Famous English physicist Stephan Hawking promised readers in his acclaimed book “A Brief History of Time” to explain theories pertaining to the universe without discouraging or confusing the readership with numerous complicated equations, and in the end only referring to Einstein’s famous E = mc2.
Similarly, it should be possible to present the issue of Israeli settlements in its true form, without digressing into a futile academic discussion. Indeed, the illusion of the controversy surrounding Israeli settlement policy is one intended to turn the issue into a discussion that might be negotiated – which has already been done so successfully with the matter of occupation.
Only this way can one understand the changes in the United States governments’ position on Israeli settlements over the past two decades. First they were “illegal,” then “obstacles to peace,” and now they have become a negotiable issue subject to the wills of the parties concerned, in which there is no place for external interference specifically that of the relevant United Nations resolutions.
Israeli settlement policy is all about having the cake and eating it, too. It is about emptying international conventions, Article 49 of the Geneva Convention and 52 of the Hague Convention, in particular, of their meaning. It is about creating new international legitimacy for an occupation and its primary tool, one that has been clearly denounced by various relevant United Nations General Assembly and Security Council Resolutions. It means the final closing of the curtain by coercing Palestinians into accepting this reality and signing a final concession to that effect.
Under different terms of “legality,” even the Israeli High Court was only able to justify the first settlements by saying that they served Israeli security needs as laid down in the “Beit El” and “Alon Moreh” cases of 1978 and 1979, respectively. [That is particularly interesting in light of the security justifications used in today’s razing of entire neighborhoods, liquidation of Palestinian activists and oppressive siege of the Palestinian areas.]
Since then more than 200 settlements have been erected in the Occupied Territories with an estimated 350,000 Israeli settlers living there. A network of roads has been built on Arab land to enable settlers’ free movement and connection with one another. Israeli settlements control all water resources in the Occupied Territories, and utilize 80 percent of that water for their own use. These Israeli settlements and Jewish settlers are under total Israeli jurisdiction and laws that give them economic and military support. In essence, the settlements have become what they were fundamentally established to be: the cornerstone and primary tool for creating a new apartheid system.
Understanding this reality and this fundamental attribute helps in distinguishing this issue from one that is controversial and a matter of moral inconsequence, and one that is not only illegal but also non- negotiable.
Understanding this also clarifies the positions of state organs in support of settlement and differences in approach and realization of this support. This also clarifies the policy of support for the establishment and expansion of settlements equally practiced by the different Israeli governments over the past three decades. Differences were only noted in the tools and areas of settlement policy but not in the fundamental approach towards this issue.
The discussion on settlements should not be seen as one pertaining to town planning, architecture or landscape, or even the needs of a civilian population. Rather, choosing to ignore or support settlement is a choice between supporting an apartheid system or denouncing it.
It is not difficult to comprehend the mentality of supporters of settlements vis a vis the Palestinians; examples range from militants who chant “death to Arabs” at social events to the more sophisticated who are more subtle and merely wish this in their dreams.
Who is that legal advisor who conjured up the cunning scheme of making use of land that had been declared state land, rather than going through the hassle of discussing the security purposes for which the land was required? This same person was reported to have defended the state and army against claims for compensation brought by a Gaza refugee camp family whose wife and mother were killed “unnecessarily” by soldiers that they should be thankful “for they now have one less mouth to feed.”
And then there is the notorious architect who designed the Ma’aleh Adumim expansion plan over an additional 12,000 dunums, which gave the settlement a surface area of 60,000 dunums (more land than Tel Aviv). That land was expropriated from five Arab villages whose 60,000 inhabitants have to live on an isolated 6,000 dunums. This same person finds nothing wrong in his actions – and why should he? For we also know that he himself lives in an Arab house in Ein Karem village, which was occupied in 1948 and partially demolished in 1967 and its 5,000 Palestinian residents made refugees, unable to return. He is now designing the plans for a recreational park on the ruins of this village and of Emwas, whose residents were evicted and their village and houses demolished in 1967. This place is now called Canada Park.
Congruently, the Israeli High Court upheld the expansion of Ma’aleh Adumim. Its inability to find any rulings in the opposite direction from the same court over the past 20 years led it to decide without hesitation that this is a political issue, subject to pending negotiations, during which all state organs should speak in the same tongue and protect the same policy.
Article 2 of the “International Convention of the Suppression and Punishment of the Crime of Apartheid” of 1973 clearly defined the term “crime of apartheid.” This includes similar policies and practices of segregation and discrimination as practiced in South Africa and which also apply to inhuman acts committed for the purpose of the establishment and maintaining of domination by one racial group over another. This includes the deliberated imposition of living conditions calculated to cause physical destruction and any legislative or other measures preventing a racial group from full development of their political, social, economic and cultural life.
An overview of these settlements in the Occupied Territories demonstrates – and perhaps in the last few months more than ever – that these settlements are allocated and connected in such a manner that would ultimately cut off the towns and villages of the West Bank from one another and control furthermore all available resources. Thus, the entire notion of social and economic development of the Palestinians is rendered impossible. Even during the interim phase, as World Bank and other donor agency reports clearly show, the main obstacle for any development project was the subdivision between the villages and the lack of territorial continuity, which prevented much needed infrastructure projects and development or rendered it much too expensive and futile.
Many analogies can be drawn between the Occupied Territories and South Africa, but the Palestinian case can be seen as even worse because of the pressures practiced on the Palestinians to finally submit and accept this new reality of a new apartheid in a world where Palestinians are left to face this fate alone.
The Israeli High Court was correct to regard Israeli settlement policy a political issue. It only stopped short of stating what is becoming more and more obvious: that the politics that are being defended are those of an apartheid state.
Ihab Abu Ghosh is an attorney and former director of the Jerusalem Legal Aid Center.