This blog post aims to provide a full response to a letter written by Monique Walsh, (either current or ex-chair of Irish friends of Israel), on the 5th of November and published in the Irish Examiner. Her letter was designed in such a way that it was near impossible to write a succinct response to fit the tight confines of a letters page in an Irish newspaper.
So, in addition to 390 words I have sent in to the examiner, here is a point-by-point breakdown of my response to her (Ms Walsh’s words are in BLACK whilst mine are in RED):
Gary Spedding of Queen’s University Students’ Union (Letters, Oct 31) brands those facts that contradict his argument as Israeli government ‘propaganda’.
Monique Walsh (Letters, Nov 5th) illustrates perfectly the value of factual, rational debate, but only because her response hinges upon a series of omissions, half-truths, and gross misrepresentation.
Area C, of Judea-Samaria (the West Bank), is not “off limits” to Palestinians, as Mr Spedding says, but contains only 4% of the Palestinian Arab population (the rest have autonomous self-government in Areas A and B). This arrangement exists, not by “Israeli military edict”, but under the Oslo Accords, signed by both Israel and the Palestinian leadership in 1993-95.
One such omission is her failure to explain the administrative division, which split the West Bank into Areas A, B, and C under the Oslo Accords, in the context that such was an entirely interim scenario, leading toprogressively larger devolutions of land from Area C (Full Israeli control) to Areas A and B (Palestinian Control).Administration of Area C by Israel was supposed to be transitory, lasting no more than eighteen months, allowing Israel time to withdraw and redeploy for genuine security needs.
Eighteen years on, and the reality on the ground is untenable for the 180,000 Palestinians (5.8% as opposed to 4%) who, thanks to a Kafkaesque permit system (in place by military edict), find that over 80% of Area C, (a figure backed up by B’tselem’s report: by hook and by crook), is totally inaccessible to them.
About 2,500 Israeli military orders dictate how Palestinians live their lives, it was also not part of either Oslo Accord to impose access and movement restrictions clearly designed to make life so impractical that it forces the Palestinians to give up and leave.
Consisting of empty desert, Area C is also where most of the Jewish settlers live, on about 2% of the land of the West Bank, and where Israel maintains a military presence — to curtail the suicide bombers and terrorists who have, since Oslo, killed 1,500 Israelis
Two percent is indeed the total area of West Bank land where Israeli settlements are built up, however this figure is a prime example of numbers distorting reality; You see in addition to illegal settlements (2% of land), there are ‘security zones’ around the settlements (a further 10%), while over 30% consists of arbitrarily declared IDF “Firing Zones,” – I could go on till reaching the aforementioned 80% of land completely off-limits Palestinians.
Settlements are placed such that Israel controls the water, international borders, territorial continuity, and perhaps most importantly the largest Palestinian metropolitan areas, which are now essentially Bantustans. We must accept that ‘Palestinian autonomy’, when contextualised, exists within the framework of a permanent military occupation controlling these Bantustans from the outside. Surely Ms Walsh sees that this isn’t ‘autonomy’ no matter how flexible we are with the definition?
No lower debate exists, than that predicated on counting human beings who have died, especially when reference is made to fatalities on only one side of violent conflict. The 1,500 number given by Ms Walsh is of Israelis killed during the second intifada. My question is why she doesn’t reference the 5,848 people (regardless of ethnic origin, nationality, gender, age etc) who have perished since Oslo on both sides as consequence of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict?
I wonder if Ms Walsh notices the illogical rationale in placing or allowing civilians of the occupying power to settle in hostile territory. Can this really be about security if the settlements themselves, regarded as provocative acts of violence by Palestinians, are actually contributing to an insecure reality perpetuating a cycle of violence?
Another inconvenient fact is that most of those killed in the conflict have been civilians uninvolved in the fighting – it is strictly prohibited in international law in all circumstances to target civilians.
Mr Spedding conveniently blames what he calls the “illegal” Jewish settlements for the lack of peace.
It isn’t just I that has accurately identified illegal settlements as a major obstacle to peace. Another B’Tselem report ‘Acting the Landlord: Israel’s Policy in Area C, the West Bank’ (June 2013) details how Israel’s Civil Administration violates obligations to administer Area C for the benefit of the Palestinian population. Sections of the report reveal that implemented policy gives preference to Israeli and settlements’ interests whilst displacing Palestinians and exploiting the area’s resources to benefit solely Israel.
Israeli settlers bring with them a military presence, a different set of laws that see just 8.5% of investigations lead to indictment of Israelis suspected of harming Palestinians and their property, and in many cases; systematic violence is spasmodically used to terrorize the Palestinian people.
These innocent Palestinians have practically no access to legal protection or effective avenues of recourse as proven by the continued burning of olive trees, attacks upon olive pickers, human rights workers under assault, and home demolitions.
Under the laws governing military occupation, Palestinians residents of the West Bank who live under occupation are protected persons . That these people are protected by International Humanitarian Law (IHL), prohibiting Israel, as an ‘Occupying Power’, from forcibly transferring, evicting, deporting, displacing and destroying their property as ‘protected persons’ goes largely ignored both in official Israeli bodies and the wider international community.
To make it very clear; International human rights law protects the rights of all persons, including the rights to adequate housing, health, education, a decent standard of living, non-discrimination and self-determination.
Israel is not upholding these protections; in fact, Israeli police often fail to prosecute violence against Palestinians and there is serious unlawful discrimination as a direct result of the duplicitous duality of the legal system in the West Bank.
He might recall that not a single Jew lived in the West Bank in 1964, when the PLO was founded with the aim of destroying the “illegal” state of Israel, or in 1967, when four Arab states sent their armies to wipe out Israel.
Ms Walsh shouldn’t misrepresent my views with regards to Israel – a country I never claimed was illegal. Her narrative falsely implies the conflict begins when the PLO was founded in 1964. Surely we aren’t going to omit the Nakba (Palestinian catastrophe) of 1947/8 that saw hundreds of thousands of Palestinians forcibly displaced to make room for the new State of Israel?
Additionally I feel she may benefit from reading the Israeli foreign Ministry’s own record on the 1967 war. To quote Israeli Prime Minister Menachem Begin: “In June 1967 we again had a choice. The Egyptian army concentrations in the Sinai approaches do not prove that Nasser was really about to attack us. We must be honest with ourselves. We decided to attack him.” – This was the catalyst for the Six-Day-War.
Ms Walsh’s depiction of Arabs, – as genocidal fanatics determined to “wipe out Israel” -, is a racist stereotype that only serves to vilify and dehumanise Arabs as a collective people group.
Mr Spedding can chant the mantra of “illegal settlements” all he wants, but cannot abolish the right of Jews — conferred by the San Remo Treaty of 1920, confirmed by the League of Nations in September, 1922 — to settle anywhere west of the Jordan river. The 250,000 Jews of the West Bank live there by this right, which has never been rescinded.
Again, Ms Walsh attempts to beguile her audience, even misrepresenting my own views in her diatrab. I wouldn’t dream of abolishing the rights of Jews – even when her claims regarding San Remo are inaccurate – because this isn’t about the ethnicity of the settlers but rather the discrimination meted out towards Palestinians as a result of settlements that even US Secretary of State just acknowledged are illegitimate. To explore this deeper one must explain the blindingly obvious difference between Jews living somewhere, and Israeli citizens acting as extension of the Israeli State (otherwise known as the occupying power).
If as a British Citizen, I purchase a house tomorrow in France, Italy or even occupied Western Sahara it does not then become a sovereign part of the British State – why then when Israelis move to the Occupied Palestinian Territories does the State of Israel technically extent its domestic laws to those settlements? Not only do Israeli citizens receive encouragement, but actual subsidies, infrastructure and support from the Israeli state in most instances.
Why does Israel pressure the Palestinian so-called leadership so hard to relinquish their right to 100% of the occupied territories in peace negotiations, could it be that Israel is trying to avoid accountability for it’s illegal settlement enterprise by pre-empting the outcome of talks (they already did this by using the settlements as facts on the ground) so Palestinians again give up their right to legal recourse at the International Criminal Court?
International law is being completely ignored here despite being crystal clear; “The Occupying Power shall not deport or transfer parts of its own civilian population into the territory it occupies.” – Article 49, 4th Geneva Convention.
As Israel has a 20% Arab minority, why cannot a future Palestinian state have a 10% Jewish minority?
There is no reason a truly viable Palestinian state, once a just resolution to the conflict occurs, cannot be home to a Jewish minority as long as they don’t extend a foreign power (Israel)’s law with them to the State of Palestine.
Or is Mr Spedding telling us there are places on the planet where Jews may not be allowed to live?
As for Israel ‘crippling’ the Palestinian economy, the Jewish settlements employ at least 15,000 Palestinian-Arab worker – supporting 60,000-70,000 dependents – who are paid double the average West Bank wage.
Employment of Palestinians in illegal settlements highlights the extent of Israel’s exploitation of a captive workforce and economy. Kav Laoved published a report in 2012, revealing the obstacles, and forms of exploitation faced by Palestinians when employed in the settlements.
Palestinians working in the settlements are prevented from unionizing, have little-to-no legal protections, are not protected by robust enforcement of Israel’s labor law and are at constant risk of losing their job any moment, either the whim of their employer, or the Civil Administration that can revoke work permits at a moments notice.
Let’s add another dimension by noting that according to the World Bank, the inability of Palestinians to consistently access agricultural land in Area C has resulted in the loss of $480 million annually and around 110,000 jobs.
Take these away and you would then cripple the economy.
Israel should remove illegal settlements, end the occupation, and adhere to its obligations under international law.
Do these things and watch the Palestinian economy symbiotically compliment a just peace for all concerned.