Making A 'Fair' Critique Of Settlements

02.06.13 3:15 PM ET

In Gil Troy’s response to my recent post about the U.N.’s settlement report—in which he accuses me of “demonizing Israel” and “validating every maximalist Palestinian demand,” neither of which I’ve ever actually done—Troy, like the Israeli government, chooses to ignore that which is visible to anyone who cares to look. It’s an unfortunate fact that when given a chance to talk to the U.N. about its settlement project, Israel did what it regularly does: it refused. And then, when a report came out anyway, Israel did what it regularly does next: it declared to the world that the people to whom it had refused to talk were one-sided.

This is part and parcel of a larger refusal, shared by many Israelis and supporters of Israeli policy, to look at and grapple with facts that make us look bad—facts like the those laid out by the U.N. in the settlements report (facts which, again, were all public knowledge before they were gathered into one place, many of them first revealed by Israelis, and in at least one case, by a current government minister).

But there are other facts that are routinely ignored in the constant drumbeat to say that the territories are “disputed” rather than under military occupation and that applications of international law to Israel are acts of hostility or possibly anti-Semitism. 

One rarely hears, for instance, that in September of 1967, Theodore Meron, legal counsel to Israel’s own Foreign Ministry, found that

civilian settlement in the administered territories contravenes the explicit provisions of the Fourth Geneva Convention.

One rarely hears that the US government expressed unequivocal opposition to settlements as far back as 1968 and that the State Department held that settlements are “inconsistent with international law” as far back as 1979.

Another thing one rarely hears is an honest assessment of Palestinian reality. Whatever bias that anyone on earth may or may not have toward Israel, none of it changes the actual, documented, plain-as-day facts of state violence and discrimination toward the millions of Palestinians over whom Israel rules and who have no say in that rule.

There is a sense among many that in order to be judged ‘fair,’ any and all critique of Israel policy must devote a magical number of words to acknowledging that the Palestinian leadership has always been a party to the conflict, that the Palestinian people are not themselves angels on high, that terrorism is a horrifying thing, and that Jews have rights too, you know.

Those things are true, and they have been said over and over and over for 46 years, by Americans and Europeans and Israelis and even plenty of Palestinians (while we’re at it)—and their truth in no way mitigates the horrors of the occupation or the wildly disproportionate power that the state of Israel holds over the stateless Palestinians it has occupied since 1967. If I regularly give these truths but one or two sentences in a 500- or 800-word blog post, it’s because what needs to be heard is not the widely recognized truth, but the truth that no one wants to talk about.

One accusation that Troy levels against me is, however, accurate: I do think that this “territorial dispute” is much simpler that the government of Israel wants the world to believe it to be. Because it actually is.

There are two peoples. The land between the river and the sea belongs to both of us. We have been waging a war of competing nationalisms for close to a century, and to the extent that either side has won (in that it has established a durable state) that side is Israel. Both peoples continue to behave as if we are still at war, because we are, which means that both sides continue to behave badly—but only one side has an actual army and the single most powerful country on earth at its side. Only one side physically and literally controls the lives of the other. Only one side is in a position to continuously take land from the other in an open and widely acknowledged effort to create “new facts on the ground.”

Legal or not, disputed or not, Jewish history and our own grievous wounds do not make Israel’s occupation of Palestinian lands right. Palestinian actions do not remove from our shoulders the responsibility for our own, nor do they change the actual, lived facts of the actual human beings under Israel’s military rule.

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Moreover, I’m not entirely certain what UN document Troy read, because he writes that

A report highlighting the real problems, such as anti-Palestinian violence, illegal land seizures, and unfair bureaucratic obstacles to Palestinian building would have been much more effective.

That’s exactly what the report did. It can be read in its entirety here.