Anwar should have zeroed in on Israel's crime of apartheid at UN General Assembly

25 Sep 2023 07:45pm
Anwar at UNGA. Photo by Bernama
Anwar at UNGA. Photo by Bernama

Prime Minister Datuk Seri Anwar Ibrahim made his much-awaited maiden national statement speech at the United Nations General Assembly on Friday, 22 September 2023. He covered many aspects, including the issue of Islamophobia and the role of the UN in resolving conflicts and humanitarian crises in the world.

In his speech, he highlighted the geopolitical and geostrategic dilemma Malaysia and other nations faced due to rivalry between major powers. According to him, such a situation will result in a world where the masses are unrepresented and the few rule over the many.

He also cited problems in Ukraine, Palestine, Afghanistan and Myanmar and the role of the United Nations in resolving them. The wide-ranging speech was impressively delivered in English, demonstrating his well-known oratory skills.

On the issue of Palestine, PMX highlighted the ongoing injustice meted out to the Palestinians by Israel by pointing out the increase in the number of illegal settlements being built by Israel on Palestinian lands. He also highlighted the `flagrant hypocrisy’ of the West in dealing with the issue of Palestine. He urged the international community to speak up against the atrocities committed by Israel towards the Palestinians.

Unfortunately, the PM seems to forget that for decades, many world leaders, including the previous ministers of Malaysia, have spoken out against the injustice carried out by Israel towards Palestinians. In this context, Dr Mahathir is the most vocal of them.

What is needed now is not just strong voices but concrete actions. In this regard, the Palestinian-led global Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions (BDS) movement, which is inspired by the South African anti-apartheid movement, urges the international community to exert nonviolent pressure on Israel until it complies with international law by meeting three demands: 1. Ending its occupation and colonization of all Arab lands and dismantling the Wall 2. Recognizing the fundamental rights of the Arab-Palestinian citizens of Israel to full equality 3. Respecting, protecting and promoting the rights of Palestinian refugees to return to their homes and properties as stipulated in UN Resolution 194 Moreover, the BDS movement also stresses the need to highlight the crimes of apartheid committed by the Israeli regime towards the Palestinian people, followed by a call to boycott the regime unless the above demands are met.

'Apartheid' is a term in Afrikaans that means` separation'. The term was initially used to describe the discrimination against blacks in South Africa until it ended in 1994.

Now, the term 'apartheid' refers not just to the former South African regime but has even been adopted in international law to describe a category of regimes, defined in the United Nations International Convention on the Oppression and Criminal Punishment of Apartheid (1973).

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The definition of the term ‘apartheid’ has also been further refined in Article 7 of the Rome Statute of the International Criminal Court (2002), which defines the crime of apartheid as: “inhumane acts...committed in the context of an institutionalized regime of systematic oppression and domination by one racial group over any other racial group or groups and committed with the intention of maintaining that regime.” One must remember that Israel (or historic Palestine) and the Occupied Palestinian Territories (OPT) of the West Bank, East Jerusalem and the Gaza Strip form one territorial unit under complete Israeli control, either through colonization or military occupation. The Palestinian population is about half of the total population in all these areas.

However, under Israeli law, Palestinians are treated differently than Jews in almost every aspect of life, such as housing, education, health, employment, family life, residence, and freedom of movement. Dozens of Israeli laws and policies institutionalize this system of discrimination and domination.

In the OPT, Israeli Jews and Palestinians living in the same area are governed by separate legal systems. For example, in the West Bank, Jewish settlers living in settlements, which are illegal under international law, are governed by Israeli civil law, while Palestinians living in the same territory are governed by Israeli military law.

Within the state of Israel, no equal ‘Israeli’ citizenship status is shared by all citizens. In contrast, Israeli citizenship is divided into several categories. Those in the Jewish category will get far better rights and privileges than those in the Arab category. This differentiated treatment was made explicit when Israel passed the Nation State laws in 2018, which formally codified decades of discrimination and perpetuated two different classes of citizens, namely Arabs and Jews, under Israeli law.

UN officials and organizations have reported the apartheid crimes committed by Israel against the Palestinians under the UN. They include Professor Richard Falk, professor of law emeritus at Princeton University and UN special rapporteur on the Human Rights Situation in Palestine between 2008 and 2014 and Professor John Dugard, a law professor from South Africa who held the position of UN Special Rapporteur (previously Professor Richard Falk) who conducted a detailed study of the situation in Palestine and released his report in 2013; and Mr Michael Lynk, the UN Special Rapporteur on the situation of human rights in the Palestinian territories occupied since 1967, who made the report in 2019. All of them concluded that Israel committed crimes of apartheid against Palestinians.

In addition, the UN Committee on the Elimination of Racial Discrimination also condemned Israel’s apartheid policy in 2012. In March 2017, the UN Economic and Social Commission for West Asia (ESCWA) also concluded, based on solid evidence, that Israel was guilty of committing apartheid crimes.

In 2019, the United Nations Committee on the Elimination of Racial Discrimination (CERD) also concluded that Israel had violated the Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Racial Discrimination, ratified in 1979.

Several human rights organizations have also stated that Israel is implementing an apartheid policy against Palestinians. They include: 1. Human Rights Watch (HRW) released a report on 27 April 2021 entitled: ‘A Threshold Crossed - Israeli Authorities and the Crimes of Apartheid and Persecution’.

1. Human Rights Watch (HRW) released a report on 27 April 2021 entitled: ‘A Threshold Crossed - Israeli Authorities and the Crimes of Apartheid and Persecution’.

2. Amnesty International which released a report entitled `Israel’s apartheid against Palestinians: a cruel system of domination and a crime against humanity on 1 February 2022 3. B’Tselem, an Israel-based human rights organization, issued a report in January 2021 stating that the Israeli regime implemented an apartheid system in all territories it controlled.

Fortunately, there are some countries, which include Malaysia, that still refuse to recognize Israel. Dato Seri Ismail Sabri, the previous Prime Minister of Malaysia, was the only world leader who used the term ‘apartheid’ at the UN General Assembly last year to describe Israeli crimes towards the Palestinian people.

In conclusion, Israel’s continuous crimes of apartheid against the Palestinians are a stain on the world's moral conscience and need to be stopped. Suppose the efforts of the international BDS movement succeed in raising awareness of the reality of apartheid crimes by Israel. In that case, the international community cannot avoid the moral obligation to act against Israel as it did against apartheid South Africa: boycott, isolate and apply sanctions. Justice, freedom and equality for Palestinians will no longer seem impossible.

While we must appreciate PMX’s mention of the Palestinian issue in his speech, he could have done better by highlighting the Israeli crimes of apartheid.

Professor Dr Mohd Nazari Ismail is the director of Hashim Sani Centre for Palestine Studies.

The views expressed in this article are the author's own and do not necessarily reflect those of Sinar Daily.