Recently, much of the so-called “international community” has waxed apoplectic about a recent announcement by the Israeli government that it approved 1,300 additional apartments to be built and sold in Judea and Samaria (more commonly referred to as the West Bank).
Given the well-documented (by CNN, ABC, CBS, NBC, Al Jazeera, Reuters, The Independent, etc.) outcry over the Israeli announcement, one would think that the Israeli government had announced its approval to build 1,300 additional Jewish cities or communities (“settlements”) in Judea and Samaria, and not just 1,300 new apartments in existing Jewish communities.
That’s right. At a time when Syria executed 24 people under the pretense that they were “arsonists,” Iran is executing a gay couple for “adultery,” at least 80 people were massacred during an Islamist terrorist attack in West Niger, the Nigerian government is violently waging war against the Igbo and with coronavirus deaths surging once again in Russia and China, much of the mainstream media and many American and European politicians were expressing great distress about 1,300 roughly 900-square-foot apartments being built in six existing Israeli cities in Judea and Samaria.
Perhaps to justify this disproportionate reaction to the building of fewer apartments than one would find in two to three buildings in downtown LA, the various news articles, talking heads on cable TV and numerous politicians spoke with tremendous certitude about two things: 1) how “illegal” these 1,300 apartments are under “international law”; and 2) how it’s these apartments and presumably, really, the Jews who will have the temerity to live in them, that are the “obstacle to peace.”
The problem is that both of these claims are complete and utter nonsense. Nevertheless, that doesn’t stop many world leaders and many mainstream news networks from repeating these claims over and over again as if they are black-letter laws.
One such example occurred on Oct. 29 when Irish Foreign Minister Simon Coveney was on CNN and pronounced that Jewish “settlements” “built on territories in the West Bank” are “illegal” under the “4th Geneva Convention” because it “forbids the transfer of civilians.” In addition to making this assertion to CNN’s entire audience, as if it was no more controversial than claiming that the earth is round, Coveney added that it is these “settlements” that are “making a two-state solution and a peace process more and more distant and more and more difficult.”
The Geneva Conventions of 1949, which were the basis for these “international law” claims by the Irish foreign minister, were drafted to prevent the kinds of deplorable forcible deportations and mass transfers of peoples perpetrated by Nazi Germany during World War II. They are, however, completely inapplicable to how Israel came into control of Judea and Samaria.
Under the Fourth Geneva Convention cited by Coveney, in order for territory to be “occupied,” it must be conquered by force from an existing sovereign state. But Judea and Samaria were never part of any recognized sovereign state because Jordan conquered it in 1949 as part of the Arab League’s collective war to annihilate Israel in 1948 and Jordan’s attempted annexation of Judea and Samaria (after it renamed the territory the “West Bank”) was rejected by every country in the world, other than the British.
Moreover, even if Judea and Samaria was presently “occupied territory,” Coveney’s cite to the Geneva Convention for the proposition that Jews living in Judea is “illegal” (because Article 49 prohibits the “transfer of civilians” by the “occupying power”) is simply wrong. Nowhere in Article 49 does it say that civilians can’t voluntarily move to live in “occupied territory.” Nor does it require “occupying powers” to make it difficult or burdensome for their civilians to reside in these territories.
That is particularly the case here, where Israel did not gain control of Judea and Samaria from any Palestinian Arab state or polity, but in a defensive war launched against Israel by Jordan. A war in 1948 that Jordan and the Arab League indisputably started and where Jordan literally ethnically cleansed all of the Jews from the territories it had conquered as a result.
To say that it would somehow be “illegal” for Jewish citizens of Israel to voluntarily move back into the homes, neighborhoods and villages that Jews had inhabited in Judea and Samaria before 1949 simply because Israel in 1967 gained control of that territory in a war started by Jordan would be a complete perversion of international law and the Geneva Conventions. That is especially so when you apply that perverted claim to assert that Jews can’t even pray at their holiest sites in the Old City of Jerusalem or live in the Jewish Quarter of the Old City of Jerusalem, where Jews have lived for centuries until they were expelled from the Jewish Quarter by the Jordanian Army in 1949.
Moreover, even if the Fourth Geneva Convention didn’t require land to be taken from a sovereign member of the Conventions in order to be considered “occupied,” the repeated claim that Judea and Samaria and the Old City of Jerusalem are “occupied Palestinian territory” would be fallacious. To put it plainly, these lands were never—at any point in time in history—part of a Palestinian Arab country or polity of any kind. In fact, the last time these lands were even under the control of an Arab empire was in the 11th century. These territories are thus far more accurately described as “disputed territories.”
Notably, when Jordan controlled Judea and Samaria and Egypt controlled Gaza, no one—not even the leaders of the Palestinian Arabs—called out for those lands to be “liberated.” In fact, the PLO’s original charter (in 1964) expressly disclaimed any sovereignty interest in either the West Bank or Gaza. Back then, the only land they claimed needed “liberation” was land that Jordan, Syria and Egypt had not been able to conquer and control in the 1948 war.
Why? How is land—when it is controlled by Egyptians governing from Cairo or Jordanians governing from Amman—not considered by the PLO (or by so many apparent international-law experts) to be “Palestinian territory,” but it magically transformed into “Palestinian territory” needing “liberation” after it came under the control of Israelis governing from Jerusalem?
Finally, why is it that the Irish foreign minister and so many others in the “international community” feel so comfortable expressing the idea that Jews and Jewish communities in Judea and Samaria are an “obstacle to peace” while nearly 2 million Arabs living in Israel are not an “obstacle to peace”? Why is it so clear for people like Coveney and so acceptable for his interviewer at CNN to hear that Jews living in Judea is what somehow makes peace impossible? Or that in order for there to be a first-ever independent Palestinian Arab state in the history of the world west of the Jordan River, it must first be Judenrein (“free of Jews”)?
Sadly, I think almost everyone knows the answer to these questions. It is because everyone expects that Arabs can continue to live in peace and prosperity in democratic Israel (sadly, the only place in the entire MENA where Arab citizens have the right to vote, freedom of speech, freedom of religion, etc.), though almost no one believes that a Jewish minority could live in peace and prosperity in any new Arab state that would be created out of the Palestinian Authority’s and Hamas’s war for control of the land.
The truth is that the “obstacle to peace” in the Arab-Israeli conflict before 1967 (before there were any “occupied territories”) is the same “obstacle to peace” now. It is the same “obstacle to peace” that since 1937 has caused every Palestinian Arab leader from Nazi collaborator Haj Amin el-Husseini to current P.A. “president for life” Mahmoud Abbas to reject at least six different peace and partition plans that would have created the first independent Arab state west of the Jordan River. It’s the Palestinian Arabs’ collective intolerance for Jews living with sovereignty and self-determination anywhere in the land of Israel that is the true “obstacle to peace.”
After all, if the Irish foreign minister and the rest of the “international community” really believe that 500,000 Jews being in a new independent Arab state isn’t possible while 2 million Arabs can continue to live in Israel without issue, then what does that say about their respective expectations for the tolerance, democratic values and peacefulness of this new country? And how could such a country be expected to live peacefully right next to Israel and not be immediately taken over by Hamas (just as what happened with Gaza in 2006)?
Of course, none of this likely matters to Coveney or others like him, as they would never have to live with the consequences of the creation of a state in Judea and Samaria controlled by Hamas, with the consequences of another failed terrorist state governed by Hamas but with this one sitting right on top of more than 50 percent of Israel’s population, its three largest cities and its only major international airport. Jewish history has taught the Jewish people that we should never expect people like Coveney or the hosts at CNN to care about, let alone respond to, attacks on Jews from the likes of Hamas. And that is precisely why Israel should never take legal, military or diplomatic advice from the likes of these folks.
Micha Danzig served in the Israeli Army and is a former police officer with the NYPD. He is currently an attorney and is very active with numerous Jewish and pro-Israel organizations, including StandWithUs and the FIDF, and is a national board member of Herut North America.