By Tariq A. Al-Maeena
9 February 2018
It has been more than 50 years since the unlawful Israeli occupation of the West Bank and Gaza Strip. These are Palestinian lands the Israelis control through repression, institutionalized discrimination, murder and systematic abuse of the Palestinian population’s rights.
Human rights organizations have periodically highlighted major violations of international human rights laws and humanitarian laws that illustrate the occupation: unlawful killings; forced displacement; abusive detention; the closure of the Gaza Strip and other unjustified restrictions on movement; and the development of settlements, along with the accompanying discriminatory policies that disadvantage Palestinians.
Israel always explains away its abusive practices in the name of security. “Whether it’s a child imprisoned by a military court or shot unjustifiably, or a house demolished for lack of an elusive permit, or checkpoints where only settlers are allowed to pass, few Palestinians have escaped serious rights abuses during this 50-year occupation,” said Sarah Leah Whitson, Middle East director at Human Rights Watch.
“Israel today maintains an entrenched system of institutionalized discrimination against Palestinians in the occupied territory – repression that extends far beyond any security rationale.”
The Israelis have killed more than 3,000 Palestinian civilians in the last three Gaza conflicts alone. Mind you, these were civilians whose only crime was living peacefully on their land. In the West Bank, the Israelis routinely use “excessive force in policing situations, killing or grievously wounding thousands of demonstrators, rock-throwers, suspected assailants, and others with live ammunition when lesser means could have averted a threat or maintained order.”
When called to investigate what amounts to crimes against humanity, Israeli officials have failed to hold the abusers accountable, with rare exceptions.
Since 1967, the Israeli government has been sanctioning the illegal settlements that have sprouted on Palestinian lands in the occupied West Bank, including East Jerusalem, in violation of the Fourth Geneva Convention. In 1967, Israel established two settlements in the West Bank: by 2017, Israel had established 237 settlements there, housing approximately 580,000 settlers, all of them illegal by international codes.
Israel applies Israeli civil law to settlers, affording them legal protections, rights, and benefits that are not extended to Palestinians living in the same territory who are subjected to Israeli military law. “Israel provides settlers with infrastructure, services and subsidies that it denies to Palestinians, creating and sustaining a separate and unequal system of law, rules and services.”
Over the years, Israeli authorities have illegally expropriated thousands of acres of Palestinian land for settlements. Discriminatory burdens, including making it nearly impossible for Palestinians to obtain building permits in East Jerusalem and in the 60 percent of the West Bank under exclusive Israeli control (Area C), have effectively forced Palestinians to leave their homes or to build at the risk of seeing their “unauthorized” structures bulldozed.
For decades, Israeli authorities have demolished homes on the grounds that they lacked permits, even though the law of occupation prohibits destruction of property except for military necessity, or punitively as collective punishment against families of Palestinians suspected of attacking Israelis.
Israel has also arbitrarily prevented hundreds of thousands of Palestinians from living in and travelling from the West Bank and Gaza. Israel has also revoked the residency of over 130,000 Palestinians in the West Bank and 14,565 in East Jerusalem since 1967, largely on the basis that they have been away too long.
Crimes against Humanity
In perhaps the most glaring example of crimes against humanity, for the past 25 years, Israel has tightened restrictions on the movement of people and goods to and from the Gaza Strip in ways that far exceed any conceivable requirement of Israeli security. These restrictions affect nearly every aspect of everyday life, separating families, restricting access to medical care and educational and economic opportunities, and perpetuating unemployment and poverty.
Israeli authorities have imprisoned hundreds of thousands of Palestinians since 1967, the majority after trials in military courts, where the verdict is known before the trial begins, and conviction is the order of the day. Moreover, hundreds every year have been placed in administrative detention based on trumped up or undisclosed evidence without charge or trial.
Some have been detained or imprisoned for engaging in nonviolent resistance to the Israeli appetite for illegal encroachment. Israel also jails West Bank and Gaza Palestinian detainees inside Israel, creating near impossible restrictions on family visits and violating international law requiring that they be held within the occupied territory. Many detainees, including children, face harsh conditions and mistreatment.
In recent times, Palestinian children, some not more than 10 years old, have become the tragic target on a daily basis of armed Israeli settlers who have shown no remorse in killing children in cold blood. It is said that this philosophy of targeting defenceless Palestinian women and children is to break the will of the resistance to their occupation.
Human rights organizations have been pressing governments to “use their leverage to press Israel to end the generalized travel ban on Palestinians from Gaza and permit the free movement of people and goods to and from Gaza, subject to individualized security screenings and physical inspection.” These apartheid and racist policies are reminiscent of what the Nazis exercised in the last century.
In a region awash with tensions, with Arabs killing Arabs and Muslims turning on Muslims, Palestine has unfortunately become a victim.
Tariq A. Al-Maeena is a Saudi writer