Article 49 of the Fourth Geneva Convention, which both Israel and the United States have signed, says that the “occupying power shall not deport or transfer parts of its own civilian population into territories it occupies.”
Today there are nearly 500,000 Israeli settlers illegally living on territory that has been occupied since the 1967 war, when Israel conquered East Jerusalem, the West Bank, the Golan Heights and the Gaza Strip. This colonization has divided the West Bank as the settlements have expanded, taking by force the most fruitful Palestinian land and cutting off Palestinians from important water supplies.
Israeli settlers, on average, use six times as much water as do Palestinians, filling swimming pools while Palestinians only miles away struggle to find drinking water. As Israeli-only bypass roads connecting settlements to Israel proper cut across the landscape, the livelihoods of innocent Palestinians are destroyed, Palestinian villages are cut apart and a system of Israeli domination becomes even more entrenched. During the second intifada – a Palestinian uprising that began in September 2000 – Israel uprooted over a million trees in the West Bank, whose produce is central to the Palestinian economy. One wonders about the military importance of such a massive economic crime.
Since 1967, Israel has systematically dismantled the West Bank, robbing it of its economic viability and subjugating the Palestinian people – but the world has been wholly ineffective in remedying the situation. The international community consistently calls on both sides to exercise restraint and return to the negotiating table.
But why would Israel negotiate? It has won the war. It has steadily gained control of more land without offering democratic enfranchisement to Palestinians and without losing the steadfast support of its only ally, the United States. Israel will only stop its illegal, immoral activity if the United States vows that our giant paychecks and excellent military equipment are conditional on Israel’s compliance with international law.
When new settlement activity was announced this week, the only reason it became a big story was because it coincided with Vice President Joe Biden’s visit to Israel. The media brouhaha is over the Israeli slap to America’s face. Our government would have much preferred the Israelis to wait a week or two before announcing a continuation of longstanding Israeli policy to colonize the West Bank, particularly East Jerusalem.
The United States, the European Union, Russia and the United Nations met to discuss the issue this week and called on Israel to halt settlement activity in East Jerusalem. This was already the official line of the U.S. government. Every American administration has denied the legitimacy of the Israeli settlements in the West Bank. Every American administration has given tremendous financial and military support to the Israeli state. Why has Israel received more aid from our government than Africa, South America and Central America combined? It is no wonder Israel thinks our position on their settlements lacks teeth.
Last fall, the U.N.-commissioned Goldstone Report had the temerity to point out human rights violations and war crimes committed by both sides during the Israeli invasion of Gaza last year – a conflict in which over 100 times as many Palestinians as Israelis died. The House of Representatives lashed out against the report, condemning it by a vote of 344 to 36 for a supposed bias against Israel.
During the 2008 presidential election, when then-Senator Barack Obama delivered a speech to American Israel Public Affairs Committee that many claimed wasn’t as pro-Israel as it might have been, the uproar made it seem like he had just questioned an amendment to the Constitution. That reaction demonstrates how rooted the American alliance with Israel is in American policy. Even though the fossilized alliance is cemented in an outdated and counterproductive strategy that ignores human rights violations, not a single American administration or Congress ruled by either party can or will alter it.
The slightly firmer stance by the United States over the past two weeks is somewhat encouraging. Given the long and frustrating history of the U.S.-Israeli relationship however, those in favor of a lasting peace based on justice, not subjugation, worry that once again, the words of U.S. policymakers will not be backed up by meaningful efforts to correct an increasingly desperate situation.
Jackson Perry is a sophomore in the College and the vice president of Students for Justice in Palestine.
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