May Israelis live in Palestine?

According to international law, the civilians of an occupier may not live in the territory it occupies (see Article 46 of The Hague Convention, Article 49, par 6 of the Fourth Geneva Convention, UN Security Council Resolution 465, and the 9 July 2004 ruling of the International Court of Justice in The Hague.)

But what happens in reality? 

Israel has an active and official policy of settling Jews from all over the world (read this as people with NO genetic links to the Holy Land) in East Jerusalem and in the West Bank. More than 650 000 Israeli settlers live illegally in the West Bank and in East Jerusalem.  Yet this illegal occupation in Palestine continues with the world seemingly standing by.

What is the role of these illegal Israeli settlers? 

Take for example, the case of Asira:

The inhabitants of Asira, one of the Palestinian villages south of Nablus in the West Bank,  suffer regular and serious harassment from the outposts of the Israeli Yitzhar settlement.  Since 2008, crops were burnt, Molotov cocktails were thrown, houses were demolished, cars were destroyed, and olive trees were cut down.  In 2011 settlers also started to throw paint bombs at the houses.

My team (EAPPI Team 41, Yanoun group) visited Nahla (37) and her children at their house in September 2011.  Nahla’s husband is a taxi driver, and in fact he once drove us from Ramallah to Za’tara when we left Jerusalem to go to our placements.  He leaves home early in the morning and return late in the evenings.  Their house is somewhat isolated from the rest of the town.  There are beautiful red roses in the garden.

Nahla and two of her children, note the mesh to protect the window

On average, settlers harasses this family three times a week, but sometimes it is more.  The star of David and the word SAM are sprayed all over their house’s exterior walls… there are also fire marks… the windows are all protected by mesh… in many, many places stonework are damaged by bullets…

Nahla talked to us with a weary smile. She gave us cool drinks, and later, some coffee.

The family took a loan for a fence to safeguard their house.  Now they need an additional 5000 NIS (about R10 000) to get a permit to build the fence around the house.

As I listened to her, I felt weary too…

All Israeli settlements in the West Bank are in complete violation of international law.

What about Christians?

Christians across the world often confuse the Israel of the Bible with the current state of Israel.  And so uninformed Christians uphold a theology of exclusivity and deny Palestinians the land given to them by the United Nations in 1948. Such Christians forget that Palestinians had absolutely nothing to do with the terrible Holocaust. They view Palestinians as faceless terrorists and turn a blind eye when Israel takes more and more of this land. We forget that there are Christians too in Palestine. We think it is fine if the Palestinians have only 22% left of what was given to them in 1948. We agree that Israel may occupy, in multiple, institutionalised, degrading ways, a further 60% of the 22% in the West Bank. Ghaza too is like a open air prison since Israel controls the air space, the sea fare and access on land.

We use the Bible to justify suppression.  Through us, the unthinkable becomes normal. Because we cannot imagine Israel being guilty of crimes against humanity – it simply feels wrong.  Weren’t they at the receiving side of crimes during the terrible Holocaust?

The thing is, we cannot make judgements based on feelings only. We should also apply our minds and take facts into account.  How can we simply ignore, for example, the alarming statistics on the United Nations Office for the Co-ordination of Humanitarian Affairs’ website?

Let me return to the issue of Israeli settlements in Palestine:

A 1993 agreement signed by PLO leader Yasser Arafat and Israeli Prime Minister Yitzhak Rabin set out a plan for Palestinian self-rule, which was never fully implemented. Israel has continued to expand settlements in the West Bank. Building permits are refused, houses and roads are demolished and military checkpoints prevent citizens to go to churches, mosques, schools and hospitals.

Peace talks came to a standstill precisely due to Israel’s continuous expansion of settlements. Between the start of the peace talks and September 2011, Jewish settlers in the West Bank have doubled:

  • according to the latest figures, there are about 500 000 illegal Israeli settlers in the West Bank and in East Jerusalem,
  • living in 121 (but ever expanding) settlements,
  • with approximately 100 outposts and they control more than 42 percent of the West Bank.

Many of the Israeli settlers come from different parts of the world (the USA, Canada, Australia, Europe, Russia, Marrocco, South Africa, etc.) and have absolutely no genetic affiliation with the land that dates back to the times of the Old Testament.  They don’t have to understand Hebrew, they just have to be adherents of the Jewish faith tradition. Yet on posters with anti-Arab slogans on the main road between Hebron and Jerusalem hung by settlers on Sunday 26 September 2011,  they claim “This is the land of our fathers and grandfathers” and “This is the land of Israel”.

How can we allow this to happen?  What kind of theology do we choose? Do we want to exclude, or embrace? Why do so many Jews, some of them Israelis and others not, choose to stand up for a free and just Palestine? Is the Israel of the Bible the same place than the modern state of Israel?  By which terms may any religious tradition suppress another people and deny them basic human rights?

May Israelis live in Palestine? 

No, according to international law, Israeli civilians may not live in Palestine. Hence all settlements and all of the more than 500 000 Israeli civilians in Palestine are illegal.

Yet many, many Palestinians I spoke with, reminded me that Jews, Muslims and Christians used to live as neighbours, like brothers and sisters, in peace together for more than a thousand years on the land that was known as Palestine before the state of Israel was declared. Therefore many of these people prefer a one-state solution where there is freedom, equality, dignity and peace for all.

There is so much to say… If you want to know more, do read, for example, Mark Braverman’s excellent book on Christians, Jews and the search for peace in the Holy Land: Fatal Embrace (2010). Mark is an American Jew and one of those who advocate for freedom and justice in Palestine. His book explains his own journey of insight and contains personal and theological reflections.


A mother and her children at home

When my EAPPI colleagues and I visited Asira, Naja (pictured here with one of her children) gave us water and tea and cool drinks.  She told us their story and showed us how they try to protect their windows and where fire was set to the house.  But what I remember best, is the weary expression in her eyes despite her friendly smile.  I could see that she didn’t think there is much we could do to help her. Asira is a Palestinian village south of Nablus, in the West Bank.

September 2011:  In a special arrangement between the Israeli government and ICRC (the Red Cross), Israel removed 40 of its most vigilant settlers from the West Bank to Tel Aviv (where they were on holiday) for a few months.  This was necessary to calm things down in the West Bank when Palestinian leader Mahmoud Abbas asked the UN to recognise Palestine.

Despite this, other (more moderate?) illegal Israeli settlers did their best to provoke Palestinian villagers during that time….  they damaged hundreds of olive trees, unarmed villagers were shot (one dead and four injured), etc.  But the removal did help, as in some of the other villages where we monitored human rights, things were more quiet.

And now those vigilant settlers are back… and they have renewed energy.  This news my team members and I have already received  from the team who replaced us.  They told us about renewed efforts of the nearby settlers (living illegally in the West Bank) to harass Palestinians who have every right to stay in their own land:

On 1 February, 2012 Padre James Bhagwan wrote:

The homes at the edge of this Palestinian village are located a few hundred metres from houses in the Jewish settlement of Yitzhar. But the relationship is anything but neighbourly.

On a late January tour of the Palestinian village led by representatives of the Ecumenical Accompaniment Program in Palestine and Israel (EAPPI), residents said attacks by Jewish settlers on their village are more organised and increasing.

Sometimes the attacks, which involve rock throwing, vandalism and crowd intimidation, are a part of reprisals known as “price tag” attacks carried out by settlers after an Israeli government attempt to dismantle illegal outposts or a Palestinian attack against Israeli targets, they said.

Read more…

This breaks my heart. Naja’s husband leaves home early in the morning to start his day as a taxi driver. What happens while he is away – and also why he is there? More damage to their house due to fires, stone throwing, broken windows, and Zionist signs on the walls? Their children scared to come home after school or to play outside next to the fragrant red roses in Naja’s garden?  My heart aches for them, and for those who feel called to intimidate others and damage their property.

Naja was right.  I couldn’t do anything for her and her family while I was in the occupied territories of Palestine.  But I’m not giving up.  We, ordinary citizens, need to speak up, and cry out, each and every one of us: injustice no more and an end to the oppression! Like the world did with South Africa under an apartheid regime. The UN is not going to do it, for the USA will continue to veto the UN’s recommendations.  They have already done so many times. The mass movement against oppression in Palestine needs to grow and we need to put pressure on the powers of the empire. As Alice Walker said, “we are the ones we have been waiting for”.

(All images in this post were taken by me when we visited Naja and her family)