Wash Post:Want to Stop Israeli Settlements? Start With Americans

Ronit Avni, the Executive Director of Just Vision has a very important op-ed in today’s Washington Post. The points she makes about American private support for the settlement enterprise should be taken to heart by all.

I agree with Ronit when she says “I am not suggesting that non-profits should lose their tax advantages simply because they are at odds with American foreign policy. But the settlements are widely considered a violation of international law.” There is certainly a legal question there that should be discussed and decided.

But I’d make another point in addition to that one. There are a great many Americans, Jewish and otherwise, who are concerned about Israel’s future and the human rights of the Palestinians, both of which are seriously threatened by the settlements. And it’s important, to be sure, for those folks to support President Obama and American peace groups. Continue reading

A Note To Commenters

It is my intention to maintain this site as a place where people can comment freely. That does not, however, mean that there are no guidelines.

The subject we deal with here is bound to stir up passions. I do, however, insist that we all keep the conversation to debating, however passionately, the issues and not the characters of others. Please confine your comments to matters of substance and not to your own views of the personalities of other commenters.

I do not believe that, in recent conversations, there has been anything I would call a terrible breach of that guideline, but I’ve been doing this long enough to see when it is starting to veer in that direction. So, this is a pre-emptive caution. If folks cannot keep to matters of substance, I will have to moderate all comments. That’s something I do not find desirable, and something I do not really have time for. If I have to go that route, it opens the possibility that I might then, due to time constraints, be forced to turn off comments entirely.

So let’s keep this an open forum, where we deal with the substantive issues with respect for each other, even when we disagree. We operate under the premise that, whether one supports the Israeli view or the Palestinian one or any shade of grey in between, we do so because we believe that view is right and just. And we therefore argue the issues, not each other’s motivations, character or other personal issues.

Thanks in advance for everyone’s cooperation.

B’Tselem: Hamas must release Gilad Shalit immediately and unconditionally

For three years, Gilad Shalit has languished in captivity. That captivity is illegal and both the way it has been managed by Hamas as well as Shalit’s capture itself do not fall within the boundaries of “prisoner of war” status, but rather that of a hostage. Hostage-taking is a blatant violation of international law. Today, as Shalit enters his fourth year of imprisonment, the organization I work for, B’Tselem, has renewed its call for his release.

Noam Shalit holding a picture of his son, Gilad

Noam Shalit holding a picture of his son, Gilad

It often happens that when one discusses Shalit the response is “what about all the Palestinian prisoners being illegally held by Israel?” B’Tselem, of course, does enormous and extensive work on that issue (click here for some of it). But it is important to break the linkage of such issues.

The crimes of one side do not justify crimes on the other side, and that holds true even if the scale or frequency is very different. The issue of Palestinian prisoners must not be linked to Shalit because whether he is freed or not, the issue remains the same. By the same token, whether those Palestinian prisoners are freed (or at least in many cases, tried) or not has no bearing on the need to free Shalit.

It is precisely that principle that is crucial for any hope, in terms of politics or diplomacy as well as human rights, to be realized. Israel and the Palestinians must do what is right, what is demanded by both law and by human decency, for its own sake. Of course, it is true that security concerns and concerns for the protection of people’s rights to land, life and dignity often make this much more difficult to accomplish than to say. But it should remain the goal and, at the least, the idea that one party’s crimes can be used to justify the other side disregarding the law or the norms of human rights must be categorically rejected. Continue reading

Ehud Gives Barack the Finger

The Israeli human rights group, Bimkom, has revealed that Defense Minister Ehud Barak has authorized the drawing up of plans for 300 new apartment units in the West Bank.

Such new building would be a slap in the face to the Obama administration under any circumstances. But the fact that the units are planned not for an authorized settlement (i.e., one which is legal under Israeli law, but, like all

Obama may not be feeling quite so chummy with Barak these days

Obama may not be feeling quite so chummy with Barak these days

settlements, remains illegal under international law), but for an “illegal outpost” doubles the insult.

The 300 units are planned for the outpost of Givat Habrecha, near the settlement of Talmon. Talmon itself was set up only in 1994, so it’s pretty hard to see where this can possibly be covered under the guise of “natural growth,” which even the Netanyahu government has conceded would limit settlement building.

At this writing, there has been a conspicuous silence from the Obama administration on this matter. It’s possible it’s being dealt with behind the scenes, but even if so, the credibility of Obama’s anti-settlement stance is being tested here. He needs to do something, not merely object, publicly.

It’s true that these units are only in the planning stage, and ground-breaking for them is still a ways off. But for Obama, the time is now. This is a matter of pure defiance, a US ally simply thumbing its nose, with no good reason behind it, at American policy. By itself, this won’t destroy Obama’s credibility, but if Israel is seen to be free to ignore American wishes, it bodes very ill on many levels.

In a further blow to Israel’s ability to claim it is a “country of law,” the area planned for the units is adjacent to structures already built on privately owned Palestinian land, and, Bimkom suggests, the declaration of the area for the new construction as state lands is a bid to “whitewash” the construction that has already taken place there. And sadly, it is merely symptomatic of the widespread construction in the West Bank which has been done illegally, both by the state and by private individuals and companies which the “country of law” turns a blind eye to.

Unnatural Growth and the Folly of Tony Judt

In my latest piece for Zeek magazine, I take on the absurd argument for granting exceptions for “natural growth” in a settlement freeze. I also discuss what it will take for President Obama to take such a freeze and make it something significant in the long term. This is crucial, because there is a serious danger that all a freeze will be is a brief stoppage in construction, causing a lot of tension between the US and Israel, expending a great deal of political capital and

Areas of settlement jurisdiction, courtesy of BTselem

Areas of settlement jurisdiction, courtesy of B'Tselem. Area within the municipal boundary Area within the borders of the Regional Councils

ending up with little gain.

But I want to mention one more point. In today’s New York Times, British historian Tony Judt, who has come under frequent criticism for his support for a single state solution in Israel-Palestine, has an op-ed arguing that Israel will not remove any settlements, ever and a freeze is in fact a defeat for American efforts for peace.

I don’t want to spend much time deconstructing Judt’s argument. He’s made some interesting ones in the past, but this one is pretty weak. The op-ed betrays a lack of understanding of modern Israel (Judt seems stuck in an image of Israel that is nearly 50 years out of date), and of the settlement issue. Judt uses Ma’ale Adumim as emblematic of settlements and why they will not be removed.

And here is the point. Ma’ale Adumim, like Ariel and the Gush Etzion region are the built-up “blocs” that are generally referred to as possibly remaining in Israeli hands in the event of a peace deal. Gush Etzion is both the most likely to remain Israeli and the least problematic geographically. Ariel and Ma’ale Adumim both extend well into the West Bank and it will take some creativity to figure out how to reconcile a contiguous and viable Palestinian state with those settlements becoming part of Israel. Continue reading

B’Tselem’s Video Project

There is always the question about impact in this work. Is it just reporting and kvetching, or is there some practical impact?

Nasser a-Nawaj’ah (right), Camera distribution project coordinator for the Southern Hebron Hills, and ‘Imad Rashid, a participant in the project

Nasser a-Nawaj’ah (right), Camera distribution project coordinator for the Southern Hebron Hills, and ‘Imad Rashid, a participant in the project

B’Tselem’s video project has a real impact. Not only does it break the silence around the abuses that soldiers and settlers perpetrate on Palestinians, but it serves as a deterrent. The cameras have produced videos that have been watched millions of times on YouTube as well as being frequently broadcast all over Israeli and international television, including CNN.

But the most powerful role the cameras play is to give Palestinians a non-violent way to defend themselves, without relying on the usually unresponsive Israeli military and judicial system.

B’Tselem has gotten a special award from One World Media in London. It’s a really great program and one deserving of your support.

Great Article On the “Natural Growth” Argument

I strongly recommend this article at Zeek magazine on the current debate between Israel and the US on natural growth, what a settlement freeze could mean and what next steps Obama needs to take. The author writes further on the point at his blog here.