Israeli Rule of Law for Palestinians Under Occupation

What Palestinians living under occupation face on a daily basis is often overlooked. There is this entirely false conception popular among Joe Smoes as well as policy wonks that the conflict consists of two equal sides and an elusive solution. Elliot Abrams, senior fellow at the revolving door institute the Council on Foreign Relations, for example, consistently emphasizes the plight of Israelis living under threat and then in the same breath makes ridiculous statements about how current settlement construction is not a critical issue, and has been minimal.

Haaretz gave us an important illustration of the reality of the situation, which is that Palestinians living under occupation are systematically mistreated and stripped of their rights. The article explains the effects of the Dromi Law, “named for the farmer Shai Dromi who in January 2007 shot to death Khaled el-Atrash,” a Palestinian who broke into his farm at night. Dromi was acquitted of the manslaughter charges basically on grounds of self-defense. The Dromi law states that “a person will not bear criminal responsibility for an act that was required immediately in order to curb someone who breaks in, or tries to break in, in order to commit a crime.”

But the law apparently only applies to situations in which Palestinians break in to Israeli property, not the other way around.

There is a judge in Israel. He is Colonel-Lieutenant Netanel Benishu, who is deputy president of the military appeals court in the occupied West Bank. He heard the case of three members of the Bedouin Ka’abneh family, who were arrested on July 19th of this year after Israelis attacked their tent encampment on the lands of the village of Mukhmas east of Ramallah.

No, we did not get this wrong. First the Israelis broke into the encampment and then some of its residents began throwing stones at them. And a clarification – the Bedouins did not use a gun. They also did not kill anyone.

The indictment states that one of the stones they threw hit a policeman in the chest and that an Israeli by the name of Harel Zand from the unauthorized outpost of Mitzpeh Danny was hurt in the leg.

…[An Israeli policeman’s] overt or covert presence did not prevent other settlers from arriving there and, according to his testimony, from shouting and starting to kick cans of milk. Then he also noticed the stone-throwers. He apparently did not see what happened then, according to the tent dwellers account to Haaretz. The Israelis began stoning them (one little girl was injured), threw a baby (wrapped in its blankets) out of a cradle and began overturning sacks of flour and rice.

The three Palestinians charged are all in custody, at least until the appeals are through. So on the one hand, an intruder is shot to death; nobody is sent to jail. On the other hand, stones are thrown back at abusive intruders harassing innocent people, and those Palestinians are jailed. Rule of law means that all are equal before the law. That’s why Lady Justice has a blindfold on. This is just one among innumerable examples in which the Israeli government renounces that pillar of just societies.

Are Segregation and Loyalty to the State Solutions to Conflict?

Last week we got a rather explicit perspective on what exactly is the driving ideological and political force driving Israeli policies of territory and statehood with Palestinians through the deputy speaker of the Israeli Knesset who unabashedly rejected the notion that Palestinians have any right to a state or to equal rights.

Unabashed is also the word used in this State Department diplomatic cable from the US Embassy in Tel Aviv to describe the Israeli right-wing’s intentions for grabbing more land and for establishing separate but ‘equal’ systems of segregation between Jews and Arabs.

Right-wing Yisrael Beiteinu party leader Avigdor Lieberman told the Ambassador January 31 that separation of Israeli Jews from Israeli Arabs is necessary in order to promote Israeli security and maintain Israel’s Jewish identity.

…Lieberman underlined his view that to avoid conflict, a separation of Israeli Jews from Israeli Arabs must occur.  He said his proposal for such a separation is based on the Cyprus model, where, he said, the island’s Turks are separated territorially from the island’s Greeks. Lieberman said that the roadmap makes a mistake by advocating a two-state solution, wherein Israel retains two peoples within its borders, Jewish and Arab, while the Palestinian state retains only Palestinians.

…Asked about the status of Israeli Arabs living throughout Israel and in mixed cities, Lieberman acknowledged that this is “more complicated.” He advocated that all Israelis be required to take a loyalty oath, and that those who refuse be stripped of their citizenship.

Update: Also see this summary of a 2005 cable  from the WikiLeaks site on institutionalized discrimination against Negev Bedouin Palestinians (some specifics of which you can read about here):

A cable describes institutionalised discrimination and the denial of public services to its own Bedouin citizens. Despite their citizenship and the fact that Bedouins “continue to serve voluntarily in the IDF and otherwise support the state, media commentators and Israeli politicians often refer to the threat of a second ’intifada’ coming from the Negev Bedouin.” The 70’000 Bedouins of the Negev community have never been included in GOI land planning, do not qualify for provision of any public services, and therefore do not officially exist on Israeli maps. Many Bedouin are life-long residents of these communities, but are considered squatters by the government. Without legal status, these communities receive no government resources, including municipal services and infrastructure development. The cable describes squalor and poverty of one of the villages under the heading “Is this Israel?”. The Government of Israel decided to forcibly relocate Bedouin communities in order to create a ’buffer zone’ around an airbase because they feared Bedouins may acquire anti-aircraft missiles for use against Israeli aircraft, or to prevent vandalism and theft.

Meanwhile, the US, with unbridled support for Israel, is doing everything in its power to prevent Palestinians from gaining UN recognition for statehood next month.

Netanyahu Uses ‘J14’ Protests to Steal More of Palestine — and Israelis Let Him

This was written two weeks ago and sent to hundreds of American newspapers — only one of which said they’d run it. We never herd back from them after embargoing this piece for days. It’s not quite timely anymore, but these were my views on the “J14” protest movement in Israel, and the analysis still holds, though the protests have died down and will likely now take — conveniently? — a back seat to recent security issues.

Responding to the hundreds of thousands of protesters in Israel’s streets demanding affordable housing, Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s government has not responded with the opening of land within Israel for more development, but a massive expansion of Jewish settlements in the West Bank.

Israel’s “J14” protests have been compared to the huge demonstrations of the “Arab Spring” that led to the ousting of two dictators and the undermining of several more. But though J14 is supposed to be about “social justice,” it is of the type that most Israelis consider within the pale: food and housing prices, entitlements, and relations between the several Jewish ethnic groups that reside in the country. The occupation of Palestine is beyond it, and is essentially absent from the discussion.

The cost of Israeli housing is due to overly strict regulation and the hoarding of land by the state land trust, paired with a lackluster economy that has never provided robust wages for workers, especially those belonging to the non-European Jewish castes. The solution has not been to liberalize the housing industry and shake up the moribund economy, but to use the protests as a pretext for further settlement expansion on Palestinian land. The Interior Ministry is expected to approve some 4,300 units of housing in the West Bank for Israeli Jews.

The protests have allowed the state to dramatically ramp up the “acceptable” number of these Jews-only homes on land stolen from Palestinians. Just this past March the US weakly criticized a plan to build a mere 500 settlement apartments.

On the surface, it could seem that this would indeed bring down the cost of housing in Israel, even if you don’t care about legitimate Palestinian grievances. But Israel spends more than half a billion US dollars every year on maintaining and protecting this occupation and making sure Arab anger persists for many more years. In light of the two- to three-billion dollars in aid Israel receives from the United States each year, one could come to the not-rash conclusion that Americans fund this occupation.

Palestinian activists are rightly ho-hum about the movement. Electronic Intifadah’s Ali Abuminah yawns on his Twitter account at the lack of J14 profundity as another writer on the site less-snarkily questions the movement’s radical intentions.

“If Israel announced cheese price hike instead of 1000s more Jim Crow homes on stolen land, Israelis might protest,” Abuminah tweeted, referring to recent outrage over the price of cottage cheese.

Israeli columnist Didi Reider thinks J14 challenges something “deeper” than the occupation — the “principle of separation” itself. But even Reider’s account doesn’t show a willingness of Israelis to apply the alleged undermining of this “principle” outside of the 1967 borders to actual Palestinians living under occupation, instead of just grudgingly accepting that Palestinians with Israeli nationality cards should probably be treated a bit more equally.

The J14 movement could have been used to bring about radical social change in not just Israel’s regimented, top-down economy, but also in the relations between all the individuals who live in Palestine. Instead, it seems Israelis are just fine hitting a perennial pressure-valve used by Israel’s ruling class — taking another bite out of the hide of the long-suffering and marginalized Palestinian.

The Cherry-Picking Fantasy Land of Elliot Abrams

At the blog for the Council on Foreign Relations, Elliot Abrams concludes that people who think illegal settlement construction hinders the Israeli-Palestinian peace process are not living “in the real world.”

Abrams has argued before, amazingly, that settlements in the West Bank are “not a critical issue” (to which I responded). In this latest fantasy land post, Abrams pushes back against the condemnations for the newest set of approvals for 277 new homes in the West Bank city of Ariel. He argues that because these are new units within an already existing settlement, it’s all good.

The new units are to be constructed in the center of  the town, it was also announced. This is a significant fact, for construction of new units at the edges of the town would mean that the security perimeter would need to be extended to protect the new housing and the people in it. But this will not happen, and Ariel will expand in population but not in land area.  It is not, in the usual Palestinian Authority parlance, “taking more Palestinian land.”

Right, they’re just increasing the population of previously stolen Palestinian land. Not only is this virtually a distinction without a difference, but it pretends dishonestly that “expanding in population but not in land area” is typical for West Bank settlement construction. Abrams leaves out the 4,300 new units Israel approved last week for construction in Palestinian East Jerusalem (which Abrams calls “Israel’s capital”). These thousands were in addition to the 930 new homes approved for construction around the same area just days earlier. Abrams is intentionally white-washing the fact that Israeli demolitions of Palestinian homes has skyrocketed this year with 356 structures demolished and 700 people displaced in the first six months 2011. These were not instances where new units were built in the center of existing settlements, but rather where innocent Palestinian people were expelled from their homes so that they could be demolished and given to Israeli settlers. Like, for example, the incident at the end of July where the Israeli government sued a group of poor Bedouin Palestinians in the Negev desert for over $500,000, the claimed costs of demolishing their village each time they rebuilt it. Israeli authorities destroyed, and the Bedouin rebuilt, the homes in al-Araqib more than 20 times.

Abrams leaves out those nasty little details so he can keep his imaginary framework for the entire conflict nice and neatly undisturbed. And then of course he chimes in with this little number:

It is not reasonable to view it as a violation of international law and a threat to a peace agreement every time bricks and studs and drywall show up at the center of an Israeli settlement in the West Bank.

Except that it is. They are a violation of international law according to the consensus view of the international community. The Geneva Conventions clearly states that forcible transfers and deportations people in occupied lands is prohibited, as is the transfer of “parts of its own civilian population into the territory it occupies.” Not to mention that numerous international agreements, as well as the International Court of Justice, have declared the settlements illegal. Heck, even Israel sometimes admits certain settlements to be illegal.

Not Elliot Abrams though. He’s a bit too far down the rabbit hole…

The Obviously False Objections to Palestinian Statehood at U.N.

Harry Siegman has a brilliant takedown at the National Interest of U.S.-Israeli objections to a September bid for Palestinian statehood at the U.N. I wrote a bit about the false arguments against Palestinian statehood last month. As I did, Siegman explodes the rationale that the U.N. is not the right venue for unilateral bids for state recognition. Not only is that, in part, explicitly the purpose of the U.N. – to help end colonialism and give rise to independence for indigenous nationalist movements – but it is also precisely the route taken to secure Israeli statehood. So either the U.S. and Israel admit that different rules apply to them than apply to the rest of the world, or they drop this phony argument.

But Siegman astutely goes much further. First, there is the falsehood that a unilateral attempt to get U.N. recognition represents a stubborn abandonment of the so-called “peace process.” This falls flat on its face. As I’ve highlighted before, the peace process is futile and the deck is inherently stacked against Palestinians. As Siegman writes, “So far, this ‘peace process’ has enabled the transfer of over half a million Jews from Israel into Palestinian territory and East Jerusalem, but not one square inch of Palestinian sovereignty.”

And then, more fundamentally:

The United States and Israel have warned Palestinians to abandon their UN initiative on prudential grounds as well, for even if they were to succeed in obtaining UN recognition of their right to statehood in the Occupied Territories, nothing would change on the ground, for Israel’s government would be as indifferent to such a UN declaration as it has been to countless other UN directives. Indeed, Israel’s foreign minister, Avigdor Lieberman, has threatened that in those circumstances Israel would feel free to annex far more West Bank territory than it already has.

But if were true that UN action would have no effect whatever in advancing the Palestinian cause, except perhaps to spur an even greater Israeli land grab, why is Israel engaged in such frantic efforts to prevent a UN showdown? Indeed, why does it not welcome the Palestinian initiative?

The answer is that what the Netanyahu/Lieberman government fears most is an international confirmation that the 1967 border is the point of reference for Israeli Palestinian territorial negotiations, for despite Prime Minister Netanyahu’s alleged acceptance of a two-state solution, he remains as committed to the retention of most if not all of the West Bank as are most other members of his government, most of whom belong to the “Whole Land of Israel Caucus” in Israel’s Knesset. (Imagine what would have been the U.S. reaction to a Palestinian parliamentary caucus for the retention of the “Whole Land of Palestine.”)

And there we have it. The fundamental objection to Palestine seeking statehood at the U.N. is that it is actually constructive for Palestinians to do so. Israel has had virtually full reign to gradually encroach upon Palestinian sovereignty for decades, but a U.N. recognition of the 1967 borders seriously limits Israel’s ability to ignore that basic assumption of this conflict. Hopefully, they’ll only be able to keep it up for another month or so.

Ineffectual Intimidation

Journalism is a tough gig. Do not get me wrong, it is an extremely privileged role and one that any reasonable human being would very much treasure. However, you receive no training for the bombardment of abuse that follows much of what you put out there. There is no opportunity to reply to criticism – unless you wish to be labelled unprofessional – and there is no follow-up window in which to provide your evidence and justify yourself to detractors. You merely have to take it on the chin.

Recently, legendary veteran Middle East correspondent Robert Fisk found himself at the centre of a journalistic storm when his article concerning the Syrian trial of 48 medical professionals was lambasted by Syrian officials. With threats to sue his newspaper, The Independent, for libel and potential to ruin what must surely be one of journalism’s greatest careers, this incident brought to light the serious repercussions that result from ones writing.

Writing on the affairs of the Middle East, rather unsurprisingly, leads to insults. People with a difference of opinion challenge your viewpoint and angrily defend what they believe to be correct. There are ample examples. Take Fisk’s latest predicament. Or my own recent skirmish with a pro-Israeli website. Following an article I wrote, “Transparent and Trustworthy Israel“, I found myself featured heavily on My article had been well and truly analysed and scrutinised. No stone left unturned. Lazy attempts were made to tag me as anti-Semitic and anti-Jewish. This was nothing more than an ineffectual effort to intimidate.

But why should I have been surprised. Journalists such as the brilliant Israeli reporter Gideon Levy have been dealing with this treatment relentlessly for over a decade now. He has been shot at and terrorised for merely speaking the truth and detailing the appalling situation in the Israeli-occupied areas of Gaza and the West Bank. My episode is not worthy of comparison. Nevertheless, it is the nearest I have come to the brutal realities of the Israeli propaganda network; hard at work in their efforts to silence truth-tellers.

In respect of Robert Fisk’s case, a story today provided abundant proof that what he had spelt out in his article last month was nothing but stark reality. Al Jazeera, in their reports on anti-government demonstrations taking place in Yemen, revealed how the crowds were chanting “tell Saudi Arabia that Yemen is a republic” and “Yemen is not Bahrain”. These protests act as evidence to Fisk’s – and my – claims that Bahrain is being ‘occupied’ by the Saudis. It is clearly a sentiment felt throughout the Middle East. There is no denying now.

Worse still, critics of journalists fail to gather any concrete proof to their claims despite aiming hypocritical criticism at the fact-collecting of their victims. To criticise Mr Fisk for not knowing the Middle East inside-out is preposterous. And to accuse me of being anti-Jewish without evidence is disgraceful. My issue is not with the majority of Israelis – who, on the whole, support my views – but with the malfeasant government that continues to torment and abuse the people of Palestine.

No matter how much abuse I receive, and however much intimidation is thrown my way, I shall never stop telling it as it is. A journalist’s number one priority should be to challenge those in power and stick up for the ‘little’ people. The voiceless. The victims. Not enough mainstream journalism is about that. Conflicts are treated and reported as if they were sporting events. Equal time offered to both sides. Equal admiration and denouncements. No ‘bias’ – a word I am sick of hearing – or subjectivity.

Instead, warfare needs to be emotionally conveyed. We are not robots. If we witness death and destruction, then what is so wrong with reporting it with passion and feeling? Why can we not state who the perpetrator is and provide a voice to the sufferers? Perhaps I am unprofessional. Too attached to my work. Perhaps I ought to transform myself into a robot, possess a completely neutral state of mind and merely report uncritically. Thankfully for my employers – and readers – this is not something I intend to do.