FacebookTwitterGoogle+RedditEmail

After 50 years, Time for a Paradigm Shift

Photo by zeevveez | CC BY 2.0

At what point does an occupation transform into something entirely different? Is fifty years enough? Half a century after Israel’s 1967 lightning takeover of the West Bank, East Jerusalem and Gaza, is it still accurate to characterize its control of these territories as a “military occupation,” which by definition has always meant a temporary phenomenon?

Occupations are at the core military systems established to regulate the temporary presence and behavior of a foreign army over a conquered territory and its indigenous population. The underlying assumption informing the law of occupation is that a pronounced de facto and de jure difference exists between the occupying country and the territory it has occupied.

Yet, over the past fifty years the Green Line separating pre-1967 Israel from the areas it captured has been geographically and politically erased. In addition to connecting the two regions with roads, electricity grids, and a customs union, Israel has moved hundreds of thousands of settlers to East Jerusalem and the West Bank, including today two Supreme Court Justices, several Cabinet and Knesset Members and numerous other public servants.

Far from ameliorating this situation, the Oslo process—which is today almost half as old as the Occupation itself—enabled its intensification. Effectively, then, for well over a generation there has been one state between the Jordan Valley and the Mediterranean Sea, and the Israeli government is its sovereign.

The UN Security Council, the International Court of Justice, most every country one earth and even Israel’s own High Court consider the territories occupied in 1967 to be legally separate from Israel, in which the laws of occupation apply. Decades of reports by Palestinian, Israeli and international human rights organizations unequivocally demonstrate Israel’s systematic violations of these laws.

Israel’s responses to these accusations have been twofold. First, like other human rights abusers, the government does whatever it can to deny, rebut, or muddy the claims. Second, the Israeli government denies even the applicability of the laws of occupation, arguing that because the West Bank, Gaza and East Jerusalem were not legally part of Egypt and Jordan before the war they are merely “disputed,” meaning Israel has a free hand to expropriate and settle the land while denying Palestinians rights otherwise guaranteed by international law.

Ironically, today both the most virulent supporters and harshest critics of Israel’s ongoing control of the conquered territories believe the debate over whether they are occupied is no longer relevant.

On the one hand, many if not most members of the present ruling coalition in Israel would like to end the debate about the legal status of the Palestinian territories by simply annexing much if not all of the West Bank (Israel annexed East Jerusalem already in 1967), transforming the de facto annexation into a de jure one while leaving Gaza’s fate to the international community.

On the other hand, a growing number of Palestinian and even Israeli human rights advocates believe that after fifty years of unrelenting repression and settlement the occupation itself rather than its specific manifestations has become illegal. Indeed, the correct term to describe such a situation is no longer occupation. It is Apartheid.

Critics of the use of the Apartheid label argue that it is a false analogy, claiming that the historical and political experiences in both countries are too different to justify using such a highly charged and historically specific term vis-a-vis Israel. But the fact that Israel’s system of ethnic domination and exclusion is different from South Africa’s no more delegitimizes its categorization as an Apartheid system than the unique experiences of Italy and France would challenge their similar characterization as democracies.

Apartheid—not only in its South African experience, but in its clear definition under international law (particularly through the 1973 International Covenant on the Suppression and Punishment of the Crime of Apartheid)–possesses a fundamental characteristic that defines its practice wherever it exists: “two populations, one of them endowed with all the civil rights and the other denied all rights.”

These words come not from the 1973 Covenant but from the mouth of Israel’s greatest diplomat, Abba Eban, who uttered them less than a week after the conclusion of the Six Day War in warning his colleagues such a situation would be very hard to defend. But they anticipate the Covenant’s description of Apartheid as “systematic oppression and domination by one racial group over any other racial group or groups and committed with the intention of maintaining that regime” (in international law, “race” has a far broader meaning than in standard English, encompassing any socially constructed identity in a particular setting).

Understanding Israel as an Apartheid system reveals the urgent need for a paradigm shift in how we understand and attempt to transform the political reality in Israel and Palestine. Instead of asking how to end the occupation and create two states, decision-makers need to consider how to democratize the one state reality existing between the River and the Sea. Instead of continuing to use the law of occupation to criticize Israel’s policies, new tools need to be developed to secure the Palestinian right to self determination within a context where territorially grounded statehood is no longer (and likely never was) a possibility.

In this context, far from singling out Israel, the Apartheid label would normalize it, allowing the same broad range of strategies that have worked elsewhere to be deployed here, giving Israelis and Palestinians alike new tools to fight for a peaceful, just and democratic future for all the country’s inhabitants. After fifty years of violence, oppression and war both peoples deserve a better future. Admitting the reality of Apartheid is the first step in that direction.

Neve Gordon is Leverhulme visiting fellow in the department of political science and international studies at SOAS. 

Mark LeVine is professor of history at UC Irvine and Distinguished Visiting Professor at the Center for Middle Eastern Studies at Lund University. Together with a group of Palestinian and Israeli scholars they are collaborating on a forthcoming book on the Occupation at fifty for the University of California Press.

First published in Al Jazeera.

Weekend Edition
August 17, 2018
Friday - Sunday
Daniel Wolff
The Aretha Dialogue
Nick Pemberton
Donald Trump and the Rise of Patriotism 
Joseph Natoli
First Amendment Rights and the Court of Popular Opinion
Andrew Levine
Midterms 2018: What’s There to Hope For?
Robert Hunziker
Hothouse Earth
Jeffrey St. Clair
Roaming Charges: Running Out of Fools
Ajamu Baraka
Opposing Bipartisan Warmongering is Defending Human Rights of the Poor and Working Class
Paul Street
Corporate Media: the Enemy of the People
David Macaray
Trump and the Sex Tape
CJ Hopkins
Where Have All the Nazis Gone?
Daniel Falcone
The Future of NATO: an Interview With Richard Falk
Cesar Chelala
The Historic Responsibility of the Catholic Church
Ron Jacobs
The Barbarism of US Immigration Policy
Kenneth Surin
In Shanghai
William Camacaro - Frederick B. Mills
The Military Option Against Venezuela in the “Year of the Americas”
Nancy Kurshan
The Whole World Was Watching: Chicago ’68, Revisited
Robert Fantina
Yemeni and Palestinian Children
Alexandra Isfahani-Hammond
Orcas and Other-Than-Human Grief
Shoshana Fine – Thomas Lindemann
Migrants Deaths: European Democracies and the Right to Not Protect?
Paul Edwards
Totally Irrusianal
Thomas Knapp
Murphy’s Law: Big Tech Must Serve as Censorship Subcontractors
Mark Ashwill
More Demons Unleashed After Fulbright University Vietnam Official Drops Rhetorical Bombshells
Ralph Nader
Going Fundamental Eludes Congressional Progressives
Hans-Armin Ohlmann
My Longest Day: How World War II Ended for My Family
Matthew Funke
The Nordic Countries Aren’t Socialist
Daniel Warner
Tiger Woods, Donald Trump and Crime and Punishment
Dave Lindorff
Mainstream Media Hypocrisy on Display
Jeff Cohen
Democrats Gather in Chicago: Elite Party or Party of the People?
Victor Grossman
Stand Up With New Hope in Germany?
Christopher Brauchli
A Family Affair
Jill Richardson
Profiting From Poison
Patrick Bobilin
Moving the Margins
Alison Barros
Dear White American
Celia Bottger
If Ireland Can Reject Fossil Fuels, Your Town Can Too
Ian Scott Horst
Less Voting, More Revolution
Peter Certo
Trump Snubbed McCain, Then the Media Snubbed the Rest of Us
Dan Ritzman
Drilling ANWR: One of Our Last Links to the Wild World is in Danger
Brandon Do
The World and Palestine, Palestine and the World
Chris Wright
An Updated and Improved Marxism
Daryan Rezazad
Iran and the Doomsday Machine
Patrick Bond
Africa’s Pioneering Marxist Political Economist, Samir Amin (1931-2018)
Louis Proyect
Memoir From the Underground
Binoy Kampmark
Meaningless Titles and Liveable Cities: Melbourne Loses to Vienna
Andrew Stewart
Blackkklansman: Spike Lee Delivers a Masterpiece
Elizabeth Lennard
Alan Chadwick in the Budding Grove: Story Summary for a Documentary Film
FacebookTwitterGoogle+RedditEmail