April 14, 2014
To: Mr. Phillip Corbett, Editor, The New York Times
I wrote the Public Editor last month about my concerns regarding the New York Times’ decision to delete any reference to “occupation” or “occupied” in connection with the Gaza Strip.
I received the following response: “The term “occupied” has a specific resonance in the Israeli Palestinian conflict, and we have stopped referring to Gaza as occupied. This is not a new decision. We stopped when Israel ceased its formal occupation of the territory, and have since used other terms to describe Israeli pressure on Hamas and Gaza. “Occupied” is not among them.”
The Public Editor suggested that I contact the international desk at firstname.lastname@example.org for further explanation. I followed up but never received a response and so I’m turning to you as the Editor in charge of standards.
The Gaza Strip and the 1.8 million Palestinians living there are physically, practically and legally occupied in every sense of the word, and I urge The New York Times to reconsider its decision.
1) PHYSICALLY — Although there are no Israeli settlers living in Gaza now, and the Israeli military has no boots on the ground (except for its many incursions with tanks and troops, such as Operation Cast Lead – Dec.’08 – Jan.’09), Israel maintains effective control over the borders. No one enters or leaves without Israel’s permission. I would argue that the Rafah border with Egypt is effectively controlled by Israel because there is close cooperation between Israeli and Egyptian authorities. The Gaza Strip has been called an ‘open air prison’ by U.N. officials, visiting diplomats and many journalists. Israeli drones fly in Gaza airspace. Israeli gunboats shoot and kill Palestinian fishermen in Gaza waters less than 3 miles from shore although international law permits fishing up to 12 miles. Israeli warships shoot and kill international passengers attempting to travel to Gaza by sea. Israeli snipers shoot and kill farmers working on their lands within the so-called “buffer zone” that Israel unilaterally designated inside the Gaza border. In addition to land, air and sea, Israel maintains effective control over Gaza’s telecommunications networks, electromagnetic sphere, tax revenue distribution, and population registry.
2) PRACTICALLY — The 1.8 million Palestinians living in Gaza must depend on Israel for much of their sustenance, and Israel’s long-term siege on Gaza (since June 2007) has deliberately destroyed the local economy. During Israel’s 23-day bombardment in ’08-’09, the Israeli military slaughtered thousands of chickens, uprooted hundreds of olive trees, demolished utilities and infrastructure, a sports stadium, a bank, Mosques, schools, and a university laboratory building. These actions, in addition to killing 1,400 men, women and children, were cynically designed to assert control over the population, destroy their ability to grow and flourish, and make life in the Gaza Strip a living hell. Today, Israel maintains effective control of the economy in Gaza, the movement of every Palestinian in and out of Gaza, and the natural resources that rightfully belong to the Palestinians (including pumping the lion’s share of the water from the aquifer below Gaza and exploiting the natural gas fields off the coast of Gaza).
3) LEGALLY — The Gaza Strip is legally occupied, despite Israel’s attempts to erase that nomenclature. Israel has also made the argument that it does not occupy the West Bank because there was no State of Palestine in 1948 when it seized the land. Instead, Israel says it’s merely “administering the territories” despite the fact that the UN Security Council, the International Court of Justice, the UN General Assembly and the Israeli Supreme Court all reject that argument. If there is no occupation, then Israel has no legal obligation as an occupying power under the Fourth Geneva Convention, but if there is an occupation, her responsibilities to the Palestinians are greater and she cannot invoke the right to self-defense in the same way. Israel wants to avoid the term “occupation” because the permissible use of force under occupation is limited to law enforcement and policing. If Israel does not occupy Gaza, the permissible use of force is expansive. The principles of distinction and proportionality apply but Israel can probably use greater firepower than would be allowed under occupation. That is why it’s very important to understand why Israel is working so hard to control the messaging about the occupation.
Israel is trying to avoid the constraints of international humanitarian law when it invokes “self defense.” Israel cites two UN Security Council Resolutions adopted in 2001 following the 9/11 attacks (Res. 1368 and Res. 1373) which give states the right to defend against terrorist attacks. Israel frames all acts of Palestinian violence as terrorism triggering these resolutions. Israel has rendered Gaza into a legal black hole where the only applicable law is its own. I encourage you to read It’s Not Wrong, It’s Illegal: Situating the Gaza Blockade Between International Law and the UN Response by Noura Erakat, UCLA Journal of Islamic and Near Eastern Law, Vol. 11, No. 37, 2011-2012 available online here.
The readers of The New York Times deserve the unadulterated facts about Israel’s occupation of the Gaza Strip. Deleting the term “occupation” from your standards when referencing the Gaza Strip is a cynical manipulation of the messaging which comports with Israel’s attempt to manipulate international law. The New York Times should not be in the business of obfuscation.
Sincerely, Lora Lucero