UN agencies call for a gentler occupation

Palestinian olive harvesters wait to access their land at a closed Israeli military gate, October 2020.

Ahmad Al-Bazz ActiveStills

A coalition of UN agencies and international aid groups are calling on Israel to protect the Palestinian olive harvest which, as it does every year, has come under attack by West Bank settlers.

But their toothless demands on Israel ignore the reality of the occupation.

Twenty-five Palestinians have been injured so far during this year’s harvest, which began in early October. More than 1,000 olive trees have been damaged and large amounts of produce have been stolen from Palestinians by settlers.

The coalition demands that Israeli occupation forces – which they euphemistically refer to as “Israeli Security Forces” – protect Palestinians from settlers.

This ignores the vanguard role played by settlers in Israel’s conquest of Palestinian land, which is then enforced by the state.


Settler violence towards Palestinians is “part of a broader strategy in which the state colludes, as it stands to benefit from the result,” as the Israeli human rights group B’Tselem explains.

“Over time, this unchecked violence is gradually driving Palestinians from more and more locations in the West Bank, making it easier for the state to take over land and resources,” B’Tselem adds.

The UN does not serve its ostensible aim of preventing violence against Palestinian farmers by overlooking this partnership between Israeli settlers and the military.

And it does not serve the truth to portray that military as a neutral force when its very purpose in the West Bank is to facilitate the theft of Palestinian land onto which Israel illegally transfers its civilian population.

It’s not a surprise that the coalition of UN agencies and international aid groups working in Palestine would put out such an ineffectual statement.

Plainly stating the truth and recommending measures to put real pressure on Israel would provoke its wrath and punishment. It would potentially cost the UN agencies and international groups access and the ability to carry out their work in Palestine.

So they play Israel’s game.

Instead of working to end the occupation, these agencies and groups ask the military to be slightly less horrific to Palestinians. Meanwhile, the status quo continues, necessitating additional international aid each year to stave off humanitarian catastrophe fomented by the conditions Israel imposes on Palestinians.

Permanent occupation

Some people working within the UN system are admittedly willing to speak frankly.

Michael Lynk, the UN’s special rapporteur on Palestine, is one of them. He has said that Israel’s occupation, imposed for more than 50 years, “has crossed a red line into illegality.”

A state of permanent occupation that shows no sign of ending, in which Israel is treating the occupied territory as its own, must trigger international legal processes, according to Lynk.

UN agencies only entrench Israel’s de facto illegal extension of sovereignty to the West Bank by referring to its army as “security forces” rather than as a military of foreign occupation.

The UN agencies and international organizations meanwhile note that Palestinians have been injured during the olive harvest when Israeli occupation forces “intervened” in settler assaults on Palestinians.

They also call on the Israeli military to “protect farmers, and to hold perpetrators of crimes accountable.”

This completely ignores the reality that Israeli authorities “have no interest in seriously investigating settler violence,” as B’Tselem has concluded after 25 years of trying to file claims on behalf of Palestinian victims.

By making such an empty call, the UN bodies and international agencies are essentially asking for more of the same.

They also say Israel must do more to allow harvesters access to their groves and to protect Palestinians and their property.

They fault Israel’s severe restrictions on Palestinian access to farmland near settlements built by Israel in contravention of international law, calling for “timely and sufficient access.”

Controlling Palestinians’ freedom of movement is a primary feature of Israel’s occupation, not an aberration. It is absurd that instead of calling for free and unfettered access, UN bodies and international groups want Palestinians to have only “timely and sufficient access.”

The failure to call for the lifting of the entire West Bank movement restriction regime that denies Palestinians their right to self-determination is as morally repugnant as when UN officials shy away from calling for the immediate lifting of Israel’s siege on Gaza.

Israel has a chokehold on the Palestinian economy, treating the population under its military occupation as a captive market for Israeli goods. This too is an essential component of its subjugation of the Palestinian people.

These are not unfortunate and unintended consequences of Israeli “security” measures. They’re part of Israel’s wider strategy to comprehensively control Palestinians’ lives.

Settler violence is not incidental to the occupation. It is central to it.

And settler impunity is not incidental to the theft of Palestinian land. It is a means towards that end, implicitly blessed by the state.

The failure of international bodies to call for measures that would compel Israel to end the occupation only ensures its endurance and all the violence it entails.




Not occupation, colonisation. The UN's position in favour of a 2-States solution based on the 1967 borders is a small advance. As is the election of Biden/Harris. There is not much to hope for, certainly not what should be done: Israel ordered by the US to withdraw from the WB, to lift the siege of Gaza, to establish a link between the two, on pain of loss of dollars. All the same, we must respond intelligently to whatever small windows open. Harris has said she and JB support equal rights for the Palestinians. That must be pushed. They will restore UNRAW and other help to the Palestinians. That must be welcomed but its inadequacy pointed up. Most importantly the commitment to a 2-States solution must be driven hard to bring real movement: no new settlements and any breach punished by withdrawal of funds; humanitarian relief to move freely in and out of Gaza; Israel forced to the table and pressured to accept a series of steps leading to withdrawal from the WB, lifting of control of Gaza. In short, in place of the empty promise of 2-States combined time and again with violence to prevent it, Israel must be forced to make good on its promise and must suffer real penalties if it doesn't. Experience shows the Israelis will break every promise, twist and turn, manipulate and connive. There needs to be tough negotiation which prevents them wriggling free. Can Biden do this? Not without real pressure from the left. What we have may be nothing more, yet, than a breathing space. But intense pressure can make a difference. Four more wasted years would be tragic.

Maureen Clare Murphy

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Maureen Clare Murphy is senior editor of The Electronic Intifada.