NEW YORK: An investigator appointed by the UN has accused Israel of the crime of apartheid in the Occupied Palestinian Territories. It is the first time an official from the organization has used the term to describe what other international watchdogs have said is a struggle for equal rights rather than a dispute over land.

Michael Lynk is a special rapporteur, an independent expert appointed by the UN Human Rights Council, tasked with investigating human rights abuses in Palestinian territories occupied since 1967.

“There are now five million stateless Palestinians living without rights, in an acute state of subjugation and with no path to self-determination or a viable independent state, which the international community has repeatedly promised as their right,” Lynk said ahead of the publication of a full report on his most recent investigations.

The two-tier justice system that Israel operates in the West Bank has cemented oppression of Palestinians that can no longer be seen as an unintended consequence of temporary occupation, he added.

“The differences in living conditions and citizenship rights and benefits are stark, deeply discriminatory and maintained through systematic and institutionalized oppression,” Lynk stated in his report.

It describes a situation in which Israeli Jews and Palestinians in the Occupied Territories live “under a single regime which differentiates its distribution of rights and benefits on the basis of national and ethnic identity and which ensures the supremacy of one group over, and to the detriment of, the other.”

This system “endows one racial-national-ethnic group with substantial rights, benefits and privileges while intentionally subjecting another group to live behind walls, checkpoints and under a permanent military rule. (This) satisfies the prevailing evidentiary standard for the existence of apartheid.”

Other international watchdogs have previously accused Israel of implementing policies of “domination and oppression” in the Occupied Territories that amount to apartheid.

Amnesty International is the latest rights advocate to accuse Israel of operating an apartheid system by embracing laws and practices that are intended to maintain a “cruel system of control over Palestinians, have left them fragmented geographically and politically, frequently impoverished, and in a constant state of fear and insecurity.”

Although Palestinian and Israeli human rights organizations have described the situation in the Occupied Territories as “apartheid” for many years, in recent months the term has increasingly become part of the international discourse about the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. During a recent meeting of the UN Security Council, Palestinian UN envoy Riyad Mansour wore a black mask emblazoned with the words “end apartheid.”

“This council may not be ready to use the word but apartheid is, and has been for a while now, our reality,” he told the members of the council.

Israeli authorities have repeatedly accused the UN of producing biased reports. They have said that it is unfair to apportion blame to Israel without taking into account the security challenges it faces and the daily threats to its citizens from armed Palestinian groups.