Israel is enforcing apartheid in the West Bank, says former Mossad spy chief

A former head of Israel’s Mossad intelligence agency says that Israel is enforcing an apartheid system in the West Bank.

Tamir Pardo becomes the latest former senior official to conclude that Israel’s treatment of Palestinians in the West Bank amounts to apartheid – a reference to the system of racial segregation that was implemented in South Africa and ended in 1994.

“There is an apartheid state here,” Mr Pardo said in an interview with Associated Press. “In a territory where two people are judged under two legal systems, that is an apartheid state.”

Human rights groups around the world, including Amnesty International, have accused Israel of using such a system against Palestinians. They say its 56-year occupation of the West Bank gives Palestinians second-class status and is designed to maintain Jewish hegemony.

Israel’s former prime minister Ehud Barak warned in 2017 that the direction of the Israeli government could bring the country “on a slippery slope toward apartheid”.

Mr Pardo, who was head of Mossad from 2011 to 2016, would not say whether he held the same beliefs when he was in the role. However, he added that he believed the situation of the Palestinians was among the country’s most pressing issues.

TOPSHOT - Palestinian women are checked at an Israeli checkpoint between the West Bank town of Bethlehem and Jerusalem as they head to the first Friday prayers of the Muslim holy month of Ramadan in Jerusalem's Al-Aqsa Mosque compound on May 18, 2018. (Photo by Musa Al SHAER / AFP) (Photo credit should read MUSA AL SHAER/AFP via Getty Images)
Palestinians pass through an Israeli checkpoint between Bethlehem and Jerusalem in the occupied West Bank (Photo: Getty)

In the past year, Mr Pardo has become an outspoken critic of Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu‘s push to overhaul the judicial system, warning that the Mr Netanyahu was taking steps that would lead Israel to become a dictatorship. The reforms have sparked widespread protests across the country since the start of the year.

Meanwhile, Israel’s far-right government – which includes ultranationalist parties who support annexing the West Bank – is working to entrench the country’s hold on Palestinian territory.

Mr Pardo said Israeli citizens could get into a car and drive wherever they want, excluding the blockaded Gaza Strip, but that Palestinians could not drive everywhere. He said his views on the system in the West Bank were “not extreme. It’s a fact”.

Israelis are barred from entering Palestinian areas of the West Bank, but can drive across Israel and throughout the 60 per cent of the West Bank that Israel controls. Palestinians need permission from Israel to enter the country, and often must also pass through military checkpoints to move within the West Bank.

Rights groups also point to discriminatory policies within Israel and in annexed East Jerusalem; Israel’s blockade of the Gaza Strip, which has been ruled by the Hamas militant group since 2007; and its occupation of the West Bank.

Israel exerts overall control of the territory of the West Bank, maintains a two-tier legal system, and is building and expanding Jewish settlements, in contravention of international law.

In February this year, UN experts called on the international community to hold Israel accountable for systematic and deliberate housing demolition, arbitrary displacement and forced evictions of Palestinian people in the occupied West Bank.

In the month of January alone, the UN reported a 135 per cent increase in demolition of Palestinian structures, compared to the same period in 2022. This included five punitive demolitions.

Israel rejects any allegation of apartheid and says its own Arab citizens enjoy equal rights. In the 1990s, Israel granted limited autonomy to the internationally recognised Palestinian Authority, which is based in the West Bank, and withdrew its soldiers and settlers from Gaza in 2005. It claims the West Bank is disputed territory and that its fate should be determined in negotiations.

Amnesty International has called on the International Criminal Court to consider the crime of apartheid in its current investigation in the Occupied Palestinian Territories. The rights group also urged all states to exercise universal jurisdiction to bring perpetrators of apartheid crimes to justice.

Apartheid in South Africa was a system of institutionalised racial segregation that saw pepole treated differently according to skin colour, with non-whites prevented from accessing many jobs, services, facilities, places and political rights that whites could access. It was in operation from 1948 until 1994.

Rights groups have based their conclusions on Israel on international conventions such the Rome Statute of the International Criminal Court, which defines apartheid as “an institutionalised regime of systematic oppression and domination by one racial group over any other racial group”.

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