In his latest viral video (well over 300,000 views on his Facebook page), Israeli prime minister Benjamin Netanyahu sharply condemned the notion that Jews living in the West Bank (Judea and Samaria) are an “obstacle to peace.”
He furthermore referred as “ethnic cleansing” to the Palestinian demand that, to enable peace, all Jews would have to be removed from this territory. He called that demand “outrageous” and said: “It’s even more outrageous that the world doesn’t find this outrageous. Some otherwise enlightened countries even promote this outrage.”
Like clockwork, the video itself sparked outrage. State Department spokeswoman Elizabeth Trudeau said, “We obviously strongly disagree…that those who oppose settlement activity or view it as an obstacle to peace are somehow calling for ethnic cleansing of Jews from the West Bank.” She said Washington was “engaging in direct conversations with the Israeli government” about Netanyahu’s video.
UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon, for his part, called the video “unacceptable” and…“outrageous.” He added: “Let me be absolutely clear, settlements are illegal under international law. The occupation…must end. The international community…universally views the expansion of settlements as an obstacle to peace.”
Whatever one thinks of Netanyahu’s use of the ethnic-cleansing term, one thing is certain: the charge that Israeli settlement of the West Bank and the Golan Heights is illegal, illegitimate, harms chances for peace, etc. is absolutely unique on the world stage.
That charge is based on Article 49(6) of the Fourth Geneva Convention (1949), which states that an “Occupying Power shall not deport or transfer parts of its own civilian population into the territory it occupies.”
One problem: Israel has never “deported or transferred” a single Israeli to live in any of the territories it conquered in 1967; all “settlers” have gone to live there voluntarily, at most with government inducements like tax breaks. Another problem: in no other case where a country has occupied a territory has the international community in any way tried to prevent or discourage the phenomenon of its nationals going to live there, which is, in fact, “a ubiquitous feature of prolonged territorial control.”
That quote is from a new report by Northwestern University law professor Eugene Kontorovich—“the first comprehensive, global study of possible violations of Article 49(6).” Kontorovich delved deeply into “every occupation since the adoption of the Geneva Conventions that involve the movement of civilian population into occupied territory.” The conclusion: “The Israeli situation, which dominates the legal literature, is entirely anomalous in terms of the international reaction.”
For instance, Russia’s 2014 occupation and annexation of Crimea has been internationally condemned. Yet no international attention whatsoever has been given to the fact that “Russia has an explicit policy of attracting Russians to the occupied territory”—and has so far settled 50,000 Russians there.
And while the State Department has recently slammed Israel for announcing plans to build 800 homes for Jews in Jerusalem and a Jerusalem suburb, “up to 100,000 people—overwhelmingly non-Russians—have fled [Crimea] since the annexation,” along with reports of “efforts to force non-Russian minorities out of the territory.” But that doesn’t even evoke a yawn from the State Department and Israel’s other critics; it doesn’t register in international awareness.
In another case, Turkey’s occupation of Northern Cyprus dates back to 1974, and was overwhelmingly condemned as illegal. Since that time as many as 160,000-170,000 Turkish settlers have gone to live there—neatly replacing “roughly 140,000 Greeks [who] fled or were forced out of the occupied territory following the invasion.” Not only that: “tens of thousands of foreigners, mainly British, have moved to the territory.”
In recent years settlers have kept pouring in, and they now constitute a majority in Northern Cyprus. Yet “no international organization and no state (aside from the [Greek] Republic of Cyprus) has described the settlement program as a violation of the Geneva Convention, or otherwise illegal.” Nor has a single proposal for resolving the Turkish-Greek conflict over Northern Cyprus mandated the removal of a single Turkish settler.
And so it has gone in the cases of Morocco’s occupation of Western Sahara, Syria’s occupation of Lebanon, Indonesia’s occupation of East Timor, and others that Kontorovich details: in such cases settlement of the territory is simply an accepted international norm.
With, of course, one exception.
As Netanyahu says in his video: “The next time you hear someone say Jews can’t live somewhere, let alone in their ancestral homeland, take a moment to think of the implications.” Those implications aren’t pretty; they appear related to an unhealthy focus on Jews, a perception that they misbehave and constantly need the censure of others, a total dismissal of their millennia-old bond with the land (and city) in question, and a dogmatic endorsement of others’ claims to be victimized by their presence.
It’s time—for those capable of it—to rethink the stock assumptions.