GVS Assistant Editor Farah Adeed discusses the recent report of the Human Rights Watch with Tolerance with Prof. Farid Abdel-Nour, Chair of the Department of Political Science, San Diego State University-USA. The report titled A Threshold Crossed: Israeli Authorities and the Crimes of Apartheid and Persecution alleges that the state of Israel is committing the crime of apartheid and persecution against the Palestinians. Adeed asks if there is a genuine concern for human rights that drives this report or there may be more to it.
GVS: I have read it somewhere that you have “a special interest in Israeli-Palestinian relations”. So, before moving on, I would like you to briefly explain the nature and scope of the Israeli-Palestine conflicts to our readers.
FA: In a nutshell, the Israeli-Palestinian conflict is about the establishment of the state of Israel by the dismemberment of Palestinian society. Israeli independence in 1948 and the Palestinian Nakba are inextricable. Ever since 1948 Palestinians have been dispossessed, dispersed and dominated. Their situation became worse in 1967 when more of them came under the direct control of the state of Israel. To this day Palestinians are deprived of any opportunity to exercise self-determination, and most suffer severe deprivations of their human rights. This conflict cannot end justly unless the rights and dignity of Palestinians and Israelis are respected equally.
GVS: Human Rights Watch (HRW), an acclaimed international rights group, has claimed in its latest report that the “Israeli authorities methodically privilege Jewish Israelis and discriminate against Palestinians,” and these “deprivations are so severe that they amount to the crimes against humanity of apartheid and persecution.” How do you see the report and interpret its findings?
FA: The report is very carefully researched and makes a compelling legal argument that the state of Israel is committing two crimes against humanity: the crime of apartheid, and the crime of persecution. The value of the report lies in matching the extensive empirical research, which reveals patterns that will be familiar to anyone who is knowledgeable about this conflict, with a legal analysis of international law to make a compelling case.
For people who are not sure about what to think about this conflict, a quick look at the report’s summary is sobering and orienting. It focuses on the big questions that are relevant to anyone who cares about human rights.
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GVS: Do you think there is a genuine concern for human rights that drives this report or there is something more to it?
FA: It is a serious report, clearly the work of a very committed team. Its historical and political claims are well documented. It is difficult to imagine why anyone without a genuine concern for human rights would expend so much energy to document so painstakingly the two crimes against humanity that the report focuses on. The sources used are broad and give voice to the Palestinians who suffer from the documented crimes. I see no reason to question the motives of the authors of the report.
GVS: I have read the report. Its basic theme is quite clear; discrimination against Palestinians constitutes apartheid. How do you think will it benefit the Palestinians or their cause on the ground?
FA: Palestinian oppression and suffering has been going on for over 70 years. No report, no matter by whom, is likely to improve their life in any immediate sense. The problems, as the report outlines them clearly, are very deep-seated and structural. Any serious change must begin with clear thinking about the situation on the ground. For example, what the report makes clear (without necessarily saying it explicitly) is why abstract talk, in diplomatic circles, about a two-state solution is disconnected from the reality on the ground. The report documents many serious obstacles that should complicate such talk.
By focusing on the question of systematic persecution and systematic favoring of one group of people at the expense of another, the report correctly changes the subject from talking about the “end game” of one state vs. two states, to the one thing that any solution worth having would have to respect, which is equal rights and dignity for Israelis and Palestinians.
GVS: Democrats and Republicans have had an implicit consensus to remain ‘indifferent’ when it comes to Israel and its policies towards Palestine. Do you see any change in the policy now?
FA: The probable response to the report by both parties, is likely going to be to try hard to ignore it. However, reports like this, when they accumulate, and there are a number of others, most notably recently by the Israeli Human Rights group B’Tselem, can make it impossible to keep turning away.
There are real and palpable changes within the Democratic party. The left wing of the party does not buy the mainstream’s views that are consistently biased towards Israel, and often raises challenges from the margins. There is also a palpable generational shift. Young Americans who are moved by the Black Lives Matter movement, and are attentive to social justice, are increasingly questioning the received mainstream views about Israel/ Palestine, and they are raising challenges. This is not likely to yield a change in policy now. But, it is a real phenomenon that is not irrelevant for the future.
As to the Republican party, its problems are deep. As a party that has come to accept Trumps’ racist views, it is not today particularly receptive to claims about social justice, human rights, or crimes against humanity. Furthermore, its significant base among Evangelical Christians disposes it to support the very hardline views of the right wing in Israel. Some of the extremist religious views among some in this group are very disturbing and evince utter disregard for Palestinian lives and suffering.
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GVS: HRW’s report urges the international community to re-evaluate its relationship with Israel and to form a United Nations commission of inquiry ‘to investigate systematic discrimination and repression in Israel and the Palestinian territories’. How will the Western world, global civil society and the international media respond to this demand?
FA: Again, it is hard to predict. But, lately, in the U.S. and even more so in the E.U. and the U.K., any calls to investigate crimes by Israel, or to consider reexamining relations with it, are immediately attacked by bogus accusations of antisemitism. What has happened is that real antisemitism, which exists in these societies, and others, has been on the rise. Some advocates for Israel, have exploited this very disturbing fact to obfuscate and confuse people, and to create the impression that any criticism of Israel is antisemitic.
So, I expect that any attempts to heed the report’s call for the international community to re-evaluate its relationship with Israel will be met with bogus accusations of antisemitism. The same applies to global civil society and media outlets. Those who find themselves accused unfairly in this way will need the strength of character and the moral fortitude to distinguish between real antisemitism that they must learn to recognize and abhor, and the false accusations made against them, that are designed to intimidate and pressure them to turn away from Palestinian suffering, and to let the crimes committed by the state of Israel against them continue.
History shows that even when it is difficult to speak up for justice, some people still do, and do it at great personal cost. So, I suspect, this HRW report will motivate some to add their voices. They should however be prepared and steel themselves for the ugly attacks to which they will undoubtedly be subjected when they do.
GVS: HRW called on the International Criminal Court’s prosecutor to “investigate and prosecute individuals credibly implicated” in apartheid and persecution. Will it happen?
FA: The International Criminal court has already declared that it has jurisdiction and has initiated an investigation. This is a very significant beginning. The process could be scuttled in any number of ways, (including via political pressure), but where we are is further than most supporters of Palestinian rights thought possible until very recently.
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GVS: The countries having a clear stance on the question of Palestine like Pakistan have long been accusing it of committing war crimes. Do you think this report will benefit their narrative to get credibility at the international level?
FA: I think every small step matters. This report will not suddenly change much. But it does add to the undeniable record of serious Israeli violations of international law, and makes it harder and harder for people of conscience to ignore Palestinian suffering. The worst thing for those who suffer in the ways documented so well in the HRW report is for their suffering to take place without other people paying attention to it.
The report makes it harder to live in illusions and to pretend that the situation in Israel/Palestine is palatable. It forces a choice between rationalizing and justifying crimes against humanity, and supporting justice and human dignity for all.
To avoid facing this choice, some will try to discredit the report, and yet others will try to bury it. But I doubt that any people of conscience who read it will not remain unmoved.