TEHRAN (FNA)– Even though the public attention is focused on Iran’s nuclear agreement with the six world powers and the Saudi invasion of Yemen these days, the plight of Palestinian nation is still a major concern for the global community.
The humanitarian situation in the Gaza Strip and West Bank is growing more unendurable, and it seems that Benjamin Netanyahu’s unusual anxiety over the successful conclusion of the nuclear talks between Iran and the P5+1 has its roots in Tel Aviv’s fear of the shifting of public attention to the cruelties taking place in the Occupied Territories, Gaza Strip and West Bank.
A Jewish university professor in Australia compares the living conditions of the Palestinian people to those of the black South Africans during the Apartheid era, saying that “the situation in the West Bank is an appalling, brutal military occupation.”
“The impunity of Israel in the face of so many crimes, including those of the 2014 assault on Gaza, is because the major political powers, and especially the United States, have failed to bring Israel to account and, indeed, aid and abet Israel’s crimes by huge military support, diplomatic cover in the UN and elsewhere and based media coverage,” said Prof. Peter Slezak in an interview with Fars News Agency.
Referring to Israel’s violations of the international law, Prof. Slezak noted, “Israel not only violates the rules of war but many rules of international law such as the Geneva Conventions and numerous UN resolutions.”
“For example, every one of the 600,000 settlers in the West Bank is in violation of the Fourth Geneva Convention,” he added.
Dr. Peter Slezak is an Associate Professor of Philosophy at the University of New South Wales. He completed his MPhil and PhD at Columbia University, New York. He is co-founder of the advocacy group Independent Australian Jewish Voices (IAJV) and an Executive member of Australia Palestine Advocacy Network (APAN). Just recently, Prof. Slezak presented an ABC Radio program titled “Breaking the Silence” based on his tour of the West Bank and Gaza.
In an interview with FNA, Prof. Peter Slezak provided an insight into the different aspects of the military occupation of Palestine and the problems the people there are facing in their daily lives.
Q: Why is the criticism of Israel becoming so costly and risky? The critics of Israel’s policies are automatically branded by the corporate media as “anti-Semitist” and “anti-Jew” and no distinction is made between the criticism of Israel’s discriminatory treatment of the Palestinians, and being opposed to Judaism as a faith. What’s your take on that?
A: I’m not sure that criticism of Israel is actually so costly or risky at all in our privileged, liberal Western democracies. Of course, there is the inevitable abuse and vilification – from Jewish and other pro-Israel sources such as conservative commentators in the media and politicians. There have been cases of academics in the US losing or failing to get tenured jobs which is very serious, but overall I think there remains considerable opportunity to criticize Israel without very harmful consequences. In the light of the relative freedom to criticize, the real question is why so few people do so. One factor is the deliberate conflation of Israel and Jewishness – not Judaism as a faith, since most Jews identify themselves ethnically rather than by actual religious commitment as such. The demand to recognize Israel as a Jewish state and the powerful community pressures on Jews to support Israel means that criticism of Israel can be cynically portrayed and denounced as anti-Semitic. As the late Israeli member of the Knesset Shulamit Aloni said in an interview, “It’s a trick we always use” to condemn criticism of Israel as anti-Semitic. It works because there has been a very deep reservoir of good-will and sympathy for Jews since the horrors of the Holocaust and the racist anti-Semitism that led to it. So, people are understandably reluctant to be seen to criticize Jews. This sentiment is cynically manipulated and exploited by leaders of Israel and Diaspora Jewish communities who resort to the anti-Semitic slander against any critic of Israel.
Q: There are many aspects to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict which are rarely reported and highlighted for the public. I just heard the story of a Palestinian friend who had to travel for 28 hours, both on the ground and in the air, to reach Germany for attending a scientific seminar. He had to take a bus from the Occupied Territories to get to Jordan and then fly from the Jordan airport to Germany. However, his bus en route from Nablus to Amman was intercepted and inspected literally tens of times, and a trip which could be concluded in some 6-7 hours, lasted 28 hours for him. What’s your viewpoint on the difficulties the people of Palestine are enduring under the military occupation?
A: The severe hardships endured by Palestinians are of course much worse than just the harassment during travel. The situation in the West Bank is an appalling, brutal military occupation in which there have been thousands of house demolitions, evictions – as now happening in Susiya, million trees uprooted, water stolen for Israel and settlements, administrative detentions and torture and regular killing of unarmed civilians demonstrating in their own villages, including 2 kids a week on average. The repression is severe and much worse than the South African apartheid had been. Of course, the situation in Gaza is even worse with the criminal blockade and the repeated military assaults which have devastated Gaza, killed and maimed thousands of innocent civilians and children.
Q: A concern shared by many people in the Muslim world is the impunity Israel enjoys from accountability before the international law. As an occupying power, Israel doesn’t live up to its commitments and fails to abide by the rules of war. However, it’s never held responsible to the international community. Why is it so?
A: Israel not only violates the rules of war but many rules of international law such as the Geneva Conventions and numerous UN resolutions. For example, every one of the 600,000 settlers in the West Bank is in violation of the Fourth Geneva Convention. The separation was declared illegal by the ICJ in 2004, but Israel continues its violations including the crime of collective punishment against the people of Gaza who remain technically under belligerent occupation by Israel. The impunity of Israel in the face of so many crimes, including those of the 2014 assault on Gaza, is because the major political powers, and especially the United States, have failed to bring Israel to account and, indeed, aid and abet Israel’s crimes by huge military support, diplomatic cover in the UN and elsewhere and based media coverage.
Q: So, some international organizations and public figures have referred to the Gaza Strip as the world’s “largest open-air prison” and a modern “concentration camp.” They describe Israel’s treatment of the Palestinian population as a clear instance of collective punishment. Why have they used such terms? Do you agree with them?
A: I agree with such descriptive terms, but more important than using such metaphorical terms is to describe literally the actual “facts on the ground” which are horrible and tragic. The suffering of the people of Gaza is immense due to the successive large-scale military assaults and the ongoing blockade. Most of the water in Gaza is unfit for consumption among the many privations now, including hundreds of thousands of houses destroyed in the last military assault in 2014 and people living without proper shelter. This is in addition to the immense suffering due to the blockade, which Israel has failed to end despite its commitments to doing so in cease-fire arrangements and despite its being criminal in international law.
Q: As reported by the Institute for Middle East Understanding, there are about 50 Israeli legislations that discriminate against the Palestinian citizens living in the Occupied Territories, either directly or indirectly, on the basis of their nationality. For example, since 1948, more than 600 Jewish municipalities have been established, while the Israeli authorities still don’t recognize as many as 70 Palestinian villages and cities, and even refuse to print the name of Palestinian communities on the maps. How is it possible to end such unjust measures?
A: The situation inside “Green Line” Israel is highly discriminatory due to many formal laws and also administrative and political arrangements. The very historical existence of Palestinians has been obliterated from history with over 400 villages that have been destroyed and erased from memory. These have been extensively documented in the classical, comprehensive work of “Walid Khalidi “All That Remains.” Palestinians inside Israel have their houses demolished and are being evicted from their traditional homes, as the Bedouins in the Negev. Ending these injustices, like the more severe injustices of the occupation in West Bank and Gaza must be driven by pressure from inside and outside – other governments, especially the US. Increasingly, around the world, the BDS movement is raising public awareness and increasing the kind of pressure that might make an important difference.
Q: On the Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions campaign which you just talked about, do you believe it will be an effective instrument of having Israel change its policies and approach towards the Palestinians? In the absence of so many governments that are willing and determined to boycott Israeli goods and cut their trade with Tel Aviv, is the BDS movement going to emerge successful?
A: The BDS movement is an important and growing force that can help put pressure on governments and other international agencies to end the impunity of Israel. There are different forms of BDS that can be effective as a tactic. However, it is important to be clear that BDS is not committed to a particular one-state solution to the conflict since this charge has been effectively used against some supporters as a way of disarming the BDS movement. It is also important to resist the common charge that BDS is anti-Semitic which is another effective slander used to discredit supporters. For example, the common comparison of BDS with the Nazi campaign “Kauft nicht bei Juden” against Jewish shops in the 1930s, is a disgraceful comparison which must be repudiated, even by those who disagree with BDS. Many of the principal targets are not Jewish. Whether one agrees with BDS or not, it must be acknowledged that it is a rights-based movement of non-violent protest. The recent extreme reactions to BDS by Israeli government figures suggest that it is being effective.
Interview by Kourosh Ziabari