Two Besieged Territories

Two Besieged Territories

The Israeli authorities have recently announced the plans to advance thousands of settlement units in the occupied West Bank. In what can be termed as another display of blatant disregard for the international law and UN resolutions, the authorities are all set to initiate the construction of 1300 settlement homes while the proposal for another 3000 homes is also under consideration.

According to a report by the Israeli anti-settlement watchdog Peace Now the majority of the new housing units would be built in settlements deep inside the West Bank.

The Israel’s policy of settlement contravenes fundamental rules of international humanitarian law. Article 49 of the Fourth Geneva Convention states: “The Occupying Power shall not deport or transfer parts of its own civilian population into the territory it occupies.” It also forbids the “individual or mass forcible transfers, as well as deportations of protected persons from occupied territory”.  Furthermore, the Hague Regulations of 1907 allow a very limited use of the public property of the occupied population by the occupying state and forbid the confiscation of private property. Hence, International law prohibits the use of state land and natural resources by Israel for purposes other than military and security needs or for the benefit of the occupied population. Nevertheless, Israel’s persistent policy of advancement of housing units in the Palestinian territory exhibits a complete disdain for international rules.

The policy of settlement expansion in the occupied West Bank and annexed East Jerusalem has found the support of every Israeli government since 1967. However, the process of settling Israeli civilians in the occupied Palestinian territory expedited in the past few years under the rule of Netanyahu, with a strong support from Donald Trump’s US administration that displayed a tolerant attitude towards this policy. According to Peace Now, Israel initiated plans for almost 30,000 settler homes in the West Bank during the four years of Trump’s presidency. The process is expected to gain further momentum under the prime minister Naftali Bennett’s rule. Bennett, a right-wing nationalist, is a staunch supporter of the right of Jewish settlement in the West Bank and opposes Palestinian statehood. He has also ruled out any possibility of resuming peace dialogue with the Palestinians. In a bid to appease their voter base, the right-wing factions in Naftali’s eight party coalition are all set to protect Jewish interests and strengthen the Zionist vision.

The recent announcement has invited the ire of international human rights organisations, activists and many states that came forward to condemn Israel’s brutal and unilateral actions in the occupied territory. In an unprecedented move, the White House has publicly and harshly rebuked Israel for its settlement plans. The Biden administration does not favor further expansion of the Jewish settlements on the Occupied Palestinian territory. This is in sharp contrast to the policy of his Republican predecessor who continued to encourage and support Israeli settlement plans. The administration sees the expansion as damaging to the prospects of peace between the Palestinians and the Israelis. Additionally, it has also been noted by the US officials that such a move could undermine the two-state solution to the conflict. This is the first time in the history that any US administration has openly and vehemently opposed Israel’s policies in the occupied territory. However, it remains to be seen whether Washington is willing to jeopardise its ties with Tel Aviv to uphold its democratic credentials or the reaction is mere a public display of human rights concerns of the Democratic party.

The UN envoy to the Middle East peace process Tor Wennesland also expressed deep concern over Israel’s announcement terming the settlements illegal under international law. The reaction from European Union is no different that called on Israel to stop the construction of the planned units. Similarly, a statement from Jordanian foreign ministry blasted housing construction and general “confiscation” of Palestinian land as “illegitimate”.

Palestinians are not the only ones who are the target of such expansionist designs, a similar approach is on display in the Indian Illegally Occupied Jammu and Kashmir where the Modi regime is structurally and meticulously working on its expansionist agenda. The Hindu nationalist regime has taken systematic and illegal measures to change the demographic makeup of the held region. This coupled with blatant violations of economic, political and civic rights of the people who refuse to succumb to the atrocities being meted out by the Modi led BJP government. The region witnessed an unprecedented and brutal clampdown during the last two years. The history’s longest ever curfew, the closure of schools, the communications blackout, the detention of political leaders and right activists not to mention the havoc unleashed by the pandemic brought the civic life to a stand still in the Kashmir valley.

The Kashmiris and the Palestinians continue to suffer at the hands of two far-right extremist regimes that continue to deny them their right to self determination. The aggressors have left no stone unturned to supress the resistance to their illegitimate occupation. Peace and normalcy remain an elusive dream for the oppressed people who continue to await justice from the world bodies. The question is what can the so-called champions of human rights who very so often chant the slogans of international norms and democratic values can do to bring an end to the widespread human suffering in both the besieged regions apart from issuing strongly worded statements?  The repeated flagrant violations of international norms by the Indian and Israeli authorities should serve as a lesson for the world community that criticism without consequences fails to deter the oppressors. There is no doubt that both occupying forces have been emboldened by the inaction of the world bodies that continue to pay lip service to the Kashmiri and Palestinian cause. The unwavering covert and overt support by their respective allies are another reason why India and Israel continue with their defiant ways with impunity. It is high time that the perpetrators are held accountable for their long list of war crimes in full conformity with the international law. This is a solemn responsibility of the international community towards the oppressed people of both the regions. Empty rhetoric and hollow promises only exacerbate their woes.