In a few weeks, the University of Southampton will play host to a conference that questions the state of Israel’s actions and policies against the Palestinian peoples. National and international news has been gathered for the event.
The conference is historic: it aims to explore themes of legitimacy and responsibility, and explore the injustices and suffering of the Palestinian people. Scholars from many disciplines including Law, Politics and History are all included.
The political complexity of the Middle East has been written about, spoken about, and debated for many years. There are several reasons why the conference should go on, regardless of who disagrees.
The article I write today comes out of not only anger, but absolute astonishment at the response gained from articles written about the upcoming conference. I am fed up of what I am hearing, and I want to set the record straight.
Why does one question the legitimacy of Israel?
To begin with, let’s define what legitimacy actually means, the “ability to be defended with logic or justification: validity”. As a Politics student, you hear the phrase ‘sovereign state’ thrown around excessively. The idea of a ‘sovereign state’ is the idea that a state’s government is the only force that can maintain order, discipline or even hurt their people. In a world that has seen a rise in governance since the end of the Cold War, do ‘sovereign states’ retain such a high level of sovereignty? The existence of the UN is surely to not only halt the absolute power of a monarch or government, but to instil peace, security, justice and humans rights across borders.
Prior to 2010, the United Nations Security Council had published 79 resolutions critical of Israel’s violations of other UNSC resolutions, the UN Charter, the Geneva Conventions, international terrorism and other violations of international law. The most recent of which (prior to 2010) called for the full withdrawal of forces from the Gaza strip, and “grave concern also at the deepening humanitarian crisis in Gaza”. In 2014, Operation Protective Edge ended with approximately 2200 deaths in Gaza, including 500 children. In 2008-2009, in Operation Cast Lead, 1400 people were killed in Gaza, including nearly 300 children. The 2006 Lebanon War killed just over 1000 citizens. The scale of death of civilians in the Gaza strip is incomparable to Israeli civilians. I condemn violence in all shapes and forms, whether it is a Gazan, Israeli, Lebanese, Russian, American, British or whomever that is brutally killed. Israel’s continuous disproportionate force used against its neighbours can be one reason for questioning its legitimacy.
After the Six Day War in 1967, which killed up to 15,000 Egyptian citizens (the number is not confirmed), Israel captured large parts of indigenous Palestine, the Sinai Peninsula, and the Golan Heights. Since 1967, the UN has called for Israel to withdraw from “occupied territories”, and rejected Israel’s de facto annexation of the Golan Heights. The UN has repeatedly stated that the building of settlements on occupied territories is illegal, and violates the Fourth Geneva Convention. Put simply, if Israel continues to cross borders, and completely disregard international law, then one has a right to question its legitimacy.
Mistreatment of the Palestinians, and a very obvious implementation of policies of segregation in Israel is one of the most important reasons why one can question its legitimacy. The building of the ‘West Bank Wall’ or ‘Separation Barrier’ is the most discussed action taken. Ban Ki Moon has specifically stated that the construction of the Wall violated international law, and called for the UNSC to call upon Israel to stop its violations of such law. The Wall is still being built, and aims to be 700km long, and reaches up to 8m in height. In comparison, the Berlin Wall was up to 155km long, and 3m high – the ‘West Bank Wall’ is larger than the Berlin Wall. Surely this is where the international community chimes in and stops such segregation? No? What exactly is Israel defending itself from by building such a wall? Young boys throwing stones? How disproportionate; the Wall ghettoises and imprisons the Palestinians socially, economically, and agriculturally in a local manner, when they already isolated globally. The world wants more for the Palestinians.
Everyone retains the right to question Israel’s legitimacy, and to call such questioning anti-Semitic is not only false, but it is downright offensive. To question a state’s policies is a fundamental human right to free speech and free expression, and to do this in educational establishments only serves to teach and educate about an issue that has been hidden and considered as taboo in mainstream media.
The most recent example of the Palestinians voice being squashed is their attempt to join the ICC, which was met with threats like “they will receive the proper response”, and the freezing of Palestinian tax funds.
The University of Southampton can be a voice against injustice. Let the conference go ahead.