On 20th Anniversary of Durban Conference, It is Time for the World to End Israeli Apartheid
Date: 30 September 2021
Time: 11:10 GMT
This month marks the 20th anniversary of the first United Nations World Conference against Racism that was organized by the United Nations in Durban in South Africa. The conference ran from 31 August to 8 September 2001 and was inspired by the heroic struggle of the South African people against apartheid and the role of the international community, including the Civil Society Organizations (CSOs), in fighting racism. In commemoration of this anniversary, the UN General Assembly held a high-level meeting last week (22 September 2021) at the level of Heads of States and Governments, where they renewed their commitment to the fight against racism and racial discrimination in their countries and to implement the Durban Declaration and Programme of Action.
The conference was a milestone and turning point for the Palestinian civil society organizations’ struggle against racism targeting the Palestinian people. Israel has entrenched unprecedented apartheid in all territories under its administration, either in the Palestinian Territory occupied in 1967 or within Israel, which was established following the Palestinian Nakba in 1948. It was not surprising that Israel and the U.S. withdrew from the Conference although the latter managed to practice pressure on the intentional community and prevent raising this issue on the conference agenda.
The Palestinian Centre for Human Rights (PCHR), al-Haq, and Ittijah (the Union of Arab Community Based Associations in Israel) and other Palestinian organizations participated in this conference and the parallel international events organized to influence the conference outcomes. Meanwhile, in parallel with the official UN Conference, CSOs from all over the world, including Palestinian and Arab organizations, held the non-governmental organizations forum in Durban from 28 August to 1 September 2001, with the participation of more than 6,000 activists.
After four days of deliberations, the conference came up with a full text that reflects civil society’s position with its various configurations and would act as a benchmark and reference for the world fight against racism – Durban Declaration. With more than 1,300 non-governmental organizations in favor and 17 against, the declaration condemned Israel and its entrenched apartheid against the Palestinian people, linking it with the apartheid in South Africa and all racism manifestations around the world; all pressures exerted by Pro-Israel organizations failed to link anti-Zionism with anti-Semitism. The declaration was the fruit of collaborative efforts exerted by CSOs all over the world and mutual coordination, including a visit by a high-level delegation of CSOs in South Africa to the occupied Palestinian territory to be acquainted with the reality on the ground. Also, the legendary leader Nelson Mandela met with a delegation from Palestinian organizations and others in solidarity and expressed his total support for them. In Article 20, the declaration recognized the right of the Palestinian people to self-determination and to the establishment of an independent state, and the right of the Palestinian refugees to return according to UN Resolution 194.
Article 98 of the declaration recognized that the Palestinian people are subjected to a colonial and racist military occupation regime with inalienable right to self-determination, by establishing settlements in the occupied Palestinian territory (oPt), racist methods related to the apartheid and other racist crimes against humanity. Moreover, the Palestinian people have the right to resist the Israeli occupation with all the available means guaranteed by the international law in order to obtain fundamental rights to self-determination and end the Israeli apartheid regime. Article 99 of the same declaration recognized that apartheid is the root cause of Israel’s violations of human rights, including the massive violations of the 1949 Geneva Conventions, genocide, and ethnic cleansing crimes. Also, the declaration recognized that the continuous rejection of the right of the Palestinian refugees to return voluntarily to their homes is a clear manifestation of an apartheid regime.
On this occasion, PCHR Director, Raji Sourani, who participated in the Durban Conference, gave the following comment:
“This conference reflected the international solidarity and support for the Palestinian people and their just cause, and emphasized the strong connection with the oppressed peoples’ issues who are in need for justice and equality, such as the Africans who were subjected to slavery in America and Europe, and their just demands for compensation and apology. In addition to the cursed Dalits in India, the Tibetan, the Latin Americans, women’s rights issues, and Roma community issues in Eastern Europe. However, without the mutual support, coordination, the close and strategic relationship with the representatives of these communities, and also without following the rule that calls for all oppressed people of the world to unite, we would not find this support and embrace to our Palestinian cause. The main contributing factor to the Durban success was the unity of Palestinian organization domestically and abroad, in addition to the political and moral support by some of the political leaderships; especially Arafat, Mandela and Castro.” Sourani also mentioned Shimon Peres when he described Durban as “the most hazardous document issued against Israel since its independence. Some civil society organizations are still paying the price for these stances until now.”
On this occasion, two reports were issued by prominent human rights organizations overtly condemning the Israeli apartheid system in the same context and under the same framework presented by Palestinian organizations at Durban and even before. In January 2021, B’Tselem – The Israeli Information Center for Human Rights in the Occupied Territories, the most prominent human rights organization in Israel, released a report titled “A regime of Jewish supremacy from the Jordan River to the Mediterranean Sea: This is apartheid;” followed by a Human Rights Watch report in April 2021 titled “A Threshold Crossed: Israeli Authorities and the Crimes of Apartheid and Persecution.” Both reports demonstrated in detail how Israel is crafting an apartheid system against the Palestinian people on all levels, i.e. legislations, practices, and polices.
Now 20 years later, Israel has managed to systemize this unique apartheid and racist practices against the Palestinian people in an unprecedented manner, operating under this framework to commit war crimes, crimes against humanity, and persecution against the Palestinian people, including settlements, theft of resources, land seizure, ethnic cleansing in Jerusalem and Area C territories in the West Bank; as well as collective punishment and closure on the Gaza Strip. Israel also tortures Palestinian prisoners in its occupation prisons and subjects them to harmful treatment. Four deadly military offensives were conducted on the Gaza Strip killing thousands of civilians, wounding many others, and rendering hundreds of thousands homeless due to directed attacks on civilian properties and objects. That is not all, Israel routinely kills Palestinian civilians participating in peaceful protests against the occupation’s crimes, not the last of which is the killing of hundreds of civilians during the Great March of Return protests in the Gaza border area. Meanwhile, Israel continues to deny the Palestinian people’s rightful and inalienable rights, including the right to self-determination, the right to have a sovereign state, and the right of return for millions of Palestinian refugees, as confirmed in United Nations resolutions.
It is a matter of fact that Israeli would not have been able to continue its systematic violations of international law without the full support of all United States administrations, paired with the silence, unwillingness, and inadequacy of the international community in taking serious steps and positions to stop the infuriating Israeli disregard for international law and will. The shameful apartheid system in South Africa collapsed in the face of the people’s restless struggle, and the international support by States, governments, and peoples, including civil society organizations, solidarity, and boycott movements.
On this occasion, we need, as Palestinian people, to reconstruct our political system and end the division and establish a new rights-based resistance as per the example of the South African people, to expose the Israeli apartheid system, in order to gather international support and solidarity to serve our people’s just cause.
This year has witnessed significant developments in the route towards justice and accountability for Israeli war criminals before international justice. As Palestine’s efforts to join the International Criminal Court and following the announcement by the Court of commencing a criminal investigation into the Situation in Palestine, we realize that the road to justice remains long ahead. Thus, it is imperative to intensify efforts with the cooperation of our partners and allies to initiate the investigation without further ado.
The international community who stood by the South African people against the apartheid must end its silence and fulfil its legal obligations through effective measures against the Israeli apartheid, and to support the investigations launched by the ICC.