Twelve years ago, the International Court of Justice (ICJ) issued an advisory opinion at the request of the United Nations General Assembly on the legality of the wall Israel has constructed in the West Bank. The ICJ affirmed that all of the Gaza Strip and the West Bank, including East Jerusalem, are “occupied Palestinian territory”, and that Israel’s wall, as well as its settlements, violate the Fourth Geneva Convention.
The ICJ’s ruling helps to underscore the prejudicial nature of the discussion about the Israeli-Palestinian conflict in the Western mainstream media—and particularly in the US. The media never fail to elevate Israel’s policy aims to the same level of legitimacy as international law. For example, we can frequently read in the New York Times, the Washington Post, et al, that East Jerusalem or areas where Israeli settlements are located are “disputed” territory—thus placing equal weight to Israel’s position as the entire rest of the planet, which recognizes Israel’s settlements as illegal and East Jerusalem as occupied Palestinian territory.
Needless to say, this is not balanced journalism, but extremely prejudicial to the rights of the Palestinians living under foreign military occupation. When the illegality of the settlements is alluded to by the mainstream media (all too infrequently), they typically obscure it by saying something like: “Most countries do not recognize the legitimacy of Israel’s settlements.” This leaves readers with the impression that the matter is controversial, that there is debate about it within the international community, that there are two legitimate points of view. It affords validity to Israel’s position when it has none. Translated from newspeak, what that means is that every single government on planet Earth other than Israel itself recognizes the settlements as a violation of international law.
The media bend over backwards to accommodate and attempt to legitimize Israel’s criminal policies. How can the media get away with such outrageously biased reporting? Furthermore, why is the US mainstream media so prejudiced against the rights of the Palestinians?
The answer is simple: the policy of the US government is one of unconditionally supporting Israel’s violations of international law and the human rights of the Palestinian people.
The US Role in the Israeli-Palestinian Conflict
While the US has long sought to characterize itself as an “honest broker” between the Israelis and the Palestinians, the truth is scarcely concealed beneath the thin veil of rhetoric. The US supports Israel’s violations of international law financially, militarily, and diplomatically.
Military aid to Israel tops $3 billion annually, which aid serves in part as a US taxpayer subsidy for the arms industry as Israel invests in US military technology and hardware. US-supplied arms are routinely used by Israel to commit war crimes, such as its
deliberate targeting of schools and hospitals in Gaza under the Israel Defense Forces’ (IDF) “Dahiya Doctrine”—a reference to the leveling of the Dahiya district of Beirut during Israel’s 2006 invasion of Lebanon and a policy designed to use intentionally disproportionate force in order to punish the civilian population. This policy was implemented during Israel’s military assaults on Gaza in 2008-09 (“Operation Cast Lead”), 2012 (“Operation Pillar of Defense”), and 2014 (“Operation Protective Edge”).
The world superpower also uses its weight to protect Israel from censure for its perpetual violations of international law, acting to prevent Israeli officials from being held accountable for their crimes. For example, in the aftermath of “Operation Cast Lead”, the US sought to bury the report of a UN fact-finding mission (the so-called “Goldstone Report”) that found both Israel and Hamas had committed war crimes. The US’s goal was to ensure that the report’s recommendations were not implemented—particularly the recommendation to refer the matter to the International Criminal Court (ICC) absent credible investigations by the Israeli government and Hamas governing authority into allegations of war crimes, which never occurred (the IDF’s self-investigations, needless to say, were rightfully recognized by the international community as a whitewash).
For another example, in February 2011, the Obama administration—its own rhetorical opposition to Israel’s settlements notwithstanding—went so far as to veto an uncontroversial UN Security Council resolution condemning Israel for its continued expansion of illegal settlements in the occupied West Bank.
The Mainstream Media’s Complicity
The mainstream media in the US serve the role of manufacturing consent for government policy, with the intelligentsia acting as high priests of the state religion, as dissident American intellectual Noam Chomsky has described it. As before the US’s illegal war on Iraq (among countless other examples), the media mindlessly parrot government propaganda. It is axiomatic among academics and journalists who have a voice in the mainstream that, while the US government might sometimes make “mistakes”, it only ever acts out of benevolent intent. Voices that don’t subscribe to this belief system are excluded from the discussion. “There is indeed something truly religious,” as Chomsky has observed, “in the fervor with which responsible American intellectuals have sought to deny plain fact and to secure their dogmas concerning American benevolence, the contemporary version of the ‘civilizing mission.’”
Far from serving the role of properly informing the public in order for Americans to be able to make objective judgments about world affairs, the media serve to indoctrinate Americans in narratives about the Palestine conflict that fundamentally obscure its true nature.
This extends to the media’s reporting on the conflict’s origins. There are a great many things that “everyone knows” about the conflict that in fact have no basis in reality. For example, it is a widely believed myth that the UN created Israel or otherwise conferred legal authority to the Zionist leadership for the unilateral declaration of the existence of their “Jewish state” on May 14, 1948. This claim is absolutely false. Moreover, the UN plan to partition Palestine into separate Jewish and Arab states called for expropriating land belonging to Arabs in order to redistribute it to Jews. The representatives of member countries who drafted this plan recognized that this prejudiced the rights of the majority inhabitants, but the Arabs’ rights were simply of no consideration to policymakers still operating within a framework of racist colonialism, and so they premised their plan upon the explicit rejection of the right of the Arab majority to self-determination (notwithstanding how this violated the very UN Charter under whose authority they were ostensibly operating).
Needless to say, such minor details as this are never reported when the media fill the public in on the conflict’s origins.
Another thing that “everyone knows” about the conflict is that the combined Arab armies invaded “Israel” after the May 14, 1948 declaration of its existence, in an effort to wipe the nascent state off the map. As the New York Times and other major media report it, today’s refugee problem is an unfortunate legacy of Palestinians having to flee or being expelled by Israeli forces as a consequence of this Arab aggression in 1948. Another minor detail willfully omitted in reports by journalists like the Times’ Ethan Bronner is that by the time the neighboring Arab states managed to muster a military response, 300,000 Arabs had already been ethnically cleansed from their homes in Palestine.
By the time the armistice agreements were signed in 1949, over 700,000 Palestinians had been ethnically cleansed, never permitted to return to their homes despite the recognition under international law that refugees of war have a right to do. Although the Jewish community in 1948 owned less than 7 percent of the land in Palestine, by the time the war was ended, Israel had conquered territory beyond even that allotted to it under the never-implemented UN partition plan (never implemented because the UN Security Council recognized that the only way to do so would be by force, and that it had no authority to partition Palestine against the will of the majority of its inhabitants).
Then again in 1967, as the mainstream media tell it, Israel faced a genocidal threat from its neighboring Arab states, and so launched a preemptive attack against Egypt to defend itself and its citizens from extermination. Never mind that, as no less authoritative a source as former Israeli Ambassador to the US Michael B. Oren has documented, Israel’s own intelligence assessed that Egyptian President Gamal Abdel Nasser had no intention of attacking Israel—because he wasn’t insane. Israel had already invaded Egypt once before, in 1956, in collusion with Britain and France, and the CIA observed that Egyptian forces in 1967 had taken up defensive positions in the Sinai Peninsula and informed President Lyndon B. Johnson that a war was brewing and that it would be started by Israel. Former Israeli Prime Minister Menachem Begin, too, has acknowledged that this was a war of choice, and that the Egyptian troop presence in the Sinai didn’t prove that Nasser intended to attack Israel.
During that war, of course, Israel invaded and began its occupation of Gaza and the West Bank—an occupation that persists still today nearly five decades on. The ethnic cleansing also continues incrementally as Palestinians’ homes are demolished or life is otherwise made so miserable for them that they are forced to relocate in order for Jewish settlements to be built, “facts on the ground” designed to prejudice the outcome of negotiations under the US-led so-called “peace process”.
And while the media report on the “peace process” as though the US was truly an objective mediator, the truth, also scarcely concealed beneath the thin veil of rhetoric, is that it is the process by which the US and Israel block implementation of the two-state solution, in favor of which there is otherwise a consensus among the international community.
This consensus is based upon the requirement, emphasized in UN Security Council Resolution 242 (passed in the wake of the 1967 war), that Israel must withdraw to the 1949 armistice lines (also known as the 1967 lines or the “Green Line” for the color with which it was drawn on the map) in accordance with the principle of international law that the acquisition of territory by war is inadmissible. It is also based on the internationally recognized right, reflected in UN General Assembly Resolution 194 (passed during the 1948 war), of Palestinian refugees to return to their homeland.
While the US professes to support a two-state solution, it is emphatically not the same as the two-state solution. The latter is premised upon international law and respect for the equal rights of the Palestinians, while the former is premised upon the use of violence to coerce the Palestinians into accepting Israel’s demands to surrender their rights, including by ceding even more of their land and renouncing their right of return.
What Hope for Peace?
There is a popular view that the Israel-Palestine conflict is inevitable, too complicated for a practical solution to ever be found, which leads to resignation that it will just persist forever. This view is mistaken. There is a solution, which is for international law to be applied. This is the outcome that Israel and the US have fought so aggressively to prevent under the “peace process”, which is premised upon the rejection of the applicability of such treaties as the UN Charter and the Geneva Conventions and, instead, elevates Israel’s wants over Palestinians’ rights.
Hence the accommodative reporting in the mainstream media describing East Jerusalem as “disputed” territory, etc., ad nauseum.
So what can be done about this situation? How can the Palestinians ever hope to see justice done, and how can peace ever be realized?
The answer is simple. The citizens of the world simply need to stop waiting for the governments of the world to solve the problem. There needs to be wider recognition that the world’s governments, far from being part of the solution, are part of the problem. This includes the UN organization, which played no small role in helping to create the conflict in the first place, and which continues to play a duplicitous role—most specifically, the UN Secretariat under Ban Ki-moon’s leadership has been complicit in Israel’s oppression of the Palestinians (e.g., calling for negotiations “without preconditions” in his role as Quartet partner, which is a euphemism that simply means the Palestinians must cease demanding that Israel cease its illegal settlement construction before rejoining talks under the guise of the US-led “peace process”—among numerous other gross abuses of the authority of his office).
Israel is able to act with such impunity because it has the backing of the world’s most powerful government. The US government, in turn, is able to persist in its complicity in the oppression of the Palestinian people because the media manufacture consent for its criminal policies. Most Americans simply have a perception of the conflict that has no bearing on reality. The mainstream discussion about the subject is fundamentally misrepresentative of the conflict’s true nature.
That needs to change. What is required is a paradigm shift. The public needs to stop buying into the perpetually told lies and propaganda. Americans, along with other citizens of the world, need to become properly informed. There are of course those who will cling to their worldview regardless of the facts, and those whose own prejudices will blind them to the truth. But those of us who are honest and actually care about the victims of the violence—on both sides, both Jew and Arab—have a responsibility to educate ourselves and take an active role in sharing knowledge with others.
We need to reach a critical mass of knowledgeable citizenry, a tipping point at which enough people are properly informed about the conflict’s true nature that it no longer remains feasible for the US government to continue its policy of trying to sustain the status quo of occupation and oppression. This applies to citizens of other countries, too, whose own governments—even those ostensibly supportive of Palestinians’ rights—are blinded to the reality that the “peace process” is designed to prevent a peaceful solution and which thus act complicity by advocating the continuance of this farce. This framework for negotiations needs to be replaced with a real peace process, one which doesn’t reject the applicability of international law and isn’t fundamentally prejudiced against the rights of those who are living under an oppressive occupation regime—in which the oppressed aren’t forced to “negotiate” with their occupiers over the extent to which they can retain their own land.
The world is moving in this direction, albeit not nearly quickly enough to be of any comfort for the victims. The European Union, for example, has revised its guidelines for trading with Israel to include the requirement that goods produced in illegally constructed Israeli settlements be labeled as such. The growing boycott, divestment, and sanctions (BDS) movement can claim some success in this regard, but there is another important factor frequently overlooked that led to this development: the UN’s recognition in 2012 of Palestine as a non-member observer state.
With the UN’s recognition of Palestinian statehood comes access to international legal institutions such as the ICJ and ICC, to which the Palestinian Authority (PA) may now turn in order to seek legal remedy for Israel’s violations of international law.
So why hasn’t the PA already done so?
The Role of the Palestinian Authority
The answer to that question, too, is simple. The PA was established under the “peace process” to serve the aims of the US and Israeli governments. It is, simply stated, Israel’s collaborator regime in the occupied territories that serves to keep the Palestinians in line by repressing popular uprisings against the occupation regime.
This is not to say that the PA leadership under “President” Mahmoud Abbas—who remains in office illegitimately, his term having long ago expired—is entirely dedicated to serving Israel’s interests. But the US and Israel have their ways of forcing his compliance, such as Israel’s withholding of Palestinian tax dollars it collects on the PA’s behalf in the occupied territories, or the US’s threats to cut off aid to the PA if it steps out of line.
Of course, these are bluffs on the part of Israel and the US since they need the PA in order to sustain the status quo of occupation. Neither wants to risk causing the collapse of the PA—least of all the Israeli military establishment, which prefers to have a collaborator regime in place to do its dirty work for it. While Abbas has taken an important step by successfully submitting Palestine’s application for a status upgrade in the UN General Assembly, he has to date remained too cowardly to take the next step by pursuing legal claims against Israel in the international institutions now available to his government.
It is the risk that Palestine might eventually do so, no doubt, apart from the influence of the BDS movement, that has prompted the EU to revise its trade guidelines with Israel so as to take a modest step away from its complicity in the wholesale criminal violation of Palestinians’ rights.
A Global Intifada
This raises a conundrum for the Palestinians. The weight of the world’s governments, meaningless rhetoric to the contrary nothwithstanding, is against them. Absent recognition as a “state”, they had no recourse to legal mechanisms to compel Israel’s compliance with international law. Yet even with such recognition, they remain powerless given complicity of their own government in their oppression. So it comes to this: if the PA—which has been all too willing to lay Palestinians’ rights on the negotiating table in order to preserve the privileged status of its crony elites—will not act to support the rights of its own people, then the Palestinian people must act to rid themselves of its rule over them.
It is time for another popular uprising, an intifada grounded in the principle of non-violent resistance to occupation and oppression. Hamas and other armed groups must realize that, apart from being illegal and immoral, committing acts of terrorism or engaging in war crimes such as indiscriminate rocket fire into Israeli residential communities are a strategic mistake since such actions serve to hand Israel the very pretext it requires in order to preserve its occupation regime.
This is not to say that the Palestinians must renounce their right to legitimate armed resistance against foreign military occupation, which, too, is codified under international law; it is simply to recognize the futility of trying to gain freedom in this particular case through the barrel of a gun and to see that disallowing Israel even the slightest pretext for its own incomparably greater violence is the surest path to creating the conditions necessary for Israel’s policies to no longer remain politically feasible.
It is up to the rest of us to support the Palestinians in that struggle. We must all rise up in solidarity with the oppressed and become active participants in this Third Intifada. The governments of the world aren’t going to get the job done. It is up to the informed citizens of the world to effect the paradigm shift required to compel state leaderships to cease being part of the problem and to do what is right for the victims on both sides.
That will require a change in the nature of the media’s reporting on the conflict, which, although a daunting task, in this age of the internet and social media is foreseeable. It is up to each of us who cares about human rights to take an active role in the discussion, to educate ourselves and others about the true nature of the Israel-Palestine conflict, and to share that knowledge with others by whatever means available. Enough people need to be knowledgeable enough about the conflict—and the US government’s role in it—that it no longer remains permissible for the mainstream media to serve as the government’s very own Ministry of Propaganda.
That is to say, it is time for the world’s citizens to free themselves from the indoctrination of the state religion and recognize that the state itself—as an institution fundamentally grounded in the use or threat of violence to compel desired behaviors—is the enemy of Liberty and of Peace. Yet so long as these political institutions remain on this planet, they ought to hold themselves to their own obligations under the treaties that comprise the body of international law—and they ought to hold each other’s leaderships accountable when those laws are violated and especially when war crimes are committed. It is toward this end that our collective efforts ought to be focused.
Peace can be achieved. There is a path to resolving the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. But we shouldn’t make the mistake of focusing so much on establishing respected borders between conflicting parties that we fail to realize what a peaceful, civilized world would look like: one without borders.
Timed to coincide with the anniversary of the ICJ’s 2004 advisory opinion, this week marks the official publication date of the author’s new book, Obstacle to Peace: The US Role in the Israeli-Palestinian Conflict. Empower yourself with the knowledge to become an effective voice for peace. Click here to learn how you can read the entire first chapter free and get an email primer course on the conflict.