Human Rights Watch: a threshold crossed


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The author is co-editor, Jadaliyya,, an independent electronic publication produced by the Institute for Arab Studies based in Washington DC / Beirut

Israeli authorities commit the crimes against humanity of apartheid and persecution, Human Rights Watch said in a report released on April 27. The conclusion is based on a general policy of the Israeli government aimed at maintaining the domination of Jewish Israelis over Palestinians and the serious abuses committed against living Palestinians. in the occupied territory, including East Jerusalem. Credit: Human Rights Watch (HRW)

THE HAGUE, The Netherlands, April 30, 2021 (IPS) – Human Rights Watch April 27 report, A Threshold Crossed: Israeli Authorities and Crimes of Apartheid and Persecution, could also have been titled Better Late Than Never.

The evidence and analysis expounded in this 217-page report and its 867 footnotes, large and robust as they are, have been available to HRW for years. Likewise, its findings have been rife in the region, and often beyond, since the inception of HRW. So it is not Israel, but rather HRW that has crossed a threshold.

The most relevant question is why HRW has chosen this moment to formally recognize reality. HRW is the industry leader in its field. As an establishment institution that favors access to the corridors of power, it generally avoids open conflict with American foreign policy.

And compared to his reporting on other MENA states, he has until recently been extremely reluctant to explicitly condemn Israeli conduct or unambiguously accuse it of criminal conduct – HRW’s unequivocal denunciations have in fact been traditionally directed against Palestinians and other Arabs rather than Israel.

Additionally, top HRW executives such as Founding Chairman Robert Bernstein and Life Chairman Ken Roth are known for their pro-Israel sympathies. Bernstein, for example, was a shameless apologist for Israel who never encountered an Israeli violation that he would not justify.

It is common knowledge within the human rights community that HRW staff have a rather different view of Israel and its conduct, and for many years have acted to have their organization compel Israel to respect the same. standards it applies to others in the region.

When, in particular during the past year, Israeli human rights organizations, notably B’Tselem, issued major reports characterizing Israel as an apartheid regime, HRW’s continued silence on the question has become politically untenable and somewhat embarrassing.

As in other aspects of the Israeli-Palestinian relationship, Americans follow the lead of their Israeli counterparts and hardly ever get ahead of them.

Likewise, HRW’s leadership has always been adept at guessing political winds, and it may be that they have assessed the direction of the ongoing International Criminal Court (ICC) deliberations on Palestine, and have seen the benefit. to get on the right side of history and position yourself to claim part of the credit.

A report by the world’s largest human rights organization accusing Israel of apartheid and calling on it to face the real consequences of its policies is by definition a significant development. And precisely because of the history of HRW, and because it is a renowned American organization, this report acquires added importance.

For example, the campaign by Israel and its apologists to ban Palestinian rights advocacy and delegitimize conclusions that Israel is an institutionally racist state has, I suspect, taken a heavy blow.

Whenever Israel is denounced as a racist state or a compulsive violator of Palestinian rights, it seeks to make such irrelevant judgments and delegitimize its critics – including, it should be noted, the Jews – with specious accusations. anti-Semitism. It’s a well-worn playbook often supplemented by other dirty tricks and propaganda like exposing critics like terrorists and fellow travelers. But the duck of anti-Semitism remains at the heart of his response.

Likewise, authoritative reports by leading Israeli and American organizations make it more difficult for the media and Western authorities to continue to avoid serious discussions of Palestinian rights and Israeli practices, and may give power to those within those institutions who seek to promote greater debate on Israeli-Palestinian issues. These reports can also be a valuable educational resource and aid in advocacy efforts.

The more interesting question is what consequences, if any, A Threshold Crossed and similar publications could have on Israel’s continued impunity in its relations with the Palestinian people.

Apartheid is not a murder by a soldier who can theoretically be tried, nor a war crime by a commander or a government minister who can theoretically be held to account.

Rather, it is the intentional and consciously designed character of a state and, as such, involves not only the state itself, but all participating leaders, officials and bureaucrats. It will be interesting to see, for example, whether such reports have an impact on the ongoing deliberations within the ICC prosecutor’s office on the situation in Palestine.

It will also be interesting to see if these reports are registered in the United Nations system. In 2017, Secretary-General Antonio Gutteres scandalously bowed to American and Israeli pressure, disassociated the UN and tried to suppress a report commissioned by ESCWA on the same subject.

This led to the resignation of the highly respected ESCWA Executive Secretary Rima Khalaf. Given that his spokesperson Stéphane Dujarric recently refused to recognize the Armenian genocide on the grounds that it occurred before the creation of the UN (perhaps he is of the opinion that the Nazi Holocaust commemorated by the UN in January was perpetrated in the 1970s), I’m not particularly optimistic.

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