Why is Jerusalem a problem?
Who controls West Bank, Gaza and East Jerusalem?
After Zionist leaders proclaimed the state of Israel in May 1948, a war with its Arab neighbours resulted in Israel annexing land from Palestine, then under British mandate. Some 700 000 Palestinians were displaced from 675 towns and villages, which represented about 93 percent of Israel’s geographical extent. Many were pushed into the West Bank, which was controlled by Jordan, with boundaries at the Jordan River in the east and the Green Line in the west. [See map]. Egypt established control of the Gaza Strip. Israel split control of Jerusalem, taking West Jerusalem and giving East Jerusalem to Jordan.
In 1967, Israel won the pre-emptive Six-Day War against its Arab neighbours, as a result of which it gained control of Sinai and the Gaza Strip (taken from Egypt), the Golan Heights (taken from Syria), and the West Bank and East Jerusalem (taken back from Jordan). The Palestine Liberation Organization (PLO), founded in 1964, moved its operations from the West Bank to Jordan. In defiance of a UN Security Council Resolution 242 Israel continued to occupy the West Bank and East Jerusalem and started expanding its settlements for new Jewish immigrants.
The Israeli military only pulled out of Gaza in 2007 after the Gaza-based Hamas party won elections there, but it continues to control the sea and air space. Gaza has a high population density and its 1.5 million people are not allowed to travel to other areas of Palestine but can exit via Egypt if holding proper international papers.
Why have peace initiatives stalled?
Using the UN Security Council Resolution 242 as a basis for peace negotiations (calling on Israel to withdraw its forces to pre-1967 boundaries), the 1993 Oslo Accords attempted to broker a ‘land for peace’ deal by which occupied Palestine was divided up into three geographical and political configurations: Areas A, B and C. Intentions were to prepare Palestine for self-rule. The PLO, led by Yasser Arafat, and Israel, under Prime Minister Yitzhak Rabin, agreed to each other’s right to exist as individual states. Agreements were brokered by the United States to expand Palestinian self-rule in the West Bank and Gaza under the newly-formed Palestinian Authority (PA) and allow for Palestinian elections. Israel also signed a peace treaty with Jordan. Other agreements with the PLO included Israeli withdrawals from occupied lands. However, the Oslo Accords were never finalised: when Rabin was assassinated talks stalled again and the Second Intifada was launched in 2000.
Meanwhile Israel annexed 60 percent of the Palestinians’ West Bank (Area C), over which it exercises control to this day. Israel moved the barrier wall inside Palestine, allowing more land and water sources to be taken to build Jewish settlements. With the fall of the Soviet Union in the early 1990s, many Jewish Soviets immigrated into Israel. Palestinians view this illegal occupation as a deliberate policy of ethnic cleansing, using demography and geography to justify Jewish settlement expansion and enforce more apartheid measures on the Palestinians.
What does international humanitarian law say about this conflict?
The 1948 UN Resolution 194 determined the Green Line boundaries of the West Bank for Palestinians. Israel did not agree to this demarcation and refused to allow displaced Palestinians to return to their original homes in ‘greater’ Israel. Israel’s military occupation grew in defiance of this Resolution and violent skirmishes ensued for the next 18 years.
Israel has defied the Article 49 of the 1949 Rules of War of the Fourth Geneva Convention, Article 49, by transferring its population, i.e. settlers, to occupied territories. It has also defied Article 58 by restricting the rights of Palestinians to move freely for purposes of religious worship or reunification with family members.
Israel defied parts of UN Resolution 242 of 1967 by continuing to strengthen its military occupation ‘for reasons of security’.
The International Court of Justice ruled in 2004 that Israel’s barrier wall on Palestinian lands was illegal and must be dismantled but Israel continues to build settlements in defiance of this ruling.
The Russell Tribunal on Palestine of 2011 found that Israel subjects the Palestinian people to an institutionalised regime of domination, amounting to apartheid, which is deemed a crime against humanity under international law. See http://www.russelltribunalonpalestine.com.
Is a two-state solution possible?
The Second Intifada united Palestinian citizens within Israel in solidarity with those in the West Bank and Gaza for the first time. However, their joint anger at increased Israeli military blockades and their deployment of suicide bombers to attack Israeli communities further enraged Israel. Administrative detentions of Palestinian ‘terrorists’ resulted.
As recently as 2007, a majority of both Israelis and Palestinians seemed to prefer the two-state solution, even though Israel has never felt comfortable with the Palestinian demands to return to the land and homes seized since Israel’s land captures in 1967. Demographically, this would produce Arab populations that are larger than Israel’s population. Nine million Palestinians in the world today, 70 percent being refugees/displaced people, feel they have a ‘right of return’ to their original homes. Israel feels this would pose a threat to the half million Jewish settlers and another 4.5 million Israeli Jews living in Israel proper. This suggests that Israel has annexed, rather than occupied, lands not designated to them in 1948. Many analysts believe that only an integration scenario would be possible, as happened in the transformation of apartheid South Africa, of one confederated state where all groups would live under equitable laws and equal rights to social services and resources.
What can YOU do to about helping to resolve this conflict?
The driver for solidarity activism country-wide and internationally is advocacy for these basic issues:
- Stopping the occupation and ensuring the fundamental rights of the Arab-Palestinian citizens of Israel to full equality.
- Adherence to international humanitarian law.
- Implementing, protecting and promoting the rights of Palestinian refugees to return to their homes and properties as stipulated in UN resolution 194 of 1948.
- Forging effective boycott/divestment/sanctions (BDS) and advocacy campaigns.
SUPPORT ISRAELI AND PALESTINIAN PEACE GROUPS
Know who they are:
- B’Tselem – The Israeli Information Centre for Human Rights in the Occupied Territories compiles data on human rights abuses. http://www.btselem.org
- Israeli Committee Against Housing Demolitions – directed by Israeli Jeff Halper. http://www.icahd.org
- Peace Now – a large Israeli Jewish peace organisation, which plays a key role in monitoring settlement activity. http://peacenow.org.il/eng/
- Kairos Palestine 2009 – http://www.kairospalestine.ps/. A call from Palestinian Christians for a theology of love and solidarity with the oppressed, in solidarity with Kairos Southern Africa http://www.kairossouthernafrica.wordpress.com
- The Alternative Tourism Group initiatives – sponsors educational tours throughout Palestine and Israel. http://www.atg.ps
ADVOCATE THROUGH ACTION
- The Boycott, Divestment, and Sanctions Campaign (BDS) calls for boycotting products from Israel, like Ahava cosmetics and Soda Stream which are made from resources in the Occupied Territories and labelled ‘Made in Israel’. It calls for renaming them as ‘Made in the Occupied Palestine Territory (OPT)’, as recently ruled by the South African Department of Trade and Industry. http://www.bdsmovement.net [global]); www.bdssouthafrica.com/ (South Africa).
- Advocate by:
- Signing petitions – where a protest against human rights abuses calls for communication with various authorities, including the Israeli government and its representative in South Africa.
- Writing letters – to your political leaders, government portfolio committees and the Israeli diplomatic representative in South Africa
- Developing toolkits – for public talks and protests, such as posters, flyers, banners etc.
- Holding peaceful protests – to convey messages and recruit for action
- Attend lectures, seminars, meetings about the conflict when both local and overseas dignitaries and scholars host discussions. Make your voice heard!
- Join your local Palestine Solidarity Campaign committee at meetings and events and volunteer for activities.
EDUCATE YOURSELF AND OTHERS
Lean about current happenings through readings and public seminars:
- HumanRights – newsletter by Palestinian scholar, Dr. Mazim Qumsdiyeh. http://lists.qumsiyeh.org/mailman/listinfo/humanrights
- Badil – An advocacy organisation based in Bethlehem calling for the right of return of Palestinian refugees as central to any peace negotiations with Israel. http://www.badil.org
- End the Occupation campaign – offers strategies and petitions. www.stopthewall.org; www.endtheoccupation.org; www.palestineagency.com
- Who Profits? – discusses international labelling requirements and Israeli companies (and others) benefiting from exploiting resources in the Occupied Palestinian Territory. www.whoprofits.org
The author, Carol Martin is a member of the member of the Palestine Solidarity Campaign/Cape Town