Posts Tagged occupation
No, not that veil.
I had an interesting conversation with a pro-BDS Israeli man (‘BDSM’) and an anti-Zionist Jewish woman (‘AZJW’) recently that made me think. To paraphrase, it went something like this:
MK: I get what you’re saying and I’m not denying that there are huge problems with Israeli policy in the West Bank, but why don’t you just target specific policies? Why can you only talk grandiose solutions, as though the only way to make the situation better would be for the Israeli government to fall and a whole new regime put in place? [Note: this would not make things better, but that wasn't what I was arguing with them]
BDSM: Because it all comes from occupation! And the government is part of it!
MK: Ok, let’s take an example. Why don’t you advocate for Israeli soldiers to be responsible for preventing settler attacks on Palestinians? At the moment, they have to protect the settlers from Palestinians, but have no power to use any kind of force against the settlers. If they were able to arrest them and hold them accountable, the whole atmosphere would change in the West Bank. Settlers would stop feeling so entitled.
BDSM: It’s deliberate.
MK: Sure, but that doesn’t mean it can’t end.
BDSM: But that is just one part of the whole approach. Look at Susya, the settlers are making a big push to drive all the Palestinians out of area C so that they Israel can annex it.
MK: Yes, but if they couldn’t attack Palestinians without repercussions, it would make that much harder for them to do.
AZJW: But it’s part of the whole occupation system. It won’t just change.
MK: It can. There is one IDF officer somewhere who can sign an order and it will change overnight.
BDSM: But they won’t! The government supports the settlers.
MK: Not all of them do.
BDSM: What do you mean? It was Labor that started the settlements in 1967. Every party has supported them since then. During Oslo when the two state solution seemed so close, it was Rabin that was building more settlements and letting them carve-up the West Bank with settler-only roads.
MK: Yes, but it wasn’t his initiative, it was a deal that he made. Labor is not pro-settlement. Even Likud has a strong anti-settlement faction.
AZJW: Or is that just what you want to believe?
BDSM: What do you mean? The settlers and the government are one and the same!
It carried on like that for a while and I gave up eventually, but something did strike me about what they said.
From their perspective, they are completely right. The awful law-enforcement policies in the West Bank are part of The Occupation. Every Israeli government in history has supported The Occupation. There is no political party with any kind of record of ending The Occupation, so all Israeli governments would be bad and the only way to end The Occupation would be to overthrow the current regime.
The problem, as always, is a lack of nuance – but this nuance is particularly difficult to grasp. I can see why they are wrong because I have been immersed in the political/lawmaking system in Australia and all democratic systems work similarly on some basic level. They have been outside the system and so they cannot truly appreciate what is going on.
They see The Occupation and The Government. When governments do not end pro-settlement policies despite political leaders promising to do so, these two see that The Government is in bed with The Settlers.
I don’t. I see a holistic political system full of competing interests. The Knesset has 120 members, all from an unnecessary number of different parties, and within the major parties are factions.
An overview of the Knesset
The opposition: the traditional Israeli left represented by Meretz and Avoda (Labour); an Arab bloc made-up of socialists, secular nationalists and Islamists; the extreme religious-Zionist parties, which range from far-right to borderline Jewish Fascism; and of course the leading opposition party Kadima – the largest single party in the Knesset – which contains a faction of former Likudniks who were loyal to Ariel Sharon and a faction of more leftist politicians sourced from various other places.
The Government: Shas, the haredi party that mostly cares about holding onto the State Rabbinate, welfare for large families and keeping Haredim exempt from the military; Yisrael Beitenu, which has a large base of Russian immigrants, is fiercely secular and nationalist, has left-wing social policies, is very hawkish on foreign policy, and rife with anti-Arab racism; Habayit Hayehudi, the religious-Zionist, pro-settler party; Atzmeut, Defence Minister Ehud Barak’s offshoot of the Labour party; and, of course, Likud.
Likud is the party of Ze’ev Jabotinsky’s Revisionist Zionism. Jabotinsky was a strong, secular nationalist and a classical liberal. He believed in an Israel on both sides of the River Jordan and believed that the Jews had to fight for everything they get as the rest of the world hates Jews and would only ever try to hurt Israel. This message was being declared on the eve of the Holocaust – had he been listened to, history could have been very different.
Likud today has a pragmatic faction, led by Prime Minister Netanyahu, which stays true to Jabotinsky’s liberalism while keeping their thinking in the modern world. There is a less savoury faction, led by Deputy Speaker Danny Danon, which follows Jabotinsky’s militant ‘Whole Israel’ ideas while ignoring the humanitarian, anti-racist and democratic pillars of Jabotinsky’s beliefs. There is also a faction led by Moshe Feiglin, who is pro-civil liberties and does not believe peace to be a priority.
Why that little aside? Well, all of those factions have different agendas and interests that govern how Israeli policy is made. Netanyahu relies on pro-settlement factions for support in order to maintain government, so has every Israeli government for decades. In the scheme of things, Labour and Likud have always made a trade-off: they accept support from settlers, turn a blind eye to what they do in the West Bank, and concentrate on domestic and other issues.
The important thing to notice is that there is a majority in the Knesset who are against settlement, or at least indifferent. The problem is that they will not work together.
My pro-BDS interlocutors do not see this because they do not see through the veils of the parties and the government. They cannot break The Occupation down into a series of policies and policy vacuums that have evolved over time to create a certain dynamic in the West Bank.
The settlers are basically like spoilt children who become bullies. They have been allowed to do whatever they want in the West Bank without limits and have developed a sense of entitlement.
I believe that small changes could be very easy to make and could have huge consequences. One order from the Defence Ministry could introduce effective law enforcement and prevent daily harassment and abuse of Palestinians. Adopting some of the Levy Report’s recommendations could end the dubious zoning policies around Area C.
If these two things happened, the resentment from the Palestinian side would immensely reduce and the settlers would have limits to their actions. The entire mindset would begin to shift.
There has been a lot of hysteria over the Levi Commission Report, released in Israel last night Australia time (for anyone who can read Hebrew, the report is available HERE. Unfortunately, my limited grasp of Hebrew does not extend to complex legal documents).
Like this for example:
Accepting the substantial elements of this report means this: no more occupation, annexing the West Bank, giving citizenship to Palestinians, end of Israel as a Jewish-democratic state. Or, of course, it could really become apartheid, and not give Palestinians citizenship at all. This is what the Zionist Right is leading us to: the end of the two-state solution.
the Levy Committee avers that government encouragement of any construction conferred an “administrative assurance,” even if there were no legal and official permits issued.
Now, Israel uses the same British common law system as Australia does to form the basis of its legal system. I have never heard of any concept of “administrative assurance” that can be used in lieu of a permit. Generally, you have no permit, you can’t build.
There are a few other recommendations that also sound a little poorly thought-out, like removing various powers to evict settlers and making it easier to build settlements.
But then there’s this:
The committee recommends legalizing all the outposts even without a retroactive government decision, and to do so as follows: To issue an order delineating the settlement and designating the adjacent areas as needed to accommodate natural growth; to cancel the need to get permission from the political echelons for every single stage in the planning process, and to not implement demolition orders that have already been issued.
See, that sounds a little familiar. It’s similar, in a way, to something Ehud Barak was suggesting a couple of months ago. That sounds like Israel unilaterally annexing parts of the West Bank, which is altogether not a terrible idea IMO. It could reduce the bickering that goes back and fourth about borders and land swaps if Israel just says something to the effect of, “this is what we want, this is what we don’t want. You don’t like it? Make us a better offer.”
The committee also recommends the cancelation of the “bothersome use order” that allows the head of the Civil Administration to force settler-farmers off ostensibly Palestinian land, even if there is no Palestinian complainant … Levy believes that these are land disputes that the state should not involve itself in, but that should be sorted out before the courts. The committee, in fact, recommends setting up a special court to deal with land disputes in the West Bank.
That doesn’t sound like a terrible idea either – mostly because a court ruling is more binding than this strange state restraining order thing they have at the moment.
Finally, I’ll address the point about the Fourth Geneva Convention and belligerent occupation. I have looked into this at length, and it is basically true. The current international humanitarian law never predicted anything like the situation in the West Bank, so it is a huge grey area. Everyone who tells you it’s definitely legal or illegal is making laws where there aren’t any.
Irrespective of that, the current legal regime applied in areas B and C of the West Bank is a bizarre military administration derived from the Jordanian law as it stood in 1967 – it needs to be overhauled, and exercising some form of sovereignty is the only way that Israel could actually do that.
So basically, some good may yet come of this report. I’m also very skeptical of news reports on an 89-page document that was released a few hours before – we’re pretty much seeing reports on the executive summary. It’s never a good idea to jump to conclusions on these things.
In fact, in all probability, nothing will ever come of this report. It is dated 21st June – presumably when it was made available to cabinet, even though it only became public yesterday – meaning that the government has had it for over three weeks and hasn’t moved on it. My bet is that they won’t, this will be consigned to the massive vault of reports that caused a minor media shitstorm and were subsequently forgotten. The Israeli government must have somewhere.
Friend of the blog Liam Getreu and I were having a private email conversation over Peter Beinart’s recent New York Times op-ed — and upcoming book — which calls for Jews to boycott West Bank settlements. The piece has been creating a huge stir on the old interwebs, with responses being thrown-around everywhere and a particularly amusing-yet-insightful Twitter debate going on between Beinart himself, Palestinian researcher Hussein Ibish and MK favourite Jeffrey Goldberg.
The conversation between me and Liam has partly gone public in a post on Liam’s blog. Naturally, I feel that I must also respond in public. Here goes nothing:
while Beinart’s suggestion of boycotts is, yes, aimed at changing settlers’ behaviour (which may have a degree of naivety, if we think it’s going to instantly deconstruct everything overnight), but it’s also about making a moral stand: I do not support the settlement enterprise, and I don’t want my money going to support it. That’s an entirely legitimate point of view.
… Of course a boycott isn’t going to end the occupation, but it will help to undermine the economy that many have going there. And Beinart’s suggestion, that the money you would otherwise spend on settlement products is instead spent on democratic Israel’s products (or, another suggestion, split between that and Palestinian businesses?), is a good one. Your purchasing behaviour may help change realities, in some small way.
Liam is correct in that boycotts can be a legitimate political tool and, for the record, I am also in favour of the Israeli government ending the ludicrous and counter-productive tax breaks and other incentives that it still gives to Israelis who move over the Green Line.
That said, the circumstances surrounding a boycott of West Bank settlements make it impossible to make the point that Beinart and Liam want to make through a boycott of them.
It is important to remember that, with a few fringe exceptions, Jewish communities worldwide (Liam and Beinart included) are completely opposed to the BDS movement. The movement is dishonest to its very core, it claims to be about “Palestinian rights” and that it takes no stance on a one or two state solution to the conflict, however its fundamental tenets effectively call for the destruction of Israel and reject the idea that Jews are entitled to nationhood or self-determination. Boycotts are particularly touchy for Jews as they bring back spectres of the Nazi boycott of Jewish businesses that served as a prelude to the Holocaust.
Beinart’s boycott idea is derived from Jews who are not comfortable supporting the BDS movement but still feel the need to “do something”; meaning that the West Bank boycott can never be wholly separated from the broader BDS movement. Indeed, as Omri Ceren observes, such initiatives regularly metastatise into full-blown BDS.
This is where Beinart’s thesis starts becoming increasingly problematic. Accepting a partial boycott of Israel is ostensibly akin to accepting some — if not all — of the BDS movement’s ideology. This leads to Read the rest of this entry »