March 15, 2011

Israel's military occupation that is, and isn't

My previous post has generated some discussion about the status of Israel's presence in the West Bank. During the past decade, various Israeli Supreme Court decisions have reaffirmed that the West Bank is under "belligerent occupation" for purposes of imposing Israeli military restrictions on individual Palestinians. Yet when the term "Israeli occupation" is tossed around in the United Nations General Assembly or on university campuses across the United States, Jewish activists and pro-Israel advocates turn apoplectic.

Israel is on record as an occupying power. It occupied the West Bank, along with Jerusalem, Gaza and the Golan Heights in 1967. It has annexed Jerusalem and the Golan, which means those zones do not qualify as military occupation under Israeli law (though other nations do not recognize those annexations). Israel has withdrawn from Gaza, which leaves the legal status unclear. This leaves the West Bank.

I wholeheartedly support Israel's justification for occupying the West Bank in 1967. Israel has also made credible efforts over the years to cede control of most or even all of that territory, and significant areas have already been handed over to Palestinian control. Israel today is a military occupier that accepts the principle of territorial compromise, even if not every Israeli government seems committed to putting that principle into practice.

Instead of being outraged whenever "Israeli military occupation" is lobbed as rhetorical ammunition against Israel, it might be possible to acknowledge that this is indeed a military occupation. It is a "belligerent" occupation that Israelis themselves do not enjoy, that they have already begun to cast off, and that is notably accountable to Israel's Supreme Court.

Of course, international law does not seem to countenance population transfers into occupied zones (see under: "settlements"), which is not as easy to justify or explain. But at the end of the day, we can point out that Israeli public opinion is itself divided on settlements and consider that the most effective advocates for Israel -- especially to those worth convincing -- may be those who address rather than evade unpleasant realities. It could be easier to contine acting as though the Israeli Supreme Court and government lawyers have no standing on this matter. But we'll still be lying to ourselves, and that also carries a price.

p.s. Israeli settlements may be in violation of international law, but seriously, there are worse violations in that part of the world going unaddressed (see under: Lebanon, Syria, Libya, Saudi Arabia, Yemen, et al).

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