Sunday, October 21, 2012

Beyond Occupation: Apartheid, Colonialism and International Law in the Occupied Palestinian Territories


Apartheid, colonialism and international law in the occupied Palestinian territoriesThis review was first published in Middle East Monitor here.

Flouting international human rights law and international humanitarian law, Israel's occupation of Palestine veers towards the illegal and illegitimate. Beyond Occupation: Apartheid, Colonialism and International law in the Occupied Palestinian Territories (Pluto Press, 2012) evaluates Israel's belligerent occupation and violation of international law, with particular reference to colonialism and apartheid practices, as well as the international community's alienation from doing anything concrete about Israel's illegalities, thus ensuring the state's strategy of establishing a deviating narrative.

Israel's near-irrevocable occupation exhibits demographic control. Land purchase, forced displacement of Palestinians, political marginalisation and exclusion from labour created instability for Palestinians, who sought to form a culture of resistance to combat a collective construction of Jewish identity on occupied land. Zionism deconstructs the culture of resistance to "violence of the resistance", thus obscuring its own illegal practices and oppression within the Occupied Palestinian Territories (OPTs).

Whilst international law provides general obligations for states to end colonialism and apartheid, enforcement is incongruous. Colonialism is not considered a crime and carries no individual criminal responsibility. Whilst international humanitarian law declares the occupying power's responsibility towards "protected persons", excluding Israelis, human rights law demands a general protection for people under its control. Israel has conveniently neglected international human rights law in order to preserve Jewish identity and promote a series of "peace talks" which are dominated with security concerns, thus diverting attention from the realities of colonialism and apartheid in the OPTs.

The book acknowledges arguments by the international community brought against accusations of colonial and apartheid practices - some render the practice obsolete, others associating it with European domination over non-white lands. Another viewpoint excluding consideration of colonialism and apartheid is the establishment of the state of Israel in 1948. However, the obliteration of Palestinian's right to self determination is equivalent to colonial practice. As the Declaration on Colonialism (1960) states, "The subjection of people to alien subjugation, domination and exploitation constitutes a denial of fundamental human rights, is contrary to the Charter of the UN and is an impediment to the promotion of world peace and cooperation." Apartheid has been defined as a systematic oppressive system over minority groups - declared a crime by the Apartheid Convention (1973).

Yet, despite Israel's negations with regard to its practices of colonialism and apartheid, its laws and actions suggest otherwise. The World Zionist Organisation's Jerusalem Programme sets the scene for systematic racial discrimination as it describes "settling the country as an expansion of practical Zionism." Besides declaring the state of Israel as "the creation of the entire Jewish people" and insisting on immigration rights for every Jew, Palestinians have been excluded by laws distinguishing between citizenship and nationality.

The book delves further into Israeli policies marginalising Palestinians. The overstepping of stipulated boundaries allocated to Jews is referred to as "administered" or "disputed" in order to avoid implications alluding to the right of self-determination. Land appropriation and management was a conscious action destined to deprive Palestinians of political unity. The Zionist Master Plan explicitly advocates in favour of land seizure: "The best and most effective way to remove any shred of doubt regarding our intention to hold Judea and Samaria forever is a rapid settlement drive in these areas." The Gaza Strip is affected by occupation relics. Despite troops being withdrawn from the territory in 2005, Israel still maintains control over the airspace, territorial waters, borders and population records.

Notably, the book delves into Israeli law to produce evidence of apartheid. Israel practices legal segregation. Whilst Jews are held accountable through civil law procedures, military legislation rules Palestinians in the OPTs. The military is authorised to commit serious human rights violations, including land seizure and destruction of villages, defined by Israel's military law as a "humanitarian undertaking". Further, mass detention of Palestinians is encouraged. Military legislation deems it legal to detain Palestinians for up to two years before being brought to trial, resulting in mass incarceration. Torture has not been abolished from Israeli law and is considered an act of omission "performed in good faith". The assassination of Palestinians suspected of "terror activities" is also legal and considered a necessity by the Israeli authorities, owing to the supposed difficulty of arresting suspects.

Besides the legal ramifications to the detriment of Palestinians, Israel also contributes towards their destruction by limiting water, electricity, fuel and medicine. According to the book, despite there not being enough evidence to construct a case for genocide, there is intent to fragment the Palestinian community physically, coupled with labour exploitation, destruction of schools and curfews destined to annihilate any process of culture recuperation.

Israel's tenacity towards apartheid practices has been strengthened by the international community's lenient stance towards the resulting atrocities. Although Israel emerges as the main perpetrator, there is no doubt that the failure to hold Israel accountable for its ongoing criminal process against Palestinians contributes to the illegalities. This necessitates a rethinking of roles and obligations of the international community with regard to oppressor powers. So far, there has been a trend of manipulation which seems destined to ingrain itself more deeply - an inhumane show of support in favour of oppressive governments in order to further the divide between the oppressor and the oppressed, which then relies of a network of regulations and conventions which are cited and rarely applied.

It is not without evidence that in his book The UN and Human Rights: Who Guards the Guardians? Guglielmo Verdirame departs from the premise that the United Nations violates human rights. The creation of refugee camps and endorsing a restriction of freedom of movement resonates in Beyond Occupation, albeit in different circumstances such as the denial of the right to return to Palestine, restricted working and trade conditions, separate road networks for Palestinians and heightened border control. The United Nations has failed the Palestinians by hesitating time and again to take the necessary measures to combat Israel's violations. As the book states, "Failure by the United Nations to combat apartheid when it is in a position to do so is no different from a failure to prevent genocide."

The preface suggests the general reader might, on first glance, find the book too daunting as it relies heavily on a discussion of legal frameworks. However, the book explains legal ramifications meticulously, rendering this treatise a compelling read with an authoritative conclusion - the various facades of complicity and irresponsibility consolidating Israel's belligerent occupation; an occupation which should have been denounced as illegal, had the international community not been so intentionally alienated.

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