Secretary of State Mike Pompeo recently announced that the United States no longer considers Israeli settlements in the occupied West Bank of Palestine a violation of international law. This is a major policy announcement. The United Nations General Assembly, the United Nations Security Council and the International Court of Justice have all declared that Israeli settlements on the West Bank violate the Fourth Geneva Convention. As Isabel Kershner reported in a Nov. 19 New York Times article, “Most of the world views the expansion of Israeli settlements as an impediment to a peace agreement [with Palestinians].”
Israel captured the West Bank territory from Jordan in the Six Day War of 1967 and has maintained a military occupation over the territory since that time. Article 49 of the Fourth Geneva Convention of 1949, which the U.S. and 191 other nations ratified after World War II, states that an occupying power “shall not deport or transfer parts of its own civilian population into the territory it occupies.” The statute that established the International Criminal Court in 1988 classifies transferring parts of the civilian population of an occupying power into the territory it occupies, as well as any destruction or appropriation of property not justified by military necessity, as war crimes.
However, some Zionists (meaning followers of a movement founded in 1897 that sought and achieved the founding and development of a Jewish homeland now recognized as Israel in Palestine) consider the West Bank, which Israel calls Judea and Samaria, their biblical birthright. Kershner’s article reports that Israel has built about 130 formal settlements in the West Bank since 1967, and that a “similar number of smaller, informal settlement outposts have gone up since the 1990s, without government authorization but usually with some government support. More than 400,000 Israeli settlers now live in the West Bank alongside more than 2.6 million Palestinians.” (Other reports place the number of Israeli settlers closer to 600,000.)
In December 2015 I visited Israel and the West Bank and viewed illegal West Bank settlements with my own eyes. I visited settlements and spoke with Zionist settlers. I saw Israeli Defense Forces positioned to protect and preserve settlements despite valid Palestinian objections and a pronouncement by the Israeli Supreme Court that settlement construction on privately owned Palestinian land is illegal. I saw Palestinian olive groves that were intentionally damaged or destroyed by Israeli settlers. I met Palestinians who were traumatized and terrorized by settlers, including a Palestinian man who lost an eye when settlers attacked him while he tended olive trees on land his family has owned and farmed for generations.
“The United States is now firmly, openly and officially aligned with and complicit in Israeli war crimes against Palestinians.”
I watched as Israeli soldiers fired tear gas grenades at Palestinian youth. I smelled the tear gas and wept, both from its effect and from my anger and sorrow about the tyranny perpetrated against Palestinians by Israeli Defense Ministry soldiers.
So I take issue with Kershner’s report that Israeli settlers live in the West Bank alongside Palestinians. Israeli settlers are invading the West Bank. Their invasion is protected by the Israeli Defense Ministry, which receives the bulk of its funding from the United States.
Most settlers view indigenous Palestinians as aliens to be hated, attacked and driven from West Bank land and water that Palestinians have owned for more than two millennia. Pompeo’s announcement that U.S policy now considers Israeli West Bank settlements “not inconsistent with international law” amounts to an official endorsement of invasion, racism, genocide and land theft – which the U.S. agreed are violations of international law when it signed onto the Fourth Geneva Convention 50 years ago.
However, we in the U.S. should not feign surprise at Pompeo’s announcement. While it is despicable that the Trump administration is committed to aiding, abetting, underwriting and profiting from Israeli war crimes against Palestinians in the West Bank, it is hardly surprising. Even before Donald Trump’s presidency, more than half of all U.S. foreign military financing went to Israel.
In February 2018, National Public Radio reported that the United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights identified more than 200 companies from around the world that enable and profit from illegal Israeli settlements. Those companies include firms such as Caterpillar which provides construction equipment to build settlement homes, banks that give mortgage loans to settlers (loans to construct and own housing on land owned by Palestinians) and tourism companies such as TripAdvisor which include Israeli settlements on websites that offer lodging accommodations in the West Bank. Pompeo’s announcement is simply the latest proof of longstanding hypocrisy, disrespect for human rights and support for Zionist racism toward Palestine and Palestinians.
Recall that U.S. politicians, religious leaders and the general public quietly assented to and openly endorsed invasion, racism and land theft by white settlers against indigenous people in this country. In Law Against the People: Essays to Demystify Law, Order, and the Courts, Haywood Burns wrote that “illegal white encroachments … generated most of the Indian wars of the nineteenth century. Western lands taken away from the Indians and made available to white settlers under federal land grant law formed the basis for many white Americans’ growth to economic independence and well-being.”
“Don’t be fooled by those who falsely claim that condemnation of Zionist racism amounts to anti-Semitism.”
In his final book, Man Without A Country, Kurt Vonnegut observed that Abraham Lincoln, then a Congressman from Illinois, was “heartbroken and humiliated by our war on Mexico, which had never attacked us.” Vonnegut noted that what made Mexico “so evil back in the 1840s, well before our Civil War, [was] that slavery was illegal there.” He also pointed out that the war against Mexico – remember the Alamo – resulted in the U.S. “making California [and Texas, Utah, Nevada, Arizona and parts of New Mexico, Colorado and Wyoming] our own … and doing it as though butchering Mexican soldiers who were only defending their homeland against invaders wasn’t murder.”
Recall also how the U.S. responded to land theft, racism and militarized occupation of South Africa during the apartheid era. Politicians, capitalists and conservative evangelical Christians did business with and otherwise embraced the apartheid regime. They supported it despite unmistakable proof of its racism, militarized terrorism and pseudo faith-based theft of land and mineral resources at the expense of South Africa’s indigenous black population.
Since the end of legalized apartheid, U.S. politicians and capitalists have continued to plot how to maintain their capitalist agenda at the expense of the indigenous black South African population.
The Trump administration’s policy concerning illegal Israeli West Bank settlements also brings to mind the account from the Hebrew Testament about how King Ahab, ruler of the northern kingdom of Israel, coveted a vineyard owned by a commoner named Naboth in Jezreel, one of the most fertile regions in Palestine. After Naboth rejected Ahab’s offers to sell or swap what was ancestral land, Ahab’s wife, Queen Jezebel, arranged for Naboth to be falsely accused, wrongfully convicted and publicly executed (by stoning) for slandering God and the king.
When Ahab took possession of the vineyard after Naboth’s death, the prophet Elijah denounced Ahab’s ownership claim and possession of the vineyard property and pronounced doom on Ahab’s personal and political future.
Palestinians whose homes and lands have been and are being seized, whose olive groves have been damaged and who are being driven from their land by Zionist settlers supported by the U.S.-financed Israeli government and the U.S.-financed and armed Israeli Defense Ministry, are like Naboth, like the indigenous black population of South Africa and like the indigenous people of this nation. American policy surrounding Israeli West Bank settlements reminds us how gentrification of urban neighborhoods and similar displacement efforts by land speculators and commercial real estate developers have forced people from their homes and neighborhoods by “urban renewal,” zoning changes and other dispossession schemes – much like what happened to indigenous people and Naboth.
But let’s not end our thinking at this point.
Instead, let us also remember that U.S. support for the apartheid regime in South Africa did not change until after prophetic people – including persons of faith and those who disavowed any religious affiliation – engaged in years of sustained advocacy, civil disobedience and demands for boycott, disinvestment and sanctions against the apartheid regime. Prophetic people, including some religious bodies, pulled their investments from corporations that did business in South Africa.
“Most settlers view indigenous Palestinians as aliens to be hated, attacked and driven from West Bank land and water that Palestinians have owned for more than two millennia.”
Remember that slavery in this country did not end until abolitionists like John Brown, Nat Turner, Frederick Douglas, Harriet Tubman, Denmark Vesey, William Lloyd Garrison and Sojourner Truth – alongside many thousands of others, enslaved and “free” – argued, protested and openly defied the wicked legal, commercial, social and political system of human trafficking and wage theft on which the U.S. government and its economy was based. The work of those abolitionists, quiet and renowned, preceded the Civil War.
Remember that white Baptists in the South broke fellowship with white Baptists in the North over slavery in 1845 (creating the Southern Baptist Convention) during the same decade that the U.S. went to war against Mexico, a nation that outlawed slavery. Remember that “good (white) Christians” in the South wholeheartedly supported slavery, opposed Reconstruction, supported Jim Crow segregation and turned a blind eye to terrorism by the Ku Klux Klan. Remember that “good (white) Christians” denounced the civil disobedience campaign by Martin Luther King Jr. and other prophetic people that focused attention on pervasive, systemic and sacralized racism, voter suppression and intimidation, wage theft and injustices against people of color, workers, women and other oppressed groups.
Simply put, we must always remember that conservative evangelical Christians who support and are complicit in the racism concerning illegal Jewish settlements in the West Bank are part of a long and bitter history of white evangelical tolerance for, if not endorsement of, injustice.
Currently, governmental efforts are underway to suppress, censor and punish prophetic opposition to Zionist racism in Palestine through laws that punish supporters of the Boycott, Divestment, Sanctions (BDS) movement against Israel and Israeli settlement business entities. According to the National Coalition Against Censorship, at least 17 states have passed legislation imposing punitive measures against supporters of the BDS movement. At the federal level, versions of the Israel Anti-Boycott Act have been introduced in the U.S. House and Senate. U.S. Sen. John Boozman of Arkansas is a co-sponsor of the Senate bill, along with several Democrats, including Sen. Charles Schumer of New York, the minority leader.
In 2017, the Arkansas legislature enacted Act 710, which prohibits public entities from contracting with and investing in companies that boycott Israel. Act 710 also requires any entity that does business with state government to certify that it does not participate in or support a boycott of Israel. Act 710 and measures like it demonstrate the despicable hypocrisy of many conservative, evangelical Christians who trumpet their respect for liberty (including religious liberty) for all, yet punish principled opposition to Zionist racism.
Don’t be fooled by those who falsely claim that condemnation of Zionist racism amounts to anti-Semitism. Racism, whether espoused by Zionists or anyone else, is evil. Opposition to Zionist racism does not amount to animosity toward Semitic people as a whole, or Jewish people in particular, despite a calculated, longstanding and well-orchestrated fraudulent campaign to equate anti-Zionism with anti-Semitism. In fact, in the United States, a large proportion of progressive BDS activists hail from Jewish backgrounds, whether religious or secular. Moreover, within Israel itself, a strong coalition of progressive, anti-racist Jewish citizens opposes the criminal Netanyahu government’s genocidal policies and actions in the West Bank.
Be reminded, as well, that in linguistics and ethnology from ancient times, the term “Semite” has included Arabs, Assyrians, the Akkadians of Babylonia, Canaanites, Aramean tribes, certain groups in Ethiopia and the Hebrew tribes. Arabs, including Palestinians, are, and have always been correctly recognized, as Semitic people. Those who label opposition to Zionist racism as anti-Semitism are mistaken, misinformed or disingenuous. People can be Zionists without being racists, but racists don’t deserve an exemption from condemnation and denunciation on account of being Zionists
Kershner’s statement about the hundreds of thousands of Israeli settlers living “alongside” Palestinians in the West Bank is not only inaccurate. It is false. Israeli settlers are part of a decades-long, U.S. financed and militarily supported invasion of the occupied West Bank by the Israeli government. This invasion has been sacralized by conservative evangelical Christians, many of whom will cheer the recent Trump administration pronouncement due to their embrace of “end time” eschatology.
For whatever reasons, the United States is now firmly, openly and officially aligned with and complicit in Israeli war crimes against Palestinians. That alignment is merely the latest wicked outcome of white Christian racism that condoned war crimes committed against indigenous people out of devotion to “manifest destiny,” condoned an offensive war against Mexico, led to a civil war because of addiction to the human trafficking and wage theft integral to slavery, and condoned land theft, wage theft and state sponsored and sanctioned racist terrorism against indigenous people in South Africa. With Israel, the U.S. now openly and shamelessly scorns international law and any legitimate understanding of human decency, dignity and respect for justice.
Let us therefore say of this society what a prophet spoke in an earlier time:
Their feet run to evil,
and they rush to shed innocent blood;
their thoughts are thoughts of iniquity,
desolation and destruction are in their highways.
The way of peace they do not know,
and there is no justice in their paths.
Their roads they have made crooked;
no one who walks in them knows peace.
(Isaiah 59:7-8, NRSV)