I have been much occupied of late. I have been trying to understand why Israel’s “occupation” of the disputed territories to the West of the Jordan River gets so much media coverage while the innumerable other occupations are totally ignored. I say innumerable, too many to be counted, because I gave up at 100 when counting Wikipedia’s ‘List of territorial disputes’. Dealing with the occupation can be very exhausting, but I suppose that it’s an occupational hazard.
Why do we not hear more castigation of the United Kingdom, who is occupying the Chagos Archipelago, in defiance of the International Court of Justice. The UK occupies the archipelago as part of the British Indian Ocean Territory. But, in 2019, the ICJ said that the islands were not lawfully separated from the UK’s former colony of Mauritius and that the UK’s administration is unlawful.
We rarely hear of the disputed Liancourt Rocks. This group of small islets in the Sea of Japan, claimed by Japan in 1905, has been occupied by South Korea since 1954. The population is not large, two civilians, two government officials, six lighthouse managers, and 40 members of the coast guard, live on the islets. But occupation is occupation and the principle is more important than the numbers.
On a somewhat larger scale, in 2014, Russia occupied the Crimean peninsula, which was part of Ukraine’s territories. The United Nations’ Resolution 68/262, states that Crimea belongs to Ukraine and that Russia’s annexation is invalid. A Google search for this important resolution brings up 37,100 results. This impressive figure is somewhat eclipsed by a similar search for the words “occupied territories + Israel + Palestine” which brings up 7,500,000 results.
The British and French, both with a long history of occupying other people’s lands, went one step further in their occupation of what is now known as Canada. In an attempt to occupy the hearts and minds of the indigenous peoples, they instituted the Gradual Civilisation Act. This legislation, designed to assimilate and subjugate the rightful owners of the land, the ‘Aboriginal’ peoples, imposed European ideals such as Christianity, sedentary living, agriculture, and education. It is not known if Canada adopted that other European ideal, Antisemitism, at the time or if the growing wave is a new phenomenon. Anti-Semitic incidents in Canada have reached record numbers for the third straight year.
And we cannot end this brief survey of occupation without a mention of the occupier-in-chief – the United States of America. Currently, the US has nearly 800 military bases in more than 70 countries. Some are huge “Little Americas” while others are just small radar stations.
The United States does not pay any attention to international law when making laws governing what it claims is its own territory. The US has determined that its territory can include occupied territory, which is a geographic area that claims sovereignty but is forcibly subjugated to the authority of the US. Such territory can include disputed territory, an area that is claimed by both the US and the governments of one or more rival countries.
But what sets Israel’s occupation apart from all the others is that we are occupying our own land. It was given to the Children of Israel when they left captivity in Egypt. In more modern times, in 1947, United Nations General Assembly Resolution 181 called for the partition of the British-ruled Palestine into a Jewish state and an Arab state. The Jews accepted the resolution, but the Arabs and the Arab states rejected it, and attacked the newly born Jewish state. They lost. They again attacked, in 1967, and lost again. The West Bank became part of Israel. Not occupied, but sovereign Israeli territory, in much the same way as the Americans took America from its previous owners, the British, and have never given it back.