Vancouver Lawyer, Katrina Sriranpong, Discusses Israel’s Apartheid Regime against Palestinians

Vancouver Lawyer, Katrina Sriranpong, Discusses Israel’s Apartheid Regime against Palestinians

The term “apartheid” was officially introduced in 1948 as a legislative system in South Africa.  When the government came into power in South Africa, it created numerous laws targeting non-white people which limited their freedom of expression, right to movement, as well as access to resources and wealth.  The apartheid government also enacted laws which allowed for detention without trial, political trials and executions, and the repression of gatherings and systemic killing of dissidents.  The crime of apartheid requires a special intent to establish or maintain a regime of racial discrimination.  However, this intent does not need to be motivated by racial hatred or animosity.

Discrimination is at the core of apartheid.  People are deprived of their basic human rights and freedoms and often face killings because of who they are and the community in which they are a part of.  This racial discrimination is the crucial element in the crime of apartheid.  Unfortunately, this is the reality today for the Palestinians and the Rohingya people.

Israel

Apartheid is a human rights violation and considered a crime against humanity.  Israeli leaders have been clear about their intentions since 1948 and has implemented a system of laws and policies that treat Palestinians as a lesser group.  Israel defines and treats Palestinians according to their “non-Jewish” and “Arab” status, which results in inferior legal status and systemic racial discrimination by Israeli laws, policies, and practices.

“How apartheid presents itself varies in form based on the historical context and geographical location of where it takes place.  The UN Apartheid Convention states that the crime of apartheid is perpetrated when particular serious human rights violations are committed with the purpose of establishing or maintaining a system of domination by one racial group over another and systematically oppresses them.  In discussing Israel and their apartheid regime against the Palestinians, I think it is crucial to emphasize that any legitimate criticism is directed at the Israeli state, and not at the Jewish people,” says Katrina Sriranpong.

Katrina Sriranpong is a former immigration and refugee lawyer, human rights advocate, philanthropist and activist.  Formerly the only Thai-speaking lawyer in her home of Vancouver, British Columbia, she spent a significant portion of her career assisting immigrants and refugees navigate complex Canadian law and policy.  As a lawyer, she represented human rights activists from Syria and Ukraine in claiming refugee protection in Canada as well as other refugee claimants from India, Pakistan, Turkey, Mexico, El Salvador, Honduras, Somalia, Botswana and Albania.  She also provided legal assistance to victims of human trafficking and migrant workers at risk of labour exploitation in Vancouver.

The Harsh Reality of Life under Apartheid

In 1948, since Israel was established, its leaders have pursued an explicit policy of establishing and maintaining a Jewish demographic and developed policies to maximize their control over land to benefit Jewish Israelis while restricting the rights of Palestinians and obstructing their ability to challenge the dispossession.  In 1967, Israel expanded this brutal policy to the West Bank and Gaza, which it has occupied ever since.

Israeli law defines Jewish identity as the only national identity for the state of Israel.  On the other hand, Palestinian citizens in Israel are considered citizens but they are not nationals of Israel and, therefore, have inferior rights and privileges in law.  This unfair citizenship structure perpetuates discrimination against Palestinians and is a denial of basic human rights.  Human rights law prohibits racial discrimination against a racial group.

Katrina Sriranpong explains, “Major international human rights organizations around the world have been documenting human rights violations in Israel for decades.  For example, since 1948, Israel has enacted various laws and policies to take over land owned by Palestinians.  Life under Israeli apartheid is extremely difficult and affects every aspect of life on a daily basis.  For more than 73 years, Israel has been forcibly displacing entire Palestinian communities.  Palestinians are subjected to home demolitions and forced evictions, and live in constant fear of losing their homes to Jewish settlements.  The establishment of these Jewish settlements violate international law and are illegal.  Expanding illegal Jewish settlements in the West Bank and refusing to make any compromise on territory will not bring Israel any peace.”

“Currently, Netanyahu’s government is the most right-wing in Israel’s history and includes members that are convicted supporters of terrorist groups.  Some Israeli politicians want to ethnically cleanse the land of Palestinians to obtain their land and water.  Palestinians would, as a result, want to inflict revenge which would cause more bloodshed and possibly lead to a wider conflict in the Middle East. The far right Israeli government wants to depopulate Gaza and force Palestinians to other countries, which would make the land available for Jewish settlements.  This demonstrates that the settler-colonial ideology of erasure still exists in Israel today.  Israel cannot expect stability and peace without acknowledging the rights of Palestinians,” further explains Katrina Sriranpong.

“Also, Israeli forces have killed thousands of Palestinian civilians with impunity.  It’s important to note that these killings were outside the realm of armed conflict during Israeli law enforcement in Occupied Palestinian Territories, which includes suppression of protests and arrest raids.  There have been reports where Israeli forces have targeted journalists, medical personnel, and human rights activists during protests.  The right to education is also undermined by Israel as education for Palestinians is underfunded and affected by violations of freedom of movement and military operations that destroy their schools, which of course negatively impacts Palestinian education and human development. Without education, there is no decent future for their children, which perpetuates the cycle of poverty,” says Katrina Sriranpong.

“Imagine yourself as a mother living in the Gaza Strip, and one of your young children had cancer, which required specialized treatment in a larger hospital, located in East Jerusalem.  As a Palestinian, you would be required to apply for a special permit to leave Gaza, which is rarely ever granted.  Many children die unnecessarily which violates the right to health.  Also, citizenship and Entry into Israel Law denies Palestinians the right to family reunification.  Families may never be able to see each other when they live only an hour apart.  Most Palestinians residing in Gaza have never seen a mountain or a lake.  They’ve never visited Al-Aqsa Mosque or visited Jerusalem and most have never had the opportunity to step outside of Gaza, which is known as the world’s largest open-air prison,” says Katrina Sriranpong.

Since the occupation of the West Bank and the Gaza Strip in 1967, Israel has detained thousands of Palestinians.  Many of the detainees are children who are arrested for throwing stones against the Israeli Occupation Forces and held without charge or trial under military law which allows indefinite detention.  Detainees, including children, are also tortured during arrest and interrogation to obtain “confessions.”  Josh Paul, who recently resigned from the US State Department of Politico-Military Affairs in protest over the arms transfers to Israel, stated that a 13-year old Palestinian boy was raped in Israeli prison, which was reported to the Defense for Children International in Palestine (DCI Palestine), an organization that investigates and exposes human rights violations against children.  When the US State Department raised the incident with the Israeli government, the Israeli government confiscated DCI Palestine’s computers containing sensitive information and declared the human rights organization a terrorist entity for daring to bring the incident to light.

Israel also bans an assembly or gathering of ten or more people without a permit for any issue that “may be construed as political.”  This basically serves to ban peaceful protests.  Anyone breaching this Military Order could be punished for up to 10 years in jail.  Israeli law and policy discriminates against Palestinians in all areas in which Israel controls, and also denies Palestinians the right to return, which extends to areas outside of its control.

A Way Forward to Freedom

Major international human rights groups as well as the UN special rapporteur for the Occupied Palestinian Territories, and Israeli and Palestinian human rights groups have concluded that Israel is committing the crime of apartheid.  “At the UN General Assembly in September, Netanyahu displayed a map of Israel which stretched from the river to the sea and omitted any reference to Palestine.  He was never denounced for his anti-Palestinian racism.  Unfortunately, Israeli public opinion has shifted to the right, with more young Israelis becoming extremists, and the US has largely been silent on the issue of international human rights violations committed by Israel.  This provides an opportunity for Russia and China to forge relationships with Palestinians and, thereby, increase their influence in Africa and the Middle East.  However, their intentions in forming a friendship with the Palestinians would be questionable as those countries are guilty of oppression within their own borders.  The US is Israel’s strongest ally and provides the most aid to Israel for military use.  The US, therefore, has a responsibility to consider whether US funds are being used to violate human rights and international law and prohibit any transfer of funds to any country that does.  The suffering of Palestinians in Gaza demands the same scrutiny as the suffering of other civilians in other conflicts.  The same standards for human rights need to be applied for all people or else the US will lose their credibility in their commitment to human rights,” says Katrina Sriranpong.

“In order to move forward towards a pathway for peace, there needs to be recognition of the crime of apartheid by Israeli authorities.  People in the region want to live in peace and security.  I believe both Palestinians and Israelis share a common goal and desire to a better life for their children.  Palestinians have the right to self-determination and a two-state solution, which the Israeli government has firmly rejected.  Palestinians have the right to defend themselves, including by force, against their occupier, according to international law.  However, horrific attacks on innocent civilians do not further the liberation of the Palestinian people as the Israeli government will use violence as an excuse to falsely claim to protect Israelis.  The current war in Gaza and collective punishment of civilians illustrate the genocidal intent of Netanyahu’s government.  An Israeli military official said that ‘Gaza will become a place where no human being can exist.’  The Israeli Occupation Forces has also admitted to running a telegram channel that celebrates the slaughter of Gazans and stated that Palestinians are ‘roaches’ to be ‘exterminated.’  Collective punishment and ethnic cleansing on innocent civilians in Gaza, many of them children, would only fuel revenge and more bloodshed in the future.  More than 27,000 Palestinians have been killed on the Gaza Strip since October 2023, 70 percent of them being women and children.  Children are becoming orphans at an alarming rate and more than 1000 children have had their limbs amputated, some without any anesthetic due to Israel’s blockade of humanitarian aid and medical supplies into Gaza.  Over 400,000 people are suffering from famine due to the lack of food and water.  The use of starvation as a weapon of war and engagement of indiscriminate bombings has violated international humanitarian law.  By these acts, Israel is threatening their very own security in the Middle East and creating more enemies than it is eliminating.  War can never end the cycle of violence,” argues Katrina Sriranpong.