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Is it time to bypass governments in the search for justice?

One of the conundrums about Israel is that the country’s media often carries far more robust stories about the state than the many pro-Israel media outlets in the West. Discussions take place within Israel that are blocked or stifled by lobbyists in Europe and Americas; its activists appear to be more Zionist than the Zionist Israelis themselves. Indeed, such is the power of the zealots within the pro-Israel Lobby in the US that it more or less dictates Washington’s foreign policy; it is inconceivable that any administration in America would be able to do anything meaningful in the Middle East which might have a negative impact on Israel.

As Robert Fisk reveals in his book The Great War for Civilisation, the same holds true for defence matters. During his investigations over many years into the global arms industry, and his efforts to find out how and why a US-made Hellfire missile sold to the US Marine Corps ended up being fired by an Israeli helicopter at a civilian ambulance in Lebanon, killing two women and four children, Fisk was told by one senior US officer: “Anyone on [Capitol] Hill knows that challenging any [arms] transfers to Israel is not going to help their political career… The Israeli [sic] lobby is very, very powerful. It’s not going to be criticised.” (p968)

In the space of the past few days, a Palestinian child was knocked over and killed by a Jewish settler in the occupied Palestinian territories, and a Jewish child (from America) was hit and killed by a car driven by a Palestinian. US state department spokesperson Jen Psaki called the killing of the Jewish child a “terrorist” act; she made no comment about the killing of the Palestinian girl. How many more children are going to be killed to satisfy Israel’s apparently untouchable demand for “security” at the cost of innocent lives on both sides; before America stops being more Israeli than Israel?

Despite its claims to be an honest broker for peace, the US is behind Israel 100 per cent and will never take a truly neutral stand in order to bring peace and justice to Palestine-Israel. Its politicians have just too much to lose by being honest and fair towards the protagonists. There is a strong argument for lumping America alongside Israel as a protagonist; certain EU states could probably be thrown in for good measure along with others for whom it is Israel first and foremost, right or wrong, legal or illegal. So too could those within the Palestinian Authority who have a vested interest in “security cooperation” with the Israeli occupation authorities, the price for which is being paid by ordinary Palestinians who are not protected by the Palestinian “security agencies”, with their 70,000 officers, against illegal settlers and Israel Defence Forces (IDF) violence.

Earlier this year, writing for Al-Jazeera online, Yousef Munayyer of the Jerusalem Fund noted that civil society groups around the world are leading the push for Palestinian rights. There is a clear shift, he wrote, from states to civil actors. Most notably with the Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions (BDS) movement, civil society is leading the way in putting pressure on the Israeli government. “The second shift is in the way desired goals are understood,” noted Munayyer. “As civil society pushes forward and as states recede, so too does the statist approach focused on partition. Civil society actors are far more inclined to focus on people and their rights rather than borders and the brokering of political power between factions or states.” This is an important point given the apparent dichotomous approach of the Palestinian Authority led by Mahmoud Abbas, with, for example, his threat to go to the International Criminal Court to take action against Israel countered by his belief that security cooperation with the occupation is “sacred”.

How much longer, it is fair to ask, will global civil society allow the West to pour millions of dollars into the PA which, clearly, is doing very little for the civil, legal and human rights of Palestinians in the occupied territories, and nothing at all for the rights of refugees in neighbouring countries and the wider diaspora. Despite the necessary and probably very painful navel-gazing that this requires of Palestinians as they examine their own shortcomings, Munayyer pointed out that the shift “from a partition focus to a rights-based focus… is a far more uncomfortable global conversation” for Israel to hear. It is, after all, “the main culprit in Palestinian human rights abuses”.

BDS aside, there is more that civil society can do to bring pressure to bear and make sure that Munayyer’s “shift” has an effect in countries beyond Palestine-Israel. This includes legal as well as political activism. There is, for example, a General Election looming in Britain; it has to be held next year at the latest, and the mockery that passes for democracy in the United States, where money wins elections rather than policies, is already swinging into action for the presidential primaries prior to Obama leaving the White House in 2016. The governments in Washington and London gave Israel unconditional backing during so-called Operation Protective Edge this summer; Prime Minister David Cameron insisted that Israel had his “staunch” support while the IDF was bombing and killing its way through civilian areas of the Gaza Strip. Civil society needs to remind politicians of this fact during the election campaigns; the complicity of Western governments in Israel’s destruction of Palestinian lives and infrastructure has to be an election issue.

For too long, Western politicians have been allowed to get away with preaching democratic values at home while helping Israel to commit very un-democratic acts against Palestinian civilians. If human rights are right for us in the West, they have to be right for Palestinians living under the world’s last colonial enterprise in the occupied territories. Mr Cameron cannot be allowed to insist on British schoolchildren being brought up to respect law and order while he gives his government’s “staunch” support to the state which disregards international laws and conventions with impunity. Once politicians know that their foreign policies have domestic payback at election time, it is reasonable to assume that such policies will change. Until then, civil society must bring pressure to bear on them. If we are serious about peace and justice for Palestine-Israel, then perhaps it is time to bypass governments in order to achieve them.

The views expressed in this article belong to the author and do not necessarily reflect the editorial policy of Middle East Monitor.

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