Normalizing the Israeli Military Occupation

TEL AVIV: Last fall, while demonstrators from Israel’s J14 Movement and the Occupy Movement were still occupying city centers and demanding social justice, I made my first trip to the South Hebron Hills village of Susiya, nestled deep in the throbbing heart of the West Bank.

On these embattled remains of Palestinian land, an occupation of another type is taking place—a suffocating military occupation that can only be categorized by its systematic violence and heavy-handed segregation.

Last month, the residents of Susiya were delivered a military demolition order. Their homes, the Israel Defense Forces (IDF) told them, are illegal buildings because they had not been erected with the proper military permits. (Susiya is in Area C of the West Bank, under complete Israeli martial law after the 1993 Oslo Agreements, where building permits are allotted to Palestinians few and far between.)

In fact, the village has already been officially demolished by the IDF five times in the last three decades—in 1985, 1991, 1997, and twice in 2001. The illegal buildings, furthermore, are mere tents built from cinderblocks and rain tarps.

The residents of Susiya are regularly victims of IDF night raids, unofficial demolitions (in which they do not receive notification), and sweeping arrests. Vigilantes from a nearby settlement attack them, slaughter their sheep (the sole source of income for many of them), and poison their water wells.

Standing in Susiya, one can see Yatta and the surrounding villages. Last Sunday, the Israeli government requested the formal permission of the Supreme Court to demolish eight of these villages, an act that is expected to displace an additional 1,800 people.

Under the title “Israel Seeks Army Use of West Bank Area,” Judi Rudoren, Jerusalem correspondent for theNY Times, depicts the military occupation of the West Bank as a legal struggle with several shades of grey.

Using the language of the Oslo Accords, Rudoren paints a picture of the West Bank as still having legitimate divisions of legal authority—areas A, B, and C, being respectively under Palestinian, joint, and Israeli control—and the IDF as being subservient to the Israeli Supreme Court, which could potentially serve to protect Palestinians from the many injustices being brought down upon them.

But the West Bank of today lacks most of the post-Oslo legal complexities that characterized the territories before the Second Intifada, and the Israeli Supreme Court’s rulings carry little force once the military leadership makes up their minds.

Not only are homes raided on such a regular basis that it’s no longer news, but legitimate media outlets and public services institutions are subjected to military raids that often leave their equipment and supplies confiscated or destroyed.

In February, for instance, Israeli military forces violated international law, which forbids them from entering Area A, and raided two Ramallah-based television stations. Four employees were arrested, and soldiers confiscated computers, financial and administrative files, and several transmitters.

Yet, the case of Uri Blau, an Israeli investigative journalist potentially facing seven years in prison, testifies to the Supreme Court’s impotence. Blau is expected to be put on trial for leaking military documents he used to publish a 2008 article which claimed that soldiers had been ordered to execute planned assassinations of Palestinian leaders in violation of a Supreme Court order that banned the military from doing so.

Nonetheless, the court tends to support the military’s more aggressive efforts. Indeed, the much hated separation wall that pens West Bank Palestinians into tiny, Bantustan-like pockets is legal according to the Israeli Supreme Court. Because it trespasses on private Palestinian lands and results in gross violations of human rights, the wall was ruled illegal by the United Nations.

When Palestinians violate Israeli martial law in the West Bank, their punishment can range anywhere from administrative detention to forced exile. The military, however, is not restricted by its own rules. And for the most part, neither are those who make up the colonial settler establishment.

Settler violence, which is typically treated with legal immunity, has been sharply increasing over the last year. In one instance in May, a security guard from a West Bank settlement shot a Palestinian citizen without cause.

A week later, settlers attacked Urif, a small Palestinian village, and set fire to olive groves, an important source of income for the villagers. When several men came to protect their land, the settlers opened fire on them. One Palestinian man was shot, tied up, and beaten severely by the band of theocratic vigilantes.

In neither case was a single arrest made.

When it comes to the case of Israel and the Palestinians, the NY Times and its corporate media counterparts generally are guilty of oversimplifications. In some instances, however, the role of the critical outsider is to introduce a degree of simplicity.

It would be idealistic to assume that the Supreme Court will opt to save the eight Palestinian villages it is being asked to consider. But if it does, there is even less reason to believe the military will listen.

Rudoren misleads readers by placing a special emphasis on the procedural steps being taken by the military, suggesting that the IDF will ultimately be beholden to the court’s decision, and carefully reconstructing post-Oslo divisions of authority. Whether by design or not, her laborious efforts serve to introduce an air of legitimacy for Israel’s actions by ignoring the reality of Palestinian life under the 45-year military occupation. 

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