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Opinion: Neither nation can survive without freedom and independence for the Palestinians

Israeli peace activist Nurit Peled-Elhanan calls on the international community to help end settlement expansion and bring peace to the region.

Nurit Peled-Elhanan

TIMES ARE VERY rough for both Israeli and Palestinian families. The death toll in Gaza currently stands at around 1,200, the vast majority of whom were civilians. Fifty-three Israelis have been killed, including three civilians.

Dangerous and violent racism against Arab Israeli citizens, encouraged by Israeli Ministers and Parliament members, has led to riots in the streets, and has bred aggression and severe discrimination against Palestinians, along with a new aggression against peace activists.

Israel is currently suffering from an unprecedented social and economic crisis. The single source for this crisis is Israel’s destructive occupation.

The occupation has raised two generations of Palestinians as prisoners jailed between military checkpoints and walls and two generations of Israelis who believe that they are the lords of the land, nurtured by the illusion that the oppression of 4.5 million Palestinians gives them security and peace, and that such an oppressive society is capable of raising compassionate children. They are shocked when their boys become ruthless killers, as is revealed by current events.

Settlement project 

One of the most dominant and disastrous expressions of the occupation is the settlement project in East Jerusalem and the West Bank, which is illegal under international law. The settlements allow Israel to take control of Palestinians’ natural resources in violation of international law, to strengthen its presence in the territories, and to make the occupation irreversible.

Despite agreements, international resolutions and Israeli promises, the settlements are expanding. All the while, Palestinian homes in East Jerusalem and so-called ‘Area C’ (61% of the West Bank, under full Israeli control) are constantly destroyed. While water flows in the settlements without limitation, Palestinian villages live under a cruel water regime, as was recently pointed out by the President of the European Parliament, Martin Schultz, during a speech he made before the Israeli Parliament. Many roads are closed to Palestinians and the restriction of movement is unbearable.

To this day, the international community has not done enough to stop Israeli settlements. European countries have profoundly criticised them while continuing to cooperate fully with Israel, economically, politically and militarily. As a result, Israel does not pay any price for seriously violating international law. On the contrary, Europe also pays for much of the humanitarian damage of the occupation, making it even easier for Israel to maintain.

A small step in the right direction

A year ago, the EU made a small step in the right direction: guidelines were issued prohibiting EU institutions to fund or to finance research organisations and activities in the settlements. Twenty European countries, including Ireland, have published formal warnings to their citizens and companies regarding trade and financial relations with the settlements.

In its official advice to businesses and citizens (available on the Department of Foreign Affairs website), the Irish government noted: “Israeli settlements are illegal under international law, constitute an obstacle to peace and threaten to make a two-state solution to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict impossible…[the settlements] are built on occupied land and are not recognised as a legitimate part of Israel’s territory.”

And yet, these measures do not seriously challenge Israeli policy in occupied Palestine. Europe could do much better, as illustrated by its harsh response to Russia’s annexation of Crimea. It took the EU a few weeks – not years – to make its stance against Russian actions crystal clear.

In addition to suspending the funding of new public-sector projects in Russia by the EU’s lending institution, the European Investment Bank, the EU took the decision to ban the import of Crimean goods, and to impose targeted sanctions on both Russian and Ukrainian officials as well as businesses operating in Crimea. This all occurred well before the Malaysian jet was shot down.

This cannot be described as ‘temporary’

Israel controls millions of Palestinians under an ongoing military occupation, claiming that this situation is “temporary”. However, a military occupation of 47 years, which includes the establishment of settlements, cannot be described as “temporary”.

As an Israeli longing for peace and justice, I believe Europe has to contain the settlement policy with greater determination and more concrete measures.

The world increasingly understands the threat that the settlements pose to peace and stability in the region. Over time, neither Palestinians nor Israelis can survive without freedom and independence for the Palestinians. Already, the undemocratic character of the state of Israel is increasingly transforming it into an apartheid state.

For the two nations living in this region, there is a joint and real interest in ending the Israeli occupation as a precondition for peace. We, the citizens of Israel and the stateless people of Palestine, cannot bring this about on our own. We need the help of the international community at large and of the EU in particular.

As a laureate of the European Parliament’s Sakharov Prize for Human Rights, and as a mother and a human being, I call on the EU to use all the diplomatic and economic tools at its disposal to help save my country from the abyss of eternal occupation and injustice.

Professor Nurit Peled-Elhanan is a professor at the Hebrew University of Jerusalem, the 2001 Sakharov Prize Laureate, and the co-founder of the Russell Tribunal on Palestine.

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Nurit Peled-Elhanan

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