial and logical step short: it fails to acknowledge and examine Zionism as the underlying ideology of this settler colonial project. It is impossible to understand the violence, dispossession, expulsions and demographic engineering detailed in the report unless you understand apartheid as symptom, not cause.
Such a diagnosis requires a critical race analysis. This is not difficult, given Israel, since its settler colonial beginnings, has explicitly defined itself in racial terms. For example, in 1950 the Law of Return stated that "every Jew has the right to settle in Israel", whereas indigenous Palestinians are not afforded this right. This effectively means that neither of our families can live in Palestine, whereas any Jewish person anywhere in the world has an automatic right to citizenship. More recently in 2018, the Jewish Nation-State Basic Law constitutionally enshrined the identity of the state of Israel as the nation-state of the Jewish people.
Jewish people's self-determination cannot be predicated on another people's dispossession, expulsion and elimination.
Whilst Amnesty's report highlights how Israel deploys apartheid as a methodology against Palestinians, it is not enough to simply speak to how Israel co-ordinates its settler colonial project, nor is it enough to monitor and "regulate" it. Although reports such as this one are fundamental in laying the groundwork for accountability, including pursuing legal remedies for the crime of apartheid, there can be no justice or freedom without addressing and dismantling the racial logics that animate and motivate apartheid policies. This means strategically using the law and other tools in service of the ultimate goal - decolonisation.
Ultimately, we must come to terms with Israeli apartheid as an egregious symptom of the underlying political and racially driven ideology of Zionism. We must look beyond the limited liberal "human rights" frameworks and commit to the liberation project that has long been espoused and led by Palestinians.
- Randa Abdel-Fattah is an author, academic and former lawyer. Sara Saleh is a writer, legal fellow and campaigner.