Yesterday, February 1st, 2022, Amnesty International released a report supposedly condemning the Zionist state for its apartheid practices against the people of Palestine, almost 74 years since the settler state was established. While Amnesty has been lauded for writing such a report, its publication raises far more questions than answers. Why was this position taken now, after a historic year of international struggle in support of Palestine and material victories for the resistance? Who funded this report, and whose interests do those funders align with? Perhaps most crucially, what exactly is Amnesty condemning?
There is no doubt that the massive popular global uprising for Palestine this past year pushed Amnesty to release this report, which in itself only indicates their efforts to maintain legitimacy as an NGO while failing to challenge the legitimacy of the occupation. It is the popular resistance from within Palestine that has brought us closer to liberation, while NGOs and the post-Oslo donor complex struggle to maintain their relevance in the context of this development. This report has come too many years too late, and with too little action.
The policy changes or “recommendations” in the Amnesty report will not bring justice for Palestinians whose struggle is fundamentally against settler colonialism and for full decolonization of the land from the river to the sea—not just ‘racial inequality’ under the status quo of occupation. In fact, Amnesty’s report does not even condemn the occupation, let alone the realities of 74 years of colonization. Page 38 of the report notes that “While recognizing the potential validity of the arguments made by some Palestinian human rights groups and others that apply the right to self-determination as the framework of analysis for the situation in Israel and the OPT, Amnesty International limits its analysis to legal frameworks that explicitly address institutionalized racial discrimination.” We cannot describe Amnesty’s rejection of Palestinian self-determination more explicitly than Amnesty has itself. Its recommendations give the Zionist state the blueprint to salvage itself. The organization prefaces the fact-finding with a framework that “engages with the reality of the existence of the State of Israel,” (p. 38), pushing the Zionist entity to adhere to legal obligations carried by occupying powers while carefully omitting any reference to the essence of the Palestinian struggle: colonization. When these fundamental questions are ignored, the concept of “peace” becomes an abstract moral ideal rather than a realistic program to resolve the suffering in Palestine.
When we celebrate NGOs like Amnesty International for writing a report, we legitimize institutions who, from their very origins, have been founded off the oppression of Palestinian people and have existed to neutralize liberation movements under the guise of ‘human rights’. Organizations like Amnesty International and Human Rights Watch have their roots in the Western liberal tradition of looking outward from their own societies to identify abuses that occur in the Global South, especially during the Cold War in countries aligned against the United States.
Amnesty also has a longstanding policy of refusing to advocate for any prisoner who has taken up arms or advocated for such forms of resistance. In order to receive “Prisoner of Conscience” status from Amnesty, and thus receive its support, Amnesty’s policy states that “no Prisoner of Conscience may have employed violence while committing the ‘offense’ for which he or she is imprisoned.” The practical effect of such a policy is the isolation of liberation oriented mass-based movements who, in the words of Malcolm X, recognize the necessity of “picking up the gun so you can put down the gun.” In turn, this isolation has the very real effect of bolstering and legitimizing those political currents in our struggles whose interests align with our enemy, whether that is explicitly, like the traitors in the Palestinian Authority, or whether it is less explicit, like the proliferation of NGOs and international donor agencies throughout Palestine. Even Nelson Mandela was not considered a prisoner of conscience to Amnesty International, who stated publicly that they would not campaign for his release as he was not ashamed of his support for, and leadership in, the armed struggle that had been launched against the settler state in South Africa. Amnesty’s historically selective advocacy asserts a belief that armed struggle is illegitimate, and consequently the only colonized people they lift up are those sectors of society that reject taking up arms against one’s oppressor.
In every case of settler colonialism, a legal division between the colonized and the colonizer exists—and our task as a revolutionary organization and movement is to raise the consciousness past legal standards and always assert the primary contradiction which we struggle against: settler colonialism. The term “apartheid” itself legitimizes the idea that the problem in Palestine is a legal one – and recourse can be had in bodies of international law. The legal arena of struggle exists, and of course, we should participate in every battlefield that we are able to. Categorizing the Palestinian struggle as first and foremost a struggle against legal inequality within the settler state however, is altogether a different proposition.
We understand that our movement is large enough to fit diverse political traditions and varying roles according to our abilities and resources. We understand that nonprofits can play an active role without falling into the dynamics described above. Our intention is not to be ideologically purist or gatekeep what is a valuable contribution to the struggle. However, that understanding is meaningless unless we as a movement draw the line somewhere. The Algerian liberation struggle would not accept an analysis of international observers who implicitly or explicitly accept the legitimacy of a French settler state, and who could fault them? Why then, would we accept the analysis of Amnesty who has decided that the national aspirations of the Palestinian struggle should be subordinated to the legal, rights-based framework that falls far short of those aspirations?
There are longstanding valid critiques of applying the framework of apartheid to Palestine all together, although many use the term to help describe one of the many features of Zionist settler colonialism. We are not gatekeepers of the Palestinian movement. It is however our responsibility to point out potentially disastrous outcomes of political decisions made by organizations who purport to speak on our struggle. Amnesty’s report deserves no praise, and its recommendations, if applied, only ensure the longevity of the Zionist state. Amnesty equates the violence of the oppressor with the violence of the oppressed. And in its own words, Amnesty “hasn’t taken a position on occupation. Our focus has been on the Israeli government’s obligations, as the occupying power, under international law, but Amnesty has taken no position on the occupation itself.” If Amnesty’s version of human rights can somehow coexist with the occupation, it is clear this liberal human rights framework must be rejected. Organizations that deny Palestinians the right to resist inherently deny Palestinians the right to achieve liberation. No one will liberate Palestine but the Palestinian people who fight settler colonialism from wherever they are, with whatever they have.