It was an ordinary day for Palestinians under Israel’s rule. Ordinary, in the sense that the many ways that Israel oppresses Palestinians continued as usual, be it through military orders, court rulings, or direct state violence.
July 1 was the earliest launch date for Israel’s de jure annexation of parts of the occupied West Bank. Yet it was also a day that Israel simply continued doing what it pleases to Palestinians throughout the territory: Its infrastructure of oppression has already been in place for decades. But one thing is both certain and fixed: how oppressive, demeaning, and brutal this reality is.
The Israeli state has effectively annexed Palestinian lives. That on July 1 certain parts of the occupied West Bank did not switch their designation to de jure annexation was another arbitrary Israeli decision, in this case spelling out the occupying power’s preference to continue to subjugate Palestinians in one certain way instead of through a novel approach. In that same arbitrary vein, this very decision may still change—or not.
Though nothing changed on the ground, the political ground in Washington may be shifting.
Not at AIPAC. The so-called pro-Israel lobbying group has begun “telling lawmakers that they are free to criticize Israel’s looming annexation plans—just as long as the criticism stops there,” according to reports. Similarly, a leaked memo from the civil rights watchdog Anti-Defamation League offered parallel talking points: providing “a space for local and national leaders to express their criticism of Israel’s decision” while neutralizing “anti-Israel legislative proposals, e.g. condemning and singling out its human rights record and conditioning its military aid.”
In other words, it seems that the Israeli government and certain Jewish organizations have read the recent statement by some 50 U.N. experts, that “[t]he lessons from the past are clear: Criticism without consequences will neither forestall annexation nor end the occupation.” These American Jewish groups appear to be in agreement that genuine consequences may actually make a difference—and thus they are working diligently to keep the noise on a meaningless level, dialed precisely to allow criticism without leading to consequences.
Yet thanks to all the focus on potential de jure annexation, we can now see the difference between those still committed to expressing “deep concern” without taking any action and those refusing to continue with complicity.
In Washington, D.C., a letter signed by 191 House Democrats “urge[d]” the Israeli government to “reconsider” its annexation plans. The text is framed exclusively from the perspective of Israel’s interests; it fails to mention Palestinians’ human rights or their past, current, and future oppression. It also refrains from even hinting that there could be potential consequences if their urging is ignored.
But this business-as-usual acquiescence was soon eclipsed by a very different text, led by Reps. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez, Pramila Jayapal, Betty McCollum, and Rashida Tlaib, and signed by Sen. Bernie Sanders, among others. Calling things by their proper names, the letter addresses “the path toward an apartheid system.” It details human rights violations from limitations on freedom of movement to continued demolitions of Palestinian homes. And it introduces meaningful consequences, leveraging the $3.8 billion of U.S. military funding to Israel.
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In Europe, one can witness a similar divide. On the one hand, the letter signed by more than a thousand European lawmakers calling for “commensurate consequences” and resolutions demanding action by parliaments in Belgium and the Netherlands. On the other, op-eds published by the European Union’s foreign policy chief Josep Borrell and several EU ambassadors to Israel. Borrell’s op-ed barely mentions Palestinians. Instead, he puts great effort into trying to explain to Israelis what’s in their best interest (“Annexation is not the way to create peace with the Palestinians and to improve Israel’s security”), and goes out of his way to spell out that for Brussels the path forward is paved with carrots, not sticks: “Peace cannot be imposed … Peace can also bring new possibilities for EU-Israel relations to further grow.” Europe, internally divided—and humiliated—through Israel’s open alliances with the rising authoritarian forces on the continent, seems, so far, unable and unwilling to wake up to reality—the very reality arrived at to no small extent as a result of Europe’s failed foreign policy to date.
July 1 proved to be a very ordinary day in our reality. Other ordinary days will follow, in a path paved by Israeli bulldozers, backed by Israeli courts, trampling over Palestinian homes and rights and dignity. The talk of de jure annexation might focus global attention, but that attention may fade if weeks pass and Israel decides that its preferred method of further oppressing Palestinians is by means of long-lasting de facto annexation, without adding to it a dash of de jure. For one way or another, it is the government of Israel that controls everyone and everything between the Mediterranean Sea and the Jordan River.
It is essential that this lesson does not fade away—and that the ongoing reality of de facto annexation is not further normalized. Don’t wait for formal legalization, or release a sigh of relief if that possibility is set aside for now. Do commit to an action-based rejection of the existing, appalling, reality on the ground.
De jure or de facto, Israel’s oppression of Palestinians already demands consequences.
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