Has the seemingly permanent nature of Israeli control over the Palestinians rendered the legal term ‘occupation’ invalid?
Last week I attended a one-day symposium in the Netherlands on the EU’s role in Israel/Palestine, hosted by ‘A Different Jewish Voice,’ a local pro-peace group. You can read my notes from the event here. Below are comments delivered by Prof. Menachem Klein of Bar-Ilan University. Klein, who teaches political science, was a board member of the human rights organization B’Tselem and currently serves on the board of Ir Amin, an NGO monitoring Israeli policies in Jerusalem.
Prof. Klein tackled the common view in Israel about a European ‘bias’ in favor of the Palestinians, stating that to a certain extent, it is actually EU money that has allowed Israel to continue the occupation in the decades since the Oslo Accords. He concluded by making an interesting point: the legal term ‘occupation’, said Klein, has been stripped of its original meaning in the OPT and can no longer be used to describe the situation on the ground. I agree with his rational, but I also wonder whether declaring that we are now ‘beyond occupation’ might play into the hands of those in the Israeli and American right who outright deny the reality on the ground. In some venues even the term occupation is controversial, so should we be the ones abandoning it? I wonder what readers think.
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Popular and official misperceptions of Europe
By Menachem Klein
“Europe today wants peace and quiet. … When it perceives, very wrongly, that Israeli politics are disturbing that quiet, it blames Israel,” stated Avi Pazner, former Israeli ambassador to Rome and Paris. “The Europeans don’t know Israel anymore. The tourists coming to Israel from Europe are mainly Jewish. The depth of ignorance in Europe is such that it creates misconceived ideas about Israel’s aims and policy. Israelis know Europe better as many vacation there. We are close to Europe with respect to culture, history, religion, trade, commerce and tourism. I think Israel has to invest every effort to try and change the European perception”.
Or as another person, Israeli-English university professor Dr. Emanuele Ottolenghi put it, “Europeans see Israel as the embodiment of the demons of their own past” “
Thus, Israel has to pay twice for Europe’s bad behavior: first to face anti-Semitic criticism. And second, Israel has to pay the cost of Europe’s colonial-imperialist past.
However, while using these and similar anti-European arguments, Israelis tend to forget that the balance sheet of Europe’s history is much more in favor of Zionism and Israel than against it. Without Zionist-British imperialist cooperation, the Zionist movement could not have achieved the 1917 Balfour commitment nor could it have established the State of Israel in 1948. Too often Israelis forget that in November 1947 European countries supported the United Nations partition resolution, which facilitated Israel’s creation. Moreover, under the Peres and Rabin premierships in 1984-1986 and 1992-1994, relations with Europe were rather good. In other words, Europe supported the right of self determination of the Jewish state, and still supports it. What Europe is really against are Israeli modes of operation, first and foremost, its continued two-generations-long rule over the Palestinians.
Israelis do not acknowledge that foreign aid to the Palestinian Authority – mainly by the EU – helps Israel maintain its rule over the Palestinians, as well as to keep Israeli citizens’ high standards of living. Since 1994 the international community has donated more than $30 billion to the PA as humanitarian relief and emergency assistance, most of it after the outbreak of the Second Intifada in 2000. The huge sum helps the PA to survive the present, but due to Israeli restrictions it cannot use it for capacity and infrastructure buildings. Without this aid Israel would have to take on the daily life needs of more than 4 million Palestinians. Donor assistance in maintaining basic services and meeting humanitarian needs of the occupied Palestinian population has freed Israel from these responsibilities, and allowed it to avoid making hard political decisions regarding its legal, moral and political responsibilities toward the Palestinians. In other words, donor countries indirectly facilitate Israel’s rule over all of historical Palestine. Israel can expand settlements, prevent any Palestinian economic recovery, seize Palestinian land, cut the Palestinian territories to disconnected areas, increase socio-economic fragmentation to avoid the foundation of a viable Palestinian state, and in 2000-2003 it was able to carry out destructive army operations inside Palestinian cities, all while donors foot the bill for reconstruction and emergency aid.
The authors of a paper titled, “European Involvement in the Arab Israeli Conflict Paper” (2010), published by the European Union Institute for Security Studies argued that the EU’s prioritization of cooperation with Israel has worked against prospects of a two-state solution, and led the EU to compromise adherence to its own norms and laws. They suggest adapting current policies and practices regarding Israeli settlement goods to comply with EU declarations and legal obligations, and seeking reimbursement for additional costs to EU-funded humanitarian relief incurred as a result of illegal practices in the West Bank. Other practical measures to deal with the particularly problematic issue of settlement growth might include issuing a code of conduct to discourage European investment in and cooperation with settlement-based companies. In East Jerusalem, the EU and its member states could tighten policies and practices to avoid de facto recognition of Israeli annexation.
In my view Europe has the right to say: enough, we don’t want to invest in projects that fundamentally contradict our moral (respecting human rights, minority rights and the Palestinian right of self determination) and political values (the establishment of a viable Palestinian state in 1967 territories) and economic interests.
Moreover, Europe has the right to intervene because the continued Israeli-Palestinian conflict creates security and political problems for Europe. Without Israeli-Palestinian peace, Western Europe faces insecurity as the conflict spills over into its area. During Israeli army operations in the West Bank and Gaza Strip, mass anti-Israeli demonstrations spread all over Western Europe’s main cities.
‘Occupation’ is no longer a relevant concept or definition
The term occupation is very often in use to define the Israeli rule over the Palestinians. Hereafter, I wish to suggest five reason why this is not an accurate term. I find it necessary to make a reality check. Without the right diagnosis we are unable to form a prognosis.
First, there is the time factor. Occupation, as the international law defines it, is temporary. Israel has ruled over the West Bank and Gaza Strip for almost 50 years, about two generations. This is not a temporary situation. Israel rules directly and by proxy (through the PA) over the whole area between Jordan River and the Mediterranean.
Second there is a social-psychological factor. The vast majority of Israel’s population was not born or did not live in pre-1967 Israel. They don’t know any other reality and for many Israelis, the West Bank, or at least a large part of it, is “ours.”
Third, the reality on the ground has changed dramatically. Settlement expansion has created de-facto annexation of most West Bank areas. Israel has moved over half a million Jewish citizens into the West Bank. In many settlements you can find a third generation. For them, it’s their home forever. Some even follow their parent’s generation and establish new settlements of their own. In other words, the term occupation relates to army and force, and indeed the Israeli army is deployed in and manages the West Bank. But with the settlement expansion, Israel’s civilian arm is much more effective in the de facto annexation of this area than the army. Actually, the army assists the settlers to take control.
Fourth, as a consequence of the settlements’ expansion, two different legal systems exist in the same West Bank area: a military one for native Palestinians, an Israeli one for the colonizers. Similarly, two different legal statuses exist in annexed East Jerusalem. Israel fully annexed East Jerusalem’s land but not its native people. The land is under full Israeli state law but its Palestinian natives are just residents, enjoying fewer privileges than citizens. The dual law system is based on collective identities of the privileged and the deprived rather than the individual belonging to his or her native area. Such a system goes far beyond ‘occupation’, to the extent that more than a few Israelis and Palestinians tend to agree with Meron Benvenisti, that the Israeli settlement and control system is irreversible.
I find myself in agreement with the conclusion of academics and security experts, that in a case of Israeli withdraw from most of the West Bank and the establishment of a fully sovereign Palestinian state with its capital in Arab Jerusalem, a sort of armed resistance by radical settlers can be expected. This may be our civil war, a traumatic event that will affect our identity in ways resembling the French, the British and the American civil wars. Only massive external pressure can bring the Israeli government to confront armed Jewish resistance and save Israel from destroying itself by ruling over the Palestinians.
Fifth, the pre-1967 lines are crossed in both directions. Not only do settlers and state agents cross [the Green Line] into the West Bank, settlers are entering mixed cities (Jaffa, Acre, Lydda, Ramleh] in order to “Judaize” them. The conflict is not “there,” far away in occupied territories – but here, at “home.”
The settlements enterprise is a state-made operation, not a private initiation. Settlement expansion and the systems of rule Israel has created since the early 21st century brings liberal Israelis to conclude that Israel uses Apartheid methods in controlling the West Bank. Others identify Israel’s system of rule over the Palestinians as a mix of Apartheid, colonialism and ethnocentric state methods. Ehud Barak warned in February 2010: “make peace with Palestinians or face apartheid”. Barak saw Apartheid waiting around the corner, but others identify similarities between South Africa under Apartheid and Israeli ruling system over the Palestinians in the present.
Israel is indeed a parliamentary democracy. It maintains regular, free, open and democratic elections that create a real competition for governing the state. Israel maintains separation between constitutional, legal and operational branches, and its citizens enjoy freedom of speech, free press and freedom of worship. But beyond these characteristics Israel’s democracy is built on ethnic foundations, preferring Jews over non-Jews. Israel discriminates systematically against Israeli–Palestinians citizens. As long as too many Israelis do not settle in 1967 territories, few will question Israel’s structure and legitimacy. But since a growing number see Israel’s expansion project as irreversible, and acknowledge the existence of one de facto discriminatory state between the Jordan and the Mediterranean, Israel’s fundamental structure and right to exist in pre-June 1967 borders comes to the fore.
Demography is telling – between the Jordan River and the Mediterranean there is almost parity between Jews and Palestinians, but not equality in basic rights. Therefore, in order to save Israel and its right to self determination, an immediate operation is needed to divide Israel from its rule over Palestinians. As much as the Palestinians need their freedom, Israel must regain its legitimacy as a state — and the sooner the better.
 Europe: Choosing Between Israel and the Arabs, Interview with Avi Pazner.
 Dr. Emanuele Ottolenghi quoted in The Economist August 17, 2006.
 Yezid Sayigh, “Inducing a Failed State in Palestine”, Survival, Vol. 49 No. 3 autumn 2007, pp. 7-40.
 European Union Institute for Security Studies, Chaillot 124, December 2010.
 I analysed this system in my book The Shift: Israel – Palestine from Border Conflict to Ethnic Struggle, November 2010 by C, Hurst and Columbia University, new edition 2013 by Oxford University NY.
 A new NGO called Shivion [Equality] was recently established to monitor and advocate against Israeli Apartheid methods. Among the founders are former Israeli Ambassadors to South Africa Alon Liel and Ilan Baruch.
 The Guardian Wednesday 3 February 2010.