Funding and denouncing Israeli occupation
Bad news emerged from Israel in recent weeks. It’s not that good news has the habit of being associated with Israel, its military occupation, institutionalised discrimination and mistreatment of Palestinians, but the emerging consensus that Israel is heading to an irrevocably perilous course is now crossing the realm of political analysts to that of international organisations that are often supportive of or too lenient in the face of Israel’s militancy and dismissal of international law.
Only few international law experts would defend or explain Israel’s feverish settlement constructions on occupied Palestinian land. Yet, there has been little or no interest on the part of Western powers, led by the United States, to pressure Israel to cease its illegal activities. In fact, without US and European funding, it would have been nearly impossible for Israel to build settlements and transfer over half a million Israelis over the years to live on stolen Palestinian land, in violation of numerous international laws, including the 4th Geneva Convention. Worse still, trade with European and other countries sustained and flourished these very illegal settlements, at the expense of Palestinians who have suffered massive ethnic cleansing campaigns since 1967.
At last, EU diplomats in East Jerusalem and the West Bank are speaking out in unequivocal terms. In a report released on February 27, the diplomats resolved that “settlement construction remains the biggest single threat to the two-state solution. It is systematic, deliberate and provocative”.
Moreover, “the report called for strict application of an EU-Israel trade pact to ensure products from settlements do not receive preferential treatment under the accord in European markets”, said Reuters.
The report called on EU states “not to support ... research, education and technological cooperation” with settlements, and to “discourage” investing in Israeli companies that operate in the occupied territories.
Expectedly, the report is non-binding, and even if such recommendations are considered, Israel and its EU friends and lobbies are likely to find many loopholes and pretences that would somehow deprive any EU action of substance and vigour.
The fact remains that without civil society action, focused on turning up the heat against European governments, especially diehard supporters of Israel, such as the British government, business with Israel is most likely to carry on as usual.
The real political and moral crisis does not lie only in the fact that Israel is flaunting international law, but also in the fact that the supposed guardians of international law are the very ones who are empowering Israel to carry out its bad deeds, which include disempowering and bankrupting Palestinians.
Last January, an Oxfam report said that the Palestinian economy, which is currently in utter disarray, could generate urgently needed income ($1.5 billon to be exact) if Israel eased its restrictions in the Jordan Valley alone. But without suitable access to their own land and to water sources, Palestinians in the valley continue to agonise, while Israeli Jewish settlers are thriving.
While the United States government has done everything in its power to undermine Palestinian rights, defend Israel at any cost and ensure Israel’s superiority and military “edge” over all its neighbours combined, the EU has falsely acquired a more balanced reputation. Nothing can be further from the truth.
In a recent report, the Palestinian rights group Al Haq emphasised that trading in produce grown in settlements alone had “directly contributed to the growth and viability of settlements by providing an essential source of revenue that allows them to thrive”. The reported value of total EU trade with illegal Jewish settlements amounts to approximately $300 million annually, compared to nearly a tenth of the total amount traded with Palestinians.
The volume may appear small if juxtaposed to the some $39 billion, the total trade between the EU and Israel reported in 2011 alone. But that means, according to Dalia Hatuqa, writing for Al Monitor on January 17, “the EU has some room for leverage given it is Israel’s largest trade partner, and it receives some 20 per cent of total Israeli exports”.
What is equally important and disturbing about the trade issue is the very idea that Europe is ultimately taking part in the subjugation of the Palestinians and the funding of Israel’s illegal occupation and its massively growing settler population. No amount of diplomatic “recommendations” or newspeak can ever challenge or alter this fact.
At the same time, it is disconcerting to talk about boycotting settlements while supporting the main organs that ordered or sanctioned the illegal settlements in the first place. To merely differentiate between products made in Israel or those made in the settlements is absurd at best. The settlers are not self-sustaining structures operating as autonomous regions, but are part and parcel of the so-called Israel proper. There is little distinction in the eyes of the Israeli government between settlers from Maale Adumim or residents of Tel Aviv, except in the imagination of those who may recognise Israel’s horrific practices but are too timid to confront them.
Israel, meanwhile, excels in pushing the limits, and by doing so, it continues, although inadvertently, to expose the hypocrisy of its friends and ever-so-careful detractors.
Yigal Palmore of the Israeli foreign ministry responded to the EU report in belittling terms.
“A diplomat’s mission is to build bridges and bring people together, not to foster confrontation. The EU consuls have clearly failed in their mission,” he said.
While the report accurately spoke of Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s decision to develop more settlements in the area known as E1, which is “set to cut off East Jerusalem from the rest of the West Bank”, there is unlikely a turning back from the construction plans, which include the building of 3,000 settler homes in the land corridor near Jerusalem.
Nothing is random in Israeli planning and the final scene, as is already the case in various parts of the occupied territories, will make Palestinians unwanted irritants on their own land.
Yes, Israel is unrelenting and seems to have no regard whatsoever for any country or any relevant international law. Its action is emboldened by the weakness of its neighbours, the unhindered backing of its friends, and the gutlessness of its critics.
While Israeli friends are busy labelling as anti-Semite anyone who dares highlight the effective apartheid policy under way in Palestine and Israel, others are consumed in intellectual tussles over the boundaries of language and proper ways to frame the discourse.
None of this wrangling is relevant to Israel, which is merely winning time to achieve its own version of a harrowingly ugly apartheid.
As for those who still feel uneasy about the “provocative” term apartheid, they simply need to consider the latest Israeli transportation ministry’s initiative, which designates bus line No. 210 to be for “Palestinian only” buses, which will shuttle cheap Palestinian labour to and from the West Bank. Of course, this is not an isolated policy, but the continuation of a dreadful track record.
All this comes on the heels of yet another international report, this time issued by the UN Children’s Fund, UNICEF. Released on March 6, the report criticised Israel’s military courts for their mistreatment of Palestinian children and spoke of “widespread, systematic and institutionalised” abuse of children. The favourite arrest time of children by the Israeli army, as indicated in the report is between midnight and 5:00am.
The report, “Children in Israeli military detention: observations and recommendations”, said “measures so that Palestinian children in Israeli military custody are treated in line with the Convention on the Rights of the Child and other international standards” are another pipe dream, of course, for child abuse has been intrinsically linked to military occupation, and is as old as the state of Israel itself.
Israel will not comply with any international law or convention without serious pressure. Bad news from Israel is likely to continue. Almost every day there is a new, disturbing, development in Israeli practices against Palestinians.
Institutionalised apartheid, however, is merely met with bashful international criticism and lack of any substantial action.
Civil society organisations and groups must tell their governments that enough is enough. While Israel should be held responsible for its behaviour, the EU and other countries should not finance the occupation, while decrying the settlements. The hypocrisy has become too obvious.