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The Dartmouth
May 27, 2024 | Latest Issue
The Dartmouth

Human Rights Watch Israel and Palestine director Omar Shakir speaks on campus

Approximately 50 students listened to Shakir outline how analysis by the Human Rights Watch found that the Israeli government’s treatment of Palestinians qualifies as “apartheid.”

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Last Tuesday, the Palestine Solidarity Coalition of Dartmouth Students hosted Human Rights Watch director of Israel and Palestine Omar Shakir, who spoke to approximately 50 students about the Israeli government’s treatment of Palestinians. Shakir’s lecture was based on a Human Rights Watch report titled “A Threshold Crossed: Israeli Authorities and the Crimes of Apartheid and Persecution.” 

In his talk, Shakir discussed the evidence and legal reasoning that led HRW to declare the Israeli government guilty of “the crimes against humanity of apartheid and persecution” under international law. He later fielded questions from both the event organizers — PSC president Ramsey Alsheikh ’26 and treasurer David Adkins ’26 — and audience members. 

In an interview after the event, Adkins explained that the PSC’s motivation to invite Shakir to Dartmouth was “to break boundaries down.”

“There is rampant misinformation on both sides and to hear some of [Shakir’s] objective information was really valuable,” Adkins said. 

Adkins said that the PSC used to be graduate student-run and focused mainly on organizing protests on campus, but last term the College approved a “rebirth.” Since then, the entirely undergraduate-run organization has shifted its focus to weekly programming, discussions and events, according to Adkins. 

“It was important to ensure that we have more of a presence than just being included whenever a tragic event happens,” Adkins said. 

In the talk, Shakir said that his characterization of the Israel-Palestine conflict differs from how many conversations in the U.S. revolve around a “two-state solution, the peace process [and] two equal sides.” Shakir instead described the situation as one in which the Israeli government rules over two groups of equal sizes — Jewish Israelis and Palestinians — but systematically represses Palestinians “because of who they are.”

Shakir outlined the three elements from the report that must be present in order to prove apartheid: an intent to dominate another group, a context of systematic oppression and inhumane acts. He defined apartheid as severe discrimination that receives the “highest level of condemnation” under international law. 

To prove an intent to dominate, Shakir said that the Israeli government has attempted to dominate the overall municipal population by maintaining a “solid Jewish majority” and maximizing land under Jewish Israeli control. According to Shakir, the Israeli government denies long-term residence status to Palestinians who marry Israelis, but not members of other groups. In Israel proper — which consists of 78% of the territory between the Jordan River and Mediterranean Sea — local Israeli authorities attempt to “Judaize the Negev and Galilee” regions by deciding who can live in any one town, according to the report. Consequently, many towns have zero Palestinian residents, Shakir said.

To demonstrate a context of systematic oppression, Shakir identified a “two-tiered system that methodically privileges Jewish Israelis at the expense of Palestinians.” Under Israeli law, Jewish Israelis and Palestians who are neighbors in the West Bank are governed under different bodies of law, according to the report. For example, Palestinians are tried in different courts than Jewish Israelis and lack due process rights, the report noted. 

According to Shakir, other Israeli policies dictate that Jewish Israelis who leave East Jerusalem — the area of Jerusalem within the West Bank — remain citizens of Israel after leaving. In contrast, a Palestinian who leaves East Jerusalem becomes “stateless” and can lose their residency status. Shakir said that 15,000 Palestinians have suffered this fate since the annexation of East Jerusalem in 1967.

For the third qualification of apartheid, Shakir pointed to five sets of inhuman acts that have occurred under the Israeli government: movement regulations, mass land expropriation, demolition of Palestinian homes and forcible transfer, stripping of legal statuses and the mass suspension of civil rights for nearly five million Palestinians.

Shakir highlighted the 593 checkpoints and closure obstacles within the West Bank that can make a short commute “long and humiliating” for Palestinians. The Israeli government also issues 100 times more demolition orders than building permits for Palestinians, which forces them to move as Israeli settlements expand rapidly, Shakir said.

According to HRW’s report, the Israeli military denies Palestinains free speech, freedom of assembly and freedom of association. Shakir pointed out that had his talk at Dartmouth taken place in Israel, he would be subject to a ten-year jail sentence under Israeli law unless he had a permit from the Israeli army because the event was attended by more than ten people.

In his conclusion, Shakir explained why he feels it is important to use the word “apartheid.” 

“The first step to solving any problem is to diagnose it correctly,” Shakir said. “Whether you are a doctor or whether you’re a policymaker, the wrong diagnosis leads to the wrong set of conclusions and the wrong set of steps to take.”

He added that apartheid is “not a hypothetical future scenario,” and that other actors have used the same word. These include major human rights groups, Harvard Law School’s Human Rights Clinic, several UN officials including the current and former Secretary-General, the governments of South Africa and Namibia and former President Jimmy Carter.

After the talk, Adkins asked Shakir to explain why it was important to highlight Israel’s abuses more than Palestine’s. Shakir, who said that he has also investigated the Palestinian military organization Hamas for random arrests and torture, explained that the situation calls for heightened attention on Israel. 

“There’s no equality here,” Shakir said. “In 90% of the territory between the Jordan River and the Mediterranean Sea, the Israeli government is the sole governing power … even the Palestinian President needs a permit [from the Israelis] to leave his home more than a kilometer.”

Discussing Dartmouth students in particular, Shakir pointed out that those with privilege must act to affect positive change. 

“I firmly believe that we have an obligation — especially as people who have the opportunity to study at places like Dartmouth — to speak out and to use our degrees and our privilege to fight, even if it’s an uphill battle, for a better world where the dignity and human rights of all people are respected,” he said. 

After the event, Oliver Zemans ’26 said he appreciated hearing Shakir’s perspective.

“I thought it was really eye opening. It’s humbling to hear from such an experienced and successful human rights attorney and get a glimpse into the important work the Human Rights Watch does.”

Ramsey Alsheikh ’26 and David Adkins ’26 are members of The Dartmouth’s opinion staff.