No, rules are not made to be broken — certainly not when they are formalised in an international treaty.
This year marks the 70th anniversary of the Fourth Geneva Convention — the most recent revision of the treaties first envisioned in 1864 — whose goal, as perceived by the signatory countries in August 1949, was to draw an internationally agreed-upon moral consensus dictating the treatment of civilians living in combat zones and Occupied Territories.
The Fourth Geneva Convention, from its inception, reactively passed into the body of international law, making it binding on all signatories (and Israel, the newly established state entity, grafted on a dismembered Palestine a year earlier, was one such), would, by definition, have solemnly agreed to ensure that the principles encoded in the articles of the convention are respected. One of these is Article 49, which states unambiguously: “The Occupying Power shall not deport or transfer parts of its own population into the territory it occupies.” In short, colonising land in occupied land is a violation of international law.
Since its occupation of the West Bank and Gaza, and the subjugation of Palestinians there to the rule of the gun began well over five decades ago, Israel has wantonly, brazenly and systematically violated not just that, but every other article in the Fourth Geneva Convention.
When it comes to being Palestinian, there is no justice in the world, there is no way out or around their unremitting pain as the stateless, occupied ‘other’, denied the right to be a determining force in their destiny.
Why then, we may ask, on the 70th anniversary of the ratification of that convention, has Israel been able to get away with these violations for so long — presenting, by its actions, a threat to the humane assumptions, the moral values and political principles that underpin the essence of the Fourth Geneva Convention — without being brought to task?
The fault, dear reader, is not in our stars, as the bard would have it, but in the minds of those decision-makers in Washington who, in their wisdom, or lack thereof, devised America’s foreign policy for the Middle East.
Consider this: In 1971, the United States ambassador to the United Nations, George H.W. Bush, was uncompromising in his condemnation of Israel — and that word is not a typo, passing unnoticed by the copy editor, that should read ‘commendation’ instead. In his intervention at the international body, Bush actually said that the US “deplores Israel’s failure to acknowledge its obligation under the Fourth Geneva Convention, as well as its actions [as an occupying power], which are contrary to the letter and spirit of this convention”.
Those were the days. But, alas, soon after that, with pressure mounting on the White House from pro-Israel groups, US official policy and actual practise of that policy began to diverge, that is, as Washington continued, publicly, to “deplore” Israel’s violations of “the letter and the spirit of this convention”. In practise, it provided successive Israeli governments with the means — economic, diplomatic and military — that enabled them to implement, with impressive ease, those very violations that Bush had alluded to.
But the joke was on us, for by failing to identify Washington chiefly by its actions, we were fooled by its words.
In later years, as is well-known, the US dropped all pretence of impartiality and went all in, with full-throated support for Israel. Here’s a case in point: In December 2001, an important conference was held in Switzerland where 114 countries attended. In their official declaration, they condemned the colonisation of Palestinian land (a violation of Article 49) and also “urged” Israel to end its “grave breaches” of other articles in the convention. How did the US vote? The US chose to boycott the conference altogether.
Things, of course, have got even more unabashed since. How much more? Last Sunday, Jared Kushner, principal honcho behind “the deal of the century”, asked by reporters if Palestinians could expect freedom from occupation were they to get on board with the deal, replied: “That would be a high bar”. A high bar!
In a speech broadcast on Palestine TV recently, Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas said that both “the deal of the century” and the Donald Trump administration’s upcoming economic conference in Bahrain could “go to hell”.
An undiplomatic exclamation? It is that. But it is also a kind of cri de couer, embodying the despair of a people whose patience has worn thin and who mourn the fact that, when it comes to being Palestinian, there is no justice in the world, there is no way out or around their unremitting pain as the stateless, occupied ‘other’, denied the right to be a determining force in their destiny. Who knows? Perhaps, as punishment in their next life, Israelis will be reincarnated as Palestinians.
Fawaz Turki is a journalist, lecturer and author based in Washington. He is the author of The Disinherited: Journal of a Palestinian Exile.