A former head of Israel’s Mossad intelligence agency has accused Israel of enforcing an apartheid system in the West Bank, joining a small but growing number of retired officials who have made similar allegations.
Tamir Pardo, who served as the Mossad chief from 2011 to 2016, told The Associated Press on Wednesday that Israel is imposing two different legal systems on two different populations in the occupied territory, which he said amounts to apartheid, a reference to the system of racial segregation that was implemented in South Africa and ended in 1994.
“There is an apartheid state here,” Pardo said in an interview. “In a territory where two people are judged under two legal systems, that is an apartheid state.”
Pardo’s remarks echo those of other former Israeli leaders, diplomats and security officials who have warned that Israel risks becoming an apartheid state if it continues to rule over millions of Palestinians without granting them equal rights or a state of their own. Among them are former Prime Minister Ehud Barak, former Foreign Minister Tzipi Livni, former Defense Minister Ehud Olmert and former Shin Bet chief Yuval Diskin.
Pardo’s comments also come amid growing criticism from human rights groups and Palestinians who have accused Israel of practicing apartheid in the West Bank and beyond. In April, Human Rights Watch published a report that said Israel is committing the crimes of apartheid and persecution against Palestinians in the West Bank, Gaza Strip, East Jerusalem and within Israel itself. In January, the Israeli rights group B’Tselem also issued a report that labeled Israel as an apartheid regime that dominates the entire area between the Jordan River and the Mediterranean Sea.
Israel has rejected these accusations as baseless and biased, arguing that it is not a single entity that controls all the Palestinians, but rather a democracy that faces a complex conflict with its neighbors. Israel says it has legitimate security and historical claims to the West Bank, which it captured from Jordan in the 1967 war, and that it is willing to negotiate a peace deal with the Palestinians based on a two-state solution.
However, such negotiations have been stalled for years, as Israel has expanded its settlements in the West Bank, which are considered illegal by most of the international community, and as the Palestinians have been divided between the Fatah-led Palestinian Authority in the West Bank and the Hamas militant group in Gaza. The prospects for a two-state solution have also dimmed under Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s right-wing government, which includes parties that oppose Palestinian statehood and support annexing parts of the West Bank.
Pardo said he repeatedly warned Netanyahu during his tenure as Mossad chief that he needed to decide what Israel’s borders were or risk losing its Jewish and democratic character. He said he believed that the Palestinian issue was more urgent than Iran’s nuclear program, which Netanyahu has portrayed as an existential threat to Israel.
Pardo also said he was concerned about Netanyahu’s attempts to undermine the judicial system and the rule of law in Israel, which he said could lead to dictatorship. Pardo has joined the grassroots protest movement against Netanyahu’s policies, which has been holding weekly demonstrations for over a year.
Pardo’s interview with The Associated Press was part of a promotional campaign for his new book, “Black Box”, which details his life and career in the Mossad. He said he decided to speak out publicly after retiring from the spy agency because he felt a moral obligation to do so.
“I think I have a responsibility to say what I think,” he said. “I don’t want my children or grandchildren to ask me one day: ‘Dad, what did you do when this happened?'”