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December 16, 2012

EDITOR: Ubu Roi rules OK…

In the hysteria taking Israel over before the elections, everything is possible, as long as nothing really changes… Anyone can join just about anyone to form yet another ridiculous and feckless party, as long as they all agree on everything which counts. As long as they are all Zionists, as long as they all accept the inequalities of Israeli capitalism, as long as they embrace the occupation, support the mindless and criminal wars, as long as they agree that Palestine shall never be free – they can have all the arguments in the world. After all, they live in the ‘only democracy in the Middle East’, don’t they?

And so the band wagon of Israeli blindness shoots ahead, with all having a good time, making sure no one wakes up. Ubu will still be king in January, and his sidekick, the stocky bouncer will still call the shots, and they will make sure nothing important changes, either in Jerusalem or in Washington. Isn’t democracy fun?

In the meantime, they can kill, maim, destroy and have total immunity. Democracy is fun.

International criminal court is a lever for Palestinians on Israeli settlements: Guardian

The UN vote for Palestinian statehood puts ICC action in the frame. Israel’s fear of prosecution may help Obama restart talks

Palestinians celebrate in Ramallah after UN vote

Palestinians celebrate in Ramallah after UN vote Photograph: Abbas Momani/AFP/Getty Images

When Israel‘s routine hostility toward Gaza once again flared into full-on battle last month, Nancy Pelosi, the Democratic party leader in the US Congress, sent out a tweet:

That was pretty much the sentiment of just about everyone in the US political establishment, from the president to the unanimous support in both houses of Congress for a resolution giving unconditional backing for Israel’s bombing of Gaza.

So, it was with the solid opposition to the Palestinian request for recognition of a state at the United NationsSusan Rice, the US ambassador to the UN, may have looked isolated in casting the only vote by a major power against Palestinian statehood, but Washington’s political establishment was fully behind her.

On one issue, however, America’s vehemently pro-Israel politicians are much more muted – and it may reveal to Palestinians a chink in Israel’s armour in the US. The prime minister, Binyamin Netanyahu, decided to punish the Palestinians for the UN vote by announcing the expansion of existing Jewish settlements and advancing a plan, known as E1, to link Jerusalem with one of the biggest Israeli colonies in the West Bank, Maale Adumim. That would eat significantly into any Palestinian state and, more importantly, further seal off occupied East Jerusalem from the rest of the West Bank, as part of the long term Israeli strategy to claim the entire city.

Netanyahu argued that the Palestinians going to the UN was a threat to peace. Almost everyone else regarded the settlement announcement as a far bigger blow to an agreement to end the conflict.

The White House finally spoke up: Barack Obama criticised the E1 plan as “especially damaging”. Congress did not rush to condemn him. Even the pro-Israel lobby, led by the American Israel Public Affairs Committee (Aipac) did not thrust itself to the forefront of defending Israel. And Hillary Clinton, the US secretary of state, last year called the settlements “illegitimate”.

Now, the Palestinians are floating the prospect of going to theInternational Criminal Court (ICC) over the settlements. It would be a smart move – if they can resist the inevitable pressure from the west not to do it.

In all the wrangling over recognition of a Palestinian state at the UN, there was much hand-wringing in western capitals over the Palestinians gaining access to the ICC. And the Israelis are more fearful of the court than they let on publicly.

The US and the British tried to get the Palestinians to renounce the right to accede to the ICC, on the grounds it would complicate a nonexistent peace process. However, it is hard to imagine that Washington and London were not also worried about the implications if the court moved on from accusing African despots and warlords to charging soldiers and officials of a close ally, armed by the west, with war crimes in Gaza.

But now, the Palestinians have raised the prospect of a different ICC action, over the settlements, following the E1 announcement. The Palestinian foreign minister, Riad Malki, said this week that if Israel pushes ahead with the settlement construction, his government will look to the court for redress.

“Then we would be able to prosecute Israel for all the war crimes it perpetrated against our people in the past, especially the construction of settlements,” he told Voice of Palestine radio. “It all depends on whether Israel would continue with its settlement plan.”

Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas said much the same during a visit to Turkey. Israel’s colonies in the West Bank are a clear breach ofinternational law under Article 49 of the 1949 Geneva Conventions, which bans on an occupying power from moving its civilian population onto occupied territory – a clause included, in large part, because of Nazi attempts to colonise areas of occupied Poland by planting Germans there.

Israel’s defence is that the West Bank is not strictly occupied territory because it does not belong to another state. But the UN vote has arguably changed that. Israel has also tried to say the settlements fall under the conventions’ allowance of construction as a military necessity. But it’s hard to make a case for defence when the Israeli government’s policy is to funnel Jewish immigrant families into the settlements and to give tax breaks to encourage people to move to them.

In any case, the United Nations security council, the International Committee of the Red Cross, the International Court of Justice and the High Contracting Parties to the Geneva Conventions all say the Israeli colonies are a breach of Article 49. No government other than Israel, not even the US, regards the settlements as legal.

The Israelis are nervous about legal action. They call it “lawfare”. It is potentially effective because taking on the Jewish settlements does not threaten Israel’s right to exist. It is not violent. It is not terrorism. And there’s not many governments going to rush to Israel’s defence.

A legal fight at the ICC would lay bare the annexation and dispossession behind Israel’s settlement strategy – the theft of land from Palestinians, the practice which sees Jewish colonies enjoy unlimited cheap water, while nearby Arab villages are subject to rationing and higher charges, the policy that says a Jewish immigrant from Russia has a greater claim to the land than a Palestinian born on it. And that’s without even getting into the broader scheme to claim as much territory as possible for Israel and leave a rump Palestinian state.

Israel’s settlement policy has been to act piecemeal and count on the rest of the world not having the stamina for a fight – successfully, as it turns out. What it does not want to have to do is defend the settlements in their entirety before an international court, with the risk of being ruled a rogue state in breach of the laws of war.

There’s also a domestic concern. An ICC case might even prompt a more robust debate in Israel where opinion polls show there is no great support for the settlements. If the ICC were to declare the settlements illegal, it would raise other interesting possibilities for Palestinian legal action. Would foreign banks still be prepared to transfer the millions of dollars donated by Americans to settlement construction, or to buy property in the occupied territories, if they knew it was a breach of international law?

Europe is already moving in that direction. European Union foreign ministers said this week that agreements with Israel do not apply to Jewish settlements in the occupied territories – a move Israel fears is laying the groundwork for economic measures, such as the labelling of exports originating in the colonies. The EU said all of its agreements with Israel “must unequivocally and explicitly indicate their inapplicability to the territories occupied by Israel in 1967 – namely, the Golan Heights; the West Bank, including east Jerusalem; and the Gaza Strip.”

The EU is also talking about banning violent settlers, responsible for a string of attacks on Palestinians, who are not prosecuted by the Israeli authorities, from within its borders.

An ICC ruling in favour of the Palestinians might have another effect. When Obama first came to power four years ago, he attempted to strong-arm Netanyahu into taking an agreement with the Palestinians seriously. The president began by demanding a total freeze on settlement construction. The Israeli prime minister out-manoeuvred and humiliated Obama, and carried on as before.

If the US president wants to revisit the fight now he’s been re-elected, it would not do any harm to have the ICC hovering in the background.

Demanding equality – how is that illegal?: Al Jazeera English

Ronnie Barkan
Ronnie Barkan 
Ronnie Barkan is an Israeli human rights activist, conscientious objector and co-founder of Boycott from Within, a group of Israeli citizens and residents which supports the Palestinian call for BDS.
If the anti-boycott law is ever put to the test, the first cases may provide an even greater boost to the BDS movement.
Last Modified: 14 Dec 2012 10:17

A number of European countries are expressing outrage with Israel’s latest decision to build a new settlement in the occupied Palestinian territories in the politically and geographically sensitive E-1 area [EPA]
Israeli NGOs have appealed to the Supreme Court of Israel to strike down the July 2011 law for its violations of freedom of speech, freedom of opinion, political expression and the right to organise. The hearing in the West Jerusalem court took place last Wednesday, on December 5, and the court’s decision will be published in the coming days. There is lot of skepticism regarding a sensible outcome among boycott activists.From the moral perspective, the Israeli Supreme Court is a significant vehicle of Israeli occupation and apartheid. It is this court which consistently refuses to deal with Israeli violations of international law while at the same time allowing for the continuation of the ethnic cleansing process both within the Occupied Palestinian Territories and in Israel proper.This process of driving away the native people of the land, which started by sheer force during the creation of the state, is nowadays being carried out by legal means and under the guise of the law. Such is the situation in occupied East Jerusalem and in the unrecognised villages of the Naqab (Negev) desert.The court has also repeatedly defended the illegal siege of Gaza and the criminal policies which are responsible for counting the caloric intake of the civilians of Gaza, and the fact that 95 per cent of Gaza’s water is not fit for human consumption.Consequently, appealing to a court that has legalised torture and euphemisms in the past – making Israel the only country in the world to have legalised the practice – is not to be taken lightly.On the practical level, the appeal may very well have the opposite effect than the one intended. As has happened in the past, the court may invalidate certain clauses of the law while reaffirming the rest; therefore stamping a revised version of the law with a seal of approval.

Affected by Israeli policies

Most importantly, speaking as an Israeli-Jewish boycott activist who is working to end Israeli apartheid, the law actually serves our struggle. There is a long list of discriminatory laws against non-Jews in Israel or those affected by Israeli policies.

Follow the latest developments in the ongoing conflict 

Many of these laws were passed during the early days of the state following the forced ethnic cleansing that was meant to create an artificial Jewish majority on that land. Such racist laws were put in place to maintain, as well as institutionalise, that crime.

Then came the military occupation of 1967 which introduced a whole slew of repressive military laws aimed specifically against the Palestinians under occupation. Military tribunals, with a whopping 99.7 per cent conviction rate, still stand to this day.

In that sense, the anti-boycott law is nothing out of the ordinary. It is only different in one respect – that the target audience includes the privileged group under Israeli apartheid.

That is why the anti-boycott law received such a backlash when it was legislated last year, with harsh criticism coming from even staunch Israel defenders like AIPAC. That day, Boycott from Within, a group of Israeli citizens which endorses and supports the Palestinian BDS (Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions) call, issued a statement titled “We Will Not Be Silent”.

In the statement, we reiterate our commitment to the struggle for the three fundamental rights of the Palestinians – right of return, equal rights within Israel and freedom from occupation – as well as to holding Israel accountable for its actions.

The law is in fact a sign of success showing the effectiveness of the BDS movement, a Palestinian-led campaign which has managed to gain worldwide recognition and has become a global awareness movement, taking inspiration from the successful global anti-apartheid struggle directed against the South African regime.

Such acts of legislation by the Israeli regime only serve to expose the true face of the “Jewish-Democratic” state while garnering support from the global community as well as from world-renowned figures.

Rather than detail the technicalities of the anti-boycott law, it is far better to clarify the character of the state that legislates such laws. It is not an “anti-democratic” or an “anti-constitutional” law as many would like us to believe, for the simple reason that the state is not a democracy and has no constitution.

The state, in fact, at its very core, is opposed to democratic values such as equality and the rights of minorities. A constitution would not serve as it opposes respecting the rights of all. For that purpose, the state defines me as belonging to the “Jewish” nationality, seeking to give privileges to a select ethnic group over those disenfranchised. If there existed an “Israeli” nationality it would, in theory, not be possible to legally differentiate between citizens.

Given Israeli violations of international law, the absolute disrespect of universally recognised human rights and the public outcry against such violations from people all over the world, the question emerges of how governments can carry on with business as usual toward Israel.

Israeli anti-boycott legislation

The Israeli anti-boycott legislation, which is meant to stifle any attempt to hold it accountable for its violations of international law, is a serious matter. Consequently, it is worrisome that several European governments have recently attempted to protect Israel from holding it legally accountable by conditioning their vote at the UN on denying recourse for Palestinians in front of the International Criminal Court, where they may have access to the protection of international law.

“Rather than detail the technicalities of the anti-boycott law, it is far better to clarify the character of the state that legislates such laws.”

Since then, however, we are now hearing new voices emerging from a number of European countries. They are expressing outrage with Israel’s latest decision to build a new settlement in the occupied Palestinian territories in the politically and geographically sensitive E-1 area.

Such voices, which may be the first signs of change, threaten to recall ambassadors in Israel and even mention the possibility of sanctioning or freezing previous trade agreements with Israel.

Such policy actions would mean more than mere criticism of Israeli expansionism. One example of the ongoing complicity of all EU member states can be found in the EU-Israel Association Agreement itself, which carries a binding clause, article 2 of the agreement, stating that: “Relations between the Parties, as well as all the provisions of the Agreement itself shall be based on respect for human rights and democratic principles, …and constitutes an essential element of this Agreement”.

The legally binding nature of this clause is thoroughly explained in a report by Professor Takis Tridimas claiming that the European governments are obligated to freeze the agreement according to EC laws and regulations, in addition to their other obligations imposed by international law.

Roger Waters, who acted on the jury of the fourth Russell Tribunal on Palestine, recently addressed the UN General Assembly to discuss the findings of the tribunal which concluded that Israel is guilty of a long list of violations of international law, including that of the crime of apartheid.

Waters also discussed the necessity of a change taking place among international bodies, including the UN itself, in order for such organisations to maintain their legitimacy and be able to sincerely represent the will of the people.

If the anti-boycott law is ever put to the test, the first cases may provide an even greater boost to the BDS movement. It will then be incumbent upon the governments of the world to realise what many of their citizens long ago understood – that it is not only legitimate to get on board the BDS train, but it is also expected of them to stand shoulder to shoulder with those of us who are struggling for equality, freedom and justice for all.

Ronnie Barkan is an Israeli human rights activist, conscientious objector and co-founder of Boycott from Within, a group of Israeli citizens and residents which supports the Palestinian call for BDS. In 2010, he represented the Palestinian Popular Struggle Coordination Committee at the European Parliament, promoting the rights of human rights defenders as well as stressing the importance of holding Israel accountable for its actions. 

Follow him on Twitter: @ronnie_barkan

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