“A disgraceful attack on the Jewish state” is how one conservative American publication responded to Amnesty International’s most recent report on the 2nd February. The Amnesty report, which bears the title ‘Israel’s Apartheid Against Palestinians: Cruel System of Domination and Crime Against Humanity’ was published by Amnesty on the 1st February this year – predictably attracting the wrath of Israel whilst generating much controversy. The Israeli government responded as maturely as ever, with Foreign Minister Yair Lapid alleging that “Instead of seeking facts, Amnesty quotes lies spread by terrorist organizations.” Meanwhile, a range of wilfully ignorant journalists and public figures have labelled the report “anti-semitic”. Here we go again.
I have argued previously that expressing solidarity with Palestinians does not unequivocally constitute anti-semitism and I continue to wholeheartedly stand by that assertion. We should all stand in solidarity with oppressed peoples everywhere and at all times, regardless of their identity (or indeed, identities). Palestinians are among the most oppressed people in the world. Labelling Palestinians as terrorists or framing them as somehow deserving of the systematic persecution that Israel metes out to them is sickening. It is also hypocrisy at its most racist. This racism is perfectly epitomised by Australian Prime Minister Scott Morrison’s response to Amnesty’s report, in which he asserted that “no country is perfect.” It is unsurprising that a Prime Minister who has resolutely presided over the deliberately disgusting treatment of asylum seekers is reluctant to criticise Israel for its savage oppression of Palestinians.
The furore surrounding the release of Amnesty’s report detracts from its most integral feature; it is essentially an empty vessel. On the surface, it advocates for Palestinian rights, but when you dig beneath the title a little, it is too hollow – too guarded. Amnesty had the opportunity to make a symbolic and resolute stand for all Palestinians, but instead it chose to exercise linguistic caution and methodological bias towards those elites who tow the non-violence narrative so beloved of western nations and international NGOs. Palestine cannot be viewed in terms of binary “good guys” working with Israeli NGOs and “bad guys” firing rockets. They are all a part of the same movement for a Free Palestine, which is the sum of its diverse parts.
An example of the report’s cautious nature is its persistent circumnavigation of perhaps the most significant act of solidarity it could have demonstrated towards the Palestinians: recognition of statehood. Such recognition would certainly not have made an immediate impact, but it could have enlightened minds, raised awareness and applied a degree of pressure on the international community to recognise the Palestinian state. Rather than referring to the West Bank and Gaza as “Palestine”, the report chooses to use “the Occupied Palestinian Territories”. Yes, this title acknowledges Israeli occupation, but it simultaneously dismantles the Palestinian state in the public psyche in just three words. Language can be damaging or it can be empowering – in this case it is cowardly in its respect of the status quo, and thus damages the right of Palestinians to self-determination.
Reading Amnesty’s report is a study in political acrobatics. Amnesty recognises Palestinian refugees as such; and under international law (something which Israel wipes its bloodied boots on at every available opportunity) refugees have a right of return. However, the report describes Israel as “controlling” the right of return, insinuating that partial return is accepted, or that Palestinians are able to return but only to pre-ordained abodes, or that only those screened by the Israeli state and deemed to be acceptable are permitted to reclaim their stolen homes. The reports presentation of Israel’s policy towards Palestinian refugees effectively obfuscates the truth, which is that Israel refuses the right of return for every single Palestinian refugee as a matter of policy and always has.
Equally, the report details how the creation of the state of Israel was facilitated through the calculated ethnic cleansing of the Palestinians who were already there – living in the Palestinian state which Israel has since been built upon. A second feat of political acrobatics is performed by Amnesty however, as they seem to relegate such ethnic cleansing to the past, describing what is happening today as “apartheid” instead. Apartheid is awful and apartheid states should be punished and ostracised, just as South Africa once was. Israel is indeed an apartheid state, but within Palestine it continues to perpetrate ethnic cleansing. It may be sluggish in the West Bank, but in Gaza it is taking place with alarming rapidity. Amnesty refers to “institutionalised segregation”, but falls short of calling out the institutionalised murder which is enacted through guns, aerial bombardment, Israeli settlers, poisoned water, torture, hunger strike among political prisoners, a strangled economy, and loss of hope.
Methodologically, Amnesty’s report is questionable. Researchers spoke to UN agencies , representatives of Palestinian and Israeli NGOs, legal practitioners, scholars, journalists and “other relevant stakeholders”. It is telling – and severely remiss of them – that they seem to have neglected to recognise everyday Palestinian people as such stakeholders. It is rare that organisations think to talk to ordinary Palestinians: the Palestinians who belong to radical grassroots organisations; the youth who bravely demonstrate; the farmers who live in fear of their olive trees being burned by settlers; the parents whose child is incarcerated without charge for an indefinite period of time; the students whose opportunities are restricted; the young mother in Gaza who has no access to clean drinking water for her children; the elderly couple whose family home has been reduced to rubble by Israeli planes; the teacher who was strip searched and humiliated at a checkpoint; the families who had to destroy their own homes because otherwise Israel would do it and force them to pay a fee for the privilege.
Years ago, conducting political research among everyday people was commonly deemed to be unimportant, or academically unsound. Thankfully, those days are long gone – so why has Amnesty employed such a draconian approach to research? Corrupt politicians and NGOised organisations reliant on international donors are not best placed to either educate, or speak honestly on the situation in Palestine. Perhaps Amnesty perceives such elites as having the ability to maintain neutrality when discussing wholesale murder and oppression. But neutrality is a fiction which serves only to bolster the oppressor.
Amnesty International claims in its report that it “aims to support Palestinian civil society and Israeli organisations in their efforts to end Israel’s oppression and domination over Palestinians.” If this is truly the case, Amnesty must explicitly recognise Palestinian statehood and make a far more concerted effort to represent the everyday Palestinian people, their stories of the horror they have witnessed and their light which will not be extinguished.
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