The region of Palestine known as the West Bank is occupied illegally by Israel, and has been since June 1967. Despite regime propaganda which attempts to redefine the territory as simply a “disputed” plot of land, the facts of international law in this regard are clear.
Although we are fed a consistent — albeit false — image of Israel as a democracy, the regime which it runs in the West Bank, controlling the lives of more than 2.9 million Palestinians, is in fact a military dictatorship. The Palestinians who live under occupation have no vote in the Knesset, Israel’s Parliament. The Palestinian Authority is a sham; a puppet regime with no real authority, which is ultimately under the thumb of the Israeli military. The only political entity with any real control in the West Bank is the Israeli government.
Palestinians must have Israeli permission to do even the most basic things in life that people in real democracies take for granted, including travel between towns and cities, flying from Ben Gurion Airport or crossing the border into neighbouring Jordan. Whether or not these things are allowed is often down to the whim of Israeli soldiers and spy agencies.
Furthermore, the Palestinians in the West Bank live under an apartheid regime. This is no mere analogy to the South Africa of the past; it is an objective fact of Israel’s laws. There are indeed many parallels with that other white supremacist regime (as well as some important differences), and veterans of South Africa’s anti-apartheid struggle, including former Archbishop Desmond Tutu, have even said that the situation is worse in some ways for the Palestinians than it was for them.
When it is applicable in the West Bank, Israeli civil law applies only to illegal Jewish settlers who for decades have been stealing and colonising Palestinian homes and land with contempt for international law. All Palestinians in the West Bank, meanwhile, are subject to Israel’s military courts, to which Israeli Jews are almost never subjected.
The military “justice” doled out by these kangaroo courts is not justice at all. The courts have a 99.7 per cent conviction rate, meaning that Palestinians have virtually zero chance of being found innocent. Israeli soldiers and settlers on the other hand habitually and literally get away with murder when they kill Palestinian civilians.
In hundreds of current cases, Israel’s regime also practices “administrative detention” against Palestinians, holding them in prison indefinitely with neither charge nor trial based on secret “evidence” submitted to a military “judge” by an Israeli spy agency. In protest at this and other injustices, hundreds of Palestinian political prisoners are currently on hunger strike in Israeli jails.
Even in the mostly widely publicised cases of Palestinians murdered on camera, the Israeli killers escape justice. In February, Israeli soldier Elor Azarya got a token sentence for manslaughter, which means that he will probably serve less than a year in prison, and Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu may even pardon him due to the huge popular support in Israel for the killer.
Azarya murdered an already wounded Palestinian by calmly shooting him in the head while the young man was prone on the ground. Despite being typical of the bloodthirsty and callous way in which the Israeli army acts towards Palestinians, the killing made international headlines due to the fact that it was filmed by a Palestinian volunteer for the B’Tselem human rights group. Many other Palestinians have been brutally murdered by Israel in a similar fashion, and have had little attention paid to them by the international media. It was only because of this that Azarya was given such a pathetically lenient sentence.
A key part of Israel’s military dictatorship in the West Bank has been the gradual colonisation of the occupied territory over the years. This is accelerating steadily under the leadership of Israel’s most extreme right-wing government ever.
One ultra-right party in the coalition government is Jewish Home, led by education minister Naftali Bennett. He is a fanatical settler who told Al-Jazeera that international law does not matter because his holy book gives Israel divine title to the whole of the land of Palestine. His party has long proposed that Israel should formally annex Area C of the West Bank, some 60 per cent of the territory. His argument is that Area C is more rural and hence less densely populated by Palestinians. Thus, the Palestinians could be given “resident” status without endangering the precious “Jewish majority” that Israel craves; “maximum land, minimum Arabs” has long been a mantra of the Zionist movement.
Formal annexation of the West Bank used to be something frowned upon by Israel’s leadership. For sure, the government wants to annex the land in all but name, but does not want the inevitable international pressure to give equal rights to the millions of Palestinians living there which formal annexation would require. That would be a disaster for the Zionist project.
Now, though, the formal annexation of Area C is slowly becoming more of a likelihood. Earlier this year the Knesset moved formally to recognise several settlements it had previously considered wildcat projects. Even some in Israel’s liberal elite are getting with the ultra-right programme.
In December, Israeli author A. B. Yehoshua told Army Radio that Israeli should give “full or partial citizenship” to the Palestinians living in Area C. “It doesn’t make sense to talk about two states,” he said.
Bennett responded on Twitter that the writer had “adopted, in practice, the sovereignty plan I proposed in 2010.” This was a reference to his plan to annex Area C.
All of this exposes the ever-increasing reality that there is already one single state in occupied Palestine between the River Jordan and the Mediterranean Sea, and it is an apartheid state ruled by Israel alone. The “two-state solution” is dead and it is time to start talking about how apartheid can be abolished, and how the one-state reality in occupied Palestine can become a genuine democracy.
Israel will never agree to this voluntarily, so it must be pressured to change from the outside. We can play our part in this by supporting the boycott, divestment and sanctions (BDS) movement, something that Israel fears, arguably, more than anything else.