Making a ‘fair’ critique of settlements.

West Bank settlement of Teneh Omarim.

In Gil Troy’s response to my recent post about the U.N.’s settlement report—in which he accuses me of “demonizing Israel” and “validating every maximalist Palestinian demand,” neither of which I’ve ever actually done—Troy, like the Israeli government, chooses to ignore that which is visible to anyone who cares to look. It’s an unfortunate fact that when given a chance to talk to the U.N. about its settlement project, Israel did what it regularly does: it refused. And then, when a report came out anyway, Israel did what it regularly does next: it declared to the world that the people to whom it had refused to talk were one-sided.

This is part and parcel of a larger refusal, shared by many Israelis and supporters of Israeli policy, to look at and grapple with facts that make us look bad—facts like the those laid out by the U.N. in the settlements report (facts which, again, were all public knowledge before they were gathered into one place, many of them first revealed by Israelis, and in at least one case, by a current government minister).

But there are other facts that are routinely ignored in the constant drumbeat to say that the territories are “disputed” rather than under military occupation and that applications of international law to Israel are acts of hostility or possibly anti-Semitism.

One rarely hears, for instance, that in September of 1967, Theodore Meron, legal counsel to Israel’s own Foreign Ministry, found that

civilian settlement in the administered territories contravenes the explicit provisions of the Fourth Geneva Convention.

One rarely hears that the US government expressed unequivocal opposition to settlements as far back as 1968 and that the State Department held that settlements are “inconsistent with international law” as far back as 1979.

Another thing one rarely hears is an honest assessment of Palestinian reality. Whatever bias that anyone on earth may or may not have toward Israel, none of it changes the actual, documented, plain-as-day facts of state violence and discrimination toward the millions of Palestinians over whom Israel rules and who have no say in that rule.

There is a sense among many that in order to be judged ‘fair,’ any and all critique of Israel policy must devote a magical number of words to acknowledging that the Palestinian leadership has always been a party to the conflict, that the Palestinian people are not themselves angels on high, that terrorism is a horrifying thing, and that Jews have rights too, you know.

Those things are true, and they have been said over and over and over for 46 years, by Americans and Europeans and Israelis and even plenty of Palestinians (while we’re at it)—and their truth in no way mitigates the horrors of the occupation or the wildly disproportionate power that the state of Israel holds over the stateless Palestinians it has occupied since 1967. If I regularly give these truths but one or two sentences in a 500- or 800-word blog post, it’s because what needs to be heard is not the widely recognized truth, but the truth that no one wants to talk about.

One accusation that Troy levels against me is, however, accurate: I do think that this “territorial dispute” is much simpler that the government of Israel wants the world to believe it to be. Because it actually is.

There are two peoples. The land between the river and the sea belongs to both of us. We have been waging a war of competing nationalisms for close to a century, and to the extent that either side has won (in that it has established a durable state) that side is Israel. Both peoples continue to behave as if we are still at war, because we are, which means that both sides continue to behave badly—but only one side has an actual army and the single most powerful country on earth at its side. Only one side physically and literally controls the lives of the other. Only one side is in a position to continuously take land from the other in an open and widely acknowledged effort to create “new facts on the ground.”

Legal or not, disputed or not, Jewish history and our own grievous wounds do not make Israel’s occupation of Palestinian lands right. Palestinian actions do not remove from our shoulders the responsibility for our own, nor do they change the actual, lived facts of the actual human beings under Israel’s military rule.

Moreover, I’m not entirely certain what UN document Troy read, because he writes that

A report highlighting the real problems, such as anti-Palestinian violence, illegal land seizures, and unfair bureaucratic obstacles to Palestinian building would have been much more effective.

That’s exactly what the report did. It can be read in its entirety here.

Crossposted from Open Zion/The Daily Beast.


On HuffPost Live about the UN settlements report.

I’m happy to say that I was able to appear on HuffPost Live again, this time to discuss the UN settlements report about which I wrote, below. If you’d like to watch the segment, you can click here; if you’re my mom, I start at roughly the 3 minute mark. There’s a lot of agreement and pessimism. Alas.

The UN settlement report: just the facts.

un_logo11There’s something bracing to official Israel’s decades-long insistence that it will reject the world’s reality and substitute its own.

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.

Crossposted from Open Zion/The Daily Beast.