Thursday, August 27, 2009

Palestinians pay the price for Israel's illegal settlements.

The video you see here only exists because an Israeli Human Rights group have handed out hundreds of video cameras to vulnerable Palestinians across the West Bank. What we witness here is disgraceful. But what has caused outrage is not the attack, rather it is the Israeli police's reaction to this attack.

There are few places more exposed and isolated in the West Bank than the cluster of tents and caves that is home to Khalil Nawaja, his wife Tamam, their two sons and their 50 sheep.

It was close to here that the couple were severely beaten last summer by four masked, club-swinging Jewish settlers in the barley field. Tamam, her face still bleeding after being clubbed in the jaw, was driven in an Israeli Army ambulance to Beersheeva's Soroka hospital, where she required three days of treatment.

And it was here that they received the news last week that the Israeli police had closed an investigation without making charges, even though the attack was caught on video, causing shock and outrage across Israel and beyond when it was shown on television last year.
It's astonishing that the Israeli police can feel free to make such an announcement at the very moment that Netanyahu is touring the world discussing the settlements, going as far as to say that he hopes that Israeli settlers will be able to "continue living normal lives".

Staking a claim in someone else's country and demanding that it is yours is not what most of us consider "a normal life".

And the people who are having their lives disrupted are the Palestinians rather than the Israeli settlers; and it's something which the Israeli police seem shockingly reticent to prosecute.
According to one human rights agency, Yesh Din, around 90 per cent of investigations it monitored in 2005-6 into complaints by Palestinians against settlers – and 79 per cent of ones about assaults – ended without an indictment.
Obviously, the fact that the young men in the video covered their faces has made investigation more difficult, but the police have hardly acted as if this case is a priority.

But there are doubts about how quickly the police – despite describing the incident as "grave" – started to hunt in earnest for suspects and evidence.

It was nine days before they searched a settler farm, where the Nawajas were convinced their attackers had come from, and indeed returned to after the incident was over. The search yielded evidence including shirts similar to those in the video clip, two picks with club-like handles, and five 9mm bullets.

So, as Netanyahu tours the world - pleading that the settlers be allowed "to live normal lives" - incidents like this should always be remembered as the possible consequence of allowing the settlers to remain where they are.

No matter what Netanyahu states, Article 49 of the Geneva Conventions remains utterly clear:
The Occupying Power shall not deport or transfer parts of its own civilian population into the territory it occupies.
And, despite the actions of Reagan and Bush 43, the official US legal position on the settlements hasn't changed since the days of Jimmy Carter:
Thirty years ago, the State Department legal adviser issued an opinion in response to an inquiry from Congress: The establishment of Israeli settlements in occupied Palestinian territories "is inconsistent with international law."

Despite the passage of time, the legal opinion, issued during the Carter administration, has never been revoked or revised. President Ronald Reagan said he disagreed with it -- he called the settlements "not illegal" -- but his State Department did not seek to issue a new opinion.
Bush might have famously referred to the settlements as "facts on the ground" but not even the most fervent of his supporters would claim that he is a lawyer, or, indeed, any kind of an expert on international law.

The US legal position on the settlements remains clear. And the video above demonstrates the price the Palestinians are paying because successive US governments ignore their own State Departments legal advice, because they fear upsetting the Israelis.

Obama should proceed with negotiations based on what is legal, not with what is least likely to upset the Israelis.

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