Tomas Sandell

Gilad, Naftali and Eyal – obstacles to peace?

When one of the largest and most influential groups at the UN, the Arab group, was to issue a statement in response to the Israeli reaction to the brutal kidnapping of the three Israeli teenagers last week, their conclusion was; ” If there had been no Israeli settlers in the territories there would have been no such incident.” The statement is telling: the mere existence of Jews in the disputed territories justified the kidnapping, which later would turn out to have been the brutal murder of three innocent teenagers.

For way too long, the international community has got away with the same mantra – ”settlements are obstacles to peace.” Representing an NGO accredited to the European Union in Brussels, we hear this claim time and time again. When five European governments – Britain, Germany, France, Italy and Spain – recently called upon their citizens not to engage with any Israeli entities in the disputed territories, their reasoning was the same – settlements are obstacles to peace.

I would not for one minute insinuate that the European leaders are responsible for the killings of the three Israeli students, however their repeated claims of Jewish settlers being obstacles to peace does not help.

”Settlements” are not anonymous evil creatures that threaten world peace, but people of flesh and blood – Jews – who have chosen to live in their ancestral homeland in Judea and Samaria, without being forced to do so by anyone. These territories are ”disputed” according to the Israeli Government and many legal scholars. Others call them simply ”occupied.” International law does not give a clear answer as to the right definition and may sometimes be more misleading than clarifying. Let me explain.

When the Australian Government in early June tried to suggest that East Jerusalem could not be ”occupied” but chose to refer to it as ”disputed”, they were immediately confronted by the whole Arab world who threatened them with trade sanctions if they did not step into line. This is in fact how international law has been defined with regard to the territories since the European Union in 1973 decided to copy and paste the claims of the Arab League to the territories which Israel had conquered in a war of defence in 1967.

So what exactly happened in 1973 that made the Europeans change their minds? Please note that they did not reach this conclusion out of any new groundbreaking discovery in international law, but simply by giving in to the demands of the Arab League when having to adapt to the might of the petrodollar. The logic in defining international borders was the same in 1973 as it is in 2014 – threats of trade boycotts and war. Let´s face it. This method has a tendency to settle a legal dispute much faster and more efficiently than an open-minded quest for the complex truth.

But back to the settlers. To be blunt: is anyone suggesting that Gilad Shaar, Naftali Frenkel and Eyal Yifrach were obstacles to peace? The new EU guidelines which prohibit funding of any Israeli entities in the territories behind the so-called 1967 lines, send a disturbing signal – ’We do not want Jews living in Judea and Samaria´ – although the Europeans have chosen a diplomatic war to implement their demands instead of terrorism.

During countless debates in the European Parliament and in the European Commission on the official EU policy of singling out Jewish settlements as the key obstacles to peace, no-one has ever been able to give a clear answer to the following question: are Jews allowed to live in the disputed territories now, or in a possible future Palestinian state? While Palestinian leader Mahmoud Abbas has been clear in stating that ”there will be no Israelis in a future Palestinian state”, the Europeans, who are otherwise quick to offer their wisdom and counsel on the Israeli Palestinian conflict, have not said a word.

This way, Jewish settlers risk being dehumanised as evil creatures that are in the way of peace. If this is the case, it may explain why Palestinian terrorists will commit brutal murder because they do not see a fellow human being in front of them, but rather an Israeli settler – their mere existence being an obstacle to peace. The same applies to the growing BDS movement in the West, which encourages boycotts of Israeli goods in general but from the disputed territories in particular. The Presbyterian Church in the USA recently decided to divest from companies involved in the territories with the same logic. As Christian ambassadors of peace, they see the Jewish settlers as the core problem, rather than the hearts and minds of those that chose to kill three innocent students on their way home from school, simply because they were Jews.

My motive is not to defend all Israeli settlements but simply to say – Gilad, Naftali and Eyal were not obstacles to peace. They were human beings with the right to live in peace wherever they chose to settle in the world. We mourn them as they have now been put to rest but they also deserved our respect when they were still alive.

Those who foster a culture of hatred where demonisation of another human being is accepted and where the brutal murder of three teenagers is not condemned but rather applauded, as is the case for the mother of one of the suspects, are the real obstacle to peace. The day the international community recognises this and takes proper action, we can start dreaming of real peace in the Middle East.

About the Author
Tomas Sandell is a Finnish journalist who has been accredited by the European Union. He is today the Founding Director of European Coalition for Israel.
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