Culture of contempt
Israel adopts ever more cynical positions vis-à-vis world opinion to continue settlement expansion, writes Stephen Lendman
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Israeli settlements are the most glaring extension of Zionist settler colonialism to date: a terrible testament to human amnesia and the greed of the oppressor
An estimated 500,000 Jews reside illegally in over 120 West Bank and East Jerusalem settlements and dozens of outposts. Their numbers grow daily despite occasional pledges to curtail or slow them, the latest last November when Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu declared a 10-month freeze, calling it a move to "help launch meaningful negotiations to reach a historic peace agreement that would finally end the conflict between Israel and the Palestinians".
The freeze, of course, was rhetoric with no substance, especially so given Israel's plan to make all Jerusalem a Jewish city, according to Netanyahu, an extremist hard-right zealot. During the Jerusalem Day ceremony (commemorating the city's 1967 reunification) on 22 May, 2009, he declared: "United Jerusalem is Israel's capital. Jerusalem was always ours and will always be ours. It will never again be partitioned and divided."
For East Jerusalem Palestinians this means removing them one settlement expansion and home demolition at a time.
On 26 February Haaretz reported that Israel "plans to build another 600 homes in East Jerusalem" on occupied Palestinian land. On 10 March, Israel's Interior Ministry approved 1,600 homes in Ramat Shlomo, "an ultra- Orthodox East Jerusalem neighborhood", during US Vice-President Joe Biden's visit to restart peace talks. A day later Haaretz reported that planning officials had confirmed "some 50,000 new housing units in Jerusalem neighbourhoods beyond the Green Line are in various stages of planning and approval". Plans for 20,000 apartments "are in advanced stages of approval and implementation, while plans for the remainder have yet to be submitted to the planning committees".
According to Ir Amin (Activists for a Stable and Equitable Jerusalem) construction this vast "will move Israel beyond the point of no return, and render conflict resolution impossible".
So much for Netanyahu's earlier disingenuous announcement that "a policy of restraint regarding settlements [will] include a suspension of new permits and new construction in Judea and Samaria for a period of ten months [as well as] a promise to enable normal life to continue for three hundred thousand Israeli citizens, our brothers and sisters, who live in Judea and Samaria".
Unlimited East Jerusalem expansions continue where 200,000 Jews already live on expropriated Palestinian land. In addition, thousands of West Bank housing units and other constructions continue or are planned, as Netanyahu explained last November. "When the suspension ends, my government will revert to the policies of previous governments in relation to construction" -- which means expropriating Palestinian land is policy, and no plans will change it.
Netanyahu then added that:
- Housing already underway will continue.
- "We will continue to build synagogues, schools, kindergartens and public buildings essential for normal [settlement] life."
- "We do not put any restrictions on building in our sovereign capital", referring to East and West Jerusalem, even though the former is occupied territory.
On 17 February Haaretz chief political columnist Akiva Eldar wrote, "you'd have to be blind, an idiot, or a member of the Yesha Council of Settlements to use the term 'freeze' to describe the real estate situation in Judea and Samaria." Among other projects, a new Ariel industrial zone continues, leading Eldar to add, tongue in cheek, that "it seems that the freeze [in] new industrial zones in national priority zones... in the heart of the West Bank is not at the top of the [government's] list of priorities."
NATIONAL PRIORITY AREAS (NPAS): On 13 December, 2009, the Netanyahu government approved Decision 1060, "Defining Towns and Areas with National Priority", classifying Israeli and West Bank areas as NPAs. In Israel 40 per cent of residents are Arab Israelis, sure to lose out because officials may decide where and in what amounts funding will be directed. As a result, Adalah, The Legal Centre for Arab Minority Rights in Israel, contested the move before Israel's High Court of Justice (HCJ).
On 15 February, 1998 Netanyahu's first government approved Decision 3292, classifying 553 "A" and "B" towns and villages as NPAs, only four of them Arab, a decision Adalah also challenged, for the High Follow-Up Committee for Arab Citizens of Israel and the Follow-Up Committee for Arab Education, on the grounds that it discriminated against non-Jews. On 27 February, 2006, the HCJ agreed, saying the law should not give the government or its officials sweeping authority to distribute benefits and budget allocations arbitrarily. It allowed one year for implementation. It is still waiting.
In June 2009, the Knesset passed the NPA Law as a provision of the Economic Arrangements Law, contradicting the HCJ's ruling. Its language is vague. It doesn't define an NPA or list qualifying towns and villages, what funding they will get, or over what period of time. It allows officials to distribute benefits as they wish, based on whatever criteria they decide. It defies the HCJ ruling by granting the government broad discretionary powers, extending earlier government decisions to 13 January, 2012, six years after the court's ruling.
Despite strong Knesset opposition the law passed. According to attorney Ben Yitzhak, counsel to the Knesset's Finance Committee: "The legislative proposal, as presently submitted here, does not include any mechanism of oversight or control by the Knesset... The fundamental rule, which the Supreme Court has also reiterated, is that legislation must anchor the general policy and the guiding criteria in the foundation of the action and legislative objective. [In] this sense, [it] constitutes a deviation from these models." Other MKs said it was in contempt of the HCJ ruling.
Israeli governments have a history of ignoring or contravening court rulings and doing as they please, without fear of recrimination from Israel's highest judicial body which talks loudly but carries a small stick.
Based on the new NPA law, the government classified NPAs by four criteria:
- Periphery areas and socio-economic classifications.
- Security threat levels.
- Distance from an international border.
- Whether a community has been established in the past five years.
Only regions being funded were specified, not specific towns, with officials receiving sweeping authority to allocate money for elementary, secondary and higher education; housing and urban development; employment; engineering infrastructure and culture and sport.
NPA designation can exclude towns and villages and permit broad distribution discretion. Even government officials expressed concern, arguing that the system of awarding benefits could result in a differentiation between towns or villages in the same district, or a differentiation within a town or village.
The decision further says that, because of budget constraints, 25 per cent at most of population of NPAs will be beneficiaries. It allows officials to distribute some benefits to one town but not another, adding to a discriminatory bias that will totally exclude Arab areas and favour wealthier Jewish areas over others.
As in America, the rich take care of their own, though doing so contradicts the NPA's avowed aim, which is to help poorer areas, including Arab ones, not well-off communities.
The NPA law also includes West Bank settlements under the "level of security threat" criterion, though this is illegal under international law.
In addition, though NPA settlements will be funded for whatever purposes officials decide they are defined at a district and regional level. In other words, for funding purposes, a distinction is made between a designated area and individual towns and villages within it.
Adalah will contest the law, arguing that the government has failed to implement the HCJ ruling in the High Follow-Up Committee Case.
NATIONAL HERITAGE SITES: All countries have them, including Israel. In 2001 the ancient Masada fortress was designated, and in 2003 Tel Aviv's "White City", over 4,000 Bauhaus or International Style buildings designed by German Jewish architects emigrating to escape the Nazis.
Establishing heritage sites in Israel is one thing, in occupied Palestine another. Yet in February Netanyahu added Hebron's Cave of the Patriachs and Bethlehem's Rachel's Tomb to the list, saying the right-wing religious Shas Party had persuaded him to include them, no matter they are in occupied Palestine, not Israel, and thus illegal under international law.
MKs reacted to the decision. The left of centre Meretz party chairman, Haim Oron, said: "This is an attempt to blur the lines between the state of Israel and the occupied territories. Just a little pressure from the right and Netanyahu caves. This decision casts the prime minister's... declaration [for] two states for two peoples in a ridiculous light."
For MK Talab Al-Sana of the United Arab List-Taal: "The government's decision attests to its cynical criteria that would include places holy to Muslims and Christians," besides being a thinly veiled way to expropriate more Palestinian land in defiance of international law.
Israeli extremist elements praised the decision, as did Knesset hard-liners.
A Palestinian Centre for Human Rights (PCHR) press release condemned it, saying it "was taken on the eve of the 16th anniversary of the mass killing of 29 Palestinian worshippers in the Ibrahimi Mosque by an Israeli settler, Baroch Goldstein, on 25 February 1994".
The decision to include the sites violates the 1954 Hague Convention for the Protection of Cultural Property in the Event of Armed Conflict, which defines such property as "movable or immovable property of great importance to the cultural heritage of every people".
Article 2 of the convention calls for "the protection of cultural property [to include] the safeguarding of and respect for such property" while Article 9 of its Second Protocol prohibits "any illicit export, other removal or transfer of ownership of cultural property".
The Fourth Geneva convention designates "extensive destruction and appropriation of property, not justified by military necessity and carried out unlawfully and wantonly" a grave Convention breach.
The 1999 review of the 1954 Hague Convention and Second Protocol updates "military necessity" to include a "proportionality" prohibition against disproportionate, indiscriminate force likely to cause damage to or loss of lives and objects. The 2004 Cairo Declaration on the Protection of Cultural Property affirmed the 1954 Hague Convention principle that "damage to cultural property belonging to any people whatsoever means damage to the cultural heritage of all humankind, since each people makes its contribution to the culture of the world".
Israel has repeatedly violated fundamental international laws it is committed to upholding and has yet to be held accountable. What cannot go on forever will not, though it requires grassroots pressure to end such violations.