On Thursday the United Nations published a report regarding Israeli settlement policy, a report that revealed nothing that wasn’t already public knowledge—indeed, much of the information was first brought to light by Israelis. At the end of its report, the U.N. calls on Israel to do something to which Israel in fact committed a full decade ago: “Cease all settlement activities without preconditions.” If you don’t remember that the Government of Israel [GOI] committed itself to precisely that back in 2003—in an agreement also signed by the Bush Administration, the EU, the U.N., and Russia—let me remind you:
GOI immediately dismantles settlement outposts erected since March 2001. Consistent with the Mitchell Report, GOI freezes all settlement activity (including natural growth of settlements). [parenthetical in original]
This was in a little document called the Road Map to Peace. It was signed by the godfather of the settlements, then-Prime Minister Ariel Sharon, and the commitments of neither Israel nor the Palestinian Authority were to be contingent on compliance by the other party.
Of course, history shows that Sharon began to undermine the commitment he’d made well before the ink on it had dried; history also shows that in the intervening 10 years, the settler population has grown by well more than 100,000. So you know: commitment, schmommitment.
Moreover: facts, schmacts.
The meat of the report—the text itself, minus cover page, contents, etc—is 19 pages long. Nineteen pages of unassailable, concentrated truth.
In those pages, you’ll find land and water theft perpetrated by both settlers and the state; you’ll find Palestinian children detained and held in prisons inside Israel; you’ll find settlers who rain violence down on Palestinians with impunity; you’ll find systematic “dispossession, evictions, demolitions, & displacement”; you’ll find that
the legal regime of segregation operating in the OPT [occupied Palestinian territories] has enabled the establishment and the consolidation of the settlements through the creation of the privileged legal space for settlements and settlers. It results in daily violations of a multitude of the human rights of the Palestinians in the OPT, including incontrovertibly violating their rights to non-discrimination, equality before the law and equal protection of the law.
You’ll find Finance Minister Yuval Steinitz saying on Israeli radio, just this past November, that
we’ve doubled the budget for Judea and Samaria [the West Bank]. We did this in a low-profile manner, because we didn’t want parties either in Israel or abroad to thwart the move.
The Israeli government and the settler movement know exactly what they’re doing. They know that, as the U.N. reports, 94 percent of Palestinian requests for building permits have been rejected in the last 20 years. They know that “in the event of a water shortage, valves supplying Palestinian communities are turned off”; they likewise know that “this does not happen for settlements.” They know that the identities of settlers who attack and intimidate Palestinians are known to authorities, and they know that more than 90 percent of criminal complaints brought by Palestinians against settlers are closed without indictments being served. They know that the U.N. is telling the truth.
So, as one, they stick their collective fingers in their collective ears and sing “la la la” very loudly. They say that the report is “counterproductive and unfortunate” and serves merely as evidence of the U.N. Human Rights Council’s “systematically one-sided and biased approach towards Israel.” They refuse to cooperate with the U.N. on compiling the report (thus also failing to allow themselves the opportunity to respond to its findings). And they accuse you of being anti-Israel (read: anti-Semitic) if you don’t agree.
And yes: The U.N. has made rather a habit of looking at Israel’s human rights abuses very closely while often ignoring those of other countries.
And yet: Our abuses and perfidies do not magically become something else as a result.
The only way to be comfortable with the information held in this report, with commitments made and commitments broken, with walls built and lives broken, is if we fully accept the idea that the Jewish people’s past in Judea and Samaria is more binding on us than international law, and that moreover, Jewish lives are somehow more special than anyone else’s.
Whatever explanation there may be for any one story, any one incident, any one abuse, there’s simply no way to explain away the entire corpus of Israeli actions in the occupied territories—not security needs, not anti-Semitism, not structural maltreatment. The abuse is what it is. It’s just the truth.
Ever since 1967, the supporters of Israel’s settlement project have worked mightily to reject the reality all around them, even while trying to build a reality more amenable to their ideology and vision for the future. To a certain, frightening extent, they’ve succeeded.
But not completely: Israel will never be able to make the occupation genuinely moral, just, or right, and it will never be able to wish away the consequences it is having in the blood and bone of millions of people who live the occupation’s reality every day.
And keeping a low-profile can’t change any of that.