Situation in Israeli-occupied Hebron reminiscent of apartheid

Published: 15 December 2017 Author: Stefan Talmon

In response to U.S. President Trump’s recognition of Jerusalem as the capital of Israel, pro-Palestinian demonstrators took to the streets of Berlin burning Israeli flags and chanting anti-Semitic slogans. Prompted by these events Foreign Minister Gabriel discussed the issue of anti-Semitisms among Muslims in Germany with representatives of Berlin’s Muslim community. During the meeting on 14 December 2017, Foreign Minister Gabriel made it clear that there was no place for anti-Semitism in Germany and that Germany had a special responsibility for Israel. That being said, it obviously must also be possible on this basis to criticise Israeli policy B as regularly happened, for instance in relation to Israeli settlement activities. In this context, he mentioned that some years ago, after visiting Hebron in the Israeli-occupied Palestinian territories, he had said that what he saw there reminded him of apartheid. On 14 March 2012, after a visit to Hebron Gabriel had posted the following statement on his Facebook wall:

“I was just in Hebron. There’s a legal vacuum there for Palestinians. This is an apartheid regime, for which there is no justification.”

He later clarified the reference to “apartheid regime” in a follow-up post saying:

“This afternoon, after a visit to Hebron that was really depressing for me, I spoke about the existence of an ‘apartheid regime’ there. I am aware that this is a very drastic term. But that is exactly how the Palestinians in Hebron are experiencing their situation. That drastic term is what came to my mind, and not just my mind, during the talks and visits in Hebron.

If my use of words has led to the misunderstanding that I wanted to compare Israel and its government with the old apartheid regime in South Africa, I’m sorry. That is not what I wanted and explicitly do not want, because this comparison would be more than unfair to Israel and would trivialize the old South Africa.

But the humiliating way the Palestinians in Hebron are dealt with simply surpasses much of what one otherwise experiences in the West Bank. And this makes even someone like me, who supports Israel, immensely angry. And this anger I have tried to express.”

Contrary to reports in the Israeli media, Foreign Minister Gabriel neither compared the Israeli Government to the former apartheid regime in South Africa nor did he claim that Israel was an apartheid regime. Rather, he reiterated his description of Israeli policies in the occupied West Bank city of Hebron as being reminiscent of apartheid. Apartheid has been defined in the International Convention on the Suppression and Punishment of the Crime of Apartheid as “policies and practices of racial segregation and discrimination […] 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.” Apartheid includes “any measures, including legislative measures, designed to divide the population along racial lines” and the “expropriation of landed property belonging to a racial group or groups or to members thereof” – policies widely practised by Israel in Hebron and other parts of the occupied Palestinian territories. Apartheid constitutes a crime against humanity. Neither Israel nor Germany is a party to the International Convention on the Suppression and Punishment of the Crime of Apartheid. However, the prohibition of apartheid is part of customary international law and may even be considered a norm of jus cogens giving rise to obligations erga omnes. Germany would thus be entitled to raise any apartheid policies in the Israeli-occupied Palestinian territories with the Israeli Government.

Category: International criminal law

Print Friendly, PDF & Email


  • Stefan Talmon

    Stefan Talmon is Professor of Public Law, Public International Law and European Union Law, and Director at the Institute of Public International Law at the University of Bonn. He is also a Supernumerary Fellow of St. Anne’s College, Oxford, and practices as a Barrister from Twenty Essex, London. He is the editor of GPIL.

    View all posts

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

I accept that my given data and my IP address is sent to a server in the USA only for the purpose of spam prevention through the Akismet program.More information on Akismet and GDPR.