Last week, I laid out the reality of the occupation before the UN Security Council. Thanks to broad media coverage, the important information I presented there also reached many in Israel. Since then, Benjamin Netanyahu has been doing everything in his power to avoid actually responding to what I said.
B’Tselem has been slandered on the Prime Minister’s Facebook page; with empty rhetoric, he has vowed to cancel the organization’s single allocation for a national service volunteer – one that isn’t even filled; ridiculous calls have been made for the UN to cut our funding; and the head of the coalition, so often sent to do Netanyahu’s dirty work, has even threatened to revoke my citizenship. What will they think of next?
Not that any of that really matters. Let’s suppose all these threats are fulfilled. Will that change the fact that Israel is holding millions of people under military occupation? What does Netanyahu actually have to say to Israelis and Palestinians about that? How long can he evade reality by trying to shoot the messenger?
Netanyahu’s spin is spread remarkably thin. The best he can come up with is repeatedly asking, “Why go to New York?” Perhaps he wishes Israel were like North Korea, with the government controlling any communication with the outside world and no one airing any kind of laundry at all. The thing is, Israel has some very dirty laundry to wash and it’s not in New York – it’s right here.
Sift through all the slander directed at B’Tselem and you will be hard-pressed to find a single official response to the actual facts we stated. No one in government has denied that Israel plans to maintain control of the Occupied Territories and their Palestinian residents for as long as possible, or the terrible impact of the settlements and the occupation on the daily lives of Palestinians. No one has questioned the unprecedented figure on home demolitions I quoted at the UN; or the consequences of the intricate permit bureaucracy with which Israel rules Palestinians’ lives; or the fact that all of Israel’s state systems are implicated in this massive injustice – including the Supreme Court and the State Attorney’s Office. Not a single fact that B’Tselem presented has been countered or even challenged.
Before the advent of social media, people who had no solid ground to stand on would shout their way out of an argument. Now, leaders facing uncomfortable criticism can go on a Facebook rant. The essence remains the same. Netanyahu: you are the prime minister of Israel. What do you have to say to the people whose lives you govern? Where are you taking us? What is your plan for the 12 million people living between the Jordan River and the sea under various forms of Israeli control – whether citizenship within the Green Line, external control over Gaza, direct control over the West Bank, or annexation of East Jerusalem? How do you justify the fact that millions of these people live without citizenship and without any protection of their basic rights? What do you intend to do about that?
The Israeli public is not made up of fools. The bottom line is self-evident: In actions and, increasingly, with words, Netanyahu is carving out the future he apparently envisions for us: More of the same. Joining him across the board, from the extreme right to what is euphemistically known as the Israeli left, most of our politicians are helping life here continue as it is. That cannot and will not be accepted by hundreds of thousands of Israelis who still believe we can do better.
Entrenching Israel’s hold over the Occupied Territories to ensure “more of the same” is not a democratic choice, because there is no such thing as democratically choosing to control another people. No one can claim that this is a domestic Israeli affair. The Palestinians controlled by our government are not Israelis.
So… why did I address the UN Security Council? Why did I go to New York? Why does B’Tselem work in Jerusalem? In fact, why do we even do our work at all? The answer is simple: Because it’s the truth. The occupation is a moral abomination that has routinely violated the most basic rights of an entire people for fifty years. Those are the facts. Netanyahu, let’s cut to the chase: What really matters is that we urgently need to end the disaster known as the occupation.
Hagai El-Ad is Executive Director of B’Tselem, the Israeli Information Center for Human Rights in the Occupied Territories.