Palestinians: Second-Class Citizens in the Territories

Israel's dual system of laws is tantamount to apartheid

THE issue of Israeli-Jewish settlements in the West Bank and Gaza Strip is normally discussed in statistical terms (how much land confiscated from Palestinians, how many settlements and settlers), or in terms of its impact on the peace process. These are important aspects of the issue, but they tell only a part of the story. The settlement issue has another very serious aspect that is rarely considered. Jewish settlement in the occupied territories has led to the establishment of a system of apartheid in

the West Bank and Gaza Strip.

The most recent State Department report on human rights paints a clear picture of this system. "Israeli settlers in the territories (about 5 percent of the Palestinian and Jewish population of the territories, exclusive of Jerusalem)," says the report, "are subject to Israeli law, which generally treats them more favorably than Palestinians are treated under military occupation law and administration."

Here you have the essence of apartheid. Two systems of law govern a territory, creating a favored minority and a majority that is essentially an underclass and suffers legally instituted and sanctioned discrimination of various sorts.

The State Department's report gives examples. Here are a few:

* "Economic policies," states the report, "often discriminate in favor of Israeli interests and settlers in the territories."

* "Sentences given to Israelis for killing Palestinians are generally much lighter than sentences handed down to Palestinians convicted of killing either Israelis or Palestinians."

* "In 1991, international, Israeli, and Palestinian human-rights groups published detailed credible reports of torture, abuse, and mistreatment of Palestinian detainees in prisons and detention centers."

* "Palestinians accused of security offenses are tried in Israeli military courts.... Israeli settlers in the occupied territories accused of security and ordinary criminal offenses are tried in the nearest Israeli district court under Israeli law. These courts are presided over by civilian judges."

* Homes of Palestinians suspected of security offenses are demolished or sealed "before a suspect is brought to trial.... This type of house demolition or sealing is enforced only against Arab residents in the occupied territories."

* "Arabic translations of news stories related to the uprising, which had previously appeared in the Hebrew-language Israeli press, were routinely censored from the Arabic press."

* Arabs are often placed under curfews, while Jewish settlers "roamed freely."

* "Israeli agriculture and manufacturing are protected against Palestinian competition from the territories, whereas all markets in the territories are in principle open to Israelis."

Israeli settlers are immune from many other forms of punishments and restrictions to which the Palestinians are subject, including restriction on movement and travel, detention without charge or trial, closure of schools and universities, and many others. In brief, as the State Department's report puts it, there is a "dual system of governance applied to Palestinians and Israelis" in the occupied territories.

If anything, the State Department's report on Israeli violations of Palestinian human rights in the occupied territories is lenient. Yet it reveals enough to lead to the unmistakable conclusion that Israel has instituted and today administers a system of apartheid in the West Bank and Gaza Strip. This is a fact that Congress, which by law requires the executive branch of government to track the state of human rights around the world, needs to consider as it ponders Israel's request for $10 billion in Ame rican loan guarantees to absorb Jewish immigrants.

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