Palestine files complaint against Israel under anti-racism treaty

Exclusive: complaint claims Israel maintains ‘system of discriminatory measures’

Palestinian diplomats in Geneva have filed a complaint against Israel for what they say are breaches of its obligations under a UN anti-racism treaty, triggering what may be a lengthy and high-profile investigation.

The complaint, handed in by the Palestinian ambassador to the UN, Ibrahim Khraishi, to the body that monitors the implementation of the UN convention, accuses Israel of policies and practices that have “the common aim of displacing and replacing the Palestinian people, for the purpose of maintaining a colonial occupation”.

Violations in the occupied territories, which the complaint defined as the West Bank, Gaza and East Jerusalem, sought to maintain “a Jewish demographic majority in the entirety of historic Palestine”, claims the 350-page document, of which the Guardian has seen a summary.

“Not only is the purpose of the settlement regime discriminatory in itself, it is further maintained by a system of discriminatory measures, severely depriving Palestinians of their fundamental rights,” it adds.

Israel ratified the Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Racial Discrimination in 1979 and, Palestine, which gained UN observer state status five years ago, signed in 2014. The submission is believed to be the first interstate complaint filed under the treaty.

The convention is monitored by the Committee on the Elimination of Racial Discrimination, a body of 18 independent experts that is now tasked with assessing the complaint.

Although the committee has no enforcement mechanisms, Israel will now be required to submit written explanations within three months, including any remedies it has taken. The committee could then move to investigate the claims.

“It does not reach the level of a court order,” said Ammar Hijazi, from the Palestinian ministry of foreign affairs. But he said a finding that Israel had breached the treaty would oblige other signatories to the convention, which include the US, to “ensure that such practices are not continued”.

The complaint claims Palestinians are severely limited in their freedom of movement compared to Israeli settlers and are subject to “confiscation and seizure” of their land, including home demolitions.

It says Israel violates the right to equal treatment before tribunals by using separate legal systems for Palestinians and settlers, and points to higher maximum sentences for Palestinian defendants.

It claims Israel has violated article 3 of the convention, which prohibits racial segregation and apartheid. “It is clear that Israel’s acts are part of a widespread and oppressive regime that is institutionalised and systematic; that accords separate and unequal treatment to Palestinians,” the summary says, calling for the dismantling of all existing Israeli settlements.

The Guardian has contacted Israel’s ministry of foreign affairs for comment.

All countries are required to submit regular reports to the committee on how rights are being upheld. Israel’s most recent report, presented in 2017, said it condemned all forms of racism and “maintained a consistent policy prohibiting such discrimination”.