The Lie that Broke Israel’s Back

Turn Middle East wars and laws upside down and any way you like, but the 'West Bank' is neither occupied nor Palestinian. Except that the world believes the Big Lie.

Steve Apfel

OpEds Steve Apfel
Steve Apfel

It was November 2012, in the dead of winter, when the ghoul of a lie came back to haunt Israel. The specter, a paper tiger with young biting teeth, appeared in the assembly hall of the United Nations where diplomats are perpetually at daggers drawn. The ghoul was called ‘Observer with non-member status.’ This made it not quite real but not imaginary either, hence young teeth indicative of the latent threat it posed. But just for now Israel had to contend with a quasi-state called ‘Palestine.’  

A victory for the values of truth,” exclaimed Sudan’s diplomat after UN members voted to give Palestine that halfling status. In General Assembly ‘speak’, what he meant was a defeat for truth and a victory for a lie of long standing. For Israel it meant a threat, of historic proportions. For international law it meant relegation to a fun league. For the ruling clique that wanted the UN to create a new state it meant second prize. For nine-tenths of member countries it meant one step closer to rescinding the right of Israel to exist. For America and Europe it meant a new arm-twisting lever to get Israel to do their bidding. For all players it meant a whole new ballgame.

Now you see it now you don’t, OPT is a trick of smoke and mirrors, the stuff of mumbo jumbo.
The world body was called on “to create the state of Palestine on the Palestinian Territory occupied since 1967.” No one blinked. There is a catchphrase for every cause, and the anti-Israel cause can boast the Coca Cola of catchphrases, a mantra for many. ‘Occupied Palestinian Territory’ (OPT) has the power to mesmerize. The mantra recurred some dozen times in a resolution that recalled many things and reaffirmed many others. And no one in that great assembly batted an eye, not even the Ambassador for Israel. Repeated ad nauseam, nonsense can pour into sense, plot can merge with policy, and fiction can turn to wisdom. The catchphrase-mantra made Israel’s defeat a long time in the making. When defeat came her ambassador took it stoically. A forty-year lie can do that – slip into the skin of truth with barely a sigh.    

Now you see it now you don’t, OPT is a trick of smoke and mirrors, the stuff of mumbo jumbo. Historically, there’s never been Palestinian territory for Israel to occupy. Legally, Israel snapped up the territories fair and square from Egypt and Jordan. Logically, how can Israel be an occupier when no one else holds a lawful claim? Turn Middle East wars and laws upside down and any way you like, but the 'West Bank' is neither occupied nor Palestinian.      

Expelled from one dugout, pro-Palestinians will scamper to another, firing the next volley from that landmark Security Council Resolution 242 of 1968. It’s the one that required Israel to withdraw from territory (only some) it snapped up in six days of war. The Palestinian camp says, ‘No; Resolution 242 told Israel to withdraw from all the territory.’ Some or all – quite how it connects to the narrative of OPT is not well explained, if at all. It may be a bridge too far for those that want ‘Palestine’ to prevail. But it cannot.

Resolution 242 nowhere refers to Palestinians. How could it? One, they were not a belligerent in the Six Day War. Two, the drafters of 242 may have looked to Israel the victor to give back territory, but to the defeated Arab belligerents, not to Palestinians. Three, not until a year after Resolution 242 do we find those people popping up in records. Four, no binding UN resolution, before or since, nor any treaty or agreement lent the Palestinians a legal leg to stand on. In sum, to speak of OPT is to speak in riddles, or to engage in wishful thinking. Yet, even encyclopedic law buffs are caught doing that.

Take Professor John Dugard, at one-time a sort of policeman-prosecutor for the UN Human Rights Commission. As Rapporteur his job was to investigate, rebuke and report on Israel’s bad conduct in the ‘Occupied Palestinian Territories.’ That term again. OPT in his job title was bad enough without recurring in Dugard’s rebukes. “The Wall being built by Israel in the name of security penetrates deep into Palestinian territory.”

I took the liberty of asking Dugard to clarify: would he quote law to the effect that Israel occupies Palestinian territory? His answer came.  With more holes than a ripe Swiss cheese.

‘I think it would be helpful if you were to read the Advisory Opinion of the International Court of Justice (ICJ) of 9 July 2004 and the judgment of the High Court of Israel in the Beit Sourik case of 30 June 2004. They will provide you with answers to most of your questions and give you a better understanding of the legal norms that govern the situation.”

One advisory opinion and a case relating to Israel’s security barrier: they seem like nothing compared to the enormity of setting a country’s boundary. And there’s the problem of timing. The man started at the Human Rights Commission back in 2001. So from 2001 up to his two cases in 2004 he had no law to go by, meaning that he worked under a fake title and, like a doting father, took land from the bad boy (Occupied Palestinian Territories) to present to his favored boy. The verdict? For three years a legal authority quoted ad nauseam to give anti-Zionists the legal high ground, was acting as a law unto himself.  

And that advisory opinion and that judgment? Do they “provide you with answers and give you a better understanding?“ They’re as fake as the UN lawyer’s grand title. To quote the High Court of Israel in the Beit Sourik case: The fence “is a security measure for the prevention of terror attacks and does not mark a national border or any other border”. As for the opinion of the ICJ, it stinks. It contained no rebuttal of the Israeli court’s judgment. There was no mention of the Israeli court’s judgment. In the ICJ’s opinion that judgment simply never was, and never will be, amen.

There’s not the faintest inkling that Professor Dugard was making law and history to order; that he was feeding a bias with more power than a sober professional judgment. No doubt he’d love Gaza and the 'West Bank' to have ‘Palestine’ stamped over them; but law and history are against ideologue Professors.  They clamber onto an oh so plebian platform. They are more than premature; they’re presumptuous. Dugard and his successor Richard Falk anticipate a land swap agreement between two parties. They go over the head of the one in possession – Israel with 9/10 of the law in its favour. What makes professors behave like freshmen? Come to that, what makes a legal expert parade, fake title and all, like an avenging angel? “Israel will be held accountable for its violations of humanitarian law and human rights law.”

Better than law professors, the king of Jordan handled the big hoax honestly. King Hussein grasped why steps had to be taken to give OPT respectable clothes. As he told the 1988 Arab League summit in Amman: “The appearance of a distinct Palestinian national personality comes as an answer to Israel’s claim that Palestine is Jewish.” The monarch was explaining why a  new and distinct people had to be concocted in 1968. After all, what Arab leader liked the thought of the 'West Bank' and Gaza belonging to Israel by dint of war and law?

The task of dressing the coveted land in respectable clothes was given to the Palestine Liberation Organization (PLO), a clique led by a badly-shaved Egyptian in keffiyeh and khaki drills. Smartly, it went to work on the PLO covenant. Article 24 was the big one. Erasing words here, inking new words in there, the inner circle soon unpacked a people still with straw clinging to beards…And gave them a holy mission. On July 17, 1968 the Palestinian people sprang from the PLO Charter, claiming the 'West Bank' and Gaza as an ancient birthright and heritage.

How was it all done? Step-by-step, with eraser and ink. The first thing that had to be erased was an obsolete declaration that the 'West Bank' and Gaza were not occupied (by Jordan and Egypt.) This made it possible to declare that the territories were occupied (by Israel.) Now for the coup de grace. The Palestinian people were sworn to liberate their Israeli occupied homeland.

But an important finishing touch had to be made. Article 24 of the Charter contained the offending words, "Jews of Palestinian origin are considered Palestinians.” Of course Palestinian Jews were an impossible thing. After erasing them for posterity, the PLO men wrote in a definition with a grudge. Palestinians were now people, "who had resided in Palestine until the beginning of the Zionist invasion.” At a stroke Palestinian Jews thus became invaders.

Immediately world spotlights turned on the new people, dispossessed, and on the new culprit. Leaders in perpetuity lost no time decorating, enlarging and tidying up a tale of Jews who had swept down from Europe to put indigenous Palestinians under their colonial boot. From there it was but a quickstep to the accepted wisdom of Occupied Palestinian Territories.  

But OPT developed into more than a risible lie. It acquired the power to create facts on the ground. For one thing, the international community, hung up on the notion of ‘consensus’ backed by kangaroo opinions in and out of court, adopted OPT. For another, a vocal section of the Diaspora, and Israelis even, nailed their colors to the mast. For a third, an economic bubble developed around OPT. Monthly pay slips of untold thousands of UN staffers came to depend on that real estate. UNWRA alone developed into an employment agency on a grand scale. In the private sector, hundreds of human rights entities and workers would be the poorer without OPT. The world over it’s the article of faith on which anti-Zionists peg their zeal. Their god demands little: hate Zionism and revere occupied Palestinians. Hence the daily invocations:  Label products from OPT. Boycott Israel and divest from OPT.

But for the big hoax the world would be a different, if quieter place. And the Zionist enterprise would not now labor under a terminal threat.