UK Government Must Review Trade Deal with Israel in Light of Amnesty’s Report on Apartheid

The International Centre of Justice for Palestinians (ICJP) calls on the British Government to immediately review the Free Trade Deal that the UK Secretary of State for Foreign Affairs Liz Truss has announced that she is working on with the Israeli Government. The announcement, unhappily timed only hours after Amnesty International’s devastating report was released yesterday. Amnesty’s report is based on four years of intensive research and documents Israel’s apartheid system against the Palestinian people. This raises the prospect of a deal that includes security cooperation with a state in longstanding violation of a central principle of international law of international law, which coming in light of this authoritative assessment, affronts the most important human values that should underpin the foreign policy of all democratic states.   


This agreement, if conducted while leaving these issues unaddressed, sends the worst possible message about the United Kingdom’s attachment to the rule of international law, and the values that ought to underpin relations between states that claim to be democracies. It runs the risk of undermining the values and moral authority of the British Government in its foreign policy, leaving it open to criticism of entirely double standards. It also falls foul of the standards set not just by human rights organisations, but also by international governmental agencies and courts. 


Amnesty’s report is not unique, but it is a milestone. It echoes the findings by  B’Tselem, the prominent Israeli human rights organisation and Human Rights Watch’s report that were both released in early 2021. These three reports flow from decades of advocacy by Palestinian organisations who have been calling for the recognition of Israel’s apartheid system, both by lobbying at the United Nations and by documenting human rights abuses.  


The UK may be an ‘independent trading nation,’ as Liz Truss declares it to be, but that ‘freedom’ also comes with responsibilities. The UK Government policy should be used to set international standards when it comes to the application of international law specifically, human rights law, international criminal law and the Geneva Conventions. In its recommendations Amnesty calls on governments to ‘not support the system of apartheid or render aid or assistance’ to maintaining regimes such as the one currently in power in Israel. The report explicitly calls on governments to ‘use all political tools’ at their disposal to implement the recommendations outlined and to ‘ensure that human rights are central to all bilateral and multilateral agreements with the Israeli authorities.’  


ICJP finds it regrettable that the British Government seeks to further its links with Israel, a state Liz Truss, refers to as a ‘friend and ally,’ a nation who practises the crime of apartheid, particularly during this period of heightened settlement activity, settler violence and house demolitions in Jerusalem. It also comes at a time when there are a growing number of Israeli politicians who are voicing their opposition to democratic values in favour of theocratic rule.  


Amnesty is the latest to identify the crime of apartheid in Israel, but it is far from being the least. An organisation with over ten million members globally, its name has become synonymous with defending the oppressed and the marginalised. The wave of international criticism of the Israeli state apparatus with its two-tier system of justice has reached a new height. In the United States, the narrative, regarding the Palestinians, as ICJP Advisory Board Member, Sarah Leah Whitson has chronicled elsewhere, is changing in their favour


The Amnesty report also backs several intergovernmental and international organisations who are calling out Israeli exceptionalism when it comes to the application of international law. For decades, Israel has operated under a veneer of legality holding itself out as the bastion of democracy in the Middle East, when in reality, its policies and institutions operate a discriminatory two-tier system the people touched by the state are treated entirely differently according to their ethnicity and religion. There are rules for Jewish Israelis and there are other rules for non-Jews. The former facilitative and fair, the latter oppressive and unequal. To point this out is not anti-semitic, as the Israeli Government pre-emptively claims. It is an incontrovertible fact documented thoroughly in these reports. ‘The segregation,’ Amnesty writes, ‘is conducted in a systematic and highly institutionalized manner through laws, policies and practices, all intended to prevent Palestinians from claiming and enjoying equal rights to Jewish-Israelis within Israel and the OPT.’  


ICJP calls on the UK Government to pay regard to the content of this extensive report. Entitled Israel’s Apartheid against Palestinians: Cruel System of Domination and Crime against Humanity. The report itself opens with former President Benjamin Netanyahu’s message posted online in March 2019, ‘Israel is not a state of all its citizens… [but rather] the nation-state of the Jewish people and only them.’ This statement of institutionalised ethnic and religious supremacy explains all that follows. The report charts Israel’s intention to oppress and dominate the Palestinian people, the inhuman and inhumane acts against them including forcible transfer, administrative detention and torture, unlawful killings, serious injuries and the denial of basic rights and freedoms of Palestinians living under Israeli laws. 


We, at the ICJP, are committed to our endeavour of finding routes to deliver justice for Palestinian people, not only to support the rights of one population who have, in the words of Amnesty International’s report, been, inter alia ‘expelled, fragmented, segregated, controlled, dispossessed of their land and property and deprived of their economic and social rights,’ but also because we believe that an acceptance of any state’s claim of exceptionalism to the application of international law, combined with a systematic denigration of the international organisations established to support these laws, does not just impact Palestinians’ life and livelihoods. It goes further. It undermines the international law that sustains global security, with the expectation that brute force must cede to legal force and moral principle; those principles that support a world order built after the Second World War. This world order, the UK Government and its allies should not forget, was established the cry of ‘never again’ ringing through the air, after the horrors of the genocide that had occurred.  


Israel at its founding enjoyed the moral force those appalling events provided, but even at its creation the risks of an immoral destiny were felt. In 1948, upon the State’s inception some of Israel’s leaders were appalled at the implications of the massacres of Palestinians that ensued at Deir Yassin and elsewhere, the details of which were revealed earlier this month. These Israeli leaders were concerned for what these acts meant for the morality of this great project. The wretched history for the Palestinians since has brought Israel to this morally indefensible place, in flagrant breach of fundamental tenets of international law, including the Fourth Geneva Convention. Now it has been powerfully arraigned for the crime against humanity of apartheid.  


The official Israeli response, which both dismisses the report as ‘anti-semitic’ and claims that Amnesty is a propagandist organisation in league with ‘terrorist organisations,’ (long established Palestinian human rights organisations) is emblematic of the culture that will dominate if reports that document Israel’s cruel policies are not acted upon, and steps are not taken to implement the altogether reasonable and just recommendations set out in the report’s conclusions.  


The ICJP calls on the UK Government to ‘publicly recognize that international crimes, including the crime of apartheid are being committed in Israel and the OPT,’ as Amnesty and others have demanded. This is a time for a realignment to bring foreign policy in line with international law, not to further trade relations with states designated as practising the crime of apartheid against millions of men, women and children who live under its control.  


At ICJP we intend to explore every legal avenue to challenge the immorality and injustices of Israeli policies towards the Palestinian people to help build a path towards reconciliation that is based on the morality of a just law, not brute force, and a state or two states whose citizens can be proud, not ashamed, of what they stand for.