Israel’s “Provocative” Settlement Building

Bethlehem is hemmed in by both growing Israeli settlements and the Separation Wall, above.

Bethlehem is hemmed in by both growing Israeli settlements and the Separation Wall, above.

On July 27, the U.S. State Department condemned Israel’s most recent announcement to build over 1,000 more illegal settlement housing units, calling the action “provocative” and “corrosive to the cause of peace.” In a strongly-worded statement similar to the many it has made in the past, the State Department said “this is part of an ongoing process of land seizures, settlement expansion, legalizations of outposts, and denial of Palestinian development that risk entrenching a one-state reality of perpetual occupation and conflict. We remain troubled that Israel continues this pattern of provocative and counterproductive action, which raises serious questions about Israel’s ultimate commitment to a peaceful, negotiated settlement with the Palestinians.”

The biting words of the State Department were hard for supporters of Israel to take. The weekly Jewish Sentinel examined the July 27 statement and concluded that it was a “shockingly hostile assault” on Israel. President Obama’s legacy, the paper said, “is predicated on unabashed anti-Jewish discrimination. In other words, Obama’s presidential legacy is the promotion of anti-Semitism as the guiding principle shaping and informing U.S.-Israel policy.” (Aug. 12-18, ’16)

How sad and depressing it is to read this in a newspaper published here in New York City. Are we ever going to get past the tired old false charge that criticism of Israel is anti-Semitic? This is one of the Israel lobby’s oldest and most effective weapons and —unfortunately for the sake of the truth — it often works and stymies honest discussion.

So what exactly does “provocative” mean? When UN Secretary General Ban Ki-moon pointed out earlier this year, referring to violence in the West Bank, that “History proves that people will always resist occupation” he was severely reproached by Israel for his comments. Standing by his position, the Secretary General said that “Nothing excuses terrorism. I condemn it categorically.” Nevertheless, he believes, we must recognize that “Palestinian frustration and grievances are growing under the weight of nearly a half-century of occupation. . . . No one can deny that the everyday reality of occupation provokes anger and despair, which are major drivers of violence and extremism. . .” (NY Times, Feb. 1, ’16)

In a recent address to the European Parliament, Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas said that Israel “has turned our country into an open-air prison. . . . Once the occupation ends, terrorism will disappear, there will be no more terrorism in the Middle East, or anywhere else in the world.“ (PressTV website)

It must be said carefully but clearly: the building of Israeli settlements on Palestinian land in the West Bank is one of several causes of the anger and hatred of the U.S. which the world sees as Israel’s protector and patron. This creates a poisonous atmosphere which prompts a minuscule fraction of profoundly troubled young people in the Arab and Muslim worked to commit acts of terrorism.

No, a thousand times no, nothing justifiers terrorism, and no, settlement building is not the only reason. There is a tragic constellation of historical and present-day reasons, including colonialism and the invasions of Afghanistan and Iraq and Libya. As we’re noticed in previous blogs, another reason is the fact that many terrorists are profoundly troubled people. The father of the San Bernardino shooter threw kitchen appliances at his mother. There is a biological factor: most of the terrorists are young people whose brains and judgement capabilities have not yet fully developed. And there’s a theological reason: evil exists in the world.

But all of that having been said, we will not begin to get out of the mess we’re in until we publicly discuss the fact that Israel’s building of settlements on ancestral Palestinian homeland on the West Bank is a collective insult to the people in the Arab and Muslim world. Have you ever been personally insulted? I must definitely hope not. But if you have, I’m sure you still remember the sting of that moment. The Israeli building of settlements is causing 1.5 billion people to feel that sting. We must stop insulting these people.

Mel Lehman
Common Humanity
New York City
September 17, ‘16

Mel Lehman

Mel Lehman is the director of of Common Humanity. He has worked in international humanitarian issues for several decades, inducing two decades at the National Council of Churches. He has traveled extensively in the Middle East and has published a number of articles about his experience.