Israeli settlers steal land, distort truth
<!–The establishment of Israeli settlements on the West Bank violates international humanitarian law.
By Paul J. Balles
In April 2008, Jeremy Ben-Ami wrote in Forward about Israeli settlements in occupied Palestine:
Somehow, for American politicians or activists to express opposition to settlement expansion – or support for active American diplomacy, dialogue with Syria or engagement with Iran – has become subversive and radical, inviting vile, hateful emails and a place on public lists of Israel-haters and anti-Semites. For the particularly unlucky, it leads to public, personal attacks on one’s family and heritage.
My own experience bore out Jeremy’s. In one article, I had referred to the settlers as “land thieves”. A reader complained, saying the label was “a racial slur, and textbook anti-Semitic”. While it was a slur against illegal settlers in Palestine, and critical of Israeli occupation and settlement behaviour, it could not qualify as anti-Semitic, textbook or otherwise.
In 2005, Stephanie Khoury observed:
From the outset of its occupation, the government of Israel has deliberately settled its citizens in the West Bank and the Gaza Strip despite the clear prohibition of this action under the Fourth Geneva Convention, to which Israel is a party. Israel has constructed a legal shroud to shield its settlement policy from criticism by maintaining that these territories are not occupied but were “liberated” or are “disputed,” despite international consensus and decisions by Israel’s High Court to the contrary.
Does this mean that “international consensus” and Israel’s High Court have been anti-Semitic?
B’tselem, an Israeli organization, has noted that the establishment of settlements on the West Bank violates international humanitarian law, which establishes the principles applying during war and occupation. Moreover, the settlements lead to the infringement of international human rights law. Could that make B’tselem guilty of racial slurs?
On 1 November 2008, the Israeli newspaper Haaretz reported: “Israel will reduce government services to illegal outposts in the West Bank in a bid to combat settler violence, the government decided on Wednesday during a meeting headed by Defence Minister Ehud Barak and attended by the country’s top military and legal brass.”
The British foreign minister, David Miliband, said: “Britain considers that Israeli settlement building anywhere in the occupied Palestinian territories is illegal under international law. This includes settlements in both East Jerusalem and the West Bank.”
Reporting in Britain’s Guardian newspaper (29 October 2008), Josh Freedman Berthoud writes: “Oscillating between covert support and active encouragement, left- and right wing- governments alike have looked the settlers in one eye and told them to sit still, while, with a wink of the other, they have facilitated their expansion.” Admittedly, “settlers’ expansion” sounds friendlier than “land thieves” but it’s somewhat less accurate.
Finally, from Al-Haq, an independent Palestinian non-governmental human rights organization:
The settlements in the OPT [occupied Palestinian territories] violate a number of international legal norms, and their illegality has been recognized by the International Court of Justice (ICJ) and several United Nations (UN) resolutions. They are a flagrant violation of Article 49(6) of the Fourth Geneva Convention, which prohibits an occupying power from transferring parts of its civilian population into occupied territory.
Now, if my use of a phrase like “land thieves” is “very close to being a racial slur, and textbook anti-Semitic”, then I’m in good company. The accolade should also be accorded to other Semites – both Arab and Israeli – to the International Court of Justice, to B’tselem and several other organizations and prominent Israelis who have testified to the illegality of the settlements.
What is it that makes the settlements illegal? They have been built on stolen land. Who else steals land but land thieves? Be careful of mistaking legitimate criticism of Israel for racial slurs or anti-Semitism. It’s not only counter-productive, it’s nasty.
— Paul J. Balles is a retired American university professor and freelance writer who has lived in the Middle East for many years. For more information, see pballes.com. This article appeared in Redress Information & Analysis.
Source: Middle East Online