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All UN member nations, including Israel, are signatories to the Fourth Geneva Convention. This convention outlined the treatment of the civilian population of an occupied state by an occupying state. My interpretation is that basically an occupying state must virtually take on the role of a normal government of the occupied state. In other words, if say, my home country, Australia, was occupied by Japan, as was nearly the case in the Second World War, then the Japanese occupying force would have to assume the role of the Australian government in all the areas that the Australian government would normally need to take on. The difference being that while the government is normally elected and tolerated quite well, even by those who didn’t vote for it, an occupying power is considered a hostile entity and has the competing role of maintaining the security of the occupying forces themselves from the occupied population.

The role of the occupying forces is not small, or inexpensive if it wants to maintain an occupation and stay within the limits of International Law. It must, as a minimum requirement, protect the rights of the occupied people just as if they were a normally elected government and try to satisfy the security needs of the occupying force as well. This is indeed a difficult task, but that is just the point. International Law is not there to make an occupation easy. An occupation that satisfies the minimum requirements of International Law would put an immense strain on the resources of the government of the occupying force and it is supposed to. In this way, International Law is trying to deter an occupation from continuing for an extended period of time. Put simply, if you can’t afford to maintain an occupation and satisfy the requirements of International Law, then get out of the country and end the occupation!

Over the last two weeks I have seen how, in numerous instances, the Israeli occupation of the West Bank and Gaza violates International Law in grievous ways, all over the territories it occupies.

The question is, “How does Israel justify all these obvious violations of International Law?” The answer that Israel offers is that the Fourth Geneva Convention does not apply in this case because these conventions are meant to be applied between states, and the West Bank and Gaza have never had proper Palestinian governances and hence cannot be considered as a state. That is, Israel is not occupying the West Bank and Gaza in a manner that would invoked the Fourth Geneva Convention. It needs to be said that no country, the US included, accepts this answer. This is clearly a matter of semantics that completely misses the point of the conventions.

But even if the Israeli answer is correct, and it has indeed found a loop hole in International Law, then what can we say about the attitude of the Israeli state? In my mind, if any state is actively looking for a loop hole in International Law that enables it to opt out if its obligations to uphold human dignity and human rights like any reasonable government should, then that government was never terribly interested in the concept of Human Rights and Humanitarian Law in the first place.
Regardless of whether or not the Israeli argument on this point is correct, they have lost the moral argument at the very least. The testimony of my own eyes over even the last two weeks has only confirmed this point to me.

CRAIG NIELSEN

DISCLAIMER
I am participating in a program as an Ecumenical Accompanier serving in the World Council of Churches’ Ecumenical Accompaniment Program in Palestine and Israel (EAPPI). The views contained here are personal to me and do not necessarily reflect those of the National Council of Churches Australia or the World Council of Churches. If you would like to publish the information contained here (including posting on a website), or distribute it further, please first contact the EAPPI Communications Officer (eappi.communications@gmail.com) for permission. Thank you.

My apologies to readers of this blog for my long absence in posting on this blog. I am going to make up for it in the following weeks as I am participating in a program with the World Council of Churches in the West Bank (see disclaimer at the bottom of this blog). I will be here for 3 months, living in the small rural village of Jayyus in a typical house in the village but with 4 other internationals participating in the program.

During our initial orientation and training for the program, we listened to a talk by a young ex soldier named Shay Davidovich.
Shay grew up in the Ariel settlement which is one of the largest settlements in the West Bank and is situated in the Seam Zone in what is known as the Ariel finger. The Seam Zone is that area in Palestine that lies between the Separation Barrier and the Green Line (the 1949 Armistice line) and the term “finger” refers to the Seam Zone region that pokes into the West Bank like a finger, ending with the Ariel settlement at the tip.

Shay grew up in an Israeli family that had no particular interest in the issue of the Palestinians and after high school graduation he joined the Israeli military and was stationed in the West Bank. Fairly quickly into his service in the West Bank, Shay started to question his role and it’s relationship to the narratives that he had been taught as a student about the West Bank and Israel’s role in that region. This led to a gradual process of disillusionment that Shay related to us, and this process culminated in his joining the movement known as Breaking the Silence. This group consists of ex Israeli soldiers who have chosen to speak out openly about the things that they experienced as soldiers in the West Bank.

Amongst a number of other disturbing facts, Shay related a particular story of how Israeli soldiers in the West Bank are instructed as to how to conduct an arrest on Palestinian civilians. One might assume that new soldiers get involved in mock role plays using other soldiers as arrestees and arrestors, but at least in Shays case, you would be wrong.

According to Shay, soldiers are taught how to arrest Palestinians by choosing a Palestinian family that is known by Israeli intelligence to have had absolutely no connection to violence or violent demonstrations. The idea being that this would bring the risk level of new soldiers learning arrest procedures getting hurt, down to a minimum. I guess that sounds sensible to some. The soldiers would then go to the village where the family lives, in the middle of the night, usually between midnight and 5am, and carry out the arrest. The person arrested, usually the father or an older male, would be blind folded and hand cuffed (hands behind the back) and taken away without explanation. A day or two later the person would be restored to their family, once again, without explanation. The family would have no idea that this was a mock arrest. Given that Palestinians are routinely arrested and receive prison sentences of up to two or three years for, what would seem to my mind, fairly minor offences that many Palestinians believe that these arrests are just excuses made up by the Israelis to harass and control them, the upset that these mock arrests cause the families can not be underestimated.

Shay told us that as a soldier, he was instructed that the military’s job was to control the Palestinian population and that the main way to do this was to continually let them “feel your presence”. This meant that Palestinians must continually be let know who is boss and that it is the Israeli military that make the rules to achieve this goal of control.

Shay showed us a short film, that was actually made by the Israeli military, allegedly to teach Israeli soldiers how to achieve this goal of “letting them feel your presence” in the context of checkpoint duty. The video showed disturbing scenes of Israeli soldiers beating Palestinian civilians at crowded checkpoints, even while the Palestinians had their hands tied behind their backs. This video somehow made its way to Israeli television and a public outcry ensued. The soldier who in particular was shown to be handing out the most abusive treatment was court martialed and given a prison sentence. A petition, signed by 60 members of the convicted soldiers unit, said that the soldier accused was being used as a scapegoat and that this type of incident was common place and that all superior officers in charge were aware of the situation and know that it was standard procedure.

The Fourth Geneva convention, of which Israel, as well as all UN member nations are a signatory to, states clearly the responsibilities of an occupying power towards civilians of that occupied people. It states clearly that while security concerns are an issue for an occupying power, that these concerns can not be used as a continual excuse to abuse an occupied population and hence absolve the occupier of their moral and legal duty to protect and provide safety for the occupied population.

CRAIG NIELSEN

DISCLAIMER
I am participating in a program as an Ecumenical Accompanier serving in the World Council of Churches’ Ecumenical Accompaniment Program in Palestine and Israel (EAPPI). The views contained here are personal to me and do not necessarily reflect those of the National Council of Churches Australia or the World Council of Churches. If you would like to publish the information contained here (including posting on a website), or distribute it further, please first contact the EAPPI Communications Officer (eappi.communications@gmail.com) for permission. Thank you.

Israel-Palestine: A Christian Response to the Conflict

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