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Frequently Asked Questions

What is apartheid?

Apartheid is defined in international law as a crime against humanity that involves “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.” These inhuman acts include murder, torture, arbitrary arrest, legislative discriminatory measures, the persecution of people resisting apartheid, and more.

This definition was first codified in the 1973 International Convention on the Suppression and Punishment of the Crime of Apartheid and a similar definition was adopted in the 1998 Rome Statute of the International Criminal Court.

To simplify, to recognize apartheid three conditions must be met: 1) a system of separation or segregation for domination (based on race, creed, or ethnicity) that is 2) legally enforced and entails 3) the commission of inhuman acts as part of that system.

For a more detailed discussion of the definition of apartheid and how it applies to the situation in Palestine/Israel see resources by the Institute for Middle East Understanding, Amnesty International and Kairos.

Wasn’t Apartheid unique to South Africa?

While the global understanding of apartheid developed based on the official legal policy by that name that existed in South Africa, apartheid can exist anywhere. The term is now used to describe other situations where a system is in place that seeks to establish and maintain domination by one racial group over another.

Notably, the Rome Statute of the International Criminal Court, which established the court and made apartheid one of the crimes under its jurisdiction, was written and ratified in 1998, after the end of Apartheid in South Africa, demonstrating acceptance of the idea that apartheid is a crime not limited to one location.

Who says there is apartheid in Palestine/Israel?

Palestinian human rights organizations have described Israel’s policies as apartheid for decades. Some examples include Adalah, Addameer, Al Haq, and Al Mezan Center for Human Rights.

In the last few years, consensus emerged in the international human rights community, as Israeli and international human rights organizations including Yesh Din, B’tselem, Human Rights Watch, and Amnesty International all agree with their Palestinian counterparts, declaring that Israel’s treatment of Palestinians constitutes Apartheid.

Many Jewish Israeli leaders – including former prime ministers Barak, Olmert, and Rabin – have warned over the years that Israel is becoming an apartheid state.

South African activists and leaders also agree, including Archbishop Desmond Tutu and Prime Minister Hendrik Verwoerd, the “architect” of South Africa’s Apartheid regime, who said in 1961: “Israel, like South Africa, is an apartheid state.”

A more comprehensive list of organizations and public figures can be found here.

Why does this pledge single out Israel?

We are committed to fighting apartheid and other human rights violations everywhere. And while many initiatives support several causes, most tend to focus their primary energy on a single issue. Advocates for justice and rights in other places, like China, Iran, or Saudi Arabia, are not “singling out” these countries or issues if they do not also speak about Israeli apartheid.

Moreover, many peace activists in the United States do feel a special responsibility to support the human rights of Palestinians because of the massive military, diplomatic, and economic support the U.S. government has been giving Israel as part of its own unjust foreign policy objectives. In fact, the U.S. government has singled out Israel by giving it its perpetual and unconditional support, despite Israel’s dismal human rights record.

What does it mean to be an Apartheid-Free Community? What are we committing to by signing the pledge?

Taking the pledge is an important step in your community’s commitment to resisting racism and apartheid. Each community has a different context and is on a different journey toward addressing the evils of apartheid.

In signing this pledge, you commit to discerning context-specific ways you can take action. You also become part of a growing network of communities working together to support Palestinians in their quest for self-determination.

Check out our action guide for ideas of how to live into your pledge.

Who can take the apartheid-free pledge? Can individuals sign the pledge?

This pledge is designed for communities and organizations in North America. We encourage faith congregations, universities and colleges, unions, cities, companies, and all organizations large and small to sign this pledge and join our coalition working together to end Israeli apartheid.

Individuals that are interested in this work are encouraged to organize within their communities to sign this pledge collectively. If you are part of an organization with sub-units or committees (like a student chapter on campus, or an interest group within a union or church), perhaps you can start with having the smallest unit take the pledge and then work your way up to the entire organization.

Why should my community take this pledge?

There is a moral responsibility to name and challenge injustice wherever it occurs, especially for people in the United States whose taxes provide direct and unconditional support to Israel. Taking this pledge and living into it brings your community into solidarity with people suffering oppression.

This pledge is also a direct response to the call made by Palestinian Civil Society and all major trade unions, asking for support and action by the global community. Publicly naming Israeli apartheid and pledging to work for its end is a powerful act of nonviolent resistance that can help bring change.

Why should my church take this pledge?

There is a religious responsibility to name and challenge evil wherever it occurs. This is especially true for Christians whose religion, in the form of Christian Zionism, has been co-opted for Israel’s oppression of Palestinians, and for people in the United States whose taxes provide direct and unconditional support to Israel.

Taking this pledge brings your church into solidarity with people suffering oppression. The pledge is also a direct response to the call made by Palestinian Christian leadership and Palestinian civil society. They have asked for support and action by the global church community as they seek liberation. Clearly naming the truth of apartheid and pledging to work for its end are powerful acts of nonviolent resistance that can help bring change. Congregations played a key role in naming South African Apartheid in the 1980s, and they can play a similar role in naming the realities in Palestine/Israel today.

How can we claim to be apartheid-free?

The apartheid-free pledge is aspirational: it states our collective opposition to apartheid, settler colonialism, and military occupation, and clearly puts forth our commitment as a community to taking action against these evils.

The term “apartheid-free” comes directly from Palestinian civil society. Our coalition intentionally prioritizes the voices of those most impacted, invites solidarity, and responds by taking action.

No one will ever be fully free of apartheid until there is freedom and equality for all people everywhere. Most people and institutions do not know the full extent of their ties to apartheid in Palestine and elsewhere. This is particularly true in North America, where our histories are marked by colonialism and its own forms of apartheid. Yet we can work together to draw connections, unmask, and work to end apartheid everywhere.

Does signing the pledge mean we support BDS?

Not necessarily. Multiple organizations, including Amnesty International, B’tselem, and Human Rights Watch, are confronting Israeli apartheid without endorsing the Palestinian Call for Boycott, Divestment, and Sanctions (BDS). Many ethical investors that have divested from companies involved in Israeli human rights violations did so without endorsing the Palestinian BDS call.

However, by taking the apartheid-free pledge, your community does commit to taking action against apartheid. How to do that is up to your community and your context, and many can choose to engage in boycott or divestment actions.

Why is this focused on apartheid? Shouldn’t we also resist the Israeli military occupation and settler colonialism?

Apartheid everywhere should be resisted. In Palestine, this is not enough: the apartheid regime imposed on Palestinians is just another level of repression after decades of ethnic cleansing and dispossession, an on-going colonial expansion, a brutal military occupation, a military blockade on Gaza, war crimes and attacks on civilians.

This is why the apartheid-free pledge commits us to “to join others in working to end all support to Israel’s Apartheid regime, settler colonialism, and military occupation.”