On the night of August 24, 2005, Israeli troops shot dead three teenage boys and two adults in a West Bank Palestinian refugee camp. An army communique claimed the five were terrorists, killed after opening fire on the soldiers. An investigation by Israel’s leading human rights organization, B’Tselem, and its leading newspaper, Haaretz, found, however, that the teenagers were unarmed and had no connection with any terrorist organizations, while neither of the two adults was armed or wanted by the Israelis.
In Israel, as elsewhere, it’s prudent to treat official pronouncements with skepticism. This is especially so when it comes to the ‘peace process.’
Israel’s announcement that it would withdraw from the Gaza Strip won high praise in the American media as a major step toward ending the occupation of Palestinian land. Human rights organizations and academic specialists were less sanguine, however.
In a recent study entitled One Big Prison, B’Tselem observes that the crippling economic arrangements Israel has imposed on Gaza will remain in effect. In addition, Israel will continue to maintain absolute control over Gaza’s land borders, coastline and airspace, and the Israeli Army will continue to operate in Gaza. ‘So long as these methods of control remain in Israeli hands,’ it concludes, ‘Israel’s claim of an ‘end of the occupation’ is questionable.’
The respected organization Human Rights Watch (HRW) is yet more emphatic that evacuating troops and Jewish settlements from inside Gaza will not end the occupation: ‘Whether the Israeli Army is inside Gaza or redeployed around its periphery, and restricting entrance and exit, it remains in control.’ The world’s leading authority on the Gaza Strip, Sara Roy of Harvard University, predicts that Gaza will remain ‘an imprisoned enclave,’ while its economy, still totally dependent on Israel after disengagement and in shambles after decades of deliberately ruinous policies by Israel, will actually deteriorate. This conclusion is echoed by the World Bank, which forecasts that, if Israel seals Gaza’s borders or curtails its utilities, the disengagement plan will ‘create worse hardship than is seen today.’
Matters are scarcely better in the West Bank. Although Israel has announced its intention to dismantle four of the 120 settlements there, this decision pales beside its relentless annexation of wide swathes of the West Bank.
A recent UN report finds that the wall Israel is constructing encroaches deeply into Palestinian territory, resulting in the isolation of tens of thousands of Palestinians and the confiscation of fully 10 percent of West Bank land, ‘including the most fertile areas in the West Bank.’
According to Roy, Palestinians will have access to only half the West Bank once the wall is complete, ‘deepening the dispossession and isolation of Palestinian communities.’
Israel proclaims that it is building the wall for ‘security’ reasons, but human rights organizations disagree. Its real purpose, they suggest, is ‘to make contiguous with Israel illegal civilian settlements’ (HRW) and ‘to facilitate their future annexation into Israel’ (B’Tselem).
In a landmark July 2004 decision on the wall, the International Court of Justice unanimously agreed that establishment of these Jewish settlements ‘violates’ (U.S. Judge Buergenthal) the Geneva Convention, and overwhelmingly ruled that construction of the wall was ‘contrary to international law.’
Yet, nowhere have official Israeli words about peace been more dramatically belied by bitter deeds than in Jerusalem.
In a recent report entitled ‘The Jerusalem Powder Keg,’ the authoritative International Crisis Group finds that Prime Minister Ariel Sharon ‘risks choking off Arab East Jerusalem by further fragmenting it and surrounding it with Jewish neighborhoods/settlements.’ Hundreds of thousands of Arab Jerusalemites will be isolated from the West Bank and placed under stricter Israeli control inside the city’s new borders, while tens of thousands of Arab Jerusalemites will be stranded on the outside and cut off from their city.
In the meantime Israeli plans, well under way, to incorporate far-flung illegal Jewish settlements into Jerusalem ‘would go close to cutting the West Bank into two.’
Israeli annexationist policies in and around Jerusalem, according to Crisis Group, will have ‘arguably devastating consequences,’ not least because ‘it remains virtually impossible to conceive of a Palestinian state without its capital in Jerusalem.’
Although Sharon gives lip-service to a two-state settlement, the actions of the Israeli government, Crisis Group concludes, ‘are at war with any viable two-state solution and will not bolster Israel’s security; in fact, they will undermine it, weakening Palestinian pragmatists, … and sowing the seeds of growing radicalization.’
Those committed to a just and lasting peace in the Israel-Palestine conflict would do well to pay closer attention to Israeli deeds than to the official words accompanying them.
Norman G. Finkelstein teaches at DePaul University in Chicago. His latest book is ‘Beyond Chutzpah: On the misuse of anti-Semitism and the abuse of history.’ This commentary, rejected by several U.S. newspapers, is reprinted by permission.