Think about it. International law and beauty are not so very different. Both depend on the eye of the beholder, so that sauce for the goose may not be sauce for the gander. For one and the same act, under one and the same code of law, Israel can be guilty and another country blameless.
Really, could law be so mulish? No, but human beings can be devious. We must agree that however well intentioned, law can be diverted from the purpose lawgivers had in mind, and made to serve a purpose that was furthest from their mind. Law can also be inverted – mischievously used against the intended purpose. Then instead of moving public diplomacy forward, law may trip it up.
Consider the latest parallel case when Israel was slammed for violating international law on occupation while Morocco, another occupier, came away with a handshake and a deal. The slammer and the deal maker was the European Union. Lawyers advised that no law stopped Europe making a fisheries deal with Morocco over occupied waters in Western Sahara. Allowing European companies to drill for oil in those waters, despite a UN legal opinion that it would violate international law, was also no problem. ‘Thank you very much,’ said the fatcats of Brussels. Morocco was happy too; the EU offered to pay a royalty for access to the occupied zone.
Now it is no secret that the EU’s trade agreements with Israel veer quite another way. The agreements specially exclude products from the occupied zone called the West Bank. Note here, West Bank is a diplomatic ‘choice B’ name because international law is not kind to anti-Zionist belief that Israel occupies land which belongs to Palestinians. They would far rather it were called ‘Occupied Palestinian Territory’ the ‘choice A’ name that many anti-Zionists, despite the law, prefer to use. Even the United Nations, that king of anti-Zionist kings, hires a legal expert with a job title that comes with the ‘choice A’ name.
But reverting to the issue at hand: who would have tweaked the law to produce outcomes so completely at odds? It seems common sense that business would trump law in the Morocco case. Then why did it not in the EU’s trade agreement with Israel? Why are Israeli products made in the West Bank excluded from a trade agreement, while Europe is prepared to pay Morocco for the privilege of doing business in occupied waters? What makes Israel’s occupation products inferior in law to those of Moroccan origin?
EU policy supremos know what. But as dyed in the wool diplomats they wrap the truth in words of probity and reason.
“Our bible is international law” says Andrew Standley, the EU ambassador to Israel. He was reacting to the Rabbinical Congress for Peace, an Israeli group that came to Standley at Ramat Gan to tell him that Jewish law prohibits Israel from dividing the land.
Biblical law! Give a cheer for Faith – that strong unshakeable belief in something without proof. There we have Europe’s basis for treating West Bank products as unkosher. Europe is gripped by a strong biblical faith that Israel is a criminal occupier. Just as the Rabbinal Congress understands the Jewish bible, so the policy supremos of Europe understand their bible, international law. It is all a matter of blind faith.
Yet faith brings earthly rewards. Profit is the reward from interpreting international law to make Morocco squeaky clean. The rewards for making Israel dirt guilty are manifold:
1. Assertive Muslim implants in Europe are soothed and coddled.
2. Trade and diplomatic partners in the Arab world are tickled.
3. The American - European imposed Mid–East peace play is rejuvenated.
4. Jew-adverse Scandinavian members of Europe are fed what they got in their mothers’ milk.
So, going for these and other rewards the EU tweaks a narrative in its bible, the Fourth Geneva Convention:
“Population transfers for the purpose of establishing settlements are forbidden under international humanitarian law,” preaches the International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC). “This is regardless of whether people are being directly transferred or indirectly transferred through incentives, encouragements or other measures facilitating their settlement in the occupied territory.”
Is that true? Why not go to the very source, to Article 49, which happens to hang on the website of the ICRC, like a framed commandment on the walls of the devout.
“The Occupying Power shall not deport or transfer parts of its own civilian population into the territory it occupies.” Note, the words ‘deport’ and ‘transfer’ are in the active case, meaning that civilians are being herded – not going voluntarily. They are being forcibly moved. How could this possibly apply to Israeli settlers?
In 2009 Philip Spoerri, the ICRC director of international law and cooperation, explained: “The decision to draft the Geneva Conventions of 1949 was sealed by the tragedy of World War II, and the conventions were intended to fill the gaps in international humanitarian law exposed by the conflict.”
In other words, points out Yair Samir, Israel’s agriculture minister, Article 49 “was drawn up in the wake of the Nazi policy of forcibly transferring parts of its population into territories it occupied before and during the war. The most infamous of these forcible transfers or deportations involved the masses of Jews who were sent to occupied territories to be murdered en masse in Poland and elsewhere. To suggest that an incentive by the Israeli government to live in the ancient cradle of Jewish civilization is somehow akin to the genocidal Nazis sending Jews to forced labor and death is as ludicrous as it is deeply insensitive.”
Precisely. But a non-too ingenious tampering like this is bound to happen when a holy screed is out of kilter with the actual world.
What of American policy supremos? Do they sit in the same boat as the Europeans? Is their bible international law? Says Barak Obama’s envoy to the Middle East, John Kerry: “Let me emphasize (our) position …on the settlements. We consider them…to be illegitimate.”
Hah – is that the same bible? In American diplomatic lingo does ‘illegitimate’ mean the same thing as ‘illegal’? Perhaps Kerry views the occupied territories as a bastard born out of wedlock. After all, at the time of birth Israel was not married to the West Bank or Gaza. No one was, lawfully. Jordan and Egypt were looking after the siblings, before they lost them to Israel in their defeat.
Not that Obama’s envoy is the first American diplomat to use ‘illegitimate’ to describe Israel’s occupation. Former Secretary of State Hilary Clinton did, and before her, Susan Rice when she was the UN ambassador. Are they, along with Europe, chanting the catechism of the faithful? Are they also bible thumpers?
Whatever the case might be, America is colluding with the EU’s economic war against the Israelites in the desert.
Steve Apfel is Director of the School of Management Accounting, Johannesburg. His book "Hadrian''s Echo - the whys and wherefores of Israel''s critics" came out last year and his new work, "Bilaam''s Curse" is due out in 2014. His articles have appeared in several journals in Israel, America, the UK and South Africa.