By- Dr. Paul Monaghan MP
First published by Al-Araby on 09th December 2016
It’s a little over six years since the philosopher and linguist Noam Chomsky suggested that people who call themselves supporters of Israel are actually supporters of the country’s moral degeneration and ultimate destruction.
Chomsky thought his suggestion correct and also suggested that, as time passes, Israel’s occupation of Palestine becomes more powerful and more overwhelming. His comments are probably influenced by the feeling that the occupation is increasingly becoming normalised and ever harder to disentangle.
In my experience, nowhere perhaps does this view fall into sharper focus than when sitting in Ofer Military Court in the West Bank watching the full might of a modern military machine dispense justice to a 14 year old boy still carrying obvious scars of having been shot in the head.
Israeli martial law was imposed on the West Bank and Gaza in 1967 when civil law, civil rights, and habeas corpus, or guarantee against illegal detention, were suspended for the Palestinian people.
Since 1967 some 760,000 people have been prosecuted within Israeli military courts. The conviction rate runs at an alarmingly implausible 99.7 percent and 8,000 Palestinians, including children, are subject to detention and transfer to prison inside Israel each year.
We should neither take these figures lightly nor underestimate the impact of them on Israeli society. The transfer of individuals from the West Bank to prisons located inside Israel is both a violation of the Fourth Geneva Convention and the Rome Statute of the International Criminal Court and is classified as a war crime.
Some might argue that no society can conduct war crimes on such a scale indefinitely without inflicting mortal wounds on itself.
“…absentee laws are used to erode Palestinian rights to hold property and to legitimise continuing Israeli settlement expansion in the West Bank”
Alongside the application of martial law, we must also understand Israel’s “absentee property” laws, which are deployed to confiscate Palestinian land through application of the legal definition of “present absentee”.
These absentee laws are used to erode Palestinian rights to hold property and to legitimise continuing Israeli settlement expansion in the West Bank. Absentee property laws act in combination with martial law to prevent Palestinians from physically returning to their homes and to render individuals unable to challenge allegations of absenteeism. The laws enable settlements.
I visited Israel and Palestine in both 2015 and 2016. On each visit I had the good fortune of meeting community leaders and senior politicians from both sides of the debate. I enjoyed each visit and feel privileged to have met some wonderful people.
Both times, I left with the view that the process of normalisation alluded to by Noam Chomsky has indeed created a situation where the prospect of future dialogue is ebbing away, and indeed a situation where some on both sides no longer easily identify the opportunities to communicate and build on common ground. And there is common ground.
“…some on both sides no longer easily identify the opportunities to communicate and build on common ground. And there is common ground”
Israel has a right to protect itself, its territory and its people, but we should be under no illusion that martial law and the phenomena of absentee property runs counter to the desire for dialogue. These laws are decimating Palestinian society and act as a block to peace and prosperity.
Indeed we might say it is a fact that the day-to-day manifestation of the occupation today is the use of military administration to confiscate property, impose curfew, restrict movement, detain or incarcerate without charge, deport, exclude or simply summon individuals to a police station.
These laws however also impact on Israeli society – in different, less tangible ways admittedly – but the impact is no less significant. Indeed martial law and absentee property laws diminish the integrity of Israeli society just as they diminish the integrity of Palestine lands.
“I was reassured that humanity is both alive and well in the most cosmopolitan communities in Israel.”
However, like most Palestinians I choose not to dwell on the negative. Having visited Israel and Palestine I can say that my strongest memory of each visit to Israel and Palestine is the strength of feeling on both sides that each want to speak with the other.
On Saturday 5th November I attended Rabin Square in Tel Aviv with 70,000 other people who were there to remember the assassination of Yitzhak Rabin. It was an extraordinary event with children, couples, families and groups choosing to remember the assassination by holding aloft posters proclaiming the rights of Palestinians. I spoke with as many of those attending as I could, and was reassured that humanity is both alive and well in the most cosmopolitan communities in Israel.
The next evening I was privileged to eat with a Bedouin tribe on the outskirts of Jerusalem. With the sound of nearby machine gun fire hanging heavy in the air, I listened as the tribe spoke of hope, opportunity and their aspiration for peace. I spoke with every member of the tribe and was reassured that humanity is also alive and well in the most impoverished communities of the West Bank.
“Every person I spoke to in Rabin Square and in the Bedouin tent was a supporter of Israel but not one was a supporter of Israel’s moral degeneration or ultimate destruction.”
Every person I spoke to in Rabin Square and in the Bedouin tent was a supporter of Israel but not one was a supporter of Israel’s moral degeneration or ultimate destruction.
Those I spoke to knew that their destiny is dependent on others they have yet to meet, and that the seeds of peace will only grow when communities have the opportunity to talk and work together.
Any one of these individuals could be taken as proof that Chomsky is wrong and that the true supporters of Israel are not supporters of a model of government that might inevitably lead to the country’s moral degeneration and ultimate destruction.
All of these people, tellingly, argue that the seeds they choose to nurture will grow and lead not to destruction but to a resolution they call “Two States for Two Peoples”.
That is an objective we should all support. Indeed we must support that objective because we owe it to people like the 14-year old boy I watched in Ofer Military Court and to everyone else who supports Israel.