Saturday, February 10, 2007

Occupation and human rights

By remaining in the West Bank, Israel has done enormous harm to itself, its reputation and its long-term future.

Tony Klug

To my mind, the issue is not whether Israel is a serious human rights violator in the occupied territories, but why. The carefully documented pattern of abuses by respected Israeli organisations like B'Tselem and esteemed international human rights bodies such as Amnesty International and Human Rights Watch speak for themselves.

Homes are demolished, civilians are mistreated, prisoners are abused, elderly people are humiliated, basic freedoms are curtailed and non-combatants are killed. And that's just a part of it. It gets us nowhere to keep denying the reports or justifying everything on security grounds or claiming these bodies are prejudiced.

I worked for Amnesty International for many years and know that the primacy of political impartiality is drilled into all its workers. Of course, this didn't then and doesn't now stop the governments of numerous countries around the world, including Israel's (and many Arab governments too), from accusing the organisation of having a particular bias against them.

But Israel was not always a serious violator of human rights. As a researcher, I used to move about virtually unhindered through the West Bank in the 1970s, often in the company of Palestinians or Israelis or both. There were few checkpoints, few Israeli settlements and few terror attacks. Even travel across the old green line was barely monitored. As occupations go, it was relatively benign (if occupations can ever be benign). But then the land confiscations started in earnest and the settlement programme accelerated. The occupation began to look as if it had come to stay.

If there is one cast-iron law of history, it is probably that all occupations and other forms of colonial rule are, eventually, resisted. The occupier then has a choice of pulling out and letting the native people exercise their self-determination, or remaining and clamping down. Despite its avowal in the years immediately following the 1967 war to stay only temporarily, Israel unfortunately chose to remain, and over time it came to resemble the harsh - at times brutal - occupier that it had falsely been claimed to be in earlier years.

As British citizens, Jewish or non-Jewish, we should be careful not to be too smug or sanctimonious about this. There were times during the British empire when colonial rule was likewise relatively benign and other times when it was unbelievably cruel. Although it is invidious to make comparisons, some if its excesses were far worse and on a much larger scale than any Israel has committed. A parallel point may be made with regard to some of the atrocities perpetrated by the resistance groups. These practices stopped when colonial rule ended.

This has been the familiar pattern through history, regardless of the geographical origin or political affiliation of the colonial ruler. The contemporary US/British occupation of Iraq and even the prolonged Nato presence in Afghanistan are treading a worryingly similar path. This is not to excuse Israeli conduct - nor either the murderous attacks on Israeli civilians by certain armed Palestinian groups, that the aforementioned human rights organisations have also condemned - but to place it in context.

There are serious human rights violations in the occupied territories not because the perpetrators are Israelis, nor even because they are Zionists - patriotic Israelis and self-proclaimed Zionists have been among the most vocal critics - and certainly not because they are Jews. It is because they are occupiers, and the violations will end when the occupation ends.

Enforced rule over another people brutalises the occupier as well as the occupied. By remaining in the West Bank, if only to protect the settlers it unwisely and illegally planted there, Israel has done enormous harm to itself, its reputation and its long-term future in the region of which it strives to be a part, to say nothing of the profound damage the occupation has done to the Palestinians who live there. It should not be left to Israel's enemies to call for a full and final end to Israel's occupation, now in its 40th year. True friends of Israel should be asserting the same demand.


At 5:45 PM, Blogger BaconEating AtheistJew said...

What changed when the Jews left Gaza?
What would change if the Jews left the West Bank? The Arabs in the West Bank would still think of themselves as being occupied, as they did prior to 1967.

At 4:17 PM, Blogger Gert said...


You're simplifying this beyond the point where we can discuss it. 40 years of occupation has done nothing good for either the Israelis or the Palestinians. For many young, new Aliyahs, the narrative is now that the whole of Palestine belong to the Jewish people, by divine appointment no less! Talk about changing the narrative....

At 4:33 PM, Blogger BaconEating AtheistJew said...

Withdrawing is looked upon collectively as an Arab victory, and only encourages them more. It also brings them closer to their goals.....the destruction of Israel.

I don't see how withdrawing from the West Bank will help at all.

Again, I used to think differently.

At 5:09 PM, Blogger Gert said...

This argument really works both ways: it can be argued very successfully that the occupation stands in the way of any meaningful and lasting peace with the Arab world and hence increases the likelihood of Israel being attacked.

At 12:57 PM, Blogger BaconEating AtheistJew said...

It works both ways, but the standard answer is that if the Arabs dropped their arms anytime in the last 59 years, there would be peace. If the Jews dropped their arms, there might be a few Dhimmi Jews left after the dust cleared.
I'm convinced Israel would cut of a ball for peace, but the Arabs collectively follow their leadership who is stuck on a goal of destroying Israel.

At 3:46 PM, Blogger Gert said...

Population groups aren't monolythic blocs: there are moderate Arabs, moderate Palestinians and extremist Israelis too...

And in much of the Arab world, Israel/Palestine is a "far from my bed" type of problem: they don't really care all that much...


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