Israel’s multiple internal walls and barriers are being used barricade the Palestinians in dire conditions with grossly under-provided health facilities in order to ‘protect’ Israelis from the risk of infection. This is despite the fact that Israel’s greater connection to the outside world means the number of cases there are far higher.
As Israeli politicians form an ’emergency’ coalition to deal with the crisis, former prime minister Netanyahu is determined to exclude the ‘Arab list’ from government. Twenty percent of the Israeli population are Palestinian, but they – like the Palestinians in Gaza, the West Bank and East Jerusalem – are unlikely to get anywhere near the same treatment or access to health facilities as other Israeli citizens.
This tallies with Israel’s strategy; it wants the land, but not the people and the responsibilities that go with them. While building multiple internal walls and barriers, it has never finally defined its own borders or recognised a state of Palestine. In more recent times the reason for this has been spelled out clearly: Israel intends to annex the West Bank and make a Palestinian state impossible.
Israel does not accept the internationally declared position of the ‘green line’ borders of 1967. In reality, it never has. Its mechanism for many years was to describe its land grab euphemistically as ‘settlements’. But more recently, this has been revealed as a plan to pursue full annexation – something which has accelerated during the coronavirus crisis.
Israel’s settlements were never a few people building houses on unoccupied land – a Middle Eastern version of the ‘Little House on the Prairie’ myth. They are towns with roads, infrastructure and now more and more houses. Even by official figures – well over 600,000 Israelis on land wholly or partially owned previously by Palestinians. Israel’s supreme court has recently ruled that this is legal – the ‘public use’ of the land for settlement is ‘justifiable and proportionate’.
It is in this context that Donald Trump’s ‘Deal of the Century’ must be seen. It represents not a proposal for peace but a demand for the Palestinian people to live under conditions of inequality, external control and occupation in perpetuity. They are not being offered a viable state, but instead a series of disconnected, encircled parcels of land where the Palestinians are to be corralled into Bantustans like the ones used by apartheid South Africa to segregate the black population.
It is alleged that calling Israel an apartheid state could be interpreted as anti-semitic; but if we do as Israel asks and examine ‘the facts on the ground’ then it is systematically building an apartheid infrastructure. I don’t mean this in abstract terms, but physically – through construction, demolition and ethnic cleansing.It is indisputably heading towards a situation where a minority of Israeli Jewish settlers are given the right to rule over a disenfranchised majority of Palestinian Arabs in the West Bank – currently upwards of 2.75 million people.
The settlements are, as Robert Fisk describes, a ‘huge construction enterprise across the hilltops of the West Bank, with swimming pools, lawns and smart roadways, supermarkets and orchards – all encircled by acres of barbed wire and now also by the grotesque wall’. This theft has been directly funded through banks and financial institutions. The UN Council of Human rights recently published a list of 112 companies currently operating within the illegal colonies, which now number over 140.
They are illegal, not because of the theft of land – wrong though that is – but because Article 49 of the 1949 Geneva Conventions specifies: “the occupying power shall not deport or transfer parts of its own civilian population into the territory it occupies.” The UN security council and general assembly, the ICRC and the International Court of Justice have all agreed Article 49 applies to Israeli-occupied territories.
The Palestinian territories – East Jerusalem, Gaza and the West Bank – were occupied by Israel in 1967. Over 50 years later, Israel is not only still continuing its military occupation – it is deliberately encouraging and transferring hundreds of thousands of its citizens to take the ‘unilateral step’ of crossing the internationally recognised threshold in order to set up house on Palestinian land. Not just encouraged, but financially induced – with settlers receiving financial support three times that of other Israeli citizens.
Labour and Palestine
Normally, in a situation of occupation, it is the ‘occupier’ who funds the costs of the occupation – looking after and feeding the civilian population. But little in the Palestinian situation is normal. Today, these costs are borne, not by Israel, but by the international community – primarily the EU; with the military costs of the occupation being funded by the US.
Despite this huge subsidisation of what was meant to be a transitional period to a ‘two state solution’ Israel consistently and regularly puts two fingers up to the international community – ignoring international law with seeming impunity. In recent years this has escalated to the point of direct confrontation with Israel’s closest ally, the United States, in the Oval Office, when Netanyahu put on a spectacle of challenging President Obama’s authority in the region.
The last two Labour Party conferences have passed motions calling for Labour to support Palestinian rights and even included the waving of Palestinian flags. Palestine will prove an early challenge for the party’s new leader, the human rights lawyer Keir Starmer, and new Shadow Foreign Secretary Lisa Nandy. Nandy – a chair of Labour Friends of Palestine and the Middle East – has visited and spoken out on behalf of Palestine in the past.
Within the party there is rightly a determination to stamp out any vestiges of anti-semitism. But this terrain is not straight-forward. The UK government has waiting in the wings – post-lockdown – legislation aimed at ‘banning boycotts of Israel’ on the ground that they are anti-semitic, a brazen attempt to weaponise the issue against the Palestinian solidarity movement.
During the Labour leadership race, the Palestine Solidarity Campaign asked candidates to oppose this sweeping attack on political and democratic rights. Lisa Nandy, to her credit, said she would support ‘freedom of expression and association to campaign for ethical trade policies.’ But there remain concerns that the departure of Jeremy Corbyn as leader will lead to renewed attempts aimed at silencing of Palestinian voices within the party.
Labour Party policy passed by its conferences makes clear that Labour’s ethical foreign policy should support ‘Palestinians’ rights to freedom, justice and equality, including by applying these principles based on international law to all UK trade with Israel.’
It goes on ‘an internationalist Labour Party has a special responsibility to redress the ongoing injustices against the Palestinian people, denied their right to self-determination during the British Mandate, because of the role Britain played as a colonial power during the 1948 Nakba when Palestinians were forcibly displaced from their homes.’
Jeremy Corbyn – as a lifelong supporter of Palestine – was seen as a potential threat by ardent supporters of Israel’s illegal occupation of Palestine. His departure was not only welcomed, but worked for, and is now being perceived as an opportunity to push back the gains that have been made in recent years – notwithstanding the backdrop of the battle against anti-semitism within the Labour Party.
Labour and Palestine was set up by seven affiliated trade unions including the two largest, Unite and Unison, to galvanise grassroots support for Palestine within the party. The successful and overwhelming passing of motions at party conference shows that support exists. It is the natural instinct of new and old members of the trade union and labour movement to be internationalist and support the oppressed, not the oppressor – in this case the occupied, not the occupier.
In 1914 it was prophetically stated by Youssef and Issa el-Issa in the newspaper Filastin that the Palestinians ‘are a nation threatened by disappearance.’ If one looks at the maps of Palestine, it is shrinking and shrinking towards invisibility, not just physically but along with the political prospects of a viable Palestinian state. These are Israel’s dual objectives – to make the physical reality of Palestine impossible along with driving the issue off the international political agenda.
It has two problems. Firstly, the Palestinians aren’t going anywhere. They have nowhere to go. Imprisoning, isolating and intimidating them isn’t working. Secondly, the practical acts of Israel – the occupation, the wall, the settlements – are in breach of international law. Without the existence of a Palestinian state, the more steps that are taken towards making Israel an exclusively Jewish state, the more it is discriminating against the Palestinians both within and without Israel – however defined.
The reality is that what we have today is a ‘no-state’ solution where Israel controls all the land and people between the Mediterranean Sea and the River Jordan. The proposed annexation of the settlements and large tracts of the Jordan Valley into Israel will only accentuate the racial basis of the two infrastructures that exist.
If you look at law, land, waste, water, food, income or education – this is not the mythical separate and equal but endemic, planned inequality based on the racial discrimination against an occupied people.
An Urgent Cause
In his recent book The Hundred Years’ War on Palestine Rashid Khalidi concludes:
While the fundamental colonial nature of the Palestinian-Israel encounter must be acknowledged, there are now two peoples in Palestine, irrespective of how they came into being, and the conflict between them cannot be resolved as long as the national existence of each is denied by the other. Their mutual acceptance can only be based on complete equality of rights, including national rights, notwithstanding the crucial historical differences between the two.
The mutuality of respect and rights cannot be placed into the never-ending debacle of the peace process – surely dead and buried under the weight of Israeli house demolition and settlement construction. It requires the international community to robustly call for and expect the observance of international law and that a failure to comply should have consequences. Fundamentally, this must mean the end of the cruel and inhumane siege of Gaza – most recently witnessed by the denial of supplies to deal with the coronavirus pandemic. It must mean the end of the occupation and respecting the rights of refugees.
At the moment – with Trump’s support – Israel is going in the opposite direction, seeing how far it can go, how far it can push its borders, before the world does anything. Israel’s ever-expanding occupation of Palestine is described by Robert Fisk as the last colonial struggle. Now more than ever the Labour Party needs to be speaking up for Palestine.