The following is a transcript of the prepared remarks B’Tselem executive director Hagai El-Ad delivered to UN Security Council members during a special ‘Arria-formula’ session on ‘Illegal Israeli Settlements: Obstacles to Peace and the Two-State Solution’ in New York on October 14, 2016.
B’Tselem Executive Director, Hagai El-Ad,
By Hagai El-Ad
Members of the Security Council,
Ladies and Gentlemen,
Before I begin, I would like to express my deep thanks for this unique opportunity of speaking at this distinguished forum and engaging with the members of the UN Security Council.
What I’m about to say is not meant to shock you. It is, however, meant to move you.
For the past 49 years – and counting – the injustice known as the occupation of Palestine, and Israeli control of Palestinian lives in Gaza, the West Bank, and East Jerusalem, has become part of the international order. The first half-century of this reality will soon be over. On behalf of B’Tselem, the Israeli Information Center for Human Rights in the Occupied Territories, I implore you today to take action. Anything short of decisive international action will achieve nothing but ushering in the second half of the first century of the occupation.
Ladies and Gentlemen,
What does it mean, in practical terms, to spend 49 years, a lifetime, under military rule? When violence breaks out, or when particular incidents attract global attention, you get a glimpse into certain aspects of life under occupation. But what about the rest of the time? What about the many “ordinary” days of a 17,898-day-long occupation, which is still going strong? Living under military rule mostly means invisible, bureaucratic, daily, violence. It means living under an endless permit regime, which controls Palestinian life from cradle to grave: Israel controls the population registry; Israel controls work permits; Israel controls who can travel abroad – and who cannot; Israel controls who can visit from abroad – and who cannot; in some villages, Israel maintains lists of who can visit the village, or who is allowed to farm which fields. Permits can sometimes be denied; permits must always be renewed. Thus with every breath they take, Palestinians breathe in occupation. Make a wrong move, and you can lose your freedom of movement, your livelihood, or even the opportunity to marry and build a family with your beloved.
Meanwhile, ever present, are the settlements and the settlers. They are Israeli citizens living, ostensibly, in a first-world democracy, that somehow exists only for them, beyond the borders of their country. This ever-expanding venture, its illegality notwithstanding, is to be found everywhere throughout the West Bank and East Jerusalem. Settlements encompass the built-up areas as well as the generous allocations of land around them, meant for future expansion or “special security zones”; they mean checkpoints for Palestinians, and bypass roads for settlers; they mean the Separation Barrier; and finally, they mean the fragmentation of Palestine into hundreds of isolated communities, floating – or rather I should say, slowly sinking – in a sea of Israeli domination. Who could possibly deserve to endure such conditions for half a century?
As Martin Luther King Jr taught us, “we know through painful experience that freedom is never voluntarily given by the oppressor.” So the reality facing the international community is this: absence of action not only effectively gives the oppressor a license to proceed without having to suffer too many repercussions, but also gives the oppressor the power to decide when will be the right time to start considering alternatives. “Wait,” demands Israel, “now is not the right time”. But “‘Wait’ has almost always meant ‘Never’,” responds Martin Luther King Jr. “The time is always right to do what is right.” That time is now: the time to, at long last, take action. The UN Security Council has more than just power: you have a moral responsibility – and a real opportunity – to act with a sense of urgency, before we reach the symbolic date of June 2017 and the second half of that first century begins, to send to the world, to Israelis and to Palestinians, a clear message, backed by international action: Israel cannot have it both ways. You cannot occupy a people for fifty years and call yourself a democracy. You cannot violate the rights of millions and claim international perks justified by hollow words about commitment to shared human rights values.
Israel is a sovereign country established through international legitimacy granted through a historic decision by this very institution in 1947. I am a citizen of that country. It is my homeland. For most of my country’s existence, the world has allowed it to occupy another people. I have lived my entire life, every single day of it, with that reality. Millions of Israelis and Palestinians know no other reality. We need your help. Fifty years of “temporary” occupation are too long for even a single person on this planet to accept such a contradiction in terms. The rights of Palestinians must be realized; the occupation must end; the UN Security Council must act; and the time is now.
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