by Iqbal Jassat
Professor Michael Lynk, the UN special rapporteur on human rights in the Occupied Palestinian Territories (OPT), has made damning findings on Israel’s illegal settlements.
In his report on July 9 to the UN Human Rights Council (UNHRC), he made a strong case for the settlements to be classified as war crimes.
In his argument, Professor Lynk asserted that the settlements are a violation of the absolute prohibition against “settler implantation” and insisted that UN member states not ignore Israeli transgressions.
For Israel as an occupying power to transfer its own population to the OPT, is not only defiance of international laws, it directly prejudices Palestinians who are confronted with brutalities at the hands of settlers including ethnic-cleansing.
The injustices flowing from implantation of settlements are reprehensible, immoral and senseless.
Yet despite these obvious deviations from international law and civilised values, Israel continues regardless.
Though Professor Lynk makes a compelling argument by insisting that the finding compels the international community to assess the plentiful accountability measures on its diplomatic and legal menu, it is yet to be seen if the Security Council will act on it.
According to the Rome Statute of the International Criminal Court, the practice of transferring parts of its civilian population into an occupied territory by an occupying power is a war crime.
And due to the perpetual commission of war crimes by the settler regime, it is important and timely for Professor Lynk to declare it was time to make it clear to Israel that its illegal occupation and its defiance of international law and international opinion, “can and will no longer be cost-free.”
Though Israel is guilty and in contempt of a wide range of UN resolutions labelling Israel’s settlement activity as illegal, it is unacceptable for the status quo to remain unchallenged.
According to Professor Lynk “it is a tragic paradox that while the Israeli settlements are clearly prohibited by international law, the international community has been remarkably reluctant to enforce its own laws.”
In her study, The One State Solution, author Virginia Tilley explains how Israeli settlements have encroached on the OPT, to such an extent that any Palestinian state in those areas would be unworkable.
She goes into great detail to explain that the impact of the settlement grid on the physical, demographic, financial and political dimensions has been huge.
Back in 2005 when her book was published, Tilley warned that due to the settlement grid manifesting a permanent part of the landscape, most of the West Bank will be formally “incorporated as Israel within a decade or so.”
She also drew attention to a basic misconception about Jewish settlements being a few clusters of trailers.
Far from being a handful of caravans, settlements are fully established cities, including shopping malls and cinemas, full school systems, recreation centers and parks, synagogues and cultural centers, and industrial zones with factories representing hundreds of millions of dollars in investments.
Known as creating “facts on the ground”, a calculated part of Zionism’s expansion project, the settlements have grown from 230 in 2005 to almost 300 in Occupied East Jerusalem and the West Bank.
And from 400,000 Jewish settlers to more than 680,000.
Professor Lynk correctly argues the settlements have become “the engine of Israel’s 54-year-old occupation, the longest in the modern world.”
And given the usual rhetoric of condemnation by member states of the UN General Assembly, including South Africa, it is appropriate to be reminded as Professor Lynk does, that words without action are futile.
“As long as the international community criticizes Israel without seeking consequences and accountability, it is magical thinking to believe that the 54-year-old occupation will end and the Palestinians will finally realise their right to self-determination.”
The seriousness of the report seeking classification of settlements as war crimes cannot be treated lightly or ignored.
In South Africa it is reasonable to expect the ANC government to provide full support for the Lynk report in addition to ensure that its UN mission is energised enough to work on translating the findings into meaningful action.
More importantly South Africa has a golden opportunity to probe the activities of local pro-Israel lobbies, some of whom undoubtedly would be implicated in funding settlement war crimes.
A key facilitator for the illegal settlement grid is the World Zionist Organization (WZO).
In its master plan published in 1978, Tilley’s study reveals that the WZO laid out a basic strategy to absorb “Judea and Samaria” (Israeli name for the West Bank), which was considered a “paramount national mission.”
If indeed any Zionist organization in South Africa is affiliated to the WZO, it is imperative for the Ramaphosa government to authorize the relevant authority to investigate it and if found to be complicit in facilitating illegal settlements, to prosecute it for fuelling war crimes.
Iqbal Jassat is Executive Member, Media Review Network, Johannesburg, South Africa