Palestine policy in a rules-based world

Beit Lahiya, Gaza Nov 2012, Marilyn Garson

Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern urged APEC to ensure fair access to Covid vaccines, as a step toward a ‘rules-based’ Pacific region.  As a small, remote country, Aotearoa-NZ depends heavily on those rules. We have moral, legal and self-interested reasons to act and speak for a rules-based world and when we do, our voice carries.

We should use our voice now, while we are all staring at our contradictions.  Covid shows that our health is indivisible – while the old, morally vacant politics have eroded our ability to act collectively on health, climate, inequality, violence, or the massive flows of refugees driven from their homes by from great hardship.   Self-interest lies in restoring our international institutions.  Institutions are not just buildings, they are agreed behaviours and rules.  We need to reinvigorate especially those agreements which underpin our institutions of law, equality and science. 

Why should Palestine be on our agenda?  Israel’s forever-occupation is a product of the old power politics. Our donor and policy choices make us actively complicit: we are part of the Palestine problem.  In May we all watched the intentional destruction escalate once more:  over 260 Gazan lives lost and 13 in Israel, half a billion dollars of infrastructure and housing wrecked, one-fifth of Gazans left without running water, and ongoing expulsions of Palestinians from their homes in occupied East Jerusalem. 

On the ground things are only worse, but the excessive violence has finally broken into the mainstream media.  The New York Times, Vanity Fair and others are publishing real images of Gazans’ experience.  Even staid diplomatic voices now declare that states must change their diplomacy in order to bring solutions about. 

And where does Aotearoa stand?  Contrast these two statements.  Former UN Secretary-General Ban Ki Moon used to appeal for humanitarian aid to Gaza. Now he speaks of cause, law and responsibility.

“Israel has pursued a policy of incremental de facto annexation in the territories it has occupied since 1967… This is not a conflict between equals… a powerful state is controlling another people through an open-ended occupation, settling its own people on the land in violation of international law and enforcing a legal regime of institutionalised discrimination. Calls for a return to unconditional bilateral talks every time there is a fresh flare-up in fighting will only serve to perpetuate the status quo if these root causes are not addressed. What has become increasingly clear in recent years is Israel’s intent to maintain its structural domination and oppression of the Palestinian people through indefinite occupation… a situation that arguably constitutes apartheid. It is now time for the international community to recognise and confront the consequences of Israel’s policies and actions in this regard.”

Compare that with our Foreign Minister, Hon. Nanaia Mahuta, writing on December 14, 2020:

“Successive New Zealand Governments have been clear that Israeli settlements are a violation of international law.  On 23 June 2020, then-Minister of Foreign Affairs, Rt Hon Winston Peters issued a statement highlighting this and warning that annexation would also breach international law and have negative implications for the peace process… New Zealand has a warm relationship with the Palestinian Authority, but our policy to date has been one of non-recognition of Palestine, on the basis that it lacks sufficient control of its territory to constitute a state…  New Zealand will continue to pursue a principled and balanced approach to the Middle East Peace Process including support for a two-state solution to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict.”

Illegality without consequence.  Blind, bystanding balance.  We can’t recognise Palestine because, well, because it’s so successfully and perennially occupied, for reasons that we warmly decline to analyse.

Is that really where our principles lead us?

Rather than waiting for justice to sprout like magic beans, we could ground our voice in the institutions of law and equality.  International law and the Geneva Conventions are institutions of principle. They oblige our constructive intervention on behalf of all people in a rules-based world.  

Law and treaty and convention are only meaningful if they are supported by action when they are breached. This report by the UN Special Rapporteur Michael Lynk outlines the sources of states’ legal obligations to act on the many breaches in Palestine, and it notes the characteristics of actions that have helped elsewhere.

Lynk reiterated just last week that Israel’s West Bank settlements, which have transferred 680,000 Israeli settlers onto occupied Palestinian land, should be classified as war crimes.  

“The illegality of the Israeli settlements is one of the most settled and uncontentious issues in modern international law and diplomacy. Their illegality has been confirmed by the United Nations Security Council, the General Assembly, the Human Rights Council, the International Court of Justice, the International Committee of the Red Cross, the High Contracting Parties to the Fourth Geneva Convention and by many international and regional human rights organizations… [but] the international community has been remarkably reluctant to enforce its own laws.”

We sponsored UN Resolution 2334 in 2016 to reiterate that illegality, but we have done nothing to make our action meaningful.  We speak up for principled fair access to Covid vaccines in the Pacific, but we have not spoken to Israel’s legal (and moral) failure to provide Covid vaccines to the people of occupied Palestine.  And so on. 

The rules-based order we seek requires more than that.

Ardi Imseis is a Canadian law professor and former Senior Legal Counsel to the Chief Justice of Alberta. He has made an excellent argument to go further and recognise the State of Palestine.  He elaborates Palestine’s qualification to be recognised, and outlines the legal and institutional value of regarding both Palestine and Israel as sovereign and territorially inviolable. In a world of state-based institutions, a State of Palestine would have access to “a number of legal principles that, by definition, can only apply to states and which are therefore the bedrock of the modern international legal order.”  Recognition would also “serve as a holding operation … to halt the ongoing colonization by the occupying power” of Palestinian territory and Palestinians’ lives. 

Alternative Jewish Voices has called for us to recognise Palestinians as a people with equal standing to speak about their resources, lives and aspirations.  Recognition would help to bring about the preconditions for any number of states to be governed in the interest of all citizens.  Isn’t that what our government says that it wants?

Early in our own uneven work of decolonisation, Aotearoa-NZ would bring a grounded, hopeful voice to the project of doing Palestine policy differently.  We would add to the external pressure for constructive change.  Surely that is where our values lead us. How much impact would it make, to uphold the laws that we sign or to act in the interest of a rules-based world? Absurdly, in all the decades of this occupation, it hasn’t been tried. 

No single policy will please the Jewish community, because we are not monolithic.  A quarter of the American Jewish voters – and a third of those aged under forty years – surveyed by the Jewish Electorate Institute now call Israel an apartheid state.  Locally, we are as deeply divided.  However, we are not the object of the policy and we must not be an excuse for inaction.  Israel’s forever-occupation is not about us.  As Sara Roy writes,

“Israel’s struggle against the Palestinian people is fundamentally about their presence and their representation to the world.  It is about diminishing if not removing their certainty by depriving them of agency and capacity and condemning them for their own privation.  Palestinians have resisted.  Yet, their resistance is not enough… They must be seen as a civil society with aspirations no different from ours.  They must be seen as the solution to the problems of their region.” 

In our Jewish community, in Aotearoa and in Palestine, there can be no future based on erasing a nation.  We need to embark on the work of listening, making good the harm that has been done, imagining and constructing a future together.  There is no other way forward – and that is the vision to which our national policy should speak.

Marilyn Garson

A future-facing Palestine policy will turn from power to justice

Photo by Marilyn Garson – water behind bars in Gaza

Weeks after the bombardment of Gaza, analysts are asking how to weaken Hamas, rather than writing that one-fifth of Gazans now live without running water to wash their hands during a Covid epidemic.  Israel’s blockade is obstructing precisely the materials needed to repair the infrastructure that Israeli planes bombed in May.  

Those analysts think that the aftermath of bombardment must be the restoration of the status quo ante – a resumption of the way things were before.  As a UN member and donor state, Aotearoa-NZ acts the same way.  We have one eye on Israel’s status quo interests, and the other eye closed.  We have no policy for Palestinians except as the objects of Israel’s regime. 

Even former UN General Secretary Ban Ki Moon wants such policies to change.

“Israel has pursued a policy of incremental de facto annexation in the territories it has occupied since 1967… This is not a conflict between equals… a powerful state is controlling another people through an open-ended occupation, settling its own people on the land in violation of international law and enforcing a legal regime of institutionalised discrimination. Calls for a return to unconditional bilateral talks every time there is a fresh flare-up in fighting will only serve to perpetuate the status quo if these root causes are not addressed. What has become increasingly clear in recent years is Israel’s intent to maintain its structural domination and oppression of the Palestinian people through indefinite occupation… a situation that arguably constitutes apartheid. It is now time for the international community to recognise and confront the consequences of Israel’s policies and actions in this regard.”

What if we based our policy on justice?  What might a future-facing policy be, and where can we begin? 

One eye on power: stabilising injustice

As a UN member and a small donor state, our government waits for two states to sprout from decades of systemic injustice (Alternative Jewish Voices takes no position on any number of states. That is a decision for citizens to make).  In the meantime, we relate to Israel as our equal in legitimacy and sovereignty, needing no action from us to bring any solution closer.

Far from criticising Israel’s “structural domination and oppression of the Palestinian people through indefinite occupation,” as a donor we agree to defray Israel’s costs, and manage the humanitarian results.  We do this particularly in Gaza, the stubborn heart of Palestinian resistance and the target of Israel’s purest punishment.

Our interest in the status quo makes Palestinians appear as disruptors, destabilisers.  We send them the most passive forms of assistance.  Elsewhere, aid recipients are told to work for their food, while to Palestine refugee camps we send relief food. We tell educated, eager Palestinian workers to wait quietly.  We do not invest in food production or food sovereignty.

A sack of flour requires no political analysis.  Passive relief sees only impoverished people.  It  does not ask what made them poor, why Gaza has scattered economic activity rather than any coherent economy to speak of, or why Palestinians are so determined to overthrow the status quo.  A sack of flour can sustain life, but without analysis it says nothing about change.

Because we screen out the politics of cause and reduce Palestinians to a humanitarian problem, we find ourselves speaking absurdly. Palestinians must recognise the Israel which excludes them, while Israel need not recognise Palestinians’ most basic human rights.  We speak of Israel’s right to self-defense while the defense of Palestinians – who bear the overwhelming share of casualties – goes unspoken.  We speak of Israeli civilian space while we discount Gazan civilian protections. We deny Palestinian statehood because Palestinians do not fully control their territory.  Yes, exactly, and Ban Ki Moon has done a good job of explaining why that is so.

Policy grounded in law

When pressed, our leaders fall back on a learned helplessness.  They ask for the violence to stop, and they throw up their hands as if there were nothing we could do.

We greatly underestimate the role we already play.  Rewards – and peace proposals – have been cast in donor states’ neoliberal terms, asking Palestinians to forfeit their rights and their politics in exchange for investment in a normalised, occupied life.  See for example Toufic Haddad. Donors and diplomats reward the political and business elites who take up that offer. We ignore their illegitimacy and their obstruction of other leadership.

We overlook entirely the leverage we would have if we upheld the laws and conventions that we have signed.  Surely, any just policy begins by upholding the law.

UN Special Rapporteur and Associate Professor of Law Michael Lynk wrote in his October, 2019 report (A/74/507)

“No occupation in the modern world has been conducted with the international community so alert to its many grave breaches of international law, so knowledgeable about the occupier’s obvious and well-signalled intent to annex and establish permanent sovereignty, so well-informed about the scale of suffering and dispossession endured by the protected population under occupation, and yet so unwilling to act upon the overwhelming evidence before it… [T]he international community possesses a great deal of power to ensure a positive, durable and just solution to the occupation.” 

Lynk details the record of illegality, the treaties which oblige us to act today, and the characteristics of countermeasures that have worked elsewhere. The law is ours and we have neglected it.

When states are negligent in their duty, civil society leads – and civil society is not beholden to power politics.  America has no veto here.

Irish government and opposition parties recently adopted a unanimous motion condemning what they called Israel’s de facto annexation of the West Bank.  A Sinn Fein foreign affairs spokesperson called it “a true reflection of the strength of feeling in this country at the treatment of the Palestinian people by the apartheid state of Israel.”

Civil society can lead government to the podium to speak about justice.  Let’s do that. Let’s begin with a parliamentary debate that requires our elected representatives to publically state their positions.

If we ceased bowing to power and instead upheld international law, we would merely be meeting our obligations.  As a small state heavily reliant on a rules-based order, we would also be acting in self-interest.

Laws are a start, but they are technical minimums. Justice and morality are more aspirational than that.

A future-facing policy for Palestinians, especially for Gaza

Our current policy views Palestinians through the eye of Israel’s security regime. We have adopted the view from outside the blockade wall.  That wall lumps two million Gazans into a single enemy object, to be subdued by means of violence and hunger management. 

The very nicest thing you can say about that view is that it doesn’t work.  It doesn’t even stabilise. No one is deterred, no one runs out of weapons or stops using the weapons they have.  Less politely, our policy notices only two kinds of Palestinians, the violent and the victims.  It denies that a society of recognisable, whole persons lives behind those walls. We do not ask what it means to be stateless, to never travel 50 or more kilometers, or to be born behind walls as one million Gazans have been born – condemned before birth, because they are Palestinian.

Shame on us for wearing the wall’s dehumanising blinders so meekly.

A future-facing policy must see Palestinians as whole human beings: parents, people of every gender, professionals or job-seekers or students, people who live with chronic illness or physical disability, manufacturers and artists, scientists and poets, political actors and agents of their own future, citizens as of right and integral partners to any solution.  Why have we no policy that addresses Palestinians as whole people?

When we open both eyes and identify with Palestinians, we see how differently they live.  For me Gaza’s waste is particularly bitter because, as a society, Gaza has so much of what it needs to thrive: mutual assistance, social cohesion under terrible pressure, one of the world’s highest literacy rates.  Their achievement delineates the thing that is being withheld: their right to live normally.  Justice would place this set of rights at the center of our policy. We would not stabilise Gazans’ avoidable deprivation. We would demand their decent life prospects as we demand prospects for ourselves.

Water offers our policy-makers a starting point.

We in Aotearoa-NZ argue about water as taonga and commodity, its management and beauty and quality, our access and enjoyment and consumption.  We agree that water is essential, a basic human right, necessarily shared.

The World Health Organisation says that every person needs 100 litres of water per day, for consumption and other uses.  West Bank Palestinians have access to only 90.5 litres of water each day.  650,000 illegal Israeli settlers in the West Bank receive six times more water than 2.8 million West Bank Palestinians.  

In 2018 Gazans had access to 83 litres per capita, just 80% of the water that we all need to live.  Click here and scroll down to Fact Sheet #187 (6/29/21) to read how extensively Israel’s May 2021 bombardment damaged Gaza’s water infrastructure. One in five Gazans no longer has running water at all, while each Israeli consumes 230 litres per day.  Statistics and further detail here.

There is water in the space between the Mediterranean Sea and the Jordan River.  The problem is that Israel has forcibly fragmented the space, giving Israelis vastly greater entitlements than Palestinians – including entitlement to the water resources on occupied Palestinian land.  The problem is not an absolute lack of water. The problem is the endless, violent denial of Palestinian rights and sovereignty.

Donors, I’m sure, are right now negotiating the entry of additional truckloads of bottled water to Gaza and paying all the requisite fees in Israeli currency. They are stabilising the regime that permitted Gazans only 80% of the water they need to live. I welcome every delivery, ever drop, because water is urgently needed to sustain life – but this is not good enough.

The withholding of the human right to water is not altered by those stabilising trucks. Each truck reinforces Israel’s structural power to deprive. The blockade will not be fixed at the margins. 

A policy of water justice would begin with Palestinians’ equal, non-negotiable right to clean water.  It would refuse to engage normally with any regime that differentiates water rights ethnically.  It would recognise the national right of Palestinians to manage the water resources on land that we and the UN recognise as Palestinian land, temporarily occupied.

Finally, alongside law and rights, a justice policy would reach for the holistic justice of belonging.

Our stabilising policies don’t promote transformational work.  We acknowledge our own colonial legacy but we do nothing to promote Palestinian (or Israeli) decolonising projects. Our policy should enable the inclusive voices that are narrating a better way forward.

Alternative Jewish Voices supports the kaupapa and the mahi of the One State Democratic Campaign as a dialogue between Palestinians and Israelis about decolonising their shared future.  We read authors like Noura Erekat who writes that, unlike settler-colonising erasure, the Palestinian demand to fully belong is a broadening, inclusive vision.

We in Aotearoa-NZ are so well placed to speak from ongoing experience about this possibility, this abundance of belonging. If we articulated a Palestine policy in that voice, it would carry so much further than our aid budgets.

Marilyn Garson,

Alternative Jewish Voices

We Have Come to Parliament to End This

Again today, Alternative Jewish Voices joined Wellington-Palestine, Green and Labour MPs and hundreds of our friends to demand that Aotearoa-NZ stand up and act for the protection of Gazans. We added our support to Green MP Golriz Gharahman’s motion to recognize Palestinians’ right to self-determination and statehood. And again today, we are grateful for the warm welcome and friendship we find when we stand up together. Here are our remarks:

Kia Ora, and shukran.  To each of the Palestinians here, I wish safety for your families, for all of the families.

We are the co-founder of Alternative Jewish Voices.  We join you to do the work of ending an atrocity.

Governments can end this.

The Israeli forces will bomb until governments including ours require them to stop.  That is the history.  After the 2014 bombardment, Israel’s office of the comptroller published its report.  It found that Netanyahu and Gantz had bombed Gaza with no meaningful military objective. They found pretexts to bomb for as long as the world allowed it.

They are doing it again.  Do not give them 50 days – we came here to end this.

All of it.  We abhor all the forms of violence that we see, from bombardment to the everyday humiliations of life under occupation, and the decisions of leaders who put military and nationalist interests before the wellbeing of children and civilians. 

We want Aotearoa-NZ to unequivocally condemn Israel’s disproportionate and indiscriminate violence.  We want our leaders to call out all the crimes and end the impunity, to uphold the law and protect the endangered people of Gaza.  That’s how we end it.

We are here to end our complicity in the arms trade.  After the last bombardment, America sold Israel $1.9 billion in new weapons.  This week Biden is selling Israel precision-guided missiles worth $3/4 billion.  That is military business as usual:  Israel bombs, America replenishes their bombs and Israel’s arms trade profits from each field-test of its new weapons. 

We are here to end normal trading relations with Israel, because this is not normal.  We begin by auditing and ending our arms transactions with Israel.  We end our complicity.

Then, please, send the money that we would have spent on military robots to Gaza.  Use our money to repair the roads that lead to the Al Shifa hospital, because those roads have been bombed.  Ambulances can not bring the wounded for help.

Use our money to repair Gaza’s only Covid testing lab, which has been hit and cannot operate.  Spend our money on medical aid, for Covid and for the diseases that will spread because sewage treatment has ceased. Gaza’s civilian infrastructure, the veins and arteries of modernity, is being blasted apart.  More than half of the power lines are down, half of Gaza has gone dark and without the internet, they are falling silent. Israel has shut off Gaza’s fuel supplies, and since May 10 Israel has closed the blockade’s goods entrance.  

Those are criminal acts.  Stop this assault, and use our money to rebuild.

And please send our money to build playgrounds.  Hire counsellors to comfort the children of Gaza. That is where our money belongs. 

And send our recognition.

In a world of state power and inter-state institutions, stateless people will always be vulnerable.  Aotearoa-NZ has withheld Palestinians’ equal standing to speak for themselves in a state-based world.  We support the Green Party initiative to give Palestinians their national voice as a state.  Let us hear them speak and negotiate about their land, their resources, their aspirations and right now, their safety.

Recognition would be a step toward resolving this with justice, not merely suspending the fighting.

And we end this as Jews.  Plenty of us are horrified and disturbed by the bombardment of Gaza.  See our protests, all around the world.  We who love our religion – we need to say out loud that this isn’t it.

So I ask my fellow NZ Jews to join us. Do not wring your hands.  Use your hands to pick up a sign and protest.  What good is your horror without your voice?  Come and shout with us:  we revoke the license that we have given to Israel. 

Netanyahu, you claim to do this in our names?  We cancel your naming rights.  Take our names off your bombs.  Your apartheid, your blockade, that is not our Judaism – we reject it.

The ghetto you have built and bombed in Gaza has no place in our Judaism – we are disgusted by your actions.

We who have enabled, we need to act now, to end this and pursue a just peace for all who live between the river and the sea.

Do justice, love mercy.

B’Shalom – ya’tik al afiah – nga mihi nui.

When you read the reports, look for the people

Three recent publications analyze Israel’s regime as Jewish Supremacy, Apartheid, and Settler Colonialism

Analysis is important because it is the context for the lives and deaths of Palestinians.  They should live on every page.  And every time you read about ‘apartheid in the West Bank,’ say under your breath ‘and the Gaza Strip.’  Although the West Bank is more visible, Tareq Baconi calls  Gaza ”the very embodiment of Israel’s settler colonialism… the confinement of Palestinians to urban enclaves entirely surrounded by Israel or Israeli-controlled territory.”  

I lived in Gaza 2011 – 2015.  There, the walls become the horizon and concrete delineates the earth.  I loathe those choking walls.  I don’t give a rat’s ass who built them. That they were built for Jewish benefit confers a responsibility which I accept, but it does not make this a story about us.  I intend to dismantle those walls, with my pen and with my fingernails if need be, because two million people are trying to breathe behind all that concrete.  They are the point of the story.

Behind those walls, even the air and the dust have been made dangerous.  Concentrations of heavy metals are accumulating in Gaza’s environment and in the bodies of its people, as a result of the weapons that the IDF has chosen to use in repeated bombardments.  Gazans are now born with more birth defects and non-communicable diseases. They develop more cancers, and they die an average of nine years younger than Israelis.  This is what is means to devalue life.

Gazans know they are being slowly poisoned, but where should they go? I remember visiting the UN Al Fakhoura school during the 2014 war.  Amnesty International, Human Rights Watch and the UN allege the illegal use of white phosphorous shells in that schoolyard in 2009.  Imagine the chemical burns, and then imagine bringing your children back to the same place to shelter from the next bombardment – the very place that could not keep you safe last time.

That is what it means to read that Israel’s military blockade is “effectively trapping [Gazans] in a territory it continues to actively destroy.”  It means having no safe place to bear and protect your children.

And each time I read that Israelis in illegal West Bank settlements enjoy the rights assigned by Israel’s civil law while Palestinians live under military law, I think back to August 2, 2014. 

Israel’s bombardment of Gaza was nearly a month old and a quarter of a million people had been shoehorned into 90 UNRWA shelter-schools (soon there would be 293,000).  The houses of 92,000 Palestinians had been obliterated in Shuja’iyya, and many of the homeless had been squeezed into Jabalia’s already bursting shelter-schools.  In the pre-dawn of July 30, the Jabalia Elementary A&B Girls School was itself shelled.  Around 3000 Palestinians had taken shelter in the building, which was clearly flagged and legally protected as a United Nations installation. The shells killed 16 people while they slept or prepared for prayers, and injured 99 more.

On August 2, I went with Bob Turner, then-Gaza director of UNRWA and my employer, to meet with the head of UNRWA’s Jabalia shelter operations.  We drove through a cratered landscape, everything the colour of concrete dust.  Our colleague was an older man, slumped and unsteady from exhaustion.  Day and night, he had made himself present and visible, mediated local politics and intervened in every clash, harranged me for supplies, listened and resolved disputes among Jabalia’s 80,000 shelter residents.  His hands, his jowls, his voice all trembled from lack of sleep – but he was in his element. He could not stop the bombs but he could personally impose order over chaos on his patch of ground. He could maintain civility in under-supplied shelters that held as many as 100 people per classroom.

When we left, I fretted to Bob, “He’s going to have a heart attack.  Any minute.”

Bob agreed and added with admiration, “You want to try to stop him?  He’s unbelievable – he is holding that together.”

His name is Khalil el-Halabi and he held that together.  He survived Israel’s military bombardment, only to encounter Israel’s military courts.

In June 2016, Khalil’s son Mohammed was arrested by Israelis.  They charged Mohammed with diverting millions of dollars of donor funds to Hamas, although neither his employer, their auditor nor the Australian government could find any financial irregularities to answer for.  Journalists have investigated the absurdity of this case of not-missing money.  Mohammed has not been told the details or the identity of his accuser – although he has been brought from Israeli jails into Israeli courts 154 times over a period of four and a half years.  He remains in detention, his children remain without their father, and Khalil and his wife remain without their son. If anyone in Israel has evidence that a crime has taken place – let alone evidence that Mohammed committed it – they have not made that evidence known. 

“Mr el-Halabi’s arrest, interrogation and trial is not worthy of a democratic state,” say the UN Special Rapporteurs. “What is happening to Mr. el-Halabi bears no relation to the trial standards we expect from democracies, and is part of a pattern where Israel uses secret evidence to indefinitely detain hundreds of Palestinians.”

Mohammed el-Halabi’s 155th court appearance is scheduled for January 31, 2021.

Khalil behind a blockade wall, and Mohammed behind bars – this is what apartheid injustice has meant to the el-Halabi family.  Their experience is egregious, but it is hardly unique.

Mohammed is detained alongside the Palestinians that Israel holds in ‘administrative detention’, which is imprisonment without charge.  According to Defense for Children International, 500 – 700 Palestinian children pass through Israeli military detention each year, mostly for throwing stones.  Then there are Palestinians criminalized by joining any of over 400 illegal political organisations; a list which includes every major Palestinian political party.

This is what it means to control lives and award rights and privileges ethnically.  It has gone on so intergenerationally long that ‘occupation’ no longer names it, because occupation is a temporary status. 

Further, the end of occupation would not constitute the transformation that Israel / Palestine needs.  That calls for a decolonizing vision like the one state project, which imagines a de-racialized community of Palestinians and Israelis.

The series of recent publications calls us to action, to generate the pressure for transformational change.  So read them, but peer through their analysis to see the lives that are being lived today, on every line of every page.

Marilyn Garson

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What would change, if we recognised the State of Palestine?

What will change, when we recognise the State of Palestine?

138 of the UN’s 193 member states recognise the State of Palestine, consisting of the West Bank, East Jerusalem, and the Gaza Strip.  Whatever diplomatic outcome they envision, 138 states believe that a solution starts by recognising the parties involved.  Recognition implies that, like powerful and powerless parties to a lawsuit, Israel and Palestine approach the court with equal rights.

Aotearoa-NZ is in the minority.  We do not recognise Palestine. We let the power disparities stand.  We do nothing to acknowledge Palestinians’ national voice, as if that mythical court case should somehow decide about them, without them.

Recognition of Palestine would re-frame the issue.

As an occupied people subsisting under a violent military regime, Palestinians have a right to our legal protection.  As the State of Palestine, they have a land and they own its natural resources. Recognition unifies the State of Palestine, which the occupation seeks to divide by policy and force.   The unified State of Palestine lives under a single occupation, although it is differently enacted within Israel, in the areas where Israel is the occupying power, and with respect to refugees elsewhere. 

As citizens of a state in a world where states remain the defining political actors, Palestinians would have access to the institutions, agreements, interactions, enforcement and responsibilities that we all take for granted. They would have access to the websites that we use, to the banking transactions and passports and mail and myriad other systems that are enabled by state agreements.  They would map their own geographies, rather than being administered by military documents that aim to chart the loss of their land and their autonomy.  When settlers occupy, or when Israel openly vows to take, additional land from the State of Palestine; the illegality of those acts would be clear – none of this ‘annexation’ obfuscation. 

These benefits are so normal that we really must re-phrase our question:  why has Aotearoa-NZ withheld all this from Palestinians for so long?  Why should a child be denied all that normalcy, by virtue of being born Palestinian?

Rights and law and diplomatic acts like recognition will not end the occupation. Rather, they describe the internationally agreed minimum standards by which we all live.  When they are upheld, they restore Palestinian lives to those minimum standards.  That sets the stage for two national groups to negotiate in a forum of international law.  We will not be the negotiators, but it is our responsibility to establish fair conditions for that political project.  We uphold the laws.  We drag this occupation into a forum of law for a resolution based on justice, not brute power.

Why do Palestinians live so far beneath those minimum standards now?  The law of occupation, the Geneva Conventions, all those UN resolutions – where are they?  It’s mystifying, we agree.  The tools are all waiting for us to pick them up and use them.  We call on our Prime Minister to uphold the laws and conventions that NZ governments have signed in all of our names – and to bring the State of Palestine fully into the same systems by means of recognition.

We are impatient, because the passage of time is not neutral.  It never was, and Covid has doubled the urgency.  Palestinian living standards, their environment and life prospects are deteriorating sharply: doing nothing is not a cost-free alternative.    

We call on our government to recognise Palestine now.

Withholding recognition is a willful refusal to see a nation of five million people, to insist on their equality and inclusion.  The occupation is exclusive, denying Palestinianhood, downgrading and ultimately erasing it.  Recognising Palestine is an inclusive act.  Recognition affirms Palestinians’ full right to exist in a space that will need to be shared.  We in NZ know that states may colonise blindly, but they must learn to see and listen and speak new languages.  Recognition sees the indigenous people of Palestine. That is the right side of history for NZ to take.

Recognition will also help to correct a conversation that has become toxic.

Too often, protest is merely anti-occupation or merely anti-Zionist; a protest against Israel’s failure to observe law and uphold Palestinians’ rights.  Recognition reframes the issue by centering Palestinians, and normalising their full, equal human and political rights. With that established as our baseline, we can protest the deficit, the rights withheld.  Recognition will strengthen Palestinians’ platform to speak and act on their own aspirations.

Too often, this occupation has been about exceptionalism (Israeli and Trumpian).  We spend too much time on the justifications of the powerful.  Recognition rejects all that.  It brings the occupation back into unexceptional focus: one state occupies the land of another.  Occupation is a military act, governed and limited by law. 

We should be working to invoke that law. As a first step, let us join the majority, the 138 members of the UN who recognise the State of Palestine.

Signed by these Alternative Jewish Voices and Friends,

Marilyn Garson                          Sarah Cole

Fred Albert                                  Prue Hyman

Jeremy Rose                               Sue Berman

Denzelle Marcovicci                Justine Sachs

David Weinstein