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On 'occupation denial' and the case for international pressure on Israel

An Israeli decision to continue the occupation is illegitimate, even if it was reached through a democratic process. Democracy has no meaning when the population at hand is not allowed to take part in it.

A demonstrator waves a Palestinian flag as he looks over the wall during the weekly protest against the wall and the occupation in the West Bank village of Bil’in, January 4, 2012. (Photo by: Guest photographer Hamde Abu Rahma/ Activestills.org)

This is a slightly modified translation of my weekly op-ed in the Israeli daily Maariv.

“Occupation denial” is the latest trend in the Israeli (and American) conversation regarding the conflict. Conservative scholars are presenting a revisionist reading of the Fourth Geneva Convention, claiming that it never applied to the West Bank and Gaza, while politicians are claiming that the term “occupation” is biased.

Yet all those verbal and legal gymnastics won’t change reality: the term occupation does not relate to land alone, but also to the people living on it (and the ones who used to live on it). The undeniable truth is that under Israeli sovereignty, there are currently two distinct populations: one which enjoys all legal rights and privileges, and one which is held under a military dictatorship for 45 years (even if the in the last two decades some elements of the military control are being executed through a Ramallah-based proxy, and with European and American funding).

Those who think that the political problem at our doorstep will simply disappear if they call the Palestinians “Arabs” and the occupied West Bank “Eretz Yisrael” (“Land of Israel”), are deluding themselves. I also believe that Hebron and Bethlehem are part of our historic land just as Tel Aviv and Netanya are, but there are currently millions of people with no rights living there, and this fact is way more important. There are Israelis who get that – even on the right – but the majority of the public and the political system prefers to live in fantasy land.

Peace activist Gershon Baskin reminded us yesterday that no Knesset nor any Israeli government has ever formally adopted the two-state solution. There were several prime ministers who made some real steps in this direction – while others did all they could to avoid it. At the same time, Israel has strengthen its hold on “the territories.” Even during the era of the disengagement and the settlement freeze, the area slated for construction projects for Jews has grown, as did the number of settlers. The injustice on the ground increased, but every election the Israeli public has granted this policy its stamp of approval.

This should be clear: an Israeli decision to continue the occupation is illegitimate, even if it was reached through a democratic procedure. Democracy has no meaning when the population at hand is not allowed to take part in it. Israelis cannot “democratically” decide to keep Palestinians as their prisoners; to prevent them from traveling freely; to try them in military courts; to hold them under a military regime which views them as an enemy rather than a civilian authority which seeks to serve them. They are not objects, but human beings, and they have rights.

Many nations have not gained independence, but even the people of Tibet or the Kurds – let alone the Basques or the Catalans – are citizens of a country. Israel won’t give the Palestinian citizenship nor independence. All it offers is endless negotiations that will either lead or not lead to a point in which millions of people will receive those very rights that weren’t ours to deny.

For these reasons, international intervention in favor of the Palestinians is not only legitimate but desirable. Needless to say, human rights campaigns and struggles over rights of minorities – and especially native minorities like the Palestinians – always have an international dimension in them, because the ethnic group in power is almost never happy or willing to hand over those rights. This much was true in South Africa, China and even the segregated American South. In all those cases, embarrassing the authorities and exposing their immoral policies was considered a legitimate and even desirable strategy among political activists.

The prolonged Israeli occupation, the Jewish public’s indifference to the status quo and the self-perception of Israelis as part of the democratic West create added justification in the attempt to mobilize international public opinion and institutions for the cause of ending the occupation, despite all the rage that such actions might create among the Israeli public.

No end in sight: Occupation marks 45th anniversary
The Israeli negotiator who thinks the two-state solution is still possible

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    1. XYZ

      I don’t believe this international pressure campaign is ever going to happen. Most people in the world don’t care about the Arab-Israeli conflict, viewing it as one of the numerous unsolvable international conflicts. Unlike some people here at 972 and other “progressive” sites, most people don’t spend their time and energy worrying about the Palestinians, the settlements, etc.
      It must be remembered that the “occupation” is legal in international terms based on UN Security Council Resolutions 242 and 338 which say that Israel’s presence in the territories is legal pending the achivement of peace agreements. The Palestinians have refused to make a peace agreement with Israel.
      Nowhere does 242 say that Israel is obligated to accept the terms the Palestinians demand, it just calls for negotiations and a compromise agreement, keeping in mind that it doesn’t call for a complete withdrawal to the pre-67 lines.
      There is one thing the Palestinians could do, but won’t, and that is to make a public declaration (in front of the Knesset, if possible) that they are prepared to sign a COMPROMISE peace agreement with Israel , giving up the “right of return” in exchange for a complete withdrawal to the pre-67 lines. No Israeli gov’t, even that of the Likud, would be able to refuse, just like Begin had to capitulate and give up every inch of the Sinai. We all know that would be the inevitable outcome of such a Palestinian offer. However, they can not do this, because the “right of return” of the refugees is FAR MORE important than “ending the occupation” becuase it is the very core of the Palestinian struggle against Israel, not the territorial issue and “the occupation” which are secondary.

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    2. American Me

      Here is the video that convinced me to spend some time trying to help the Palestinians in the West Bank. It’s from 2 years ago, in at-Tuwani near Hebron:

      That one Palestinian kid is such a character, she should have her own tv show. The other girl, the one who got hit in the face, would elicit such sympathy – there is even that one brief moment where she looks away from the camera, as if she feels ashamed of having been victimized. They all are just kids, nothing that was done in the past against Jews can remotely justify what is being done to them.

      With a few million dollars to buy time to show it on American tv, millions of people would quickly change their view of all Palestinians as suicide-bombing rock-throwing enemies.

      The settler shown (who presumably is not the own who actually threw the rocks at the kids) comes across as some sort of weird, dangerous type when he does that thing with his mouth into the camera. Very, very unsympathetic.

      Of course, the video would immediately be attacked from certain quarters as being “hate speech” and “anti-Semitism”. Some tv stations would be intimidated out of showing it, even for pay. It would be called fake. But it still would be extremely effective when it got through to viewers.

      That leads into the real heart of the question as pertains to America: there is all the variety of info and video and logical justification and emotional appeal to turn the public against the settlements. Why then does it not happen? Which power has such control over American media that it is able to stifle all of this? The answer should be obvious.

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    3. Kolumn9

      An Israeli decision to continue the occupation is neither legitimate or illegitimate since Israel has no alternative. First of all, according to international law the military control of the land of the West Bank and the people on it is legal. Second, the relevant international resolutions call on Israel to make withdrawal from territory within the context of a peace treaty. Third, the Palestinians in the West Bank haven’t just been living under Palestinian Authority control but have been repeatedly proposed statehood which would grant them all the rights they may have as individuals. These offers have been denied by their leadership, something somewhat startling given the accusation made here that the Palestinian Authority is an Israeli proxy. Fourth, the right of the Palestinian population to self-determination or other similar political rights has no bearing on the geographic distribution of the land in question. The Palestinians are fully capable of having full political rights in a smaller Palestinian state or as citizens of Israel (for Palestinian residents of Jerusalem) so the continued demand for the 1967 lines or for Jerusalem derive absolutely not at all from any argument for self-determination or political rights.

      The negotiations are only ‘endless’ because the Palestinians continue to refuse offers from Israel. How this fact turns into an accusation that Israel is not serious about peace and it should be pressured is simply incredible. How is it that the one side that is repeatedly making peace offers is the one that is getting blamed for an absence of a peace treaty and is in need of stern international pressure? This is the kind of ridiculous logic that should grate anyone’s sense of logical consistency.

      There is no need to refer to democracy to justify Israel’s continued control over the West Bank. This has nothing to do with democracy. This is a red herring. Israel’s continued control of the West Bank is justified quite naturally by a Palestinian leadership willing to cause more suffering to their people rather than compromising with Israel and the readily apparent results of unilateral withdrawals. What other justification is really necessary?

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      • Take some of this wind and blow a few settlers west of the Wall.

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      • Johnboy

        “First of all, according to international law the military control of the land of the West Bank and the people on it is legal.”

        Under int’l humanitarian law there is only ONE legal reason for establishing a belligerent occupation: necessary self-defense.

        If you insist on maintaining that occupation for Any Other Reason then your occupation has ceased to be legal.

        But Israel is holding this territory under its military grip so that it can colonize it with its own citizens.

        And, furthermore, that is being done in furtherance of a goal of territorial self-aggrandizement i.e. so that Israel can demand that *this* or *that* territory must be ceded to it.

        That’s “the acquisition of territory by war”, and it is illegal.

        Sooooo, if Israel is insisting on keeping this occupation going for the purpose of that territorial acquisition – and that’s exactly what Israel is doing – then the occupation itself has become illegal.

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        • Kolumn9

          Jordan attacked Israel in 1967. As such, the ‘belligerent occupation’ of the West Bank is the result of necessary self-defense. Additionally, the waves of suicide bombings from the West Bank and the military force that was used to stop them demonstrates that continued control of the West bank is necessary for self-defense. Additionally, the rockets smuggled into and fired from Gaza into Israeli cities demonstrates that withdrawal is an option that would leave Israel exposed to rocket attacks on its core populated areas and the continued control of the West Bank is necessary for self-defense.

          Additionally, the relevant UNSC resolutions
          all state that military control of the area is supposed to end within the context of a peace agreement between the belligerents. No such agreement is forthcoming and so the continuation of the situation is entirely legal.

          You can certainly argue that settlement construction is illegal and I would disagree with you but that has no impact on the legality of the military control by Israel of the West Bank.

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          • Berl

            shtuiot, read the “Six-Day War and Israeli self-defense” by John Quigley.
            The one of the self-defense is just another myth…like the diaspora in Roman times.
            art. 42 Hague Convention, 1907: “Territory is considered occupied when it is actually placed under the authority of the hostile army.” No doubt that this applies to the Palestinian Territories.

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          • Kolumn9

            John Quigley is one of the court lawyers of the PLO who takes such ridiculous positions like claiming that Palestine has been a state since before 1947.

            And even he acknowledges that Jordan attacked Israel in 1967. He just argues that it was done within the context of a response to the Israeli attack on Egypt which he does not consider a preemptive strike.

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          • carl

            If it was done “in the context of a response to the Israeli attack on Egypt” it means that there was an Israeli aggression and that Jordan, bounded by an agreement with Egypt, simply reacted to such aggression. You can agree or not with Quigley, but your remark is a non sequitur.

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          • Kolumn9

            Hardly. In history there have been many countries that have refused to honor defense pacts and that was requested from the Jordanians in 1967 by none other than Israel include the assurance of not attacking Jordan if it refrains from attacking Israel. The entry in the war of Jordan on the side of Egypt was voluntary. In any case, the reason for the Jordanian attack on Israel is not relevant to Israel or to the status of the land in question. It was occupied in self-defense. Jordan attacked and its territory was captured. Frankly the whole discussion is silly since the Egyptians started the war by closing an international passageway to Israeli traffic and remilitarizing the Sinai.

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          • berl

            self-defence is a myth. until 1956 tiran straits had been closed and was opened through violence in 1956. egypt and israel had been in a state of war since 1948. egypt was not required to afford israel peacetime rights. an armistice, not being a peace agreement, does not terminate a state of war.
            moreover, the unsc, by its res. 54 of july 1948, called for a ceasefire in the palestinian hostilities, forbidding new acquisition of territory from that date by the contending jewish and arab forces. when the IDF took Umm ReshRash (present day Eilat) in march 1949, US diplomats criticized the action as a violation of the july 1948 casefire, as it rather clearly was. egypt raised this violation and the illegality of israel’s acquisition of umm reshrash as it challenged israel’s right of passage through the straits. true, eilat was supposed to be part of the jewish state. but why to invoke the partition in order to conquer umm reshrash while at the same time disregard that very same resolution (181) in relation to askalan and many other cities that were NOT supposed to be part of the jewish state imagined by the UN?
            as Quigley noted: ‘the june 1967 war, rather than serving as precedent for preventing war, should be the poster child for pretexual invocation of force used in advance’.

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          • carl


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          • carl


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          • The Trespasser

            Yelling won’t make your nonsense sound any more credible.

            Force of less than 3500 poorly armed and untrained infantry would not do much.

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          • David T.

            Kolumn9: “John Quigley is one of the court lawyers of the PLO who takes such ridiculous positions like claiming that Palestine has been a state since before 1947.”

            All territories detached from Turkey were dependant states under mandate. And that fact that it has not gained indepence or that its (mandate) goverment has dissolved doesn’t change anything about its statehood. See Germany between 1945 and 1949.

            What is your ridiculous position?

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      • rose

        “How is it that the one side that is repeatedly making peace offers is the one that is getting blamed for an absence of a peace treaty and is in need of stern international pressure?”
        You must be blind, or full of ideologies.

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        • Kolumn9

          Last I checked there were at least two serious peace offers made by Israel that would have resulted in a Palestinian State and peace. This isn’t ideology. This is known as a fact.

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          • rose

            Which exactly? Jut take Jerusalem. Israele was never ever ready to accept to share the city. It simply tried to push Palestinian to Abu Dis&co. Peace is not what you want to impose on the other. You have an extremely wrong idea of what a peace proposal looks like.

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          • Kolumn9

            And here you go again. The offers were made? Yes. The Palestinians didn’t think they were sufficient certainly, but let’s not rewrite history to pretend that the offers were not made in the first place.

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          • rose

            Childish argument, Kolumn, Also Hitler made a peace proposal to Britain in 1940. So what? Sometime peace is just word to continue a war with other means.

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          • Kolumn9

            Israel made an offer that would have allowed the creation of a Palestinian state and the end of all claims on all belligerents. How is this not a peace offer? What war would Israel be interested in continuing if it ceased all claims on the state of Palestine? More importantly how does the creation of the state of Palestine make it easier to allow Israel to continue its war on Palestine? If anything it makes it harder. Your argument makes no sense.

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          • rose

            “how does the creation of the state of Palestine…”: your entire argument is baseless. Quoting Baskin: “No Government in Israel and no Knesset ever passed a formal declaration stating that Israel supports the solution of “two-states for two-peoples”. A speech by the Prime Minister does not obligate any government or Knesset”.

            “Israel made an offer” that was not an offer at all, i.e. we are ready to give you the 99% of what we are willing to discuss.
            “The creation of a Palestinian state…”: it was a bantustan, not a state.
            The peace of the occupier on the occupied:
            Peace does not work like that, sorry.

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          • Kolumn9

            Israel made an offer. How was it not an offer? Israel proposed to give up 98% of the territory in dispute and a Palestinian state would arise next to Israel. You don’t like every aspect of this offer but on what basis can you make the ridiculous claim that it wasn’t an offer?

            The offers made by both Barak and Olmert were for a Palestinian state to arise. Give me a single objective point which discredits the state proposed from being a real state. You will give some laundry list of restrictions and for every one I will find you a sovereign state functioning under that limitation (yes, i have tried this game before). The response I usually get then is “well, the palestinians don’t like it so it must have been a bad offer or not an offer at all or not a state or blah blah blah”, but it is always some kind of nonsense justifying a rejectionist Palestinian position rather than an objective argument for the idea that Israel didn’t make an offer for a state of Palestine to arise.

            Peace is made in any way peace is made.

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          • rose

            “The offers made by both Barak and Olmert were for a Palestinian state to arise”.
            But how is it possible that there are still people that are so full of ideologies to speak about the “generous offer”?
            Olmert was totally without any authority: he went out of power in that very same days. Moreover, Olmert never had any intention to discuss the real issues: “Jerusalem has never been a capital for any Arab or Muslim entity and will never be any part of a capital or any Muslim entity”. E. Olmert, “The Crisis in Morality and International Policy; How Israel May Be the Solution”, in D. Radyshevsky (ed.), The Jerusalem alternative, Balfour, Green Forest 2005, p. 100.
            As for the ‘generous offer’ of Barak, it is a total JOKE:
            1) Historically important Arab neighborhoods such as Sheikh Jarrah, Silwan,and At-Tur would have remained under Israeli sovereignty, while Palestinians would only have sovereignty over the outer Arab neighborhoods in Jerusalem.

            2) the lack of Palestinian sovereignty over holy sites in Jerusalem (Palestinians would only receive “administrative control” over their holy sites, and the Old City’s Muslim and Christian Quarters, however Israel was to receive complete sovereignty over Jewish holy sites, and the Old City’s Jewish and Armenian Quarters).

            3) “the lack of contiguity that the settlement blocs cause for a Palestinian state, lack of trust in the commitment and/or possibility of the Israeli government to evacuate the thousands of non-bloc Israeli settlers in the 15-year timeline.

            I could mention many other aspects, but you live on ‘Zion planet’ and I know that for people like you there is only 1 kind of peace: the peace that the occupier wants to impose to the occupied.

            The Arab Peace Initiative was the only real chance for peace and it is still waiting for an Israeli reply

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          • The Trespasser

            “Quoting Baskin” mwahahahaha.

            “He said that even when Hamas was pulled into participating in the launching of rockets, its rockets would always land in open spaces. “And that was intentional,” clarified Baskin.”

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    4. Noam’s now on my intellectual hero list–which includes Spinoza (don’t let it go to your head).

      Restricted to the Bank alone, over one million lives are restricted for the perceived security needs of others. Their lives are truncated, blunt, subject to humiliation, without redress when documented wrongs are done to them. This last makes stable life advance impossible. Their lives are in involuntary servitude to an exterior power. The 13th Amendment to the US Constitution prohibits that.

      I understand the post suicide bombing resolve; but there will be social fires under this nonapartheid nonoccupation. The world is telling us that the Israeli State solution is unsustainable. As Lincoln wrote in the 1840’s, “We must think and act anew.” There will be failures and losses; but there is no other choice.

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      • Kolumn9

        Their lives are less pleasant than they could be because their leadership continue to refuse to give them their freedom by accepting peace deals. This is not involuntary. It is a conscious choice by the Palestinian leadership and the people they represent to continue the status quo rather than making symbolic compromises in order to move forward.

        The world doesn’t speak. Idiots speak in its name and are right as often as broken clocks.

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      • XYZ

        If you thinki the past wave of suicide bombings didn’t leave major scars, you are sorely mistaken. They are remembered by all Israelis and much of the civilized world. The fact that certain “progressives” are saying we should forget about them and now have the Palestinians move to a supposedly “non-violent” form of protest is not taken seriously by most Israelis outside the 972 crowd. Add to that the fratricidal slaughter we have been seeing in Syria, Iraq, Lebanon, Algeria, Libya and ocassionaly violent unstable outbreaks in formerly “stable” countries like Tunisia and Egypt, people here and elsewhere in the world are VERY wary of what the Palestinians might do if cut loose without iron-clad security guarantees for Israel. This is what decides the matter.

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        • leelll

          “If you thinki the past wave of suicide bombings didn’t leave major scars, you are sorely mistaken.” My response – the terrorist attacks made by the Zionists were conducted long ago and were also not forgotten. As well as the stealing of their land and very houses. All of this continues to this very day. Zionist terror and horror that seems to have no end.

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    5. Richard Witty

      An extremely well-argued case.

      There is one dilemma in it though. Per all international law, per Geneva Conventions, UNSC resolution 242, all other binding international law, there is the qualification of “following the cessation of hostilities”.

      In the West Bank, that is to a level of moderate to high level if not perfectly high confidence, more confident than not.

      Relative to Gaza, that is not the case. There is a moderate level of confidence so long as it is in Hamas’ perception of its interests, but that changes for a few weeks every few years.

      But, if those demanding equal rights for Palestinians “succeed” in motivating a third intifada, even if the highest level of violence is rock-throwing, then they will give credibility to the Israeli right’s assertion that there has not been a “cessation of hostilities” (as ludicrous as it sounds).

      What we observe and what we stimulate/motivate can diverge.

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      • andrew r

        “even if the highest level of violence is rock-throwing, then they will give credibility to the Israeli right’s assertion that there has not been a “cessation of hostilities””

        Maybe to you…

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      • Johnboy

        “There is one dilemma in it though. Per all international law, per Geneva Conventions, UNSC resolution 242, all other binding international law, there is the qualification of “following the cessation of hostilities”.”

        Geneva Convention IV Article 6 clearly states that the convention lapses on the cessation of hostilities EXCEPT where there is “occupation”, in which place the article of the convention continue to apply for as long as that occupation continues.

        So the “hostilities” in question ended a long time ago. Indeed, they lasted only six days.

        But the occupation itself in now 40+ years old, and you simply can’t argue that a resistance to that occupation means that this occupation can continue indefinitely.

        Such an argument is, to say the least, perverse.

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    6. tod

      Noam, Bethlehem is not part of your “historic land”…it is a city that was mentioned in the Execration text as bait lahmi and the fact that during a millenarian history became relevant also for the Israelites does not mean that you are allowed to use religion in a selective way

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