Ratner: Building settlements in occupied territories with US support is illegal and unacceptable
PAUL JAY, SENIOR EDITOR, TRNN: Welcome back to The Real News Network. We’re joined again by Michael Ratner. He’s the president for the Center for Constitutional Rights. He’s also a board member of The Real News Network. Thanks for joining us.
MICHAEL RATNER, PRESIDENT, CENTER FOR CONSTITUTIONAL RIGHTS: Good to be with you, Paul.
JAY: So you just got back from the West Bank, and in the first segment you were telling us about the beginnings of your tour. Now, you said in the first segment that what’s going on in terms of the Israeli occupation is a violation of the Geneva Convention, it’s a violation of international law. What, if anything, is been done about it at any level? And what about US policy?
RATNER: Well, Israel conquered this territory in ’67. It’s occupied territory by Israel. Part of that territory has already been annexed by Israel. That’s East Jerusalem. They’ve claimed this whole city of Jerusalem as their capital. And you can’t take property that’s occupied territory. It eventually has to be given back to the occupants of the territory. So with East Jerusalem already a clear violation of international law and Geneva Conventions, as we go out into the West Bank, Israel is taking many, many settlements and cities, actually building, 50,000 people in a city or more sometimes. These are not what you imagine as little settlements with 30 people, you know, and so-called, you know, Orthodox Jews just coming out there without the government authority. This is a huge infrastructure project, roads everywhere built by the Israeli government, occupying or really taking over for Israel occupied territory—all completely illegal, and going on in East Jerusalem, going on in the Occupied Territories. And you ask me what is the international community, what is the United States doing? Well, it looks to me like—certainly up until President Obama—they facilitated it. They give either—they financed some of it indirectly. They didn’t say no, Israel, you can’t do this. They essentially gave it a wink, “For sure.” And even now, sadly, under the current administration, Obama began with a relatively strong statement, “I don’t want any more settlements,” and then within a few more short weeks Obama backed off of that. We know that East Jerusalem settlements are continuing; we know that 3,000 housing units are continuing to be built in the West Bank, and many, many more. I mean, they’re just—everywhere they’re building. So, essentially, the United States has allowed Israel to continue to do this.
JAY: Now, Netanyahu announced some kind of six-month freeze.
RATNER: This is the so-called six-month freeze. Well, you know, in some way we have to look at a fact here. There’s 500,000 Israelis or settlers now living in the occupied territories. I mean, we’re not any longer talking about a situation that is very—it’s going to be very open to shifting back, where those settlers all leave the occupied territories. So every day we speak, this is increasing. The Netanyahu proposal, or what he said he would do, is not to do with East Jerusalem at all. When I was there, that’s going on apace. Demolitions are occurring all the time. We went on a demonstration in an area called Sheikh Jarrah, which is an East Jerusalem, where settlers have come in. And this is an amazing story. I sat down and talked to Nasser. He’s living in a tent outside what was his house. And I said, “How’d you get here?” He said they came in one night. They were backed by the Israeli military or some kind of armed forces. And they said, “We’re going to blow off your door unless you get out.” So he had to leave with his family. There are now Israeli flags all over that house. I said to him, “How long have you had your house?” “My house was built for me by the United Nations in 1956 in this section.” I said, “Well, what happened?” And he said, “Well, you know, I was a refugee from Haifa in 1948 after the war. The UN resettled me in this part of East Jerusalem. It’s then conquered by Israel in 1967. Israel says, ‘Well, you didn’t have a title to this house; you don’t have a right to this house.’” And he said, “I’ve been living here. The UN put me in this house.” The Israelis go to the Ottoman law, back till before the First World War, and they said, “Well, the Ottoman land records don’t show you as the owner.” And, of course, the complex of laws there is a huge web. It’s Ottoman, it’s British mandate, it’s Israeli, its Palestinian. And so the Israelis are able—you can litigate these cases in court. They go on for years, three or four years, and at the end, the Palestinians always lose the cases or almost always lose the cases. So it’s, quote, “legal” in its own way that this guy’s sitting out under a tent under his house, in a house that the UN built for him in 1956 or ‘7. So back to your question, Netanyahu’s statement that he’s stopping settlements does not include East Jerusalem, and it doesn’t include what he said were 3,000 housing units, quote, that have already begun. And what that could mean is just a shovel in the earth. So it doesn’t include that at all. So the settlements are still continuing apace.
JAY: So for Americans who are concerned about this, what do they make of what Obama said, no more settlements? And what should the US be doing?
RATNER: It does seem to me that no matter what people’s views are about Israel and about the existence of the state of Israel and about Zionism, that the idea that there’s one person living beyond what’s called the Green Line, which is to say the Occupied Territories, should not be allowed to happen, should never have been allowed to happen. And Israeli—unless when it becomes a country, yes, then Israelis can move there like any other immigrant can move to a country. Certainly that country’s laws, you know, provide for it. That should, of course, be permitted. But at this point the idea that Israel is using occupied territory to build settlements, there should be an absolute line drawn in the sand that says this can’t happen. I’ve always been amazed by it, because in my view people are going to have all kinds of different feelings, and I have certain feelings about Israel and Zionism and what happened in ’48 and etc., but no matter what one’s feelings are, no matter where you are on the spectrum, right, left, center, it seems to me that a bottom line has to be you can’t be building settlements, cities, in occupied territories that you’ve conquered during the war. It’s just a no-go. And the fact that the US continues to fund Israel to some $3 billion-plus a year while it’s doing this open and notorious act of building settlements and apartheid settlements is just unacceptable, and it should be. And Obama made a start and then just fell backwards. And he fell backwards who knows why. He fell backwards because there was too much opposition within the community in the United States, the Jewish community in particular. Who knows why?
JAY: Thanks for joining us. And thank you for joining us on The Real News Network.
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