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An injured Palestinian girl is transferred to a hospital during an Israeli attack on Gaza

An injured Palestinian child is carried to a hospital following an Israeli air strike on Gaza City on August 5, 2022. (Photo: Anas Baba/AFP via Getty Images)

Rights Groups Implored EU Leaders to Denounce Israeli Apartheid at Summit

"Israel is committing the crime of apartheid against Palestinians," says Amnesty International. "This is a crime against humanity requiring the E.U. to hold Israel's leaders to account."

Kenny Stancil

Leading human rights organizations have urged European Union officials to "publicly and unequivocally denounce" Israel's disregard for international law and insist that the country's authorities take tangible steps toward ending their apartheid system during Monday's E.U.-Israel Association Council meeting, which comes amid escalating attacks on Palestinian civilians and civil society.

"The decadeslong European failure to take action in the face of grave human rights abuses has emboldened Israeli authorities to brazenly escalate their repression of Palestinians."

"Israel is committing the crime of apartheid against Palestinians," Eve Geddie, director of Amnesty International's E.U. office, said in a statement issued before top E.U. officials sat down with Israeli Prime Minister Yair Lapid for the council's first high-level meeting in more than a decade.

"The Israeli authorities are subjecting Palestinians to land seizures, unlawful killings, forcible transfers, and severe movement restrictions while denying their humanity, equal nationality, and status," said Geddie.

Geddie stressed that "this is a crime against humanity requiring the E.U. to hold Israel's leaders to account, and to ensure it in no way supports their apartheid system."

"The E.U. cannot claim shared human rights commitments with a state perpetrating apartheid and which has in recent months shuttered the offices of renowned Palestinian civil society organizations, scaled up the demolition of homes in the occupied West Bank, and carried out apparently unlawful attacks in the Gaza Strip," she added.

Ten days ago, in a letter sent to E.U. High Representative for Foreign Affairs and Security Policy Josep Borrell, E.U. Special Representative for Human Rights Eamon Gilmore, and the foreign affairs ministers of E.U. member states, Geddie implored officials from the bloc to "reconsider their approach to resuming these meetings."

"The E.U. appears to be sacrificing human rights concerns in the interest of reviving E.U.-Israel relations at the upcoming Association Council," states the letter.

EUobserver reported last month, for instance, that E.U. representatives were planning to weaken language on key human rights issues in their Association Council statement, including dropping the bloc's call for an "independent" investigation into the May assassination of Palestinian-American journalist Shireen Abu Akleh, a world-renowned Al Jazeera reporter who was shot and killed by Israeli soldiers while covering a military raid in the occupied West Bank.

"Impunity for war crimes and crimes against humanity including apartheid is pervasive, and the E.U. and its member states have a responsibility to bring it to an end," says the letter.

It continues:

Carrying on with business as usual while the Israeli authorities escalate their crackdown on Palestinian human rights and further entrench a cruel system of oppression and domination, would embolden not just the Israeli authorities, but rights-abusing governments across the globe. At a time when the international human rights system faces unprecedented challenges, such short-sighted approaches would only reproduce past policy mistakes, while sabotaging the E.U.'s own human rights policy and its credibility as an international actor.

[...]

Indeed, without robust public messaging and clear signals that Israel's abuses stand in the way of developing bilateral relations based on both parties' stated commitments to human rights, the E.U. risks undermining its human rights policy and the integrity of its own legal order. But frank dialogue and statements on their own will not suffice in the face of Israel's systematic human rights violations and crimes under international law. Beyond merely repeating formulaic condemnations, the E.U. and its member states should take concrete steps towards holding the Israeli authorities to account and securing meaningful human rights improvements. This would entail a comprehensive review of E.U.-Israel bilateral relations and a fundamental shift in the E.U.'s approach to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict.

Human Rights Watch (HRW) echoed Amnesty's message in a statement released late last week.

"European officials should know they'll be shaking hands with representatives of a government committing crimes against humanity and that has outlawed prominent civil society groups challenging these abuses," said Omar Shakir, Israel and Palestine director at HRW.

"Pretending it's business as usual with Israel amid escalating repression sends the message that E.U. condemnation is worth little more than the paper it's written on," Shakir added.

As HRW explained:

The E.U.-Israel Association Council is a forum aimed at facilitating political dialogue and strengthening cooperation with Israel. The last Association Council meeting was held in 2012 and further gatherings were paused after Israeli authorities objected to the E.U.'s position regarding West Bank [illegal] settlements.

Several Palestinian, European, and international nongovernmental organizations, as well as 47 members of the European Parliament, have raised serious concerns around the Association Council meeting.

The agreement that established the E.U.-Israel Association Council identifies respect for human rights as an essential element. The Association Council is set to reconvene amid a growing consensus within the international human rights movement that Israeli authorities' severe repression of Palestinians constitutes apartheid.

Last year, prominent Israeli human rights group B'Tselem published an exhaustive report detailing how Israel is an anti-democratic "apartheid regime" whose policies—supported by $3.8 billion in annual military aid from the United States—impose Jewish supremacy over Palestinians living between the Jordan River and the Mediterranean Sea.

"European officials should use the Association Council to finally condemn Israel's apartheid... and make clear there will be meaningful consequences should the Israeli government not reverse course."

Soon after, Amnesty and HRW corroborated those findings in painstakingly detailed reports of their own, and Palestinian groups have long made the case that Israeli authorities are committing the crimes against humanity of apartheid and persecution with help from the U.S.

Despite the recent intensification of Israel's long-standing assault on Palestinians, "the E.U. apparently did not demand any action by the Israeli authorities to end abuses ahead of the Association Council," HRW noted Friday. "These could have included Israeli authorities reversing their decision to outlaw prominent Palestinian civil society groups, easing the Gaza closure, or releasing Salah Hamouri, a French-Palestinian human rights defender, from monthslong administrative detention."

Alon Liel, the former director-general of Israel's Foreign Ministry, said in a recent interview: "As long as the Europeans don't take concrete measures on the diplomatic, security, and economic level, Israel doesn't give a damn. It feels very confident that this anti-human rights behavior will have no cost politically in the international arena."

Claudio Francavilla, E.U. advocate at HRW, argued that "the decadeslong European failure to take action in the face of grave human rights abuses has emboldened Israeli authorities to brazenly escalate their repression of Palestinians."

"Instead of reciting empty platitudes," said Francavilla, "European officials should use the Association Council to finally condemn Israel's apartheid and persecution and make clear there will be meaningful consequences should the Israeli government not reverse course."


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