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The world had decades to stop annexation. Just ask Palestinians

Partially annexed or temporarily occupied, Palestinians living under Israel’s thumb do not need legal expertise or international recognition to realize how cheap their lives are to their oppressor.

By Hagai El-Ad

Young Palestinian men sit beneath the separation wall in the West Bank city of Al-Ram, September 29, 2014. (Miriam Alster/Flash90)

Young Palestinian men sit beneath the separation wall in the West Bank city of Al-Ram, September 29, 2014. (Miriam Alster/Flash90)

On the eve of Israel’s recent elections, Prime Minister Netanyahu made a campaign promise to annex parts of the West Bank, which was followed by a flood of impassioned international appeals. One cannot help but wonder about the gap between all the fuss about a potential future statement on de jure annexation and decades of inaction in response to unilateral Israeli steps, which have already established a reality of de facto annexation.

Formal annexation of parts of the West Bank will not suddenly lay bare Israel’s genuine long-term intentions regarding all the area west of the Jordan River. These objectives have already been clearly spelled out in action over decades. Nor will it usher in a new era of disenfranchising Palestinians, for they have long been living without political rights, ruled by the arbitrary decisions made by Israelis.

“America must stop Binyamin Netanyahu from annexing Palestinian land,” said The Economist, for “[s]ome of his election pledges would kill the chance of a two-state solution.” Mainstream Jewish groups implored President Trump to restrain the prime minister, concerned that annexation might “galvanize efforts such as the Boycott, Divestment, and Sanctions movement that are intended to isolate and delegitimize Israel.” Even AIPAC-affiliated Democrats warned Netanyahu not to do it, while invoking tired clichés such as “the Palestinians never miss an opportunity to miss an opportunity.”

Meanwhile, in a speech before the European Parliament, the EU’s Foreign Policy Chief Federica Mogherini said that “in fact, the two-state solution is not only fading away. It is being dismantled piece by piece.”

Had they all failed to notice that thanks to their longstanding inaction, they were pleading for a future that has already passed?

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For decades on end, it was the international community that did not “miss an opportunity to miss an opportunity” to make an actual difference, offering words but no action through years of feigned concern. Now, once again, concern is being expressed over “preserving the eventual possibility of a two-state solution.” It is difficult to imagine framing the matter in weaker, vaguer, or more ambiguous terms.

The international community was willing to “express concern” yet was unwilling to do almost anything to actually “preserve the possibility,” let alone realize it. All this time, with so many settlements built (over 250) and settlers in the occupied territories (over 600,000). So many Palestinians killed, maimed or injured – and the only response this merited is one of “concern?”

Concern won’t bring back the dead, nor will it put an end to the endless humiliations Palestinians must endure. Concern won’t bring back the lost years of unrealized human talent and potential, locked behind the bars of the prison that is the Gaza Strip and the fragmented West Bank. Nor will it alleviate the fear of a life exposed — always exposed — to Israeli state violence.

An Israeli Border Police officers stands by as Israeli forces demolish a tent belonging to a Palestinian family in the village of Susiya, West Bank, April 18, 2019. (Wisam Hashlamoun/Flash90)

An Israeli Border Police officers stands by as Israeli forces demolish a tent belonging to a Palestinian family in the village of Susiya, West Bank, April 18, 2019. (Wisam Hashlamoun/Flash90)

How many more Palestinians must be killed or wounded, how many more Palestinian homes must be bulldozed before the realization sinks in that words not backed by actions do no more than hint to Israel that it may carry on?

That question has certainly been answered and delivered to the Palestinians in the form of Israeli bulldozers, and to Israelis in the form of continued international inaction.

Palestinians are a people deserving of rights, not inanimate objects to be shuffled about inside their bantustans while Israel boasts of being a “Jewish and democratic state.” A sincere commitment to universally enshrined values would have already brought about action in the face of exhaustively documented, endless human rights violations.

Yet given this long-standing state of affairs, the only dramatic influence that official “annexation” may have is in capital cities around the world. There annexation may decrease the possibility of repeating the same dead mantra by the same politicians reluctant to act.

Global public opinion will finally have a chance to make a judgment. Are you content with your government’s cozy relationship with this Israeli regime? Or does your government’s complicity in this injustice make your stomach turn?

A Likud party supporter wears a Donald Trump mask during a Likud election campaign event at Mahane Yehuda market in Jerusalem, April 7, 2019. (Yonatan Sindel/Flash90)

A Likud party supporter wears a Donald Trump mask during a Likud election campaign event at Mahane Yehuda market in Jerusalem, April 7, 2019. (Yonatan Sindel/Flash90)

Only Netanyahu knows if he indeed received a green light from Trump to go ahead with annexation. Much breath will be wasted on debating this issue in the months ahead. But what if, for whatever reason, Netanyahu does not go ahead with it? Then what? Would that make the reality Palestinians already live in somehow reasonable or just?

Regardless of possible announcements of annexation, Israel’s actions to date are what we need to focus on. These, in and of themselves, should be the basis for urgent global action. Such action need not wait for any possible annexation proclamation. With or without such an announcement, millions of Palestinians living under the current reality are personally familiar with the brutality of their daily lives. Partially annexed or “temporarily” occupied, Palestinians living under Israel’s thumb do not need legal expertise to realize how cheap their lives are to their oppressor.

Stop feigning concern. For humanity’s sake, make their lives matter.

Hagai El-Ad is an Israeli human rights activist and the executive director of B’Tselem.

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    COMMENTS

    1. Bruce Gould

      “Palestinians living under Israel’s thumb do not need legal expertise to realize how cheap their lives are to their oppressor.” – just as cheap as black lives in Alabama in the reconstruction era.

      https://mondoweiss.net/2019/04/settlers-palestinian-soldiers/

      Settlers execute Palestinian, soldiers destroy video evidence…To the best of my knowledge, the Israeli police did not detain the shooters, did not interrogate them, and did not investigate the incident, even though a person was killed. After all, he wasn’t really a person; merely a Palestinian.

      Reply to Comment
      • Lewis from Afula

        Re: “just as cheap as black lives in Alabama in the reconstruction era.”

        Gee, I never knew Alabama was being targeted by missile-firing Jihadis, Tunnel Terrorists and homicidal suicide bombers in the 19th Century. I didn’t realise the other American states were at war with Alabama in the 1800s.

        Reply to Comment
        • Bruce Gould

          @Lewis: In any normal western democracy that pays lip service to human rights, the government would call for an investigation in a case like this. Not in Israel, though – in the Jewish ancestral homeland the authorities turn a blind eye when evidence is destroyed; the law only applies to the ubermensch.

          Reply to Comment
          • Lewis from Afula

            In any normal situation, when State A wins a defensive war against State B, State A is eventually recognized unconditionally by State B.

            Only in Israel’s case, parts of State B TACTICALLY RENAMES ITSELF into Wannabee State C (which NEVER existed). Wannabee State C then conducts eternal Jihadi war against State A, demanding that State A should vanish.

            Then, people on 972 mag keep claiming that State A is enslaving the Namechangers who started the nonsense in the 1st place.

            Reply to Comment
          • Ben

            Lewis, you live in a cartoon, a fantasy propaganda world. Not one sentence here is an honest accounting of reality.

            Reply to Comment
          • Tom

            In a modern situation, if a State A take by force the land of state B, it has to deal with the peolple living there since centeries, and not mass deportation or create batoustan.

            Reply to Comment
        • john

          the american civil war lasted from 1861 to 1865, reconstruction continued for a decade afterward, and some southerners like to say they are ‘unreconstructed’ to this day.

          lewis seems intent on demonstrating his historical ignorance.

          Reply to Comment
        • Mark

          As a matter of fact, several American states were indeed at war with Alabama and the other secessionist states in the 1860s.

          Reply to Comment
    2. Ben

      ‘The international community was willing to “express concern” yet was unwilling to do almost anything to actually “preserve the possibility,” let alone realize it. All this time, with so many settlements built (over 250) and settlers in the occupied territories (over 600,000). So many Palestinians killed, maimed or injured – and the only response this merited is one of “concern?”…Or does your government’s complicity in this injustice make your stomach turn?’

      I think we don’t talk about the other element in this equation often enough and honestly enough. That is, it is not just expectable or inexplicable passivity, indifference, inaction. It is fear. Stomach-turning fear. Being paralyzed by latent fear. What is the fear? Is is a fear that is the lingering and by now increasingly manipulated legacy of the WWII and the Holocaust and the circumstances that led to Israel’s founding. That is, fear of being labelled an anti-Semite in the face of weaponized anti-Semitism charges that any Western government official or public figure knows are going to be automatically, aggressively flung in his or her face if they speak up (and that is even leaving out the whole ruthless, fearsome AIPAC intimidation and political destruction apparatus that puts fear into the hearts of US politicians who even think about daring to speak up honestly). Germany, which controls or sets the tone for the European response, is so unable, for obvious historical reasons, to be an objective and honest broker, being paralyzed by fear amplified by its unique guilt. The USA has all these factors plus a massive endemic, “pro-Israel”/anti-Semitic “Christian Zionist” fundamentalism and an utterly cynical Republican party willing to exploit all of this to the maximum. I submit that all of this needs to be talked about more honestly and openly in public forums such as this one and others, so that it can be better come to terms with. The USA is beginning to have this conversation, via pioneering individuals such as Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez, but is is only beginning and it is a hard slog, and people like Trump and the cynical Republicans backing him (still!) of course are doing their best to fiercely delegitimize the effort.

      Reply to Comment
    3. Antares

      In 1982/83 two Israelis came to my country. One represented Israel and the other Palestine. The latter got away with it by labeling himself a middle-east expert. He vilified the Palestinians and both come to the conclusion that you can’t talk with the Palestinians. Up to today there are people who believe that they have been objectively informed: “Yes, but you can’t talk with the Palestinians.” I’ve never heard any complaint about this performance on our national television network, not by journalists, nor by intellectuals.

      Reply to Comment
    4. Tommy Goldberg

      Careful with declarations of how things couldn’t possibly get worse.

      Yes, the “temporary” nature of “non-annexation occupation” has allowed Europa and the U.S. to avoid hard decisions. But assuming that formal annexation would change that is probably wrong. Russia has formally annexed Crimea. And what exactly has the response been?

      I see one way in which formal annexation of parts of the West Bank could make things worse (at least in terms of diplomacy and international law) for Palestinians …

      If I were a Jewish supremacist Israeli prime minister, I would:
      1. annex most of Area C (leaving perhaps a few unpopulated connections between the disjointed components of Area A/B),
      2. recognize the Palestinian state (which was declared in 1988 or so) as the sovereign in the non-annexed are (i.e., mostly Areas A & B.)
      3. the few thousands Palestinians in the annexed areas would immediately be granted automatic Israeli citizenship (and for good measure, also make Israeli citizenship automatic for Palestinians in East Jerusalem.)

      It seems to me that this would fundamentally change the situation from an illegal occupation with the effect of 50+ years of disenfranchisement and discrimination — to a border dispute between (nominally) sovereign states. Those are a dime a dozen and thus much easier for the world community to ignore.

      Reply to Comment
      • Mark

        “Russia has formally annexed Crimea. And what exactly has the response been?”

        To the best of my knowledge there Europe, US, Canada, Australia and NZ imposed sanctions. It’s said this led to the collapse of the Russian ruble (again) and the Russian financial crisis (another one).

        Reply to Comment
        • Tommy Goldberg

          So … nothing REALLY changed all that much for Russia, huh? (Collapse, AGAIN; financial crisis, AGAIN ;-))

          Of course, financial sanctions would hit Israel much harder than Russia. But we don’t really think the West would impose such sanctions on Israel over a (partial or full) annexation of Area C, do we?

          Reply to Comment
    5. Jerry J

      Typical sillly arguments by Hagi El Ad, who ruined Btselem (which was an honourable organization until he took over).

      Reply to Comment