The Arabist

The Arabist

By Issandr El Amrani and friends.

Posts tagged settlements
The law in these parts

From a long piece by Eyal Press in the New York Review of Books Blog, How the Occupation Became Legal:

In 1979, a group of Palestinian farmers filed a petition with Israel’s High Court of Justice, claiming their land was being illegally expropriated by Jewish settlers. The farmers were not Israeli citizens, and the settlers appeared to have acted with the state’s support; indeed, army helicopters had escorted them to the land—a hilltop near Nablus—bringing along generators and water tanks. The High Court of Justice nevertheless ordered the outpost dismantled. “The decision of the court… proved that ‘there was justice’ in Jerusalem and that Israel was indeed ruled by Law,” exulted one Israeli columnist.

But the frustration of the settlers did not last very long. As revealed in The Law in These Parts, an engrossing new Israeli documentary making its American debut at the Sundance Film Festival, just hours after the ruling was handed down, Ariel Sharon, a keen supporter of the settlement project who was then Israel’s Minister of Agriculture, organized a meeting to discuss how to circumvent it. Alexander Ramati, then a legal advisor to the West Bank military command, raised his hand to tell Sharon about an Ottoman concept known as “Mawat land.” The Ottomans, who had controlled Palestine until World War I, had used the term to designate land far enough from any neighboring village that a crowing rooster perched on its edge could not be heard. Under Ottoman law, if such land was not cultivated for three years it was “mawat”—dead —and reverted to the empire. “With or without your rooster, be at my office at 8:00 in the morning,” Sharon told Ramati, who was soon crisscrossing the West Bank in the cockpit of a helicopter, identifying tens of thousands of uninhabited acres that could be labeled “state land” and made available to settlers, notwithstanding the Geneva Convention’s prohibition on moving civilians into occupied territory. In the years that followed, a string of new settlements was built on this territory, eventually prompting another challenge before the Israeli High Court. This time, the Court denied the challenge, ruling that settlement construction was permissible while Israel served as the temporary custodian of the territory. This provided a legal basis for land expropriation that has since enabled hundreds of thousands of Israelis to relocate to the West Bank.

Read the rest, which is about a new Israeli documentary on the legal justifications for the settlements, The Law In These Parts.

Living with the enemy in the Gaza Strip

Yousef Bashir, 22, lives with a bullet lodged near his spine.  “When I imagine myself without the bullet in my back I ask myself would I be the same?” he said. “That bullet talks to me and I talk to it everyday. It is a very personal thing that I go through,” he continued. “I know that it was put there to destroy my life. I look at it and I say I am not destroyed yet.”

Bashir has very personal ties to the Israeli occupation of the Palestinian territories. He grew up in the Gaza Strip next to the Israeli settlement Kfar Darom, which was evacuated in 2005. The battle lines ran right through his house. When the second Palestinian Intifada broke out, Israeli soldiers moved into his home. Bashir was 11 years old at the time. His father, Khalil Bashir, refused to leave the house and so the family - Yousef Bashir, his grandmother, parents and his siblings - spent five years living with the soldiers, who occupied the top two floors.

The soldiers tried to make Khalil Bashir leave the house so many times, Yousef Bashir said. But his father would say, “Why don’t you leave this house, this is my house.” His father was afraid if they left they would never see their home again.

The Israelis divided his house into areas A, (full Palestinian control ), B (Palestinian civil control and joint security control with Israel) and C (near full Israeli control) - just as the West Bank had been divided as part of the Oslo Agreements. In Bashir’s house, Area A was the room in which they were allowed to stay on the ground floor. Area B included the bedrooms, kitchen and bathrooms. Area C was the second and third floors of the house. Bashir never asked for permission from his parents to do anything, he said. But he had to get permission from the Israelis to go outside or to watch a soccer game on television, he said. “I had to negotiate with them.”

It was not an easy time. Most of the soldiers were extremely rude. “Most of them were harsh,” Bashir said. “Most of them were at war.” Camouflage and barbed wire covered the roof and there was a machine gun and security camera posted on top of the house. Bashir said he had seen the bodies of a number of young dead Palestinian men near his home. The circumstances of their deaths unclear. Violence was no stranger. His second oldest brother was shot in the leg, his father too was shot.

Then it was his turn. On February 18, 2004, workers from the United Nations visited Bashir’s family to see how they were coping with their living situation. After 20 minutes, the Israelis ordered the U.N. to leave. Bashir and his father walked the U.N. workers back to their car. “As we were slowly reversing we heard a single shot fired,” said Stuart Shepherd, who had the time was with the U.N. Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs. “Yousef basically just fell to the ground immediately, just crumpled.” He was 15 years old at the time. The bullet stopped near his spine. “Yousef had his back to the Israeli observation tower and was waving goodbye…at the time when the shot was fired,” according to Shepherd. (Disclosure: I worked with the United Nations Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs, but not at the time Yousef Bashir was shot.)

Bashir does not know the Israeli soldier who shot him. According to media reports, the Israeli Army apologized for the shooting.

That tragedy allowed Bashir to escape the hell that the Gaza Strip has become. After Bashir was stabilized in a Gaza hospital, he was transferred to an Israeli hospital. Bashir credits the Israeli doctors with saving his life and giving him the ability to walk again. He went on to study in Ramallah, which is where I met him years ago. He later went to the United States, where he is currently studying international affairs and diplomacy. He fundraises to pay for his college tuition. He still needs physical therapy twice a week and takes pain killers.

But Bashir said everyday he chooses not to be angry, something he learned from his father who died recently from a stroke. Everyday, Bashir chooses to forgive, but it is challenge. “I hear the news, I see how the Palestinians are treated,” he said. “But deep inside me I can never find any reason to hate.” Bashir cannot return to Gaza to see the rest of the family he left behind because he is afraid the Israelis would not allow him to leave once in the occupied territory. He does not want to risk his education in the U.S. Perhaps if the Palestinians had their own state things would be different.

“We should have had a state a long time ago,” Bashir said. A state would mean more responsibility and perhaps more problems he thinks. But once you are a state, “you are responsible for everything that happens within your territory,” he added. “But it is a good thing to show the world that we want to live in a democracy… We are willing to live in peace.”

“I was never a child,” Bashir said. He was seven years old the first time the Israeli settlers came into his house. They hit his mother and destroyed everything inside the house, burning things. His family locked themselves in the living room, but his oldest brother - who was in the sixth grade then - was not able to make it into the room in time and the settlers broke his teeth.

What should happen to the settlers should the Palestinians get a state? Bashir said he is not interested in what would happen to the settlements. “I am interested in knowing how long would it take for the settlers to realize that the ultimate price for their lifestyle is my freedom.”

Bashir said that when the last group of Israeli soldiers left his family’s house in the Gaza Strip, two of the soldiers thanked his father for his unwavering determination to be a peaceful man even in the most trying times.

“At the end we got the house back and they left,” Bashir said. “We did not fight, we did not carry a weapon, we did not fire anything,” he added. “We just believed in peace… and that is how it should be in the future.”

Dissecting the settlers' agitprop
Israel National News is a favorite news outlet of the Israeli right and the settler movement more generally. It now seems to be busy preparing a propaganda war. 

Israel National News: "First Arab 'September Attack': Convoy Approached Negohot; September attacks have begun: Arabs in 40-50 vehicles drove along Jewish community's fence, taunted and jeered."

Presumably, this will be used as evidence to suggest that the Arabs "started it," like how they "started" the Six Day War. But for a minor incident, it is rather illustrative of the settlement project as a whole:
  1. Hilltop (Double) Standards - The protesters did not, at least based on what INN has reported, attempt to enter Negohot, a West Bank settlement founded in 1982. Nor did they exit their vehicles or direct anything more than words and posters at the fenced-in settlement. Nevertheless, such actions constitute an attack (not a protest - an attack), according to the settlers. Whereas attacks against Palestinian property and lives are always acts of self-preservation: Remember the Alamo!
  2. The Spineless Security Forces - The IDF is criticized for not being more proactive, especially since they have declared there are "red lines" Palestinians must not be allowed to cross around the settlements. According to the article, IDF soldiers nearby simply stood by and watched the convoy slowly drive by. The article asserts that settlers must not rely on a supine IDF in the coming weeks, but rather, on themselves, because Palestinians are hopelessly foolish (but, at the same time, ingenious connivers). The IDF is a potential enemy in the eyes of the settlers, as is the PA. 
  3. The Arabs' Useful Idiots - The "anti-Jewish" Israeli Supreme Court is again castigated for a decision made in 2009 that reopened Israeli Route 443 between Tel Aviv and Jerusalem to Palestinian drivers such as these. The road, built on "expropriated" Palestinian land located within the West Bank, was closed to Palestinian traffic during the Second Intifada because of attacks on Israeli motorists. With support fromIsraeli human rights groups, suits to reopen by Palestinian villages made it to the Supreme Court, which overturned the military ban on Palestinian traffic because a panel of 3 justices decided the ban was a form of collective punishment. But if the road was still closed to non-Israelis, this provocation would never have happened, it is suggested. The Arab-loving left throws away Jewish lives.
  4. The Opinion War: Essentially, "leftist" opinion is just as dangerous, if not more so, than any number of al Asqa Brigadists. It is an "enabler," even, and must be changed. "Being right isn't enough, selling it is" - and the main talking points must be the Holocaust and the Torah. Changing the way the government appoints Supreme Court justices and licenses Israeli NGOs activities was on the legislative agendas of far-right Israeli parties during this past Knesset session. Neither effort succeeded, but the far-right has vowed to keep trying to wrest humanitarianism in the West Bank away from a far-left minority (in favor of their own far-right minority, of course - parliamentarianism, everybody!).
So as Israel National News noted, Negohot is only the beginning this September.
Illegitimate... but not illegal?

That phrase precisely describes the Obama administration's claim to leadership in the Middle East. It is also the factually wrong and conceptually confused defense of its decision to veto a Security Council resolution against Israel's settlement expansion that had wide support:

The Obama administration issued its first UN Security Council veto Friday, when U.S. Ambassador Susan Rice voted alone against a resolution declaring Israeli settlement activity to be illegal.

The 14-1 vote failed after Rice raised her hand alone to vote in opposition to the resolution, which had several dozen co-sponsors, including the United Kingdom, France, Germany, Russia, Serbia, China, etc.

Rice said the U.S. vote against the resolution should not be misunderstood as U.S. support for Israeli settlement activity.

"On the contrary, we reject in the strongest possible terms the legitimacy of continued settlement activity," Rice told the Security Council after the vote. "For more than four decades, [Israeli settlement activity] has undermined security ...corroded hopes for peace and security ... it violates international commitments and threatens prospects for peace."

But, Rice said, "this resolution risks hardening the positions of both sides."

The British, Russian, and Chinese ambassadors were among those who rose to speak in favor of the failed resolution after the vote.

Though the U.S. vetoed the measure, given the seeming unanimity of other countries supporting the resolution, coupled with Rice's unhappy statement after her veto, Israel appeared increasingly isolated, as its neighborhood is in turmoil and changing rapidly in ways the United States cannot control.

It's rather morbid to read the detailed justification for this. From a State Dept. briefing:

QUESTION: Yes, Ambassador Rice, you say that you reject the continued building of settlements on the West Bank as being illegitimate. Yet you vote that no on a resolution that calls it illegal. Why is that, considering that the State Department, as far back as 1978, considered settlement activities illegal?

AMBASSADOR RICE: The United States has not characterized settlement activity as illegal since, I believe, 1980. And – but what we do believe firmly and have reiterated forcefully, including today, is that continued settlement activity is not legitimate. It’s corrosive to the peace process. It poses obstacles to achieving the goal that we think is vitally important of a two-state solution. And we were very clear that we have – we are in unity with the rest of the Security Council on the issue of the illegitimacy of settlements. The difficulty from our point of view is that a resolution on that issue at this time, which was unbalanced and one-sided, was most likely to harden positions and leave the two parties more entrenched and less willing to return promptly and constructively to the only vehicle that can achieve the goal of a two-state solution, and that’s direct negotiations.

QUESTION: Ambassador, why does that conflict? Why both of them are mutually exclusive, one another, in the peace process and voting for a settlement – declaring settlement activities as illegal?

AMBASSADOR RICE: Because any time you have a one-sided resolution that is aimed at trying to adjudicate core issues that need to be resolved and can only be resolved between the two parties, you are, at worst, setting back and complicating the efforts to achieve peace. And it is counterproductive to do so. Our aim had been, rather than end up with something that would have set the process back, was to put forward something that would have been a win-win and move the process forward in very concrete ways, increasing the effort and the attention of the Security Council, speaking with one voice on core issues in the manner that we hadn’t before. And unfortunately, that was not possible.

But the reality is that the goal of a two-state solution can only be achieved through direct negotiations between the parties, and we will continue our efforts to achieve that goal with great intensity.

Ben, is there anything you want to add?

MR. RHODES: Yeah. Yeah, I’d just add to that that with regard to settlements, I think from the very beginning of this Administration, the Presidents made it very clear and the Administrations made it very clear that we don’t accept the legitimacy of settlements. It’s a statement he’s made in Cairo, it’s a statement he’s made twice before the UN General Assembly, and it informs our approach to these issues. It takes place within the broader context of our efforts, and our dogged efforts, on behalf of a two-state solution and a comprehensive and lasting peace between a secure Israel and a sovereign Palestine. And right now, what we’re focused on is not simply one particular issue but the broader context that is necessary to move the parties toward peace. And our judgment is that we are going to use our efforts and our influence, again, to service that final goal.

And so that in that context, we put forward this package and we’ll go back again to roll up our sleeves and continue our persistent pursuit of peace going forward, because again, to us the issue is not, again, fixating on one particular issue, but rather looking at what we can do as the United States and as an international community to support a process that leads to two states living side by side in peace and security. So that’s the focus of U.S. policy, and within that context, we continue to see settlements as illegitimate and as corrosive to the process. And what we want to do is be creative and be dogged in working with the international community and working with Israelis and Palestinians to move in pursuit of what is our shared goal and a vision that the parties have mutually agreed to, which is a common pursuit through direct negotiations of two states living side by side in peace and security.

I can't stand the bullshit line that the resolution was damaging to the peace process (what peace process?). Not talking to Hamas is damaging to the peace process. Preventing Palestinian reconciliation is damaging to the peace process. Not speaking out against settlement expansion is damaging to the peace process. For once, I'd like the US Ambassador to the UN just clearly state: we are vetoing this not because of any rational reason or principle, but because most of Congress is scared of the Israel lobby and because the president's campaign financers includes major Zionist donors and we don't want to upset them. Some clarity and honesty, please. We have a Zionist problem in American politics and it's time to address it head-on.

Also, HRW outlines how damaging this is to the international law and positions the US had previously agreed with: Israel: US Veto on Settlements Undermines International Law | Human Rights Watch

I'm with him: The Magnes Zionist: Thank You, Mr. President

Criminalize the settlements

It may seem very difficult to convince the Israelis to stop settlements expansion and give up the settlements they've built over the years, but there is another idea worth pursuing in the West: to criminalize any activity that encourages the settlements or transmits money to them.

Governments would not need to engage in any discussion with the Israeli government over this; they would merely be required to enforce international law and recognize the illegality of settlements, and therefore ban any promotional efforts for them among the Jewish diaspora and their financing from abroad. After all, this has been a, if not the, major contribution to the last two decades mushrooming in West Bank settlements. Just read this post on Mondoweiss to understand how groups like the Jewish Agency act to perpetuate and expand the settlements:

Just this past June, the Jewish Agency hosted a real estate expo in the Times Square Marriott, where property on both sides of the Green Line was for sale—with no mention of the 1967 borders in sight.  Notice how the Anglo-Saxon real estate agent in the video has an American accent? She's probably from New York. 

I'd love to see not only fund transfers criminalize, but also the very fact of living in a settlement. Life should be made impossible for this people, and those who fund them.