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Israel’s new moves to ‘legalize’ the occupation

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The United Nations’ independent expert on human rights in the Palestinian territories issued a damning verdict last week on what he termed “the longest belligerent occupation in the modern world”.

Michael Lynk, a Canadian law professor, told the UN’s human rights council that only urgent international action could prevent Israel’s 52-year occupation of the West Bank transforming into de facto annexation.

He warned of a recent surge in violence against Palestinians from settlers, assisted by the Israeli army, and a record number of demolitions this year of Palestinian homes in East Jerusalem – evidence of the ways Israel is further pressuring Palestinians to leave their lands.

He urged an international boycott of all settlement products as a necessary step to put pressure on Israel to change course. He also called on the UN itself to finally publish – as long promised – a database that it has been compiling since 2016 of Israeli and international companies doing business in the illegal settlements and normalising the occupation.

Israel and its supporters have stymied the release, fearing that such a database would bolster the Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions (BDS) campaign that seeks to end Israel’s impunity.

Lynk sounded the alarm days after Israel’s most venerated judge, Meir Shamgar, died aged 94.

Shamgar was a reminder that the settlers have always been able to rely on the support of public figures from across Israel’s political spectrum. The settlements have always been viewed as a weapon to foil the emergence of a Palestinian state.

Perhaps not surprisingly, most obituaries overlooked the chicanery of Shamgar in building the legal architecture needed to establish the settlements after Israel occupied the Palestinian territories in 1967.

But in a tweeted tribute, Benjamin Netanyahu, the interim prime minister, noted Shamgar’s contribution to “legislation policy in Judea and Samaria”, using the Israeli government’s term for the West Bank.

It was Shamgar who swept aside the prohibition in international law on Israel as an occupying state, transferring its population into the territories. He thereby created a system of apartheid: illegal Jewish settlers enjoyed privileges under Israeli law while the local Palestinian population had to endure oppressive military orders.

Then, by a legal sleight of hand, Shamgar obscured the ugly reality he had inaugurated. He offered all those residing in the West Bank – Jews and Palestinians alike – access to arbitration from Israel’s supreme court.

It was, of course, an occupier’s form of justice – and a policy that treated the occupied territories as ultimately part of Israel, erasing any border. Ever since, the court has been deeply implicated in every war crime associated with the settlement enterprise.

As Israeli lawyer Michael Sfard noted, Shamgar “legalised almost every draconian measure taken by the defence establishment to crush Palestinian political and military organisations”, including detention without trial, house demolitions, land thefts, curfews and much more. All were needed to preserve the settlements.

Shamgar’s legal innovations – endorsing the systematic abuse of Palestinians and the entrenchment of the occupation – are now being expanded by a new generation of jurists.

Their latest proposal has been described as engineering a “revolution” in the occupation regime. It would let the settlers buy as private property the plots of occupied land their illegal homes currently stand on.

Disingenuously, Israeli officials argue that the policy would end “discrimination” against the settlers. An army legal adviser, Tzvi Mintz, noted recently: “A ban on making real-estate deals based on national origin raises a certain discomfort.”

Approving the privatisation of the settlements is a far more significant move than it might sound.

International law states that an occupier can take action in territories under occupation on only two possible grounds: out of military necessity or to benefit the local population. With the settlements obviously harming local Palestinians by depriving them of land and free movement, Israel disguised its first colonies as military installations.

It went on to seize huge swathes of the West Bank as “state lands” – meaning for Jews only – on the pretext of military needs. Civilians were transferred there with the claim that they bolstered Israel’s national security.

That is why no one has contemplated allowing the settlers to own the land they live on – until now. Instead it is awarded by military authorities, who administer the land on behalf of the Israeli state.

That is bad enough. But now defence ministry officials want to upend the definition in international law of the settlements as a war crime. Israel’s thinking is that, once the settlers become the formal owners of the land they were given illegally, they can be treated as the “local population”.

Israel will argue that the settlers are protected under international law just like the Palestinians. That would provide Israel with a legal pretext to annex the West Bank, saying it benefits the “local” settler population.

And by turning more than 600,000 illegal settlers into landowners, Israel can reinvent the occupation as an insoluble puzzle. Palestinians seeking redress from Israel for the settlements will instead have to fight an endless array of separate claims against individual settlers.

This proposal follows recent moves by Israel to legalise many dozens of so-called outposts, built by existing settlements to steal yet more Palestinian land. As well as violating international law, the outposts fall foul of Israeli law and undertakings made under the Oslo accords not to expand the settlements.

All of this is being done in the context of a highly sympathetic administration in Washington that, it is widely assumed, is preparing to approve annexation of the West Bank as part of a long-postponed peace plan.

The current delay has been caused by Netanyahu’s failure narrowly in two general elections this year to win enough seats to form a settler-led government. Israel might now be heading to a third election.

Officials and the settlers are itching to press ahead with formal annexation of nearly two-thirds of the West Bank. Netanyahu promised annexation in the run-up to both elections. Settler leaders, meanwhile, have praised the new army chief of staff, Aviv Kochavi, as sympathetic to their cause.

Expectations have soared among the settlers as a result. Their impatience has fuelled a spike in violence, including a spate of recent attacks on Israeli soldiers sent to protect them as the settlers confront and assault Palestinians beginning the annual olive harvest.

Lynk, the UN’s expert, has warned that the international community needs to act swiftly to stop the occupied territories becoming a permanent Israeli settler state. Sadly, there are few signs that foreign governments are listening.

A version of this article first appeared in the National, Abu Dhabi.

Jonathan Cook

Jonathan Cook won the Martha Gellhorn Special Prize for Journalism. His latest books are “Israel and the Clash of Civilisations: Iraq, Iran and the Plan to Remake the Middle East” (Pluto Press) and “Disappearing Palestine: Israel’s Experiments in Human Despair” (Zed Books). His new website is

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17 Responses

  1. just on October 28, 2019, 12:09 pm

    From Kate’s compilation 2 days ago, there is this:

    “Israel prevents UN Special Rapporteur Lynk from traveling to Palestine
    IMEMC/Agencies 26 Oct — Special Rapporteur of the United Nations Organization on human rights in Palestine Michael Lynk condemned Israel for preventing him Thursday from traveling to the Palestinian territories, violating thus established procedures and protocols. At a press conference in New York, the official said: “This is a violation of the procedures and protocols because, as part of my work, I must go and see the situation on the ground firsthand”. In addition, he said that Israel’s mission in Geneva does not respond to the requests to visit Palestinian territories. Lynk travels every year to meet with the Palestinian Authority in the West Bank and with civilians from the territories that are illegally occupied by Israel. On Wednesday, the expert sent a report to the U.N. General Assembly stating the Israeli occupation in Palestine is the longest belligerent one in the world….

    Meanwhile, guess who is in Israel, wasting US taxpayer dollars again?

    “Jared Kushner in Israel to Meet With Netanyahu and Rival Benny Gantz
    This is the first meeting between Kushner and the Kahol Lavan chairman, who has been tasked with forming a government after Netanyahu’s failure to do so

    Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and Kahol Lavan Chairman Benny Gantz met respectively with Jared Kushner at the Prime Minister’s Office and the U.S. Embassy in Jerusalem on Monday.

    It was the first time that Gantz and Kushner met. Trump’s son-in-law and senior adviser discussed with the former Israeli chief of staff “various regional issues including the growing Iranian security threat, regional stability and the peace process,” according to a statement by Gantz. They were joined by Kahol Lavan co-leader Yair Lapid and U.S. Ambassador to Israel David Friedman.

    Kushner is accompanied by his close aide Avi Berkowitz and by Brian Hook, a State Department official who is mainly responsible for America’s Iran policy. They are not expected to meet any Palestinian officials, in line with the Palestinian Authority’s refusal to sit down with representatives of the Trump administration since its decision in 2017 to move the U.S. Embassy from Tel Aviv to Jerusalem. …

    … Earlier on Monday, Netanyahu met with U.S. Secretary of Treasury Steven Mnuchin. He said Iran has begun deploying missiles in Yemen in order to strike Israel and aspires to “deploy them in Iraq and in Syria, and turn the 130,000-rocket arsenal in Lebanon into precision munitions.””

    boo- hoo, no surprise there. Always begging for bucks and crying wolf while violating everyone’s sovereignty.

    Thanks for posting Jonathan Cook’s article here.

  2. Kay24 on October 28, 2019, 12:43 pm

    It is time the international community stopped being intimidated by the occupier (and the US Congress), and freed the Palestinians from this brutal occupation, and gave them their rights, and dues.
    There is no point wringing their hands, and pointing their fingers, when they should do something drastic instead. Why do these nation find it hard to do the RIGHT THING? Hold Israel accountable for their endless crimes, step in and give the long suffering Palestinian people their freedom.

    • pabelmont on October 29, 2019, 8:02 pm

      Kay24 — Exactly. And when, oh when, will any USA politician say what you’ve just said “out loud” ?

  3. eljay on October 28, 2019, 3:41 pm

    Instead of striving to do justice, accountability and equality, Zionists – ever the hateful and immoral hypocrites – strive to find new ways to continue to do their preferred brand of evil.

  4. Atlantaiconoclast on October 28, 2019, 11:19 pm

    I don’t know if others have noticed, but the pro Israel folks are more bold than ever in dismissing concerns about the plight of Palestinians. I recently had a very long, intense, but still respectful discussion with two very socially liberal and Jewish Zionist friends. They could not have been more firm about their belief that Palestinians “have to leave.” They are no longer even trying to hide their denial of Palestinian rights to any of historic Palestine. And they aren’t even religious Jews. And they even said that any efforts by Israel to destabilize their neighbors can’t be blamed on Israel but on the failure of Arabs to resist Israel’s efforts to keep them divided.

    • echinococcus on October 29, 2019, 1:19 am


      What an accurate description of the average, or common-or-garden, variety of the Liberal Zionist! Thank you. I am sure that the many ones I’ve met are not the ones you know but they sound entirely interchangeable.

      “They could not have been more firm about their belief that Palestinians “have to leave.””

      I’m sure all of us have heard enough from the Zionists to know that this is their unanimous thinking, or if not unanimous nearly so.

      So why are so many people still beating the ridiculous cadaver of “equal rights for all”, including invaders? The only correct answer to invading strangers trying to evict the landlords is that invaders have to be thrown out. Period.

      • JWalters on October 29, 2019, 7:40 pm

        Israel has NO moral standing. Period.

    • Nathan on October 29, 2019, 5:19 am

      Atlantaiconoclast – You’re participating in the comments’ section of an anti-Israel publication. You probably have read countless comments in which very unreasonable ideas have been raised. People here can claim that all the Jews living in Israel are “invaders”, and that they’ll have to leave. I’m certain that you don’t lose any sleep over such comments. In the articles of this website, you won’t find such extreme ideas, yet it is clear that the position of this website is that the State of Israel should not have come into being nor should it exist in the future. The whole experience of spending our time here is one of following very extreme positions that will not be taken too seriously. Therefore, it’s really hard to imagine that you would take seriously unreasonable ideas coming from the opposite direction. It’s certainly interesting that you heard such ideas in a conversation with your Jewish friends, but there’s no need to draw conclusions from their ideas. As a reader of Mondoweiss, you should be used to coming across comments that deserve raising an eyebrow or shrugging a shoulder.

      • Lillian Rosengarten on October 29, 2019, 11:56 am

        Dear Nathan,
        This is not an anti-Israel publication. We are anti-Zionists and one must remember to distinguish between the Zionists and the Jews who are not Zionist. Our positions are against occupation, racism, manipulation and hate. Your writing is completely without a true understanding of the tragedy of Israel as an occupying, racist and frightening country. Certainly not the Democracy it feigns to be.

      • JWalters on October 29, 2019, 7:41 pm

        You believe justice is “extreme”. I do not.

      • RoHa on October 29, 2019, 10:37 pm

        “…very unreasonable ideas…People here can claim that all the Jews living in Israel are “invaders”, and that they’ll have to leave.”

        People here can claim that people of Polish descent are indigenous to Palestine, and have greater right to live there than anyone else. This goes far beyond unreason and into the realms of wild-eyed fantasy.

      • echinococcus on October 30, 2019, 2:22 am

        “People here can claim that all the Jews living in Israel are “invaders”, and that they’ll have to leave”
        says the Zio-propagandabot “Nathan”.

        And he is almost right! Jews (or people of any religion) permanently residing in Palestine prior to 1897, when the Zionist Congress publicly announced the Zionist intention to colonize Palestine with Zionist colonial settlers and subvert the sovereignty over Palestine from its rightful owners, the Palestinian people, should by rights count as Palestinians — no matter their religion or absence of it. And I certainly hope that the Palestinian people recognize this when and if they finally get to say the decisive word on citizenship.

        All others colonizing after 1897, against the clearly expressed wishes of the Palestinian people, are invaders and should go wherever they belong. If they don’t like their rightful homeland, the US government is still eager to put them up.

    • Mooser on October 29, 2019, 12:25 pm

      “They are no longer even trying to hide their denial of Palestinian rights to any of historic Palestine”

      That’s just the way the matzoh crumbles sometimes, into a half-baked cracker.

      • Mooser on October 29, 2019, 4:05 pm

        What I mean is that the speech and ideas of American Zionists track very closely with the speech and ideas of white nationalists, segregationists and bigots.
        Feeling qualified to share in these ideas is apparently one of the fruits of assimilation.

  5. Ossinev on October 29, 2019, 9:13 am


    “In the articles of this website, you won’t find such extreme ideas, yet it is clear that the position of this website is that the State of Israel should not have come into being nor should it exist in the future”

    Hot of the press ! Colonising Jews may have to recalibrate their “ancient historic homeland” claims and formulate a settlement programme for Botswana.
    Obviously some kind of Nakba will be necessary but Zios might allow the native elephants to stay.

  6. Misterioso on October 29, 2019, 10:29 am



    “Growing Number of U.S. Jews Support Evacuation of All West Bank Settlements, Survey Finds” by Judy Maltz, Haaretz, June 2/19

    “AJC poll exposes deepening divide between American and Israeli Jews on issues like Trump’s policies and the importance of ‘caring about Israel'”

    “Fewer American Jews consider ‘caring about Israel’ an important part of being Jewish, a survey published on Sunday by the American Jewish Committee finds. Those questioned also indicated that they do not believe a thriving state of Israel is ‘vital to the long-term future of the Jewish people.’

    “A growing number of American Jews, the survey shows, are also unhappy with Israel’s policies toward the Palestinians and support a full evacuation of West Bank settlements.

    “This was first ever survey conducted by the veteran Jewish organization to examine attitudes concurrently in the three largest Jewish communities in the world: the United States, Israel and France. (Israel was included in last year’s survey, but this was the first time for France). The questions asked of members of the three communities were not identical, however.

    “In last year’s survey, 70 percent of American Jews questioned said that caring about Israel was ‘a very important part of my being a Jew.’ In this year’s survey, their share had dropped to 62 percent. The percentage that ‘strongly disagreed’ with this statement had risen from 9 to 15 percent.

    “Moreover, the share that considered a thriving Israel vital for the long-term future of the Jews dropped from 79 to 72 percent.

    “This trend of disengagement from Israel was most pronounced among younger and secular American Jews. Only 44 percent of people between the age of 18 and 29 and 42 percent of the secular respondents said that Israel played a significant role in their Jewish identity.

    “The share of American Jews who believe Israel ‘should be willing to dismantle all the settlements’ as part of a peace agreement with the Palestinians rose from 15 percent in 2018 to 25 percent in 2019. By contrast, only 6 percent of Israeli Jews were in favor of such a move. Nearly two-thirds of American Jews said they supported a two-state solution that included that establishment of a demilitarized Palestinian state in the West Bank while only 39 percent of Israeli Jews did.

    “Given this polarization, a growing share of American Jews said they were pessimistic about relations between the two largest Jewish communities in the world: The percentage that expects ties between American and Israeli Jews to weaken in the next five years rose from 15 percent in 2018 to 25 percent in 2019.

    “The survey further revealed glaring differences in how American and Israeli Jews perceive the policies of U.S. President Donald Trump. Nearly 80 percent of Israeli Jews said they approved of his handling of U.S.-Israel relations, as compared to only 37 percent of American Jews. A much larger share of Israelis Jews favored the American president’s decision to recognize Israeli sovereignty over the Golan Heights than did American Jews.

    “Of the 1,006 American Jews who participated in the survey, 49 percent identified as Democrat and 18 percent as Republican. In terms of religious affiliation, 29 percent identified as Reform, 13 percent as Conservative, 7 percent as ultra-Orthodox, 3 percent as Modern Orthodox and 21 percent as secular. In Israel, 1,000 Jews participated in the survey, and in France, 771.”

  7. James Canning on October 29, 2019, 12:19 pm

    Trump’s idiotic fostering of brazen violations of international law by Israel obviously is bearing fruit. Foolish Republicans (and Democrats) make this possible.

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