The Jerusalem Post reported recently on the angry reaction of Mark Regev, prime minister Netanyahu’s spokesman, to the Spanish government’s funding of the ICAHD summer rebuilding camp this year, which was completed last month (see ICAHD website for volunteers’ reports. 42 young Spaniards joined the camp. Regev denounced the Spanish involvement, and accused Jeff Halper, Director of ICAHD, as a man who “justifies terrorism”. Read the full Jerusalem Post report here
The Jerusalem Post, a rightwing Israeli newspaper, invited Halper to respond to the criticism. Reproduced below is his reply, published in the paper.
Right of Reply: Protecting human rights is never ‘interference’
Aug. 12, 2009
Jeff Halper , THE JERUSALEM POST
The article entitled Spain funds ‘summer camp’ for foreign volunteers to rebuild demolished illegal Palestinian homes, which merited the front page of The Jerusalem Post (August 10), would seem somewhat of a non-story. After all, Israel and the US funded NGOs assisting Jews in the Soviet Union.
Israel went so far as to argue that the human rights provisions of the UN Charter granted it the right to speak and act on behalf of persecuted Jews even if they were not Israeli nationals. Anyone approaching Jerusalem encounters the “Sakharov Gardens,” named for Andrei Sakharov, a Soviet human rights figure who could not have survived without the political support of outside governments – a close friend, by the way, of Natan Sharansky, whose own release from the Gulag was made possible by the intervention of foreign governments.
Israel has long and openly justified its interventions in countries like apartheid South Africa and Argentina under the military dictatorship as a way of defending the local Jewish communities. So-called pro-Israel organizations in the US are well known for advocating support for pro-democracy groups in Iran and Egypt. And doesn’t Israel intervene deeply in American internal politics when, through AIPAC, its lobby in Washington, it attempts to get “friends of Israel” elected to Congress and de-elect more critical members?
HERE I will say something that may surprise: Israel should intervene in situations when human rights are threatened, be they of Jews or of any other people. Indeed, Israel was one of the first countries to urge the governments of the world to employ universal jurisdiction in prosecuting Nazi war criminals. In doing so it recognized the essence of human rights – the notion that they are universal. “Universal jurisdiction” means, as Israel pointed out in the wake of the Holocaust, that safeguarding the rights of individuals and peoples is not the exclusive domain of the government involved, but is the business of the entire international community.
In urging universal jurisdiction on the international community, Israel rejected categorically the contention that the treatment of one’s own citizens or people under one’s control is a “domestic, internal matter.” This was the argument used by the most nefarious of regimes: Hitler’s claim that Germany’s “Jewish problem” was an internal issue and that foreign governments should “butt out” is the most notorious, but it’s been repeated by Russia in regard to Chechnya, China in regard to Tibet and the Serbs in their campaign of “ethnic cleansing” in Bosnia to mention just a few. Human rights organizations are the favorite targets of oppressive regimes.
One of the major instruments in enforcing universal human rights is the Fourth Geneva Convention, approved by the UN in 1949 and ratified by Israel. It provides a double layer of protection for people living under occupation: The occupying power is held responsible for the well-being of the people under its control, but so is the entire international community. While Israel refuses to apply the Fourth Geneva Convention to the occupied territories, denying that it even has an occupation (a position rejected by every country in the world, including its American patron), in fact all governments and court systems are required under universal jurisdiction to prosecute violations of human rights and to intervene on behalf of the peoples being oppressed.
This is no mere academic issue. Had the Fourth Geneva Convention been adopted and enforced by the international community in 1939 instead of 1949, the worst of the Holocaust could have been averted.
SO WHAT’S wrong with Spain supporting human rights organizations such as the Israeli Committee Against House Demolitions (ICAHD), Breaking the Silence, Rabbis for Human Rights, the Coalition of Women for Peace and ACRI, the Association for Civil Rights in Israel? Just as it is absolutely appropriate for Israel to intervene when Jewish human rights are threatened abroad, so too is it absolutely appropriate for the Spanish government to intervene to strengthen human rights in Israel while offering protection to the Palestinians whose homes are being demolished.
But it isn’t enough.
While I’m grateful that countries like Spain pursue their international responsibilities as guarantors of human rights, the occupation is robbing Israel of its soul. The fact that government officials and the media criticize “foreign intervention” yet ignore the reasons for it – in this case Israel’s demolition of more than 24,000 Palestinian homes in the occupied territories since 1967 with no “security” justification at all – puts our country in the company of disreputable regimes under which Jews have traditionally suffered or against which they have struggled. If we cannot end this occupation on our own, I would ask Spain and the rest of the international community to intervene even more forcefully. Forget the pointless negotiations.
Merely enforcing the Fourth Geneva Convention would cause the occupation to collapse of its own illegality and immorality.
As for all those Israeli officials who nevertheless complain about foreign intervention in Israel’s “internal affairs,” I would simply point out a geographical and political fact: Neither the occupied territories nor their Palestinian residents are “internal” to Israel. Both are external. Our oppression of the Palestinians has nothing to do with the State of Israel. It is rather disingenuous, therefore, to argue that Spain, by supporting ICAHD’s rebuilding of Palestinian homes illegally demolished in violation of the Fourth Geneva Convention is somehow “interfering.”
Finally, Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu’s spokesman Mark Regev crosses a line of libel when he accuses me in the article of “justifying terror.” My views are well known and readers can view many of my presentations on YouTube. I always condemn terrorism, the killing or harming of innocent civilians. But, again, I take the human rights approach which condemns all forms of terrorism, whether that of non-state actors like Hamas or that of states, certainly including Israel.
Let’s start taking responsibility for our policies and actions so that other countries – who are not our enemies – will not find it necessary to “intervene.”
The writer is director of the Israeli Committee Against House Demolitions (ICAHD).