As part of the training here, a Swedish consultancy, ‘Diakonia’ took us EAs through some of the points of international law which apply in Israel/Palestine. I also spent a day on it in pre-training, and I’ve flicked through the Geneva Conventions in a bored moment at home in Yatta.
In the past couple of weeks, a variety of issues have come up which highlight how useless these laws are sometimes. During the conflict in Gaza, the use of human shields, the apparent targeting of civilian sites and attacks aimed at journalists’ offices put both Hamas and the Israeli Defence Force on the wrong side of international law.
The decision by Mahmoud Abbas, president of the Palestinian Authority, to pursue recognition by the United Nations General Assembly for non-member observer state status has been declared contrary to the Oslo Accords by Israel. They have also, tenuously, argued that it is against the United Nations’ own rules, claiming that the resolution implies that Israel does not have a right to exist. All members of the UN automatically acknowledge the existence of all other members, and by voting in favour of Palestine, Israel claims you are voting against it. Yet Israel itself came into being by precisely such a resolution.
Never has so many words been written about something that the writers claim will be meaningless, perhaps belying their true opinion on the matter. Palestine is now eligible to join UN agencies such as the International Criminal Court, from where it would be able to sue Israel for alleged violations of international law, in some case of which I could be a witness. To punish Palestine for this, Israel is going right on breaking international law, announcing plans to build 3,000 new homes for Israelis in the occupied East Jerusalem and West Bank, in an area known as E1. The three planned Jewish neighbourhoods would completely encircle the proposed Palestinian capital, Jerusalem, isolating it entirely from the rest of the country.
Such neighbourhoods are known as “Settlements”, and are illegal under international law. But they are allowed to continue because the world doesn’t really care. People are quite candid about the fact they blatantly lie on the packaging. European countries have laws about consumer information, but they are not enforced.
However, Israel has done itself a disservice with the latest Settlement plans. Even if Israeli citizens reading their dailies can still convince themselves that it is the Palestinian side who refuses to come to the table for peace talks, it may be dawning on the rest of the world that in fact, Israel (and in particular, the Zionist Settler movement which holds enormous power in the government) is the main obstacle to peace with the Palestinians.
Everyone claims they want a two-state solution. The Palestinians have long accepted the right for Israel to exist. For the Jews, now a minority in the area controlled by the Israeli Defence Force, partition and two states is the only way to maintain the Jewish character of Israel. The world wants a solution, because peace between Israel and Palestine would assist in the solution to a huge range of other Middle Eastern problems.
In bowing to the only group who do not really want peace- the Zionist settlers who want Jewish sovereignty over the “Whole Land of Israel”- the government may have finally stepped over the line. The very idea that European countries might recall their Israeli ambassadors is evidence that things are finally starting to change.
I know of a small band of dogged protestors in Adelaide who regularly protest Dead Sea beauty products in Rundle Mall, Adelaide. These are settlement products, and illegal under international law. Most people (including me until recently) ignore them. But they have a point. Next time you walk past them, stop and ask for a flyer. You may be shocked at what we let happen on the other side of the world.
I work for the National Council of Churches as an Ecumenical Accompanier serving on the World Council of Churches’ Ecumenical Accompaniment Programme in Palestine and Israel (EAPPI). The views contained herein are personal to me and do not necessarily reflect those of my employer or the WCC. If you would like to publish the information contained here (including posting on a website), or distribute it further, please first contact my national co-ordinator (firstname.lastname@example.org) or the EAPPI Communications Officer (email@example.com) for permission. Thank you.