OpinionBoycott, Divestment & Sanctions (BDS)

Ignoring truth, Ben & Jerry’s ‘occupation’ simply repeats a Big Lie

The more this lie goes unchallenged, the stronger it becomes.

Ben & Jerry's ice-cream in a grocery-store freezer. Credit: Ho Su A Bi/Shutterstock.com.
Ben & Jerry's ice-cream in a grocery-store freezer. Credit: Ho Su A Bi/Shutterstock.com.
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.

In a recent New York Times op-ed by Ben & Jerry’s founders Ben Cohen and Jerry Greenfield, they congratulate themselves on being “men of principle” and rail against what they falsely call Israel’s “illegal occupation.”

“Repeat a lie often enough and it becomes the truth.” It’s a law of propaganda often attributed to the Nazi chief propagandist Joseph Goebbels. Goebbels was the master at repeating Big Lies so often they were accepted as truth. 

This wretched principle is certainly true of the so-called illegality of Israel’s presence over the “Green Line,” which is actually just a military armistice line created in 1949.

In fact, there is no truth to the claim that Israel is illegally occupying territory or that it is “violating the basic human rights of the Palestinian people.” No matter how often it is repeated, it’s still a lie.

First, it pays to unpack the term “occupation.” Many critics use it, but few know that “occupation” is legal terminology, originating from Article 42 of the 1907 Hague Regulations, which were among the first formal statements of the laws of war and war crimes in the body of secular international law. 

While a few “experts” quote Article 42, most are being disingenuous—primarily because it falls under a category titled, “Military Authority Over the Territory of the Hostile State.” In other words, an “occupation” can only be on the territory of another state. Considering that the territory in question has never belonged to any state, and there has never been a “State of Palestine,” this term clearly does not apply.

Historically, this territory—known as Judea and Samaria, which many refer to as the West Bank—has never been under any other sovereignty since the Jews last ruled in the area 2,000 years ago and were themselves conquered, occupied and colonized by foreign rule. First, it was the Romans, followed by Byzantines, Muslims, Crusaders, Mamluks, Ottomans, British and then the Jordanians.

All came from outside the territory to conquer, colonize and occupy—none gave sovereignty to the area, and the only people who remained throughout, despite oppression, were the Jewish people. So, how is it possible to “occupy” a territory to which you are indigenous and in which you have a history of sovereignty and independence? How also can that be illegal? Mr. Ben and Mr. Jerry didn’t answer this. 

Some might ask, whose land is it? Obviously, if you base your opinions on feelings or personal bias, it can belong to anyone you choose.

But according to international law and global treaties, this land was promised to the Jewish people. The Balfour Declaration, which endorsed the establishment of a Jewish home in the area, was incorporated into the Mandate for Palestine adopted by the League of Nations in 1922. This Mandate provided for the establishment of a “national home” for the Jewish people recognizing their “historical connection” to the land. This promise was never contravened by any other agreement or event. Why didn’t Ben and Jerry clarify this?

The League of Nations’ successor organization, the United Nations, in Article 80 of its Charter (once known unofficially as the Jewish People’s clause) preserves intact all the rights granted to Jews under the Mandate for Palestine.  

Under this provision of international law (the charter is an international treaty), Jewish rights to all of the Land of Israel were not to be altered in any way. So, it should be clear that these territories are not in fact “occupied”—they are territories where the State of Israel has legitimate and well-grounded sovereign claims. 

Ironically, the scruples of the “men of principle” appear to apply only to the Jewish state. While there are dozens of occupations around the world, Ben and Jerry do not seem interested in any other conflict, occupation, colony or foreign-ruled territory, except the one involving the State of Israel.

The United Kingdom occupies many territories around the world, like the Falkland Islands; Spain occupies parts of Northern Africa in their Ceuta and Melilla enclaves; while “Overseas France” includes island territories in the Atlantic, Pacific and Indian Oceans, French Guiana on the South American continent, and several peri-Antarctic islands. China occupies Tibet. Turkey occupies half of Cyprus.

None of these occupations, or many others, seem to bother the “men of principle.” The only territory that provokes them to opine in The New York Times is the territory of Judea, where their own Jewish history and ancient identity were formed. 

The term “Jew” is simply a word that was adapted from the original “Judean,” meaning “from Judea.” By negating Jewish attachment to Judea, the two ice-cream magnates negate their own identity, casting doubt on their statement that they are “proud Jews.”

Finally, Cohen and Greenfield argue that “a majority of the international community, including the United Nations, has deemed” Israel’s occupation illegal. Let’s be clear: Votes by the U.N. General Assembly have no force of law. Israel has been condemned by the UNGA in wild disproportion to other nations, each time led by the numerically powerful Arab and Muslim bloc in the United Nations. 

While Ben and Jerry may have emotional—or even personal ethical—opinions on Israel’s presence in the ancient Jewish homeland, its settlements there are entirely legal. What’s more, these men of principle may be chagrined to learn that the Palestinians have no legal claim to this land. Their leaders have also rejected every Israeli offer to turn over large portions of the territory to them. Ben and Jerry didn’t mention that, either.

As for violating human rights, the men of ice cream should know that Israel doesn’t govern the day-to-day lives of the Palestinians. That is left to the Palestinian dictatorships in the West Bank and Gaza—which deny their people free speech, freedom of assembly, freedom of religion, rule of law and the right to vote. Perhaps Ben and Jerry should condemn these human rights violations in the Times.

Unfortunately, this argument does not begin or end with Ben & Jerry’s, because the terminology of “occupation” is bandied about so often that the average person accepts it as a fact—one with a particularly bitter flavor. Only by telling the truth of this matter can we weaken the lie. The more this lie goes unchallenged, the stronger it becomes.

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.

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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