In Opinion

PSC are working in collaboration with the New Statesman to produce a series of online articles on Israel’s illegal settlements and our campaign against them. This is the first article, first published on the New Statesman blog here.

By Hugh Lanning.

 

Israel is building Palestine out of existence, using settlements as a weapon to rewrite both history and the future. At the Palestinian Foreign Affairs Ministry, the response this July to yet another Israeli announcement of more settlements was a cry of frustration to the world: “automated and repetitive responses are no longer needed”[i].

This exasperation is quite understandable. Palestinians are living in an unrelenting groundhog day and are time and again confronted with the same inadequate international responses to Israeli violations. The cycle now follows a well-worn pattern: Israel makes an announcement giving permission for more settlements to be built; the world – the UN, EU, USA & UK – issue strongly worded statements[ii]; Israel ignores the statements, the settlements get built and Palestine disappears a bit more. The sequence then begins again.

It is now clear that statements alone, these “automated and repetitive responses” are not achieving anything. Unless supported by practical measures to bring its policy in line with its statements, the government cannot hope to advance the cause of a just peace for Palestinians. It needs to change tack and take action.

When it comes to settlements, we should be clear what we are talking about. Settlements aren’t little houses built on some deserted prairie. They are towns and cities built deliberately in the occupied West Bank and East Jerusalem in contravention of international law. The Geneva Convention[iii] states it is illegal for an occupying power, in this case Israel, to move and settle its own citizens in the territory it has occupied. There are now over 500,000 Israeli citizens living in these illegal Israeli settlements within occupied Palestine.

The settlements are an act of segregation. They are for Israelis only, Palestinians are not allowed in. They are served by their own road system, which Palestinians are not allowed to use. The settlements are built to occupy the strategic heights of the land and they control and monopolise the water sources that Palestinians had previously relied on.

Settlements are therefore not a victimless crime. The reality of settlement building has serious negative consequences for Palestinians today – and for the chances for peace in the future. Perhaps one of the best examples of this is the demolition of Palestinian homes and Bedouin villages at an ever-increasing rate. In the last week of August alone, in what can be considered a typical week for Palestinians, Israel demolished 28 Palestinians structures, displacing 55 people, including 20 children.[iv] History is being bulldozed with evidence of Palestinian habitation being removed, whilst the geographical reality of the future is being rewritten.

This is more than a tactical ploy by Israel to make any peace deal ever more to their advantage and at the same time ever more unlikely – it is a plan to submerge an occupied Palestine within a dominant Israeli state. Israel is colonising Palestine before the world’s eyes, in the knowledge that there will only be words in response from their allies in governments across the world.

Our Palestinian partners have made it clear to us at the Palestine Solidarity Campaign (PSC) that a key objective of our campaign should be to get our government to take action to stop settlement construction before it is too late. To do this, we know we need allies from across the political spectrum, in every political party.

Settlements are illegal – a fact already accepted by our government[v]. It is now a question of applying the law. If the issue of illegality in question was one of money-laundering or drug dealing – then complicity would be viewed as conspiring with the crime. And so it should be with settlements.

Those in Government, the parties and politicians who say they oppose the Israel’s settlements, should listen to the Palestinians when they ask them to stop making useless “automated and repetitive statements” of condemnation. Instead, they are saying, review the bi-lateral relations that in reality prop up the settlement regime. The EU did it; its research funding can now not be used within the settlements. The Berne Convention – an international law on hazardous waste – recently prevented Israel from illegally transporting waste from the settlements across borders[vi].  Taking action against settlements is possible; the only question is one of political will.

It is time for our government to use the levers at its disposal to stop the building of any more illegal settlements and ensure that the UK provides no further support to those that currently exist. Only if this is done can the Palestinians begin to believe that the world is truly interested in their rights, their freedom and a just peace for the region.

 


[i] http:// mondoweiss.net/2016/07/palestinian-ministry-condemnations/
“If these countries believe they absolve themselves from responsibility regarding Israel’s persistent violations of international law and international humanitarian law in the occupied Palestinian territory, especially the settlements policy, through issuing condemnations or expressing concerns, then we assure them that such automated and repetitive responses are no longer needed”

[ii] A British Consulate General team, headed by Deputy British Consul General, James Downer, visited the village of Susiya: https://www.gov.uk/government/world-location-news/british-consulate-general-reiterates-the-uks-support-to-susiya

“A senior US official told the AFP news agency that settlement expansion – as well as continuing demolitions of Palestinian homes – “fundamentally undermines the prospects for a two-state solution and risks entrenching a one-state reality of perpetual occupation and conflict”. http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/world-middle-east-37235922

[iii] Article 49 of the fourth Geneva Convention (to which Israel is a signatory) makes clear that, “the occupying power shall not deport or transfer parts of its own civilian population into the territory it occupies.” To do so is a war crime, indictable under the International Criminal Court. The illegality of Israel’s occupation and settlement construction has been reaffirmed by numerous UN resolutions, the International Committee for the Red Cross and a 2004 International Court of Justice ruling.

[iv] http://www.ochaopt.org/content/protection-civilians-weekly-report-16-22-august-2016

[v] https://www.gov.uk/government/news/statement-on-government-of-israels-decision-to-expand-settlements-in-the-west-bank

[vi] http://www.alhaq.org/advocacy/topics/housing-land-and-natural-resources/1066-environmental-rights-case-succeeds-in-holding-israel-accountable-for-illegal-hazardous-waste-dumping-in-palestine