US Equates Palestinian Nonviolent Protest With Israeli Settlement Activity
Time to make yet another entry to the list of US hypocrisies!
Over the weekend, Israeli army and police units forcibly evicted a group of Palestinian activists from Bab al-Shams, a tent village that had been erected on what is reportedly a Palestinian-owned parcel of land in the area of the West Bank known as E1. The village—which included a library, kitchen, media room, and a medical center staffed by two doctors, two nurses, and six other health professionals—was established by the activists as a nonviolent protest against Israeli intentions to build thousands of new settlements in E1, an action which would effectively cut-off Palestinians from Jerusalem, threaten the viability of any future Palestinian state in a two-state solution, and, of course, trounce upon the Palestinians' rights to their own land.
In a statement, UN chief Ban Ki-Moon called Israel out on their impending settlement plans and on disrespecting the Palestinians' right to peaceful protest. But, of course, we can't expect so much from the US.
Now, the US claims to oppose Israeli settlement plans in the West Bank. It also says that Palestinians need to accept nonviolence as their mode of response to the Israelis. Yet, when Palestinian activists do just that, and the Israelis meet Palestinian nonviolence with force, the US says this (emphasis mine):
Journalist: ... over the weekend, the Israelis forcibly moved Palestinians who had tried to reclaim an area taken from them for a settlement in the E1 area in Bab al-Shams. Do you have any comment on that?
Victoria Nuland, Spokesperson, US State Department: We’ve obviously been aware of recent developments in E1. I will again take this opportunity to urge all sides, both sides, to refrain from unhelpful action, from unhelpful rhetoric, and to think seriously about the consequences of their actions. Every step taken should be designed to reduce tension, to prepare the way for getting back to the negotiating table.
Journalist: Would that be the kind of nonviolent resistance that the Palestinians ought to pursue in fighting the occupation?
Nuland: I’m not sure what you’re --
Journalist: Doing – taking action like that, going to areas and pitching tents and staying up there and do temporary housing and staying on land without seeking – without resorting to violence, that would be the kind of action that the Palestinians ought to do in sort of undoing the occupation?
Nuland: We oppose all unilateral action, Said, including settlement activities of any kind. They complicate efforts to resume direct bilateral talks. This includes in the E1 area. It’s just not helpful.
Now, US officials rhetorically equating a diplomatic action, like the Palestinian quest for non-member state status at the United Nations, with Israeli settlement activity, which is an overtly violent action, was unfair enough. The fact that the US put much effort into thwarting the Palestinian effort, but, as far as we know, has done nothing substantive to stop the settlement plans, even though it has the power to do just that, is downright repulsive. But opposing a nonviolent protest that was staged against something the US proclaims itself to also be against, and calling it an "unhelpful", "unilateral action," and a kind of settlement activity, demands the creation of a whole new level of ridiculousness in order to gain proper classification.
First, Bab al-Shams, while it used the tools of Israeli settlement activity, was, in its essence, nothing like an Israeli settlement. It's the difference between offensive and defensive action. For one, Israeli settlers occupy Palestinian lands; the Palestinian activists were occupying Palestinian land. Israeli settlers displace previous inhabitants; the Palestinian activists are reported to have had the permission of the Palestinian landowner to establish the tent village. Israeli settlers have the aim of expanding Israeli territory with the hope of keeping that territory in any future peace deal, thus circumventing the constantly referenced but practically non-existent negotiation process. The Palestinian activists were trying to hold on to lands that would otherwise be lost to Israeli settlement activity and quite possibly never returned in any future negotiated peace.
Second, the US response to Bab al-Shams leaves the Palestinians with no good option for opposing Israeli actions. Essentially, the US is telling the Palestinians that they should take no action to promote their own interests or oppose Israeli activities, that the US is going to continue to support Israel no matter what horrible things it does, and that there is nothing the Palestinians can do to gain any semblance of support from the US, which, more than any other power in the world, has the ability to affect Israeli policy. This must be an incredibly frustrating position to be placed in.
Partially because of the frustrating position it puts Palestinians in, the US response works against US policy goals. As mentioned above, it is an official position of the US that Palestinians accept nonviolence; yet, US condemnation of Palestinian nonviolence works directly against this goal. It is also the stated position of the US that Israel halt all settlement activities; yet, US refusal to recognize Bab al-Shams as a legitimate protest of Israeli settlements undermines this goal as well.
The hypocrisy of the US response to Bab al-Shams provides further proof that the US cannot both be a supporter of peace between the Israelis and the Palestinians and, at the same time, unconditionally support Israel. When such support requires the US to make ridiculous analogies between nonviolent and violent actions, and to act against its own policy goals, that support must change. One thing the US can do is condition Israeli aid on compliance with the law. That would put real substance behind stated US policy that Israeli settlement activities must end. It's the least the US can do.