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Why I’m speaking against the occupation at the UN Security Council

Control of the West Bank is inherently an international matter, not an internal Israeli issue
Israeli soldiers search Palestinian man at the Hawara checkpoint south of the West Bank city of Nablus on October 11, 2018, after a stabbing attack nearby. (Jaafar Ashtiyeh/AFP)
Israeli soldiers search Palestinian man at the Hawara checkpoint south of the West Bank city of Nablus on October 11, 2018, after a stabbing attack nearby. (Jaafar Ashtiyeh/AFP)

An Israeli government drunk on power believes it can do as it pleases. Domestically, political opposition is practically non-existent. The politicians who are supposed to be an alternative to the government are either vigorously arguing that they are practically joined at the hip with the occupation regime (and therefore deserving of Israeli voters’ trust and support), or else they are busy mounting assaults against government policy from further to the right, seeking even greater oppression of the Palestinians.

Meanwhile, in the international arena, we find a reckless American presidency and see powers ranging from proto-fascist (Hungary and Poland) to out-and-out neo-Nazi (Austria, Germany) gaining in strength or even becoming the ruling parties. The present Israeli government doesn’t balk at granting legitimacy to these regimes and parties. In exchange, it gets their support to block any international action against the ongoing occupation.

Given this state of affairs, it’s understandable that the Israeli government threw a temper tantrum when they discovered that, lo and behold, even with Trump and Orbán, the AfD (Alternative for Germany party) and the FPÖ (Freedom Party of Austria); and even despite the feebleness of Israeli “opposition” party leaders Avi Gabbay, Tzipi Livni and Yair Lapid, there is still opposition to the occupation, both in Israel and internationally. Confound it all! Just when we thought we’d be left alone to do as we please with the Palestinians – to dispossess and destroy, to arrest and to kill – without hearing a peep out of anyone.

True, this resistance is nowhere near strong enough to play a significant role in the decision-making process of Israeli voters or policy-makers. Nonetheless, it is alive and kicking. And now is a good opportunity to remind us all of some basic facts:

Israel’s control over the Palestinians is, without question, an international matter. Firstly, because human rights issues are always a universal matter, not the domestic concern of the country perpetrating the violation. Second, because the occupation is not an internal Israeli matter, and it is not up to Israelis whether or not to carry on with it. The occupation is in effect in an area beyond Israel’s sovereign borders, and applies to another people, one whose daughters and sons are the ones being denied civil and political rights.

Israel is a party to a host of international agreements that afford it considerable financial benefits, with the EU-Israel Association Agreement just one example of many. These treaties and ties with Western countries are supposed to be predicated on shared values of human rights and democracy. Yet these values are completely at odds with Israel’s decades-long control over millions of subjects bereft of political rights: subjects for whom Israel makes all the decisions, even pulling the very ground out from under their feet by continually carrying out acts of dispossession, demolition, and thwarting development. Israel’s actions mean it is ripping apart the fabric of the international agreements to which it is a party, undercutting their legitimacy and very foundation.

My duty to speak about the occupation in international settings is therefore crystal clear. That is why I accepted an invitation to address the UN Security Council. Israel trusts that the Likud party will continue to drive Mideast policy in American politics, and that the US will continue to veto Council resolutions condemning the occupation. Israel is also banking on the continued rise of nationalist forces in Europe and the United States, trusting in a future in which we will share new “common values,” of nationalism, tyranny of the majority, and the silencing of local opposition.

But what if the current winds shift? Does Israel truly aspire to be identified – along with the likes of Saudi Arabia – with the Trump administration? This cynical and short-sighted conduct is first and foremost an insult to Jewish history and human morality. Israelis willing to bind up their future with that of Donald Trump and Steve Bannon ought perhaps to ask themselves how they feel about a party such as the AfD, against whom a quarter of a million Germans marched this week in Berlin. They marched because they believe in the very same humanist values that we at B’Tselem seek to promote.

For all of these reasons, there has been, there is, and there will be a reason for me to speak against the occupation before the UN Security Council. Danny Danon, Israel’s ambassador to the UN, is horrified by the idea that I might speak in New York about the Palestinian community of Khan al-Ahmar. He is right, on two counts: One, I will be talking about what is happening there, and two, it is certainly a cause for horror, not because I’ll be speaking about it, but because of what Israel plans to do there. “The matter has already been decided by the High Court!” Danon loudly protests. But the High Court has green-lighted nearly every single violation of Palestinians’ rights. This time was no different. The Court hastened to provide a legal stamp of approval to the outrageous planning policy that Israel devised for itself and its settlers decades ago: a planning reality that precludes any “legal” Palestinian construction. This is merely legal formalism in the service of the occupation. Any person with an ounce of decency must oppose this crime.

We must oppose the occupation. We must do so in Khan al-Ahmar, and also in New York. And that is precisely what B’Tselem has been doing, is doing and will continue to do, until the occupation ends.

About the Author
Hagai El-Ad is Executive Director of B'Tselem, the Israeli Information Center for Human Rights in the Occupied Territories.
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