Of course we should examine the occupation, not ignore it

The New York Review of Books has a blog and David Shulman weighs in on the UN Goldstone report, rejecting the criticism that the wider context of the occupation be forgotten:

…The report’s attempt to link whatever happened in Gaza with what has been going on in the West Bank for the last forty-two years is wholly justified. The political background to the report is, before all else, a cultural and moral one. I do not believe that a society can disenfranchise, dispossess, and effectively dehumanize large numbers of people living between Jenin and Hebron without this process influencing the way it conducts a war in Gaza. No one who regularly visits the Palestinian territories controlled by Israel has to speculate about whether or not Israel is engaged in the routine abuse of human rights.

Such abuse is the very stuff of the occupation—a daily reality exacerbated above all by the endless hunger for more land and the ever-expanding settlement project. That reality has been amply documented by Israeli human rights organizations such as B’Tselem and, more recently, Yesh Din (which offers legal aid to Palestinians), as well as by a large corpus of writings produced by firsthand witnesses, including those discussed in my 2007 book Dark Hope.

Since then, the situation on the ground has markedly deteriorated. Here is one relatively minor example: the imposition of Closed Military Zones by local Israeli commanders in the territories has had the effect—and, quite likely, the intention—of keeping Palestinian villagers and Israeli peace activists away from Palestinian fields. Establishing these zones has become standard practice; we encounter them nearly every week in the south Hebron hills. Palestinian lands that are not cultivated for three years automatically revert to state ownership; Palestinian farmers and shepherds are frequently chased off their lands at gunpoint by Israeli settlers and sometimes gain access to these fields or grazing grounds only when accompanied by Israeli activists.

The Israel Supreme Court ruled in 2004 that it is illegal for the army to declare Closed Military Zones as a routine practice, especially if this means distancing Palestinian farmers from their lands. But the court’s writ, backed up by a directive issued by the army’s own legal adviser for the territories, doesn’t have much practical effect. Just four weeks ago, I spent a day in detention at the Qiryat Arba’ police station together with seven other activists precisely because we protested when a local commander declared the fields of the village of Samu’a, which border on the “illegal outpost” of Asahel, a Closed Military Zone.

Israeli peace groups and human rights activists often challenge the actions of the Israeli army, the border police, the Civil Administration, and other government authorities in court or in nonviolent protests in situ, with occasional successes; mostly, however, we fail, as we did recently in East Jerusalem, where large-scale settlement projects, including the expulsion of Palestinian families from their homes, are now in progress. There is, no doubt, something to be said for the fact that these matters are at least freely discussed in the Israeli press and are adjudicated by a still functional legal system—although the record of Israeli courts in matters relating to the occupation and, above all, the settlements is, in my view, a dismal one.

For decades now, the courts have allowed the settlement enterprise to proceed unimpeded by significant legal constraints, despite its evident criminal nature under international law. The courts have failed to stop the large-scale expropriation of private (also communally owned) Palestinian lands. They have let rampant violence by settlers throughout the territories, and very conspicuously in the city of Hebron, go largely unpunished. They have sanctioned the fencing off of Palestinian villages into tiny, discontinuous enclaves cut off from markets, schools, hospitals, and workplaces. The list of such failures by the courts could easily go on and on.