Commemoration for the International Day for the Elimination of Racial Discrimination began on March 21st 1960. It was the day when police fired and killed 69 peaceful protestors rallying against the apartheid law in South Africa. The United Nations (UN) has called upon this day for nations across the world to commit to the fight against racism and discrimination in all its forms.
Twenty-two years after the fall of the apartheid regime in South Africa, Palestinians in the Occupied Palestinian Territories (OPT) and in Israel still face multiple forms of racial discrimination. This takes place from Israel’s brutal military occupation to its apartheid and colonial regime, which has effectively enforced a number of prejudiced laws and policies against the Palestinian people.
The institutionalisation of racism in Israel transcends society, politics and law. This has led to the erosion of Palestinian rights resulting in huge ramifications in every day life. Since 1953 Israel has passed a law that only allows the JNF and the Israeli government to build upon land in ‘Israel.’ As stated in the law the role of the JNF is “To collect funds for the purpose of purchasing lands for the exclusive benefit of the Jewish people.” 93% of the land in Israel is owned by the state or by the JNF, as a result Palestinian citizens of Israel face obstacles when gaining access to land for agriculture, residence, or commercial development.
Further, Israel has denied the return of over six million Palestinian refugees to the homes and lands from which they have been systematically expelled starting from 1948.
Attempts to provide equality for all its citizens was rejected the by the Knesset earlier this year. The rejection of the bill by the majority of members shows that Israel’s claim to democracy is a fallacy. As Jamal Zahalka, an Israeli Arab Knesset member emphasised, “The entire world adopts the principle of equality in their laws, and this is the only country that does not embrace equality in its laws. This is clear proof of the state’s nature.”
In 2013, Adalah, the Legal Center for Arab Minority Rights in Israel launched the Discriminatory Law Database. They found more than 50 laws that directly and indirectly discriminate against Palestinian citizens of Israel. For example, under the 1950 Law of Return every Jewish person can immigrate to Israel and automatically gain citizenship. Palestinians citizens of Israel have an inferior status as ‘non Jewish’ citizens compared to ‘Jewish’ citizens, this racist discriminatory policy also extends to black migrants in Israel.
Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon states that, “The International Day for the Elimination of Racial Discrimination is an opportunity to renew our commitment to building a world of justice and equality where xenophobia and bigotry do not exist.” However, we are still learning lessons from history and we will continue to do so until we see an end to the destruction caused by racial discrimination.
On this anti-racism day Israel is still guilty of racism and systematic discrimination in its laws and practises. Israeli institutions are racist against Palestinians making racism real, and impacting on a daily basis. While the world tries to learn in not repeating the horrors of apartheid in the past, we can use South Africa as a model to learn how international boycotts and pressure can lead to peace.