Tag Archives: Amnesty International

On Israel as an Apartheid State: an Interview with Richard Falk

19 Feb

[Prefatory Note: An interview David Falcone originally published in COUNTERPUNCH prompted by the Amnesty Report but extending beyond it.]

FEBRUARY 11, 2022

On Israel as an Apartheid State: an Interview with Richard Falk

BY DANIEL FALCONE

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Photograph Source: Chris Yunker – CC BY 2.0

Daniel Falcone: Could you give the context of the framework that brought us to Amnesty International’s findings regarding Israel and Palestine? What has changed regarding the organization to make this happen?

Richard Falk: I have no insight into the inner workings of Amnesty International, but it seems obvious from the length and detailed coverage in their 278-page report that this undertaking was begun years earlier. There were undoubtedly several elements in the background that prompted AI to undertake an inquiry that was bound to be controversial, and from experience to result in an insulting backlash with likely adverse impacts on funding. It has, perhaps, become a bit awkward for AI to dodge the issue of apartheid any longer given the 2001 reports of the two of the most prominent civil society human rights NGOs, Israel’s B’Tselem and Human Rights Watch, which detailed their reasons for concluding that the allegations of apartheid were well grounded in factual evidence and legal analysis.

I would also add that the UN Social and Economic Council for West Asia (ESCWA) academic report co-authored by Virginia Tilley and myself, released in March 2017 had reached similar conclusions, producing acrimonious reactions by Israel and the United States. This pushback reached a climax in a Security Council session, when the American representative, Nikki Haley arrogantly threatened the UN with a punitive response unless this report was repudiated. The recently elected Sec. General, dutifully ordered the report removed from the ESCWA website, which led the director of ESCWA, Rima Khalaf, to resign rather than carry out, a task left to her more compliant successor. So far as I know our report, although removed from the ESCWA website, was never repudiated.

Daniel Falcone: Yair Lapid called the report “false” and “antisemitic.” Do you suppose he believes this to be the case? It seems to be a talking point that is losing its effectiveness. 

Richard Falk: I have now carefully read the AI Report and have concluded that it maintains the highest professional standards of research and analysis throughout. Of course, any legal argument made in the context of a complex fact situation of this sort is subject to logically plausible divergent interpretations. Lawyers earn their livings by learning how to mount arguments defending their respective clients, and I am sure Israel and its supporter abroad have many qualified jurists who can interpret the evidence along lines consistent with Israeli claims of constitutional democracy with human rights equally protected whether the objecting party is a Jew or Palestinian.

Yet for Yair Lapid and others to attack the AI Report as ‘a despicable lie’ that is full of falsehoods, as well as being the work of anti-Semites is nothing other than a shaming tactic designed to redirect the conversation away from the substance of the apartheid allegations to an inquiry into the dubious motivations of AI. This is in an inflammatory and disgracefully irresponsible way of responding in view of AI’s long, distinguished identity as among the most trusted and professional human rights organizations in the world. It is reminiscent of the manner Israel has chosen to respond to all criticisms over the course of the last decade, especially during the period when Netanyahu was prime minister. A similar diatribe was launched against the International Criminal Court a year ago when it formally authorized an investigation of Israeli criminality in response to well-evidenced allegations of a series of distinct crimes by the Palestinian Authority (PA). Incidentally, the PA did not list ‘apartheid’ among its legal grievances.

Daniel Falcone: Lawrence Davidson just wrote a piece called the “Israeli Pogrom,” citing a Zionist group’s attack on Palestinians. Do you see this type of extreme violence as cause for leading up to the report?

Richard Falk: The Davidson essay is devoted to a critique of Israeli settler violence directed at Palestinian civilians living in the West Bank. It shows significantly the double standards manifested by Israeli indulgence of Palestinian abuse by Israeli settlers, while displaying a contrasting vigilance with respect to protecting Jews from Palestinian violence whether in Occupied Palestine or Israel. This certainly manifests racial discrimination carried out with the complicity of the Israeli State. However, it is not evidence of the ideology or even the existence of an apartheid system of control, which either explicitly or implicitly premises governance on racial inequality as between a dominant and subordinate race and adopts specific policies to ensure the persistence of structures of inequality. In Israel’s case it denies complicity and rejects racism as part of its governance plan.

Whether such Israel’s persistent disregard of the obligations of an Occupying Poweras set forth in the Fourth Geneva Convention played any role in leading AI to investigate the apartheid allegation remains unknowable as the organization has made no such reference. It is more plausible to suppose that the earlier reports on the apartheid claim played a principal role in leading AI to join the chorus although this is also a matter of conjecture.

Daniel Falcone: According to Haaretz, the US seems ready to dismiss the Amnesty International findings, can you comment on the state of the bipartisan consensus?

Richard Falk: I never for a minute expected the U.S. Government, including Congress, to accept an accusation of apartheid directed at Israel, no matter how impeccable the source and how persuasive the evidence and analysis. For one thing, it would break the special relationship causing a serious disruptive backlash domestically as well as gravely weaken the anti-Iran alliance in the Middle East. We should by not be surprised by the primacy of geopolitics when it collides with the requirement of international law and human rights standards, as well supposedly affirmed national values such as here, anti-racism.

For another, Biden like most of his presidential predecessors unabashedly follows unwaveringly a pro-Israel path in relation to grievances of the Palestinian people, although less crudely than Trump. This predisposition led Biden even to accept several of Trump’s more extreme shows of support for Israeli defiance of the UN consensus, including moving the American Embassy to Jerusalem, the normalization agreements with Arab neighbors, and the annexation of the Golan Heights. In effect, Biden has lowered his voice while maintained continuity most of Trump’s policies. The apparent discontinuities in the form of reviving support for a two-state solution or objection to further settlement expansion are gestures at best, widely known to be policy non-starters having a long record of zero behavioral impact. Above all, because the Oslo-type diplomacy has become superseded by Israeli disinterest in negotiating with the Palestinians, as equals with a shared acceptance of the principal goal being the establishment of an independent sovereign Palestine.

As a result, there is a wide gap in perceptions and attitude between the U.S. Government and the human rights civil society consensus on this crucial question of how to evaluate the apartheid charges. As the AI Report clearly argues, the evidence points to apartheid, and this engages international responsibility to take positive steps to suppress and punish the crime. On this basis AI recommends imposing an international arms embargo on Israel and urges the ICC to investigate the question of Israeli criminality and its legal consequences that is raised by the evidence of Israeli apartheid.

Daniel Falcone: Can you comment on how the Palestinian question is evolving in mainstream US circles? It seems that both individuals and institutions have become more robust to deal with the potential consequences of this political engagement. Can the movement maintain its intensity and enter liberal pragmatic spaces at the same time in your estimation?

Richard Falk: Despite notable developments, Israel continues to hold most of the cards as to the approach taken to the Palestinian question in the U.S. Although the bipartisan consensus and the Zionist civil society infrastructure has somewhat frayed due to the excesses of illiberal Trumpism and because of the increasing normalization of the apartheid critique, Israel still has the upper hand with respect to Congress, White House, and Beltway think tanks.

At the same time, the symbolic victories achieved by the Palestinians over the course of the last two years are significant from a Legitimacy War perspective. Admittedly, to an uncertain extent these developments have been offset by the successes of Trump’s normalization diplomacy (‘The Abraham Accords’), especially as endorsed and extended during the first year of the Biden presidency. It seems premature to reinterpret the symbolic balance between Israel and Palestine as it plays out in the U.S., The picture should become clearer during the next two years.

Because the apartheid line of critique indicts Israel for systemic criminality, which can only be overcome by renouncing the fundamental Zionist claim to secure a fully sovereign Jewish state, it will likely run into a stone wall of resistance in the United States, including in liberal Zionist circles. This resistance may take the form, as it has in NYT/CNNresponse to AI Report, which has been to maintain a stony silence. It is my impression that, not only in the U.S. but throughout the West, liberal opinion with respect to Palestinian grievances is evasive, if not entirely silent. Neither the alternative of implementing the AI recommendations nor the alternative of endorsing the official Israel pushback by way of attacking the reports as full of falsehoods and the work of anti-Semites is acceptable. Under these conditions silence and evasion seem like preferred options.

Yet such a course of action amounts to a validation of critiques of double standards. To weep about excess police force in responding to Hong Kong protest demonstrations or the treatment of the Uyghurs but avert eyes when it comes to the reality of prolonged Palestinian suffering and suppression of basic rights may be a contradiction is morally unacceptable, especially given the history of Western involvement in the political evolution of the Israeli state. At some point, the contradiction may become too blatant to accept even if it currently seems to remain an attractive pragmatic solution in relation to the apartheid critique.

Daniel Falcone: Is there any possibility that mainstream groups labeling the situation as “Apartheid” are making an oversimplification? Aren’t some parts of the region “better” than conditions were in South Africa, and some “worse,” as Chomsky points out. Also, is there a fear that the Palestinian cause is being reduced to a type of US middle class classical rights movements discourse, largely focused on symbolic political rights without constructing a path to wholesale economic policy and transformative justice?

Richard Falk: You raise an important set of overlooked issues. In retrospect, many progressives in South Africa feel that it was a severe mistake to settle for political rights and forego any challenge to white economic and social privilege. And it is also true that when Nelson Mandela was hailed for achieving the breakthrough agreement bringing the apartheid regime to an end, little attention was given to the widespread poverty of the black majority or the gross inequalities in health care, housing, educational opportunity that have hardly changed in the more than 30 years sincepolitical apartheid was dismantled.

At the same time, if Mandela had pressed demands for a more comprehensive approach to societal injustice no agreement at all would have been forthcoming. I am reminded of Hannah Arendt’s comparison between the American Revolution and the French and Russian Revolutions. She argues that the American Revolution was a humanitarian and political success because it didn’t seek to challenge economic and social structures, whereas the French and Russian Revolutions fell a bloody victim to their own laudable ambitions. Arguably the popular movement in Egypt that overthrew an autocratic leader settled for too little, making itself vulnerable to counterrevolutionary reversal, which occurred two years later. I think we are left with an insoluble problem that must be addressed in terms of the particularities of the situation.

Applying these considerations to the Palestinian situation, I would argue that it is preferable to accept limited goals in a manner like what ended apartheid in South Africa. This is ambition enough given the Palestinian circumstances and might make apartheid-ending diplomacy eventually negotiable. As in post-apartheid South Africa, I believe it best to leave the admittedly important economic and social agenda to post-apartheid Israel/Palestine, although realizing that these formidable justice issues remain unresolved.

Daniel Falcone is an activist, journalist, and PhD student in the World History program at St. John’s University in Jamaica, NY as well as a member of the Democratic Socialists of America. He teaches humanities at the United Nations International School and resides in Queens.

Israel’s Violence Against Separation Wall Protests: Along the Road of STATE TERRORISM

7 Jan


One of the flashpoints in Occupied Palestine in recent years has involved non-violent weekly protests against continued Israeli construction of a separation wall extending throughout the whole of the West Bank. A particularly active site for these protests has been the village of Bi’lin near the city of Ramallah, and it is here where the Israeli penchant to use deadly force to disrupt nonviolent demonstrations raises deep legal and moral concerns. These concerns are accentuated when it is realized that way back in 2004 the International Court of Justice (the highest judicial body in the UN System) in a rare near unanimous ruling declared the construction of the wall on occupied Palestinian territory to be unlawful, and reached findings ordering Israel to dismantle the wall and compensate Palestinians for the harm done. Israel has defied this ruling, and so the wall remains, and work continues on segments yet to be completed.


It is against this background that the world should take note of the shocking death of Jawaher Abu Rahma on the first day of 2011 as a result of suffocation resulting from tear gas inhalation while not even being part of the Bi’lin demonstration. Witnesses confirm that she was standing above the actual demonstration as an interested spectator. It was a large year end demonstration that included the participation of 350 Israeli and international activists. There was no excuse for the use of such a harsh method of disrupting a protest against a feature of the occupation that had been pronounced to be unlawful by an authoritative international body. As it happens the brother of Ms. Rahman had been killed a few months earlier by a tear gas canister fired with a high velocity from a close range. And there are many other reports of casualties caused by Israel’s extreme methods of crowd control. International activists have also been injured and harshly detained in the past, including the Irish Nobel Peace Laureate, Mairead Maguire. Together these deaths exhibit a general unacceptable Israeli disposition to use excessive force against Palestinians living under occupation. Just a day later an unarmed young Palestinian, Ahmed Maslamany, peacefully on his way to work was shot to death at a West Bank checkpoint because he failed to follow an instruction given in Hebrew, a language he did not understand.


When this lethal violence is directed against unarmed civilians seeking to uphold fundamental rights to land, routine mobility, and self-determination  it dramatizes just how lawless a state Israel has become and how justifiable and necessary is the growing world campaign of delegitimation centered upon the boycott, disvestment, and sanctions movement (BDS). Each instance of Israeli excessive and criminal violence inflicts suffering on innocent Palestinian civilians, but it also is a form of martyrdom in the nonviolent Legitimacy War that the Palestinians have been waging within Palestine and on the symbolic global battlefields of world public opinion with growing success.

Israel knows very well how to control unruly crowds with a minimum of violence. It has demonstrated this frequently by the way it gently deals, if it deals at all, with a variety of settler demonstrations that pose far greater threats to social peace than do these anti-wall demonstrations. It is impossible to separate this excessive use of force by Israel on the ground against Palestinians from the indiscriminate use of force against civilians in Israel’s larger occupation policy, as illustrated by the cruel punitive blockade that has been imposed on the people of Gaza for more than three years and by the criminal manner in which carried out attacks for three weeks on the defenseless population in Gaza exactly two years ago. Is it not time for the international community to step in and offer this long vulnerable Palestinian population protection against Israeli violence?

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Underneath Israel’s reliance on excessive force as a matter of strategic doctrine are thinly disguised racist ideas: Israeli lives are worth many times the value of Palestinian lives and Palestinians, like all Arabs, only understand the language of force (an essentially genocidal idea launched influentially years ago in a notorious book The Arab Mind by Raphael Patai published in 1973. It is also part of a punitive approach to the occupation, especially in Gaza, where WikiLeaks cables confirm what was long suspected: “As part of their overall embargo plan against Gaza, Israeli officials have confirmed to [U.S, Embassy economic officers] on multiple occasions that they intend to keep the Gaza economy on the brink of collapse without quite pushing it over the edge.” (cable reported on Jan. 5, 2011, Norwegian daily) Then Prime Minister Ehud Olmert in a speech delivered in January 2008 said of the blockade: “We will not harm the supply of food for children, medecine for those who need it and fuel to save lives..But there is no justification for demanding we allow residents of Gaza to live normal live while shells and rockets are fired from their streets and courtyards (at southern Israel).”

This is a clear confession of collective punishment of a civilian population by Israel’s political leader at the time, violating the unconditional prohibition of Article 33 of the Fourth Geneva Convention. Such gross criminality should subject Israeli political leaders to international mechanisms designed to impose accountability on individuals responsible for the commission of crimes against humanity. It also makes it evident that the blockade is punitive, not responsive to cross-border violence that incidentally at all times was far more destructive of Palestinian lives and property than that of Israelis. Beyond this, the Hamas leadership in Gaza had since its election repeatedly attempted to establish a ceasefire along its border, which when agreed upon with the help of Egypt reduced casualties on both sides to almost zero after being establishment in mid-2008. This ceasefire was provocatively disrupted by Israel on November 5, 2008 to set the stage for launching of the massive attacks on Gaza, lasting for three weeks after being initiated on December 27th of 2008.

In that war, if such a one-sided conflict should be so described, the criminality of the tactics relied upon by the Israeli Defense Forces has been abundantly documented by The Goldstone Report, by a comprehensive fact-finding mission headed by John Dugard under the auspices of the Arab League, and by detailed reports issued by Amnesty International and Human Rights Watch. There is no reasonable basis for any longer doubting the substance of the allegations of criminality associated with those three weeks of all out attacks on the people and civilian infrastructure, including UN schools and buildings.

The Goldstone Report correctly noted that the overall impression left by the attacks was an extension of the Dahiya Doctrine attributed to an Israeli general during the Lebanon War 2006 in which the Israeli destruction from the air of a district in South Beirut was a deliberately excessive response, at the expense of civilian society, because of being an alleged Hezbollah stronghold, and in response to a border incident in which ten Israeli soldiers lost their lives in an encounter with Hezbollah combatants. The 2009 Goldstone report quoted IDF Northern Command Chief Gadi Eisenkot, who said, “What happened in the Dahiya quarter of Beirut in 2006 will happen in every village from which Israel is fired on. We will apply disproportionate force on it and cause great damage and destruction there. From our standpoint, these are not civilian villages, they are military bases. […] This is not a recommendation. This is a plan. And it has been approved.” In effect, the civilian infrastructure of adversaries such as Hamas or Hezbollah are treated as permissible military targets, which is not only an overt violation of the most elementary norms of the law of war and of universal morality, but an avowal of a doctrine of violence that needs to be called by its proper name: STATE TERRORISM.

We have reached a stage where the oppressiveness of the Israeli occupation, extending now for more than 43 years and maintained in multiple daily violations of international humanitarian law.  In its essence and by design the Israeli occupation of the West Bank, East Jerusalem, and the Gaza Strip should be understood and condemned as STATE TERRORISM as exhibited both in structure and practice.