By: Atty. Michael Sfard, Yesh Din’s legal advisor
A baby boy or girl born on June 5, 1967 in Ramallah, Nablus, Yata, or Bil’in, celebrated their 47th birthday recently. Their birthday party was probably attended by their children, and perhaps even by a few grandchildren. These adults have not known a single day of freedom since they were born.
They learned from an early age that any decision in their lives, however petty, is subject to the decisions of a military regime before which they enjoy no status. They discovered, for example, that the geographical boundaries of their lives are dictated by a collection of bureaucratic permits, granted or (more commonly) denied by military officials: A permit to visit their family in Gaza and to return to the West Bank (or vice versa); a permit to cross a checkpoint; a permit to pray in Jerusalem; a permit to access their land trapped in a security zone created around a neighboring settlement; a permit to work in a settlement; a permit to farm their own fields beyond the separation barrier (with or without a vehicle, during daylight only, for the duration of the olive harvest, with or without additional workers); a permit to work in Israel; and even a permit to travel abroad and return home.
The children of the summer of 1967 have watched helplessly as their land has been usurped for the criminal and unlawful settlement enterprise and as the natural treasures of their community have been stolen by Israeli and foreign corporations enjoying the perks of occupation. As they stood in line at the checkpoint, they saw their settler neighbors speeding by in the fast track reserved for the masters of the land. When a relative was arrested they learned in the military courts that they are subject to a separate and tough legal system totally different from the modern, respectful system applied to Israeli settlers.
When they grew up, married, and sought a home, they realized that while their homeland is the site of a building boom, with modern new neighborhoods, advanced industrial zones, and even an institution that claims to be a university – none of it is intended for them. When they started a family, they discovered that they cannot protect their children against nighttime arrest and violent interrogation, and that even schools are not safe from the occupation forces.
The children of the summer of 1967 are already well into middle age. But their freedom to choose from the various options the world offers; the extent of their influence over their immediate and more distance future; and the measure of independence they receive are all less than those enjoyed by the average high school student in Herzliya.
“If tyranny, even progressive, continues for more than one generation,” wrote the French philosopher, author, and journalist Albert Camus, “its meaning for millions of humans is a life of slavery and no more than that. When the temporary coincides with a human lifespan, then for that human it is final.” A realistic appraisal of the situation suggests that, in all probability, the children of the summer of 1967 will also celebrate their 48th birthday under occupation. To be honest, their 49th birthday faces the same risk, and the prospects are hardly optimistic for that which will follow. Will they pass away without experiencing even a single day of freedom?
In human rights terms, occupation is a mass disaster in which every victim suffers from multi-trauma and multiple injuries. What is unique about occupation is not that it violates any particular human liberty, or even the liberty of an entire community. What is unique about it is that the entire fabric of civil liberties (to vote and to be elected, to be a partner in public activity, and to exert an influence) is suspended. This suspension leads almost automatically to the removal of the protection that should be enjoyed by the full range of rights and liberties to which humans per se are entitled.
When a Palestinian seeks to build a home on his land, his request will be determined by planning committees in which his community has no representation. The record of these bodies shows that their actual function is to prevent Palestinian development. When settlers invade his land and build or plant crops on it, he is forced to rely on policemen – all of whom are Israelis, and some of whom are settlers – to work on his behalf against their lawbreaking brothers. When he seeks to protest the situation, he encounters draconian laws prohibiting demonstrations that were not enacted by himself or his people.
International law recognizes that wars may lead to a situation of occupation and regulates the system of regime of such occupation. Due to the severe violation of human rights that occupation causes to the occupied subjects, international law assumes that it will be a temporary reality. When Beit El was established on stolen land, the victims of the theft argued that this act was illegal, among other reasons since the establishment of a settlement is not temporary. The Supreme Court justices accepted the state’s disingenuous claim that even a long period of time is temporary. However, as Albert Camus – who knew a thing or two about occupations and undemocratic regimes – wrote, since life itself is temporary, certain periods constitute eternity for the individual human. Welcome to the forty-eighth year.
This op-ed was originally published in Haaretz (Hebrew)