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Brutal, ugly & illegal: 9 things you need to know about the Israeli occupation of Palestine

posted on: Apr 14, 2016



As this story goes to press, the American Anthropological Association is voting on an academic boycott resolution in solidarity with the Boycott, Divestment, and Sanctions movement. If it passes the resolution, it will become the largest academic association in the world to do so, joining dozens of professional academic organizations, unions, and student unions in the United States and Europe. The AAA boycott resolution has now also just received an endorsement from twenty-two Israeli anthropologists, whose letter reads in part:

“We agree that we have reached a crisis point, where under certain international conditions, another mass expulsion of Palestinians could occur—or worse… We believe it is possible to take a positive stand against this reality. The Palestinian call for BDS is at its core an anti-colonial, non-violent form of international protest against an enormously violent occupation.”

The Occupation is at the forefront of the U.S. political scene as well, even when politicians dance around the issue. Recently, four candidates for president, including Hillary Clinton and Donald Trump, made it a point to voice their ardent support for Israel at the American Israel Public Affairs Committee (AIPAC) convention. The title of an article in Haaretz says it all: “The Candidates at AIPAC: Pandering by Numbers: Clinton or Trump? What does it matter? The AIPAC conference was Benjamin Netanyahu’s victory lap.”  The article summarizes the sorry spectacle thusly:

The word “pandering” doesn’t even begin to describe it. Throughout the night, all four candidates courted applause by prating of sanctions on Iran — even Clinton, who had been forced to embrace the Iran deal by virtue of her affiliation with Obama, all but shied away from it.

All the candidates admonished the Palestinians for fostering a “culture of hatred and death,” but not one mentioned the occupation of the West Bank, or the unremitting humanitarian crisis that is Gaza. It was Jewish pandering by numbers, and it won them all uproarious applause and standing ovations.

Bernie Sanders alone had the courage to buck the tide and actually insert a modicum of truth, ethics, and reality, though as usual the mainstream media did not mention it. As The Intercept reported:

In a speech from Salt Lake City, which had been offered as a telecast to AIPAC — an offer that was denied — the Vermont senator reiterated his support for Israel’s security. He also insisted that “peace also means security for every Palestinian. It means achieving self-determination, civil rights, and economic well-being for the Palestinian people.”

Sanders called it “absurd” for Israel to pursue more settlements in response to violence. “Peace will also mean ending the economic blockade of Gaza,” he said. “And it will mean a sustainable and equitable distribution of precious water resources so that Israel and Palestine can both thrive as neighbors.”

Also in stark contrast to the non-debate on this essential element of U.S. foreign policy is the recent news that Senator Patrick Leahy and 10 House members have written a letter to Secretary of State John Kerry asking him to investigate claims that Israeli and Egyptian security forces have performed “gross human rights violations.” As Politico explains, “Leahy’s signature is particularly noteworthy because his name is on a law that conditions U.S. military aid to countries on whether their security forces are committing abuses.”

Despite the fact that Israel’s illegal Occupation and its persistent violations of human rights in the Occupied Palestinian Territory have gained wider and wider condemnation both here and internationally, most Americans still know very little about the exact nature of the Occupation, its deep historical roots, and its deadly impact on the lives of common Palestinians. This is not surprising, given the virtual media blackout of the term. As the Foundation for Middle East Peace points out, at the AIPAC conference none of the participants dared utter the word, “Occupation,” which has clear and legitimate legal meaning. The Foundation asks, why?

“This is hardly a radical word. It’s one whose applicability has been affirmed by the High Court of Justice in Israel, and has been used by Prime Ministers such as Ehud Barak and even Ariel Sharon. It also has the merit of describing the situation on the ground in the West Bank, and legally still applies to Gaza as well. The fact that Palestinians in the West Bank and Gaza are governed under military law, rather than civil law, is evidence that Israel itself recognizes the legal fact of occupation, despite what its right wing politicians might claim.”

It is precisely because the Occupation is illegal by international law that Israel cannot tolerate its iron-fisted control and exploitation of Palestinian land being given that name. It is also why none of the presidential candidates that spoke at AIPAC dared utter the word—to do so would have laid bare the fact that by shouting out their support for Israel they were at the same time declaring their support for an illegal Occupation that the even the U.S. State Department decries.

Given all the weight placed on the term “Occupation,” we need to know exactly what that term means and why it is become the focal point of so much energetic and committed human rights work here and internationally. Here are 9 core reasons why you should care about the Occupation, and know what our mainstream political leaders and even some educators do not want you to know.

1. The Occupation is illegal.

What do we mean by the “Israeli Occupation”? In 1967 Israel seized what is now termed the Occupied Palestinian Territory (OPT) in an act of war. The United Nations condemned this action, and expressed that condemnation in Resolution 242 (November 1967), which emphasizes “the inadmissibility of the acquisition of territory by war and the need to work for a just and lasting peace in which every State in the area can live in security.” The UN document sets forth principles calling for “withdrawal of Israel armed forces from territories occupied in the recent conflict; termination of all claims or state of belligerency and respect for and acknowledgment of the sovereignty, territorial integrity and political independence of every State in the area and their right to live in peace within secure and recognized boundaries free from threats or acts of force.” This is a precise statement that insists on the inviolable right of the Palestinians to a state.

Instead of Israel acting in accord with this resolution, which was passed unanimously by the UN Security Council–of which the United States is a member–what we have is an unbroken history of Israel denying Palestinians their rights and land stretching back decades. What is more, not only has there been no the reduction in the appropriation of Palestinian land, Israel has also persistently expanded its illegal acquisition of land and its building of illegal settlements. As UN Secretariat Ban Ki-Moon has noted, these actions have contributed to the rise in violence in the OPT. He called the settlements an “affront to the world.”

Human Rights Watch describes Israel’s numerous violations of international law and human rights conventions:

Israeli settlements in the West Bank violate the laws of occupation. The Fourth Geneva Convention prohibits an occupying power from transferring its citizens into the territory it occupies and from transferring or displacing the population of an occupied territory within or outside the territory. The Rome Statute, the founding treaty of the International Criminal Court, establishes the court’s jurisdiction over war crimes including the crimes of transfer of parts of the civilian population of an occupying power into an occupied territory, and the forcible transfer of the population of an occupied territory. The ICC has jurisdiction over crimes committed in or from the territory of the State of Palestine, now an ICC member, beginning in June 13, 2014, the date designated by Palestine in a declaration accompanying its accession.

Israel’s confiscation of land, water, and other natural resources for the benefit of settlements and residents of Israel also violate the Hague Regulations of 1907, which prohibit an occupying power from expropriating the resources of occupied territory for its own benefit. In addition, Israel’s settlement project violates international human rights law, in particular, Israel’s discriminatory policies against Palestinians that govern virtually every aspect of life in the area of the West Bank under Israel’s exclusive control, known as Area C, and that forcibly displace Palestinians while encouraging the growth of Jewish settlements.

U.S. State Department spokesperson John Kirby plainly states:

“Our long-standing position on settlements is clear. We view Israeli settlements activity as illegitimate and counterproductive to the cause of peace. We remain deeply concerned about Israel’s current policy on settlements including construction, planning and retroactive legalisations.”

When U.S. Ambassador to Israel Daniel Shapiro drew attention to the double legal standards applied in the Occupied Territory–“At times it seems Israel has two standards of adherence to rule of law in the West Bank – one for Israelis and one for Palestinians”—he was dismissively called a “little Jew boy” by an aide to Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu.

Given all this, it is more than strange to hear Hillary Clinton and others defend a regime that continues practices that our own State Department has condemned as illegal and highly problematic for U.S. and world interests, and, in Clinton’s case, even promise to increase military aid to this regime so it can act even more effectively against international law and US policy.

2. It violates human rights, and Israel acts with impunity.

Along with dismissing the slew of international human rights listed above, Israel has so blocked any inspection of the Occupied Palestinian Territory by human rights inspectors that Makarim Wibisono, UN Special Rapporteur on the situation of human rights in the Palestinian territories, tendered his resignation in January. He stated: “Unfortunately, my efforts to help improve the lives of Palestinian victims of violations under the Israeli occupation have been frustrated every step of the way.”

More from the UN:

The Special Rapporteur stressed that upon taking up the mandate in June 2014, he was assured that he would have access to the Occupied Palestinian Territory. “I took up this mandate with the understanding that Israel would grant me access, as an impartial and objective observer,” he said.

Repeated requests for access, both written and oral, have been unsuccessful. “With no reply from Israel to my latest request, in October 2015, to have access by the end of 2015, it is with deep regret that I accept the premise upon which I took up the mandate, which is to have direct access to the victims in the Occupied Palestinian Territory, will not be fulfilled,” the Special Rapporteur said.

Mr. Wibisono said that that throughout his tenure, the Government of the State of Palestine cooperated fully with the mandate.

The Special Rapporteur voiced deep concern at the lack of effective protection of Palestinian victims of continuing human rights violations and violations of international humanitarian law.

Wibisono’s predecessor as UN Special Rapporteur, Richard Falk, had this to say in 2013: “Neither Israel nor its proxies can justify the facts on the ground in occupied Palestine, so they distract, distort and defame to allow the violations to go on.”

Per the UN:

In a news release, Mr. Falk underlined that “irresponsible and dishonest smear campaigns to discredit those who document these realities do not change the facts on the ground after Israel launched the war that began its occupation of Palestine.”

According to Mr. Falk, Israel is actively confiscating Palestinian water and land, having seized an additional 60,000 square meters of land near Nablus just this week.

“Israel continues to annex Palestinian territory; Israel persists in demolishing Palestinians’ homes and populating Palestine with Israeli citizens; Israel maintains a policy of collectively punishing 1.75 million Palestinians through its imposition of a blockade on the Gaza Strip; and Israel prosecutes its occupation with impunity, refusing to accept the world’s calls to respect international law,” he said.

In its Overview of the situation in the Occupied Palestinian Territory, Amnesty International echoes precisely these concerns:

In the West Bank, including East Jerusalem, Israeli forces committed unlawful killings of Palestinian civilians, including children, and detained thousands of Palestinians who protested against or otherwise opposed Israel’s continuing military occupation, holding hundreds in administrative detention. Torture and other ill-treatment remained rife and were committed with impunity. The authorities continued to promote illegal settlements in the West Bank, and severely restricted Palestinians’ freedom of movement, further tightening restrictions amid an escalation of violence from October, which included attacks on Israeli civilians by Palestinians and apparent extrajudicial executions by Israeli forces. Israeli settlers in the West Bank attacked Palestinians and their property with virtual impunity. The Gaza Strip remained under an Israeli military blockade that imposed collective punishment on its inhabitants. The authorities continued to demolish Palestinian homes in the West Bank and inside Israel, particularly in Bedouin villages in the Negev/Naqab region, forcibly evicting their residents. They also detained and deported thousands of African asylum-seekers, and imprisoned Israeli conscientious objectors.

3. It’s the only continuous, ongoing project of colonization in the world.

Illegal confiscation of Palestinian land, demolition of Palestinian homes, and the building of illegal settlements are all part of a continuous, systematic program to inflict misery, hardship, and death upon a captive population in what British Prime Minister David Cameron famously called “an open air prison camp.” The aim is to permanently annex all Palestinian land, a blatant violation of international law.

4. It’s killing people quickly, in attacks such as the one mounted in the summer of 2014.

The UN reports that during that onslaught on an imprisoned people by one of the most powerful military forces in the world, “at least 2,104 Palestinians died, including 1,462 civilians, of whom 495 were children and 253 women.” Amnesty International has also drawn attention to “extrajudicial executions” on the streets. As reported in Salon:

For Palestinians living under illegal Israeli military occupation, violent repression is a quotidian burden. The U.N. Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs reported that Palestinians were injured 14,000 times in the year 2015 alone; another 136 Palestinians were killed. These were the largest figures the U.N. agency had since it began documenting the violence in 2005.

Peaceful Palestinian protests are broken up by Israeli soldiers on an almost daily basis. It is not uncommon for average citizens to be shot, or to be woken up in the middle of the night in raids by Israeli soldiers.

According to a report by the NGO Defense for Children International-Palestine, Israeli forces shot at least 30 children across the occupied West Bank and East Jerusalem in the first three months of 2015.

5. It’s killing people slowly, too.

One way is by maintaining a stranglehold on Palestinians through an illegal embargo, through siphoning off electricity and water, through destruction of infrastructure, through unemployment. The UN reports that “These restrictions have reduced access to livelihoods, essential services and housing, disrupted family life, and undermined the people’s hopes for a secure and prosperous future.”

Horrifically, the Israeli government actually commissioned a study to see how few calories it could allot Palestinians, lest their deaths under the Occupation become widespread and known. In other words, they wanted to stop just short of starving Palestinians in captivity to death. Haaretz notes:

After a three-and-a-half-year legal battle waged by the Gisha human rights organization, the Coordinator of Government Activities in the Territories has finally released a 2008 document that detailed its “red lines” for “food consumption in the Gaza Strip.”

The document calculates the minimum number of calories necessary, in COGAT’s view, to keep Gaza residents from malnutrition at a time when Israel was tightening its restrictions on the movement of people and goods in and out of the Strip, including food products and raw materials.

The cabinet decision stated that “the movement of goods into the Gaza Strip will be restricted; the supply of gas and electricity will be reduced; and restrictions will be imposed on the movement of people from the Strip and to it.” In addition, exports from Gaza would be forbidden entirely. However, the resolution added, the restrictions should be tailored to avoid a “humanitarian crisis.”

6. It’s especially harmful to children and young people.

For example, in January 2015 UNESCO released its “Rapid Assessment of Higher Education Institutions in Gaza,” which found that student deaths during the conflict constitute more than a quarter — or 27.4 percent — of total civilian deaths incurred in Palestine. A recent study found that since 2000 Israel has arrested and imprisoned over 7,000 children.

Our own US government conducted its own investigation and issued a report:

The annual country reports on human rights practices, which include a specific section covering the situation of human rights in Israel and the Occupied Palestinian Territory (OPT), raises a number of issues related to ill-treatment of Palestinian child prisoners and denial of fair trial rights in Israeli military courts. It notes other grave violations against Palestinian children, including the killing and maiming of Palestinian children and attacks on schools in Gaza by Israeli forces.

7. Many organizations, religious groups, and individuals have withdrawn support of the Occupation by divesting and by boycotting.

These include civic leaders and artists, writers and musicians such as Bishop Desmond Tutu, Junot Diaz, Lauryn Hill, Chuck D, Roger Waters, Cornel West, and Angela Davis.

Over a thousand black activists and scholars signed a statement of solidarity. The level of international support for BDS is slowly reaching the level of support the anti-apartheid struggle in South Africa achieved.

In June 2014, the General Assembly of the Presbyterian Church (USA) passed a divestment resolution, and the United Methodist Church voted to divest from G4S, “a British company highly complicit in Israel’s military occupation of Palestine profiting from gross human rights violations against Palestinian political prisoners, including child prisoners.”

Activists, many of them college students, also pressured Bill Gates to divest from G4S, and he did so in 2014, completely selling off all holdings in that company. And now the firm itself has decided to end its business operations in Israel. As Mondoweiss reports:

“British security company G4S, the world’s largest, has responded to a four-year long global BDS campaign protesting its role in Israeli violations of Palestinian human rights by announcing yesterday it will sell its Israeli subsidy in the coming ’12 to 24 months.’ In describing the move, the Financial Times reported that G4S was ‘extracting itself from reputationally damaging work.’”

A serious discussion about the brutality, ugliness, and illegality of the Occupation is evident in actions taking place in the Jewish community as well, including this tellingly entitled event. Jewschool remarks:

It’s not every day that journalist Peter Beinart and Rabbi Brant Rosen, two major Jewish American thought leaders with divergent views on Israel, wind up in the same room. But that’s exactly what will happen this summer when Beinart, a self-identified liberal Zionist who opposes BDS, and Rosen, the co-chair of the Jewish Voice for Peace Rabbinical Council, come together to participate in the Center for Jewish Nonviolence’s 2016 summer campaign, “Occupation is Not Our Judaism.”

8. You’re supporting it financially and politically.

The U.S. sends Israel some $3.1 billion of your tax dollars every year—and that is just in terms of direct, unrestricted military aid. And Hillary Clinton promises to increase that sum even more. That’s our money that allows for the subjugation of Palestinians and the maintenance of the Occupation, our money that is being used to violate international law, human rights conventions, and even our own State Department’s policy.

Along with that, the U.S. has consistently offered Israel a shield from UN resolutions and other modes of censure and sanction. In a letter to donors, Hillary Clinton deplorably takes her obstruction of justice for Palestinians as a badge of honor, trumpeting her consistent efforts to keep Israel beyond the reach of the law by stifling any and all criticism of Israel:

“As Senator and Secretary of State, I saw how crucial it is for America to defend Israel at every turn. I have opposed dozens of anti-Israel resolutions in the UN, the Human Rights Council, and other international organizations.”

If you are at all committed to international human rights, you cannot morally allow Israel to exceptionalize itself, to grant itself immunity, aided and abetted by politicians such as Clinton.

We in the United States find ourselves in the Orwellian situation wherein our State Department puts on the public face of condemning the Occupation–all in accordance with international law–while at the same time Congress votes over and over again to increase military aid and diplomatic cover to Israel.

9. It is part and parcel of a tripartite set of wrongs done to the Palestinians.

It is crucial that the Occupation be seen in this context for us to gauge its true severity. Along with the Occupation, historically we have the expulsion of three quarters of a million Palestinians from their land in 1948 and the continued denial of full rights and privileges to Palestinians living in Israel. Ending the Occupation is a major step, but full justice for the Palestinians must take into account these two other pieces, which is exactly what the Boycott, Divestment, and Sanctions movement does.

Thus, for people like Hillary Clinton to pledge support to Israel, casting it in the position of victim and the aggressed upon, and the Palestinians as irrational terrorists, is morally repugnant and disingenuous. What would you do if you were robbed of your land and homes, attacked violently by one of the most powerful military forces in the world while being a captive population, and your appeals to the international community to uphold and safeguard your rights and lives by the very dictates it created are in turn censored, silenced, and attacked? When you decide that the best way to gain those rights is through a legal, non-violent movement for boycott, divestment and sanctions, and that movement is declared illegal by nations and states simply because it asks Israel to comply with international law? We should think of this deep history when newscasters express puzzlement that Palestinians are increasingly desperate and taking to extreme measures. Any talk of “dialogue” under these conditions, with such a tremendously uneven playing field, is absurd. The efforts to gain rights for Palestinians have to take place under ethical and fair circumstances, and that is what people are mobilizing for.

Here’s what you can do:

Find out more on your own from multiple sources—do not rely solely on the US mainstream media for your information. Look at Mondoweiss, the Jewish Voice for Peace, the American Friends Service Committee, Electronic Intifada. Read United Nations documents, and those of Amnesty International, Human Rights Watch, Middle East Children’s Alliance, B’Tselem – The Israeli Information Center for Human Rights in the Occupied Territories, and other human rights groups. (Update: While the organization If Americans Knew, which was previously listed here, provides much useful information from reliable, neutral sources, I disagree with many of the public comments of its director. I have removed the original reference to prevent any confusion.)
Tell your representatives in Congress you object and don’t want your taxes going to pay for the Occupation any more.
Learn about the Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions movement and if you are an academic or cultural worker learn about the U.S. Campaign for the Academic and Cultural Boycott of Israel, whose endorsers include Bishop Desmond Tutu, Angela Davis, Patrice Cullors of Black Lives Matter, Barbara Ehrenreich, Naomi Kline, and hundreds of others.


Talk about it with your friends.
Think of this: People active in the anti-apartheid movement on college campuses decades ago say that during the struggle, on any individual campus, activists were few and far between. They say now when they visit those same campuses, there is no one who does not claim they were part of the movement. That’s what it is like with struggles for justice. To go against the status quo is always unpopular and always a risk, it’s only later that people will eventually come over to the right side of history. However, the longstanding and deadly crisis in the Occupied Territory is such that those in the future will certainly ask what we did now to prevent it from growing worse, and what we did to bring about justice.

As Martin Luther King, Jr. once said, “The arc of the moral universe is long but it bends toward justice.” But it needs our help.

Update: Just days ago, on March 27, the UN Human Rights Council adopted six resolutions at its 31st regular session.  Of the six measures it approved, four had to do with Israel-Palestine:

In a resolution adopted without a vote, the Council reaffirmed the inalienable, permanent and unqualified right of the Palestinian people to self-determination and reaffirmed its support for the solution of two States living side by side in peace and security.

In a resolution adopted by a vote of 42 in favour, none against, with five abstentions, the Council demanded that Israel cease all practices and actions that violated the human rights of the Palestinian people or the character, status and demographic composition of the Occupied Palestinian Territory.

In a resolution on ensuring accountability and justice for all violations of international law in the Occupied Palestinian Territory, including East Jerusalem, adopted by a vote of 32 in favour, none against, with 15 abstentions, the Council requested the High Commissioner to review the implementation of recommendations addressed to all parties since 2009 and to present a report at its thirty-fifth session.

In a resolution adopted by a vote of 32 in favour, none against, with 15 abstentions, the Council demanded that Israel immediately cease and reverse all settlement activities and requested the High Commissioner to investigate the implications of settlements on the civil, political, economic, social and cultural rights of the Palestinian people.