Rosa Parks, Martin Luther King, and the Legality of West Bank Settlements

I had an interesting paradigm shift this week. I was asked a question that I had been asked many times before. “How can you justify living in a “West Bank settlement”, when it is in clear violation of International Law?”

My answer has always been the same. Simple. It is not against International Law.

And you know what? Maybe technically it is not illegal. What usually ensues after this is a litany of UN General Assembly resolutions, followed by the same old partisan interpretations, International Court of Justice opinions, and claims of international consensus.

All of us that love Israel and argue on her behalf have been there, ad nauseum. My experience has been that no one ever walks away from one of these debates converted.

Until it happened to me.

I am not saying that I believe that the presence of my family in the Hills of Judea is illegal, but… I did have a shift in possibly empathy, to where I can see “other’s” point.

I am not an International Law scholar, but I do have YouTube. I watched international law scholars argue both sides. There are thoughtful points on both sides.

The “hasbara” argument has always claimed the following;

The settlements are not illegal because they where conquered in 1967 from Jordan that was illegally (according to international law) occupying them at the time. Since there was no sovereign state to return that land to, the Geneva convention does not apply, and Israel was under no legal obligation to remove itself from the West Bank.

Also clearly stated in the famous UN General Assembly resolution 242, Israel is only required to relinquish “territories conquered”, as opposed to “ALL the territories conquered”.

All of this may be true, but… Like it or not, fair or not, just or not, bias or not… The majority of international law scholars agree with the anti-Israel folks. Settlement are illegal. Every single country in the world views my family as “illegal” occupiers.

Alan Dershowitz and APAIC can argue the minutia of international law all day, but the consensus is still the consensus. According to world opinion, Jewish Settlement in the West Bank is illegal.

As I was coming to this unpleasant realization I was also reflecting on the holiday being celebrated in the United States of America. Martin Luther King Day.

I took the opportunity to learn a little about the civil rights movement with my kids.

Rosa Parks and Doctor Martin Luther King
Rosa Parks and Doctor Martin Luther King

On December 1st, 1955 in Montgomery Alabama an African American woman named Rosa Parks refused to relinquish her seat to a white man on a bus, even though it was the law.

The fall out from this incident led a young preacher named Martin Luther King to launch a bus boycott in Montgomery that lasted for a year, and that many credit as the start of the American Civil rights movement.

In the following years Martin Luther King would go on to lead that movement against unjust laws, even though it led to his arrest over 30 times.

Rosa Parks was not a legal scholar. She did not refuse to give up her seat because she interpreted a state law differently than the State of Alabama had intended it, and then determined it unjust. She refused to give up her seat because doing so would have violated her basic human and civil rights. She was a woman of dignity and character, and refused to be diminished in the light of a biased, and unjust legal system.

I am a seasoned public speaker. I am sure I could do really well in a debate about the legality of the Settlements. I know the arguments, the UN resolutions, the history, and can wrestle with semantics as well as anyone. I also acknowledge that someone else could argue the other side equally as well.  But you know what? It doesn’t interest me.

Ultimately the reason I live in these hills, and support the Jewish right to live here as well, has nothing to do with the validity of a legal system that much of the world views as biased, corrupt, and unjust, it has to do with basic human rights, civil rights and dignity.

I am a Jew and I live in Judea. I reject the premise that I live in a “West Bank Settlement”, but rather a Judean village.

The finer points of international law may be debatable, malleable, and easily able to be used to further an agenda, the Jewish people’s historical connection to this land though, is beyond reproach.

We are not Jews because our religion is Judaism, we are Jews because our people come from Judea.

This fact by the way does not diminish any other people’s basic human and civil rights.

My Judean village is surrounded by Arab villages. Every day I watch their civil rights blatantly violated. As a Jew I am waved through check points that they are detained at. They do not have the same or equal access to water, electricity, medical care or education. The rights of the Palestinians in Judea and Sameria must be addressed, and this is paramount to any peaceful solution.

The solutions that are on the table right now, are based on the false presumption that in order to grant equal rights to the Palestinians, my people’s rights must be violated.

The end result of the enforcement of that international law would be the removal of the Jewish population from Judea and Samaria.

We are being told that the only way to bring about a peaceful solution to the current conflict is to adhere to “international law” that runs counter to my civil and human rights.

I reject the either/or paradigm that claims the only way to bestow basic human rights upon the native Palestinian population is to violate the rights of the native Judean population by delegitimizing their connection to their land and uprooting them from their homes.

I would be willing to bet that there were black people and white people on that bus in 1955 that had found it easier to just accept the legal consensus on segregation than it was to think out of the box for another option that accommodated everyone’s basic civil rights. The reason Rosa Parks, and Doctor King are remembered today is because of their recognition of a greater moral authority.

Martin Luther King would be amazed at the progress the world has made between his assassination in 1968 and 2014. Today, it would be hard to find someone who would claim that Rosa Parks’ violation of Alabama State law was anything other than a just expression of her civil rights. This Judean feels the same way. We owe it to ourselves, to our ancestors, to Doctor King and the world to do the same.

About the Author
Mottle Wolfe Tweets as @RebMottle. He is the host of The Mottle Wolfe Show, Israel's only daily news talk program. He lives in the Hills of Judea with his wife Batya, and their three children.