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44 Years Is Not a Short-Term Rental

January 7th, 2012by Gershom Gorenberg · 2 Comments · Politics and Policy

The contradiction at the heart of Chief Justice Dorit Beinisch’s ruling on occupation

Gershom Gorenberg

My new column is up at The American Prospect:

I’d really like to be angry at Dorit Beinisch, the chief justice of the Israeli Supreme Court. On the eve of her retirement, Beinisch abandoned her role of pushing the Israeli government to honor legal restraints in the occupied territories. Instead, in what could be her last major ruling on Israeli actions in the West Bank, she has given a stamp of approval to colonial economic exploitation.

Natof Quarry
Natof Quarry (Dror Etkes)

But let’s put petulance aside. One message of Beinisch’s judgment is that judicial resistance can stretch only so far. Even the highest tribunal in the land cannot reverse a national policy as basic as continuing to rule the West Bank. Another message—whether or not Beinisch intended it—is that treating a situation that has lasted 44 years as “temporary” is absurd. The occupation is not an acute disease; it is a chronic one.

Beinisch’s ruling came in a suit filed three years ago by the Israeli human-rights group Yesh Din, based on the work of land-use researcher and activist Dror Etkes. The suit asked for an order stopping ten Israeli companies from operating quarries in Area C, the portion of the West Bank under full Israeli control. (The autonomous Palestinian Authority administers the land designated Areas A and B.) Most of the rock taken from those quarries is trucked into Israel for use in construction.

Yesh Din argued that the quarries’ operations violated the 1907 Hague Convention on the laws of war. Under the convention, an occupying military power is an “usufructuary”—meaning it can use the fruits of occupied land but must safeguard property and resources. (The usufructuary of an apple tree could pick the apples but not chop the tree down.) More basically, the suit said, the convention requires the military commander who rules occupied territory to act for the good of the local inhabitants, not for the occupier’s economic interests. Prima facie, carving out West Bank rock for Israeli profit breaks that rule.

Implicitly, the case pointed to wider issues. Officially, the West Bank has been under temporary military rule awaiting a diplomatic accord on its future since Israel conquered it in 1967. The policy that most obviously contradicts this official status of limbo is the building of Israeli settlements. But Israel has also made the West Bank a captive market for its products, even as it restricts Palestinian industry. Palestinian firms have not been allowed to join Israel and Jordan in extracting potash and bromide from the mineral-rich waters of the Dead Sea. And Palestinians buy cement (a manufactured good) from Israel, while Israeli firms extract gravel (a raw material) from West Bank quarries.

Beinisch seemed like just the justice to challenge this arrangement. …

Read the rest here.

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