IS ISRAEL AN APARTHEID STATE?
Renowned Nezareth-based journalist Jonathan Cook says not only is
Israel’s control of the West
Bank based on an apartheid system of segregation but also the system
inside Israel proper. One
of the top Israeli human rights lawyers, Michael Sfard, disagrees. In a Tel
Aviv interview with The
Real News’ Lia Tarachansky he talks about his conclusion that Israeli
control in the West Bank is
now only moving towards an apartheid-like system based on the dual
legal systems that Israeli
settlers and Palestinians get subjected to. He describes that if an Israeli
settler and a Palestinian
were to be arrested for the same crime, they would be judged,
investigated, and convicted in
separate legal systems.
LIA TARACHANSKY, PRODUCER [VOICEOVER], TRNN: The question of whether Israel falls under the definition of apartheid has been raised numerous times in recent years. Two former Israeli prime ministers warned of it. Ehud Barak, also currently minister of defense, said that as long as in this territory west of the Jordan River there’s only one political entity called Israel, it is going to be either non-Jewish or nondemocratic: "if this bloc of millions of Palestinians cannot vote, that will be an apartheid state." At this year’s annual Bil’in conference, renowned journalist and author Jonathan Cook spoke about the subject.
JONATHAN COOK, JOURNALIST AND AUTHOR: There are, for example, at least 30 laws that explicitly discriminate between Jews and non-Jews, "non-Jews" referring in the main to the fifth of the Israeli population who are Palestinian citizens. The reason for the very separate cultural and emotional worlds of Jewish and Palestinian citizens in Israel is not difficult to fathom. They live in entirely separate physical worlds. They live apart in segregated communities, separated not through choice but by legally enforceable rules and procedures. Even in the so-called handful of mixed cities, Jews and Palestinians usually live apart in distinct and clearly defined neighborhoods. The Zakais want their friends the Tarabins to rent their home in an agricultural village called Nevatim in the Negev. Currently it’s an exclusively Jewish community. The Tarabins face serious housing problems in their own Bedouin community. What the Zakais have discovered is that there are overwhelming social and legal obstacles to Palestinians moving out of the ghettos in which they’re supposed to live. Not only is Nevatim’s elected leadership deeply opposed to the Bedouin family entering their community, but also, it seems, is the Israeli court.
TARACHANSKY: Michael Sfard is one of the leading human rights lawyers in Israel. His Tel Aviv-based legal practice represents many Israeli human rights groups and high-profile rights cases. The most famous is his firm’s challenge of the separation wall annexing land from the village of Bil’in. He gave The Real News a multi-part interview in Tel Aviv.
MICHAEL SFARD, HUMAN RIGHTS LAWYER: I never got to the conclusion that Israel is an apartheid state. I have reached the conclusion that some of the policies and practices that Israel applies to the West Bank amount to apartheid. In the West Bank, there are two communities: Palestinians, the vast majority; and a considerably smaller community of Israelis, Jews, and they live in the settlements. Now, different laws apply to each community. Each community has its own areas of residence. The policy, though, or the main, the mega-policy of the recent decade or so, and even more, that is applied by the government of Israel and by the Israeli army in respect to the relations between those two communities is one of separation: to separate the territory where each community resides and lives its life, to separate road system, the water, electricity networks, and to apply different laws to each community.
TARACHANSKY: So what are the laws that rule the West Bank?
SFARD: First of all, there is the law of the land in the West Bank. The law of the land is a combination of Turkish Ottoman law, British Mandatory law, Jordanian law, and Israeli military law. All these layers of legal norms applied to the West Bank applies to anyone who’s there, whether he’s an Israeli, a Jewish Israeli, an Arab Israeli, a Palestinian from the West Bank, or a tourist, for that matter. Okay? These are applied to all. In parallel to that, through very complex legal techniques, Israel has applied some of its laws on Israelis in the West Bank. Okay? Some of its lawsï¿½for example, the Israeli criminal code was applied extraterritorially to Israelis who are not in the sovereign territory of the state of Israel but in the West Bankï¿½or Gaza Strip, before the disengagement plan was implemented.
TARACHANSKY: And how do the different laws get applied to the two different communities?
SFARD: Let’s take two neighbors. Let’s assume that both committed the offense of manslaughterï¿½each killed his neighbor. The Israeli would be detained by the Israeli police. The police will have to bring him before a magistrate court judge in Jerusalem within 24 hours, because the Israeli law allows detention up until 24 hours. Any extension must be done by virtue of a court order. The magistrate judge would be able to extend this detention by 15 days maximum, twice. And then, if he will be charged with the offense of manslaughter, he will be tried in an Israeli civil court, district court, and will face up to 20 years’ imprisonment, which is the maximum penalty for manslaughter. His neighbor who committed the same crime under the same circumstances will be detained by the Israeli army. He will be detained for up to 8 days. Only then any extension needs a court order. The court who will decide whether to extend the detention is a military court presided by Israeli officers. They will beï¿½they have the power to extend the detention by 30 days, and a total of 90 days, every time 30 days. And if he will be indicted for manslaughter, he will be tried by a military courtï¿½again, by military judges who are Israeli officersï¿½and he will face a maximum penalty of life imprisonment. Two offenses, same crime, same circumstances, two different systems of investigation, prosecution, and judgment.
TARACHANSKY: And what is the difference between the law the criminal court abides by from the law the military court abides by?
SFARD: Well, the Israeli District Court would abide to an Israeli modern criminal code of criminal law and criminal procedure. The military courts are military courts: they are presided by officers, and the law that applies to them is military law, enacted not by a democratically elected parliament but by a military commander, a person, one person, who is the military commander, who possesses the power to enact laws in the occupied territory.
TARACHANSKY: So what more needs to happen for Israel, at least its control over the West Bank, to be classified as apartheid?
SFARD: As I said, that’s where we’re heading. I don’tï¿½to say that the whole system, the whole governmental system in the West Bank is an apartheid system still needs more study and more exploration.
End of Transcript
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