Note to Harriet Sherwood and the EU: No Israeli is “illegal”

In my previous post refuting allegations made continually at the Guardian that Jewish communities across the green line represent a violation of international law, “No Harriet, Jews living across the green line are not in violation of international law, I noted legal opinions which, at the very least, sow considerable doubt on such assertions.

In brief, what Palestinians, and their advocates at the Guardian, are likely referring to is the 1949 Fourth Geneva Convention, (the first international agreement designed to protect civilians during wartime), specifically the charge that the settlements violate Article 49(6) of the document.

Sure enough, Sherwood, in EU report calls for action over Israeli settlement growth, Jan 18, reports on a confidential document drawn up by EU diplomats in Jerusalem which singles out Israeli settlement growth as the largest impediment to a peace, and goes so far as to recommend that “the European commission consider legislation “to..discourage financial transactions [and prohibit trade and business] in support of settlement activity…based on their illegality under international law”.

Though the report emphasizes that “Legislation should prohibit trade…with settlements based on their illegality under international law, rather than a politically driven boycott“, the report represents a dangerous movement to codify BDS against Israel as official EU policy.  

Consistent with the arguments used by anti-Israel, BDS activists, the EU document argues:

“Successive Israeli governments have pursued a policy of transferring Jewish population into occupied Palestinian territory [in which they include “East” Jerusalem] in violation of the fourth Geneva convention and international humanitarian law.”

As I noted previously, however, the first paragraph of Article 49(6) states:

“Individual or mass forcible transfers, as well as deportations of protected persons from occupied territory to the territory of the Occupying Power or to that of any other country, occupied or not, are prohibited, regardless of their motive.”

So, while forcible transfer of populations is illegal, what about voluntary movements?

I previously cited the International Committee of the Red Cross, International law professors Eugene Rostow and Julius Stone, and Nuremberg Tribunal staffer Morris Abram all arguing that Israeli settlements can not reasonably be construed as a representing a “forcible transfer”, per Article 49. And, the historical context of the Geneva Convention is also instructive.

The Geneva Convention was drafted four years after the end of World War II, and was intended to prevent forced transfers of civilians such as those which took place in Czechoslovakia, Hungary and Poland before and during the war, in light of the massive numbers of civilians (40 million) forced to leave their homes.

Jewish settlers in the West Bank (and “East” Jerusalem) are certainly volunteers, and have not been forcibly “deported” or “transferred” to the area by the Government of Israel.

But, moreover, while the high volume of comments under our previous post on Sherwood’s claims clearly suggests that we’re not going to adjudicate the legality of the settlements on these pages, the moral argument of Israel’s accusers is just as relevant to the discussion.

The moral logic employed by Israel’s critics seems to rest on the belief that no Israeli Jew should ever again live in either the east section of Jerusalem, or Judea and Samaria (West Bank) – land where Jews have lived for millennia, with the exception of  the period of 1949 to 1967, when Jordan occupied the territory and forbade Jews from living there.

Moreover, even for those who insist that Israeli control of territories occupied following the Six Day War is the root cause of the Israeli-Palestinian Conflict – those unmoved by the experience in Gaza demonstrating that the ‘land for peace’ premise of Oslo may be nothing but a chimera – there are very real consequences to the continuing delegitimization of Jews who live across the green line.

Back in January, the Guardian published a letter by UCL Professor Ted Honderich, which argued that “the Palestinians have a moral right to their terrorism within historic Palestine against neo-Zionism.”

To be clear, by “historic Palestine” he was referring to territory Israel assumed control of in 1967 – the West Bank and East Jerusalem.  And, yes, he was morally justifying acts of murder against innocent Israeli civilians on the wrong side of the green line, and more broadly indicating that entire Jewish communities necessarily forfeit any claim to our collective moral sympathy. 

While reasonable people can disagree on the political implications of communities across the green line, as with so much of what passes for reporting from the region, the frequent and, at times, horribly callous pejorative depictions of Israelis who live there have almost no resemblance to reality.

They are not “hard-line”, “fanatical”, or “extreme”, several of the more popular hyperbolic and stereotypical terms employed in the service of critiquing such communities.

Finally, an old friend back in Philadelphia used to wear a t-shirt which contained text indicating support for the millions of Mexicans who crossed the border in the U.S. – and were living in the U.S. without the permission of Immigration Authorities – and a moral objection to critics of so-called “illegal” immigrants.  

The shirt read: No Human Being is Illegal.

Similarly, the men, women and children who reside in Israeli settlements – who may one day be forced to leave their homes if that is the will of the Jewish democratic state – are not mere abstractions.  And, they are not “illegal”. 

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