Israel and Annexation by Lawfare

by Michael Sfard — an Israeli human rights lawyer and the author of The Wall and the Gate: Israel, Palestine and the Legal Battle for Human Rights (2018).

The following excerpts are from a longer commentary published in the New York Review of Books — April 10, 2018

I always thought that if Israel were to unilaterally annex the occupied Palestinian territories, it would come under an international spotlight, with denunciations and protests around the world. I was wrong. Annexation is underway, but out of the spotlight, away from international attention. In the dismal offices of the fortified Justice Ministry in East Jerusalem, in the cramped meeting rooms of the Knesset, and in the august chambers of the Supreme Court, Israel’s finest lawyers are working around the clock to shape the biggest paradigm shift since the West Bank was conquered in 1967. The government’s lawyers are busy giving their counsel, drafting laws, and defending Israel’s efforts to expand the jurisdiction of its law and administration beyond the 1949 ceasefire lines to serve the interests of Jewish settlers at the expense of the occupied Palestinians, whose civil rights are suspended. Knesset committees are drawing up legislation to expand and entrench the dual legal system that already exists in the West Bank: one code for settlers, another for Palestinians. These new laws are to be applied in a setting in which the colonized are dominated by the colonizers, with a clear intention of maintaining that domination. Even the Israeli judiciary is joined to the task, allowing the exploitation of Palestinian property for the benefit of Israeli settlers.

This epic transformation is taking place after close to fifty years of occupation. During that time, Israel made profound changes to both the landscape and the demography of the territory it conquered. Palestinians were subjected to a military government that denied them participation in the political process that shaped the rules applied to them and determined their future. Israel used the authoritarian powers that international law gives an occupying force to exploit the territory in a way never envisaged by the framers of those laws. It unilaterally annexed East Jerusalem, a move that was widely condemned abroad. The international community does not recognize the unified city as Israel’s capital; even Trump’s declaration on moving the US embassy to Jerusalem stops short of acknowledging the annexation of the city’s eastern parts.

…. 

The policies that evolved over decades—a creeping process of de facto annexation—stopped short of a wholesale application of Israel’s sovereignty over the Occupied Territories; the legal and political distinctions between the West Bank and Israel were preserved.

Now, this crucial legal-political status is being dismantled. The government is peeling away the last remnants of loyalty to the notion of the occupation as temporary and to any obligation to negotiate with the Palestinians. The goal is clear: a single state containing two peoples, only one of which has citizenship and civil rights.

….

Justices in the Supreme Court, housed in a hilltop building that faces the Knesset, have set precedents of their own: last November, three judges ruled that the settlers constitute a “local population” in the West Bank, and that therefore, under certain conditions, private Palestinian land can be “temporarily” allocated to serve their needs. Their judgment overturned a principle, upheld for over forty years, that barred the use of private Palestinian land for settlement expansion. Within days of the ruling, the attorney general authorized the army to consider the expropriation of private land owned by Palestinian farmers to pave a settlement road.

Israel’s charade of adhering to the principles of international law is over. Every branch of government is contributing to this overhaul, with jurists taking the lead. In another set of buildings, some even shabbier than the dingy Ministry of Justice, a different group of lawyers, myself among them, wield the legal tools at our disposal with an opposite aim. We enlist the law to fight oppression and dispossession: in one case, we have challenged the confiscation law (also known as the Settlements Regularization law); in another, we have petitioned for a further hearing on the November ruling that allows (temporary) use of Palestinian lands for settlements. We have launched countless petitions, on behalf of our Palestinian clients, demanding that the settlers be evacuated from private land and the structures they have built be demolished. Our legal struggles, which often seem Sisyphean, take years first to liberate, then to restore access to, the occupied lands on which more than a hundred settlers outposts, such as Migron and Amona, have sprung up since the 1990s. We have invoked legal principles to win the lifting of restrictions placed on the movement of Palestinians, fighting to overturn orders that the army frequently issues to deny Palestinians access to their farm lands as an easy way to avoid friction with violent settlers. And we have demanded countless times that the court end its disgraceful failure to enforce the law against settlers: astonishingly, construction companies, settlers associations, and even heads of settler municipal councils, which are all involved in illegal construction on private Palestinian lands, have never been charged for their role in this huge collective crime. We are filing petitions to secure a remedy that sounds simple but is extremely difficult to get: to force the police to investigate these violations and the prosecutors to prosecute them.

Our petitions against the confiscation law, filed on behalf of some forty Palestinian local councils, sixteen Israeli human rights NGOs, and several individual land owners, will be heard in June before an unusual tribunal of nine justices (the Supreme Court usually sits in panels of three). It will be a significant test for the highest Israeli court, which over the years has approved many practices that strengthened Israel’s military and civilian presence in the Occupied Territories.

….

Much could be said about the integrity of a jurisprudence that sustains such internal contradictions.

….

The activist bench of the 1980s, 1990s, and 2000s, which saw a steady majority of justices who professed allegiance to liberal legal philosophy, became the number one target of the Israeli right. The generational turnover on the court’s bench gave successive Netanyahu-led governments the opportunity to liquidate its liberal wing. The new appointments of conservative, illiberal, and nationalistic judges, two of them settlers, changed the balance in favor of justices who emphasize nationalism rather than universal values.

….

The battle for the future of Israel’s dominion over millions of Palestinians and the colonization of their land is at a critical juncture. Will the current reality of repression and discrimination through “temporary” control of one nation over another be reinforced and institutionalized by official annexation into one permanent state?

Advertisements

2 Comments

Filed under Book Review, Israel, Occupation, People, Politics, Uncategorized

2 responses to “Israel and Annexation by Lawfare

  1. Richard Baldwin Cook

    Lora, Thanks. The judicial and legislative maneuvers by Israel that pretend to legitimize the brutal and racist military occupation of Palestine is an important part of the context that is inevitably missing from U.S mainstream media reporting. Who do we need to call to put you in charge of CBS, NBC. NPR?

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s