Human Rights Watch yesterday said that Israel is committing the crime of "apartheid" by seeking to maintain Jewish "domination" over Palestinians and its own Arab population, an explosive allegation fiercely denounced by Israel.
Currently under investigation by the International Criminal Court for alleged war crimes, Israel blasted HRW's accusations as "preposterous and false", accusing the New York-based group of having "a long-standing anti-Israeli agenda".
HRW said its finding that Israel is "committing the crimes against humanity of apartheid and persecution" against Palestinians was based on robust sourcing including government planning materials and statements by public officials.
The 213-page report finds that the Israeli government is the "single authority" with primary control "over the area between the Jordan River and Mediterranean Sea".
Within that territory, there is "an overarching Israeli government policy to maintain the domination by Jewish Israelis over Palestinians," HRW said.
The group said its findings apply to Israeli treatment of Palestinians in the occupied West Bank, the blockaded Gaza Strip, annexed east Jerusalem as well as Arab Israelis -- a term referring to Palestinians who stayed on their land following Israel's creation in 1948.
An apartheid system is defined by "inhuman acts committed for the purpose of establishing and maintaining domination by one racial group of persons over any other racial group of persons and systematically oppressing them," according to the Apartheid Convention.
The rights group listed sweeping movement restrictions, land confiscation, forcible population transfer, denial of residency rights and suspension of civil rights as examples of abuses "Israeli authorities have carried out... against Palestinians".
Israel's foreign ministry told AFP the HRW report amounted to a "propaganda pamphlet" from an organisation that has been "actively seeking for years to promote boycotts against Israel".
Israel has occupied the West Bank since 1967, the same year it annexed east Jerusalem. Since then, Jewish settlers in both areas have absorbed increased amounts of land. Palestinians in east Jerusalem and across much of the West Bank are regularly denied building permits, while Jewish home construction has steadily grown.
HRW called on nations to stop viewing the occupation as an issue that can be resolved through a peace deal, and foster accountability by reconsidering their Israel ties, including military cooperation.
"While much of the world treats Israel's half-century occupation as a temporary situation that a decades-long 'peace process' will soon cure, the oppression of Palestinians there has reached a threshold and a permanence that meets the definitions of the crimes of apartheid and persecution," said HRW executive director Ken Roth.