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Opinion

How to defeat the Israel ‘occupation’ myth with facts

It seems that only the Jewish state is consistently excoriated for “occupying” land—to which it has ironclad legal rights.

Israelis participate in a march to celebrate Israel's 71st Independence Day near Havat Gilad in Judea and Samaria on May 9, 2019. Photo by Hillel Maeir/Flash90.
Israelis participate in a march to celebrate Israel's 71st Independence Day near Havat Gilad in Judea and Samaria on May 9, 2019. Photo by Hillel Maeir/Flash90.
James Sinkinson
James Sinkinson
James Sinkinson is president of Facts and Logic About the Middle East (FLAME), which publishes educational messages to correct lies and misperceptions about Israel and its relationship to the United States.

Israel’s enemies’ violent attacks exact a high price in Jewish blood. But attacks in the media and by international organizations also exact a high price—in good will and political and economic support among Israel’s friends and partners around the world.

Most anti-Israel attacks in the media take the form of lies—from apartheid to ethnic genocide to the slaughter of Palestinian children.

These “big lies” have sharp edges. The words have a powerful emotional impact…which makes them sting when they land. But because these words—apartheid, genocide, slaughter—have common specific meanings, they are also relatively easy to refute.

Indeed, by no rational stretch of these words’ meanings can Israel be guilty of such slanders. No separation of or discrimination against citizens by race or ethnicity—no apartheid. No methodical mass murder of people because of race or ethnicity—no genocide. No targeted, purposeful killing of innocent children—no slaughter.

But one libelous accusation persists—largely because the lie is so plain-sounding and its meaning so vague and diffuse: occupation.

We occupy a hotel room, a restaurant table. Protestors occupy the college president’s office. The word implies transience.

Thus, in mainstream and social media—as well as in reports from United Nations agencies and certain NGOs—we learn that Israel “occupies Palestinian territory.” This lie would be bad enough. But some of these commentaries raise the stakes, going so far as to call Israel’s presence in Judea and Samaria (“the West Bank”) an “illegal occupation.” This claim is often fortified by citing a “consensus of international opinion” or the Fourth Geneva Convention.

Just as words like apartheid and genocide have actual definitions, so does “occupation” have strict definition under international law and precedent.

First, just because a preponderance of countries in the United Nations vote to condemn Israel’s “occupation” doesn’t make it illegal. In fact, the notorious anti-Israel voting patterns of U.N. members are well documented.

To put a sharper point on it: Opinions expressed by members of the U.N. General Assembly—no matter how many of them—do not make international law.

Second, citing the Fourth Geneva Convention to prove Israel illegally “occupies” Judea and Samaria exposes equally serious flaws in the anti-Zionist argument.

It’s true that a provision of the Convention holds that the “Occupying Power shall not deport or transfer parts of its civilian population into the territory it occupies.”

However, according to international legal expert Eugene Kontorovich, professor at George Mason University Scalia Law School, “Under international law, occupation occurs when a country takes over the sovereign territory of another country.”

However, the Arab Palestinians have never had sovereignty over any of the Holy Land.

Palestinians never governed any land until Israel turned over control of some areas in Judea and Samaria under the Oslo Accords in 1993-95, then unilaterally left Gaza in 2005.

Rather, Judea and Samaria were illegally seized by Jordan in 1949—during Israel’s War of Independence—at which time the Jordanians ethnically cleansed it of all Jews.

Notably, the Jordanians did not offer Palestinian Arabs a state on this land…nor did the Palestinians demand one. They didn’t try to form a state or make claim to the land until Israel conquered it.

The League of Nations Mandate for Palestine—endorsed by its successor, the United Nations—actually included Judea and Samaria in its borders. Thus, according to Kontorovich, when Jordan attacked Israel in 1967 and was driven out, under international law and practice the new prevailing country “inherits the borders of the prior geopolitical unit in that territory.”

In other words, when Israel defeated Jordan, sovereignty of Judea and Samaria legally reverted to the Jewish state.

What’s more, Israel in 1994 made an unconditional peace with the defeated sovereign nation, Jordan. This, also according to international law, would in any case end any alleged state of occupation.

As for forcibly moving citizens into the conquered land, Israel has never “deported or transferred” parts of its population to Judea and Samaria. While it’s true that many Israeli citizens have established communities in these territories, this was never done at the behest of the Israeli government or organized by it.

Rather, these Jewish communities were established voluntarily by passionate Jews seeking to live in their ancient, indigenous homeland—including families who had been driven out in 1948.

While the State of Israel has not opposed many of these Jewish communities in Judea and Samaria, there is no stricture in the Geneva Convention in any case requiring the inheritor of the new territory to do so.

Finally, we should remind those, like the U.N.’s Special Commission of Inquiry, like Amnesty International and like the United Kingdom’s official government travel advice page—all of which refer to the “Occupied Palestinian Territories” in their communications—that many countries globally are truly occupied under international law.

Consider this: Russia occupies the sovereign states of Georgia and Ukraine, Turkey occupies Northern Cyprus, Morocco occupies Western Sahara and Indonesia occupies East Timor. All these occupiers have transferred their nationals to their occupied territories to fortify illegal occupations.

When was the last time the United Nations—or The New York Times, NPR or CNN—covered, let alone condemned those true, illegal occupiers who are indisputably violating the Fourth Geneva Convention?

It seems that only Israel is consistently excoriated for “occupying” land—to which it has ironclad legal rights—even as true criminals under the Fourth Geneva Convention are given a pass.

In short, Israel is not an occupier under international law…and it is certainly not occupying “Palestinian territory,” since the Palestinian Arabs have never owned or controlled any territories.

What’s more, the media, the United Nations and many NGOs ignore blatant, indefensible violations of the Fourth Geneva Convention by many nations, while attacking Israel’s clear rights to control Judea and Samaria until the Palestinians agree to make peace.

James Sinkinson is President of Facts and Logic About the Middle East (FLAME), which publishes educational messages to correct lies and misperceptions about Israel and its relationship to the United States.

James Sinkinson is president of Facts and Logic About the Middle East (FLAME), which publishes educational messages to correct lies and misperceptions about Israel and its relationship with the United States.

The opinions and facts presented in this article are those of the author, and neither JNS nor its partners assume any responsibility for them.
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