A new report of the UN Economic and Social Council for Western Asia (ESCWA) has analyzed the institutionalized material discrimination that Israel practices against the Palestinian people as a form of apartheid. While this analysis is not new and has been upheld by numerous legal scholars, as well as UN Special Procedures and treaty bodies, this report has proved controversial by the UN Secretary-General António Guterres complying with the demand of the United States and Israel to withdraw it. Among the casualties in this case, besides the truth of the matter, has been felt also in the resignation of a senior UN official, rather than forfeit her integrity and that of the international organization.
United Nations Under-Secretary General and Executive Secretary for the Economic and Social Commission for Western Asia (ESCWA), Rima Khalaf, announced her resignation at a news conference in Beirut after the Secretary-General demanded the report be removed from the ESCWA website.
ESCWA, which is composed of 18 Arab states, published the report on Wednesday and said it was the first time a UN body had so clearly concluded that Israel has established an apartheid regime that dominates the Palestinian people as a whole. Israel vehemently denied the conclusion and compared the report to anti-Semitic Nazi propaganda. The United States had said it was outraged and demanded the report be withdrawn.
In turn, Ms. Khalaf wrote to Guterres, “I do not find it surprising that such member states, who now have governments with little regard for international norms and values of human rights, will resort to intimidation when they find it hard to defend their unlawful policies and practices. In her resignation letter, she noted also that “It is only normal for criminals to pressure and attack those who advocate the cause of their victims,” standing by the ESCWA report.
The ESCWA report said it provided analysis based on scholarly inquiry and overwhelming evidence, that Israel is guilty of practices the crime of apartheid. Among the authors of the report is Princeton University emeritus professor of international law Richard Falk, a former UN Special Rapporteur on human rights in the occupied Palestinian territory, and Southern Illinois University Political Science Professor Virginia Tilley, who also led South Africa’s Human Sciences Research Council’s Middle East Project, which undertook a two-year study of apartheid in the occupied Palestinian territory. She is also author of The One-State Solution (University of Michigan Press and Manchester University Press, 2005) and editor of Beyond Occupation: Apartheid, Colonialism and International Law in the Occupied Palestinian Territories (Pluto Press, 2012).
While the ESCWA report on Israeli apartheid bears the disclaimer that “The findings, interpretations and conclusions expressed in this publication are those of the authors and do not necessarily reflect the views of the United Nations or its officials or Member States,” it does reflect the findings of UN treaty bodies and the independent Russell Tribunal (see HIC-HLRN’s New Year Message: Remembering Palestine).
While the report was taken off the ESCWA website, Khalaf told reporters: “Let me be clear, the report was issued ... and has impacts. The member states received copies of this report. And it is available.”
Download the ESCWA report
Read Ms. Khalaf’s resignation letter
Photo on front page: A scene from al-Khalil (Hebron), where manifestations of Israeli apartheid is especially visible, and where Israel has established settler colonies inside and around the city and created a system of physical segregation, dispossession and material discrimination. Source: BDS Movement. Photo on this page: Ms. Rima Khalaf. Source: Arab Economic Forum.