A graphic tweeted by Human Rights Watch to promote their groundbreaking report, “A Threshold Crossed: Israeli Authorities and the Crimes of Apartheid and Persecution,” released in April.
Notable events of 2021
Human Rights Watch and one of Israel’s most respected human rights organizations, B’Tselem, issued groundbreaking reports accusing Israel of committing the crime of apartheid against Palestinians, echoing what Palestinians and others have been saying for years.
“The pursuit by Israeli authorities of the objective of maintaining Jewish Israeli control vis-a-vis Palestinians over demographics and land in Israel and the OPT [occupied Palestinian territories] amounts to a ‘purpose’ or purposes ‘of establishing and maintaining domination by one racial group of persons over any other racial group of persons,’ as set out in the Apartheid Convention. It also rises to an ‘intention’ or intentions ‘of maintaining that regime [or regimes of systematic oppression and domination],’ as set out in the Rome Statute definition of apartheid, and a discriminatory intent or intents, as part of the customary international law definition of persecution. These policies, practices, and statements collectively establish a discriminatory intent by Israeli authorities to maintain systematic domination by Jewish Israelis over Palestinians.”
President Joe Biden took office and failed to reverse many of former President Donald Trump’s most dangerous and destructive policies in Palestine/Israel.
- While Biden resumed diplomatic relations with Palestinian leaders and humanitarian aid, at the end of 2021 he had failed to carry through with a campaign promise to reopen the US consulate in Jerusalem, closed by Trump, which served as the de facto US embassy to Palestinians in the occupied territories. He also failed to reverse Trump’s recognition of Israeli sovereignty over Jerusalem and move of the US embassy to the city in violation of international law and 70 years of US policy.
- Administration officials also pledged to help Israel suppress the grassroots boycott, divestment, and sanctions movement for Palestinian rights, which was inspired by the US Civil Rights and South African anti-apartheid movements; to support a highly problematic definition of antisemitism that conflates certain criticisms of Israel and support for Palestinian rights with anti-Jewish bigotry that was adopted by Trump’s State Department; and declared Biden won’t even consider applying pressure on Israel in the form of conditioning military aid in order to end illegal settlement expansion or other abuses of Palestinian human rights, as progressive Democrats in Congress have proposed. During Israel’s devastating attack on Gaza (see below) in May, Biden resisted repeated calls from human rights groups, US allies, and even dozens of Democratic members of Congress before publicly calling for a ceasefire, facilitating Israel’s continued bombing and killing of Palestinians.
Israeli attacks on worshippers in the Noble Sanctuary and attempts to forcibly displace Palestinian families from their homes in occupied East Jerusalem provoked a major surge in violence in May.
- In early May, Israeli police violence against Palestinians protesting restrictions imposed on visitors to the revered Noble Sanctuary mosque complex in East Jerusalem during the holy month of Ramadan, which injured hundreds of worshippers in Al Aqsa mosque, and police attacks on Palestinians protesting the impending forced displacement of Palestinian families from their homes in the East Jerusalem neighborhood of Sheikh Jarrah, sparked a major escalation in violence across Palestine/Israel.
- From May 10-21, the Israeli military killed 261 Palestinians in Gaza, the vast majority civilians, including 60 children and 41 women, in the third large-scale Israeli attack on the tiny coastal strip since 2009. More than 2,200 Palestinians were injured, including nearly 700 children and 500 women. Tens of thousands of homes were damaged, with some 2,000 completely destroyed. At the height of Israel's bombardment, 113,000 Palestinians were internally displaced in Gaza, with 8,250 still homeless as of November. During the assault, Israel destroyed civilian infrastructure and entire high-rise buildings, including a tower housing the Associated Press, Al Jazeera, and other foreign journalists. The destruction of media offices was roundly condemned by other journalists and governments, who rejected Israel’s claims that the building was being used by Palestinian militants. The violence and destruction further compounded the appalling conditions that Palestinians in Gaza are forced to endure as a result of Israel’s suffocating, 15-year-old siege and naval blockade, which has been condemned as collective punishment and illegal by the UN and human rights organizations.
- In the occupied West Bank, Israeli forces killed 26 Palestinians from May 10-21, including 11 on May 14 alone, and nearly 7,000 others were injured. Inside Israel’s pre-1967 borders, Palestinian citizens of Israel took to the streets in solidarity with Palestinians in the occupied territories for the first time in decades and were met with violence from police and Jewish Israelis. The violence exposed long-simmering tensions between Jewish Israelis and Palestinian citizens of Israel, who face systematic discrimination in almost every facet of life as non-Jews in a self-declared Jewish state. In the city of Lod, a Palestinian and a Jewish Israeli were killed in separate incidents, but the suspected perpetrators were treated very differently by Israeli authorities. According to a report released by Human Rights Watch in December entitled Abusive Policing in Lod During May Hostilities: UN Commission of Inquiry Should Investigate Apparently Discriminatory Practices:
“At times the police appeared to react half-heartedly and unevenly to violence against Palestinian citizens of Israel committed by Jewish ultra-nationalists. Public statements by senior Israeli officials appeared to encourage discriminatory responses by authorities and the judiciary. The police response in Lod took place amid systematic discrimination that the Israeli government practices against Palestinian citizens of Israel in many other aspects of their lives.”
“In some instances, documented by Human Rights Watch, law enforcement deployed to secure Lod stood by or failed to act in a timely manner to protect Palestinian residents of Lod from violence by Jewish ultra-nationalists located near them or in their line of sight. Witnesses said they included members of ultra-nationalist Jewish groups who came from outside Lod. In one case, the Israeli newspaper Haaretz reported that municipal authorities provided overnight accommodations to members of these groups.”
Events in May revealed growing global solidarity with Palestinians and recognition of Israeli apartheid.
- Israel’s deadly bombardment of Gaza and attempts to forcibly displace Palestinians in Sheikh Jarrah prompted an unprecedented outpouring of support for Palestinians from Americans and others around the world. A wide range of celebrities, members of Congress, and ordinary people took to the streets and social media to protest Israel’s violence and support Palestinians struggling for their rights and freedom. In September, siblings Muna and Mohammed El-Kurd were included among Time magazine’s 100 Most Influential People of 2021 for the prominent role they played in protests against efforts by the Israeli government and settlers to displace their family and dozens of others from their homes in Sheikh Jarrah.
- This shift in US discourse and public opinion included growing mainstream recognition of the reality that Israel practices apartheid and is engaged in ethnically cleansing Palestinians, with numerous progressive members of Congress and others describing Israel as an apartheid state, including Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez (D-NY), Rep. Cori Bush (D-MO), and Rep. Rashida Tlaib (D-MI), the first Palestinian-American woman elected to Congress.
Naftali Bennett replaced Israel’s longest-serving prime minister, Benjamin Netanyahu, with little change in Israeli policy towards the Palestinians.
- In June, the far-right Bennett, a former head of the main political group representing West Bank settlers, took over from Netanyahu, Israel’s longest-serving prime minister (and Bennett’s former boss), who had been in office for 12 years straight and 15 overall. Despite Bennett’s coalition government including a couple of small left-leaning parties, the substance of Israeli policy towards the Palestinians remained virtually unchanged with the ouster of Netanyahu. In fact, the coalition agreement includes a clause specifically stating the government will not engage in peace negotiations with the Palestinians.
- Besides a warming of relations with the increasingly authoritarian Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas and a few minor gestures like allowing more Palestinians into Israel to work as cheap labor and allowing some Palestinians who are living in the occupied West Bank without permission from Israel’s occupying army to stay, Israel’s systematic dispossession of Palestinians, destruction of Palestinian homes, expansion of illegal, segregated Jewish settlements on occupied Palestinian land, and repression of Palestinian human rights defenders continued unabated and even intensified under Israel’s new government.
Ben & Jerry’s ended a contract with an Israeli supplier who sold their ice cream in settlements.
- In July, ice cream maker Ben & Jerry’s announced it would end a contract with an Israeli supplier who sold their products in Israeli settlements because they’re built on occupied Palestinian land in violation of international law, in line with the company’s progressive values. The move was welcomed by Palestinian human rights defenders as a significant development and reflection of growing global understanding of the reality of what’s happening in Palestinian/Israel. In response, the Israeli government and its supporters in the US launched a vicious campaign intended to smear and pressure Ben & Jerry’s into reversing the decision and intimidate others who might consider following their lead, including at least six state governments that announced they have or will use anti-BDS laws (passed at the urging of Israel) to divest hundreds of millions of dollars in public funds from Ben & Jerry’s parent company, Unilever. The six states are Arizona, Illinois, Florida, New Jersey, New York, and Texas.
Israel intensified its campaign of repression against Palestinian human rights defenders, including labelling six leading Palestinian NGOs terrorist organizations.
- In October, Israel labelled six leading Palestinian civil society organizations, including internationally-respected human rights defenders such as Al-Haq and Defense for Children International – Palestine, as terrorist organizations, part of an effort to suppress their work and silence them. The move was widely condemned and the accusations deemed baseless by other human rights organizations, including Amnesty International and Human Rights Watch, and many governments. Even many allies of Israel and members of Congress rejected Israel’s claims, declaring the evidence provided was unconvincing. In a joint statement, Amnesty International and Human Rights Watch declared:
“This appalling and unjust decision is an attack by the Israeli government on the international human rights movement. For decades, Israeli authorities have systematically sought to muzzle human rights monitoring and punish those who criticize its repressive rule over Palestinians. While staff members of our organizations have faced deportation and travel bans, Palestinian human rights defenders have always borne the brunt of the repression. This decision is an alarming escalation that threatens to shut down the work of Palestine’s most prominent civil society organizations. The decades-long failure of the international community to challenge grave Israeli human rights abuses and impose meaningful consequences for them has emboldened Israeli authorities to act in this brazen manner.”
- On November 8, shortly after Israel labeled the six Palestinian NGOs, it was announced that powerful Israeli-made Pegasus spyware had been found on the smartphones of a number of Palestinian human rights defenders, including some who work for the NGOs in question. A few days earlier, on November 3, the Biden administration placed the Israeli firm that makes Pegasus, the NSO Group, on a blacklist because its spyware has been used repeatedly by authoritarian governments to “maliciously target” journalists, human rights defenders, political dissidents, and others.
The Israeli government and Jewish extremists continued to encroach upon and provoke tensions around the Noble Sanctuary mosque complex in occupied East Jerusalem, one of the most sensitive holy sites in the world.
- In August, The New York Times reported that the Israeli government under new Prime Minister Naftali Bennett has been quietly allowing Jewish messianic extremists to pray in the Noble Sanctuary mosque complex in occupied East Jerusalem (known as the Temple Mount to Jews). Often couching their agenda in terms of civil rights and religious freedom, for years the so-called Temple Mount faithful have been pressuring the government to force open for Jewish worship the Noble Sanctuary, the third holiest site in Islam and one of the most sensitive religious sites in the world, with the ultimate aim of building a Jewish temple there. Over the past two decades, the Temple Mount movement has grown rapidly, moving from the margins of Israeli society to the mainstream, threatening to provoke a major religious conflagration in the region and beyond. Previously, since Israel occupied East Jerusalem in the June 1967 War, Israeli authorities had banned Jews from praying in the Noble Sanctuary to avoid provoking religious discord with Palestinians and other Muslims and because most rabbis opposed Jews stepping foot on the Temple Mount for theological reasons. In recent years, the number of Jewish extremists visiting the Noble Sanctuary has increased dramatically, with some even disguising themselves as Muslims to avoid being detected while praying.
General facts & figures
Palestinians killed & injured by Israeli forces & settlers
At least 324: Total number of Palestinians killed by Israelis in the occupied Palestinian territories (the West Bank, East Jerusalem, and Gaza), according to the United Nations. Of those, 261 were killed during Israel’s 11-day assault on Gaza in May, including 60 children and 41 women.
78: Number of Palestinian children killed by Israeli forces and settlers in the occupied territories, including 61 in Gaza, 15 killed by Israeli soldiers in the West Bank, and 2 killed by Israeli settlers in the West Bank. According to Defence for Children International - Palestine, since 2000 Israeli soldiers, police, and settlers have killed 2,206 Palestinian children.
More than 17,000: Number of Palestinians injured by Israeli forces in the occupied territories, including approximately 14,679 in the West Bank and 2,363 in Gaza.
Homes destroyed & Palestinians made homeless by Israel in the occupied territories
8,250: Number of Palestinians displaced by Israel’s bombardment of occupied and besieged Gaza in May who remained homeless as of November, according to the UN.
1,130: Number of Palestinians displaced by Israel’s destruction of their homes in occupied East Jerusalem and the West Bank because they were built without permission from Israeli authorities, which is almost impossible for them to obtain, including 813 in the West Bank and 317 in East Jerusalem, according to the UN. More than 400 children were among the displaced, according to B’Tselem: The Israeli Information Center for Human Rights in the Occupied Territories.
2,173: Number of Palestinian homes destroyed or severely damaged by Israel’s bombardment of Gaza in May, according to the UN.
262: Number of Palestinian homes destroyed by Israel in the occupied West Bank and East Jerusalem because they were built without permission from Israeli authorities, including 180 in the West Bank and 82 in East Jerusalem, according to B’Tselem. Often, Palestinians are forced to destroy their own homes or be charged a large fine by Israel to do it.
More than 850: Total number of Palestinian homes and other structures (including businesses and agricultural buildings) destroyed by Israel in the occupied territories, according to the UN, for being built without permission from Israeli authorities, including more than 690 in the West Bank and more than 160 in East Jerusalem.
970: Number of Palestinians in occupied East Jerusalem facing forced displacement, according to the UN, mainly due to the efforts of Israeli settler groups, many of which are funded by US-based 501(c)(3) non-profit organizations, including 424 children, comprising 218 households.
0.65%: The percentage of applications for Palestinian construction permits in the occupied West Bank that were approved by Israel from 2019-2020. From 2016-2020, Israel approved just 0.9% of applications for construction permits from Palestinians in the West Bank - a mere 24 out of 2,550. In contrast, from 2016-2020 Israel issued construction permits for 8,356 new housing units inside illegal Jewish settlements on occupied Palestinian land in the West Bank.
More than 130,000: Total number of Palestinian homes destroyed since 1947 by Zionist paramilitary groups and the Israeli government in what became Israel in 1948 and in the territories occupied by Israel during the June 1967 War, according to the Israeli Committee Against House Demolitions.
Expansion of segregated Jewish settlements on occupied Palestinian land
More than 4,000: Number of housing unit tenders issued by Israel for settlement construction on occupied Palestinian land in violation of international law and numerous UN resolutions, according to settlement watchdog group Peace Now, including 3,467 in the West Bank and 543 in East Jerusalem.
3,465: Number of housing units in West Bank settlements that passed one of the planning stages.
Nearly 700,000: Total number of Israeli settlers living illegally on occupied Palestinian land in the West Bank and East Jerusalem.
272: Total number of Israeli settlements built illegally on Palestinian land in the occupied West Bank and East Jerusalem, including 132 official settlements and some 140 nascent settlement “outposts” built in violation of Israeli law as well as international law but with the tacit approval and support of the Israeli government.
Israeli settler violence against Palestinians & their property
4: Number of Palestinians killed by heavily armed Israeli settlers living illegally on occupied Palestinian land in the West Bank, including 2 children.
More than 490: Number of Israeli settler attacks against Palestinians causing death, injury and/or significant property damage, according to the UN, the highest number ever recorded by the UN. There was a 50% increase in the number of attacks over 2020, and a 150% increase since 2019.
At least 118: Number of settler attacks that resulted in Palestinian casualties in the West Bank (not including East Jerusalem), according to the UN.
More than 9,300: Number of Palestinian olive trees, which are an integral part of Palestinian culture and the West Bank economy, burned or otherwise destroyed by Israeli settlers between August 2020 and August 2021, according to the International Committee of the Red Cross. In a statement released in October, the head of the ICRC’s mission in Jerusalem noted:
"For years, the ICRC has observed a seasonal peak in violence by Israeli settlers residing in certain settlements and outposts in the West Bank towards Palestinian farmers and their property in the period leading up to the olive harvest season, as well as during the harvest season itself in October and November… Farmers also experience acts of harassment and violence that aim at preventing a successful harvest, not to mention the destruction of farming equipment, or the uprooting and burning of olive trees. This is an important concern that we continue to share with the [Israeli] authorities in charge.”
238: Number of complaints of settler violence filed with Israeli police by Palestinians between 2018 and 2021, according to Israeli rights group Yesh Din, only 12 of which resulted in indictments, amounting to just 5%. Often, Palestinians don’t bother to file a complaint because they know Israeli authorities rarely take settler violence seriously, because it serves the objectives of Israeli policy in the occupied territories. According to Yesh Din, between 2005 and 2019 Israeli police closed 91% of investigations into reported settler attacks against Palestinians without charging anyone.
Frequently: Israeli soldiers accompany and protect settlers while they assault Palestinians and their property, sometimes joining the attack (see video) and/or detaining or arresting the Palestinian victims instead of the settler perpetrators (see video).
Palestinian political prisoners in Israeli jails (as of December 2021)
4,550: Number of Palestinians imprisoned by Israel, according to Addameer: Prisoner Support and Human Rights Association.
500: Number of Palestinians imprisoned without charge or trial by Israel using a practice called “administrative detention,” which has been repeatedly condemned as unjust by human rights organizations and the UN.
170: Number of Palestinian children imprisoned by Israel.
32: Number of Palestinian women imprisoned by Israel.
8: Number of Palestinian Legislative Council members imprisoned by Israel.