Fifty-one years ago, Israel occupied the remaining parts of historic Palestine, thus completing the colonisation of the Palestinian homeland.
June 5, 2018, marked the anniversary of the Israeli occupation of East Jerusalem, the West Bank and Gaza, and other Arab lands including the Syrian Golan Heights which was annexed by the Israeli government in 1981, a decision that was rejected by the international community. During that same year, Israel also annexed occupied East Jerusalem. Both the United Nations and the United States rejected that decision, until December last year when the US administration of Donald Trump defied international consensus and decided to recognise all of Jerusalem as Israel’s capital. In truth, Israel never intended for its occupation of Palestinian land to meet the requirements of ‘military occupation’ as specified by international law. Almost immediately following the June 1967 war, Israeli leaders began devising ways to create irreversible realities on the ground, thus violating the rules of military occupation recognised under international law. Israeli government minister Yigal Allon proposed what became known as the ‘Allon Plan’, aimed at partitioning the West Bank, annexing most of the Jordan Valley, all of East Jerusalem and massive swathes of other areas, while according Jordan the remaining parts to be administered by the kingdom.
Rules of occupation
Although the Allon Plan did not actualise as planned, Israel annexed East Jerusalem and undertook a massive colonial project that remains active and growing to this day. To some extent, the Allon Plan is still being implemented but in a phased-out process. Israeli government officials now speak of annexing areas where the illegal colonies are built.
For Israel, the plan was never about military occupation per se but rather the complete colonisation of all of Palestine and the continued ethnic cleansing of its native Palestinian inhabitants.
It is for practical purposes that we often utilise the term ‘occupation’ with reference to Israel’s colonisation of Palestinian land post-June 5, 1967. The term allows for the constant emphasis on humanitarian rules that are meant to govern Israel’s behaviour as an occupying power. It is often argued that Israel is an occupier that has violated the rules of occupation as stated in international law. This would possibly have been the case within five years after the original occupation, but not 51 years later. The ‘occupation’ can now be termed a long-term colonisation. Those hundreds of colonies that Israel has been building in the occupied West Bank and occupied East Jerusalem are not erected as temporary structures. Dividing the West Bank into three zones, areas A, B and C, each governed according to different political diktats and military roles, have little precedent in international law. Israel argues that, contrary to international law, it is no longer an occupying power in Gaza, however, an Israel land, maritime and aerial siege has been imposed on the Strip for over 11 years. With successive Israeli wars that have killed thousands, to a hermetic blockade that has pushed the Palestinian population to the brink of starvation, Gaza subsists in isolation.
Gaza is an ‘occupied territory’ by name only, without any of the humanitarian rules applied. In the period between March 30 and June 1, over 120 unarmed protesters, journalists and medics were killed and 13,000 wounded, yet the international community and law remain inept, unable to face or challenge Israeli leaders or overpower equally cold-hearted American vetoes. The Palestinian occupied territories have, long ago, crossed the line from being occupied to being colonised. But there are reasons that we are trapped in old definitions, foremost among them being American political hegemony over the legal and political discourses pertaining to Palestine.
One of the main political and legal achievements of the Israeli war — which was carried out with full US support — on several Arab countries in June 1967, is the redefining of the legal and political language on Palestine. Prior to that war, the discussion was mostly dominated by such urgent issues as the ‘Right of Return’ for Palestinian refugees to return to their homes and properties in historic Palestine.
The June war shifted the balances of power completely and cemented America’s role as Israel’s main backer on the international stage.
Israel is a colonist project which began when, in the late 19th century, the Zionist movement aspired to build an exclusive homeland for Jews in Palestine, at the expense of the native inhabitants of that land. Nothing has changed since, except facades, legal definitions and political discourses. The truth is that Palestinians continue to suffer the consequences of Zionist colonisation and will continue to bear that burden until that original sin is boldly confronted and justly remedied. Israel’s violations of international law should be noted and fiercely challenged, but the discussion cannot focus only on ‘occupation’, while the latter is only a phase of a century of colonisation that continues unabated.
Ramzy Baroud, PhD, University of Exeter, UK is Non-Resident Scholar at Orfalea Centre for International Studies, University of California, Santa Barbara.