Opinion

B'Tselem Head: Why I Spoke Against the Occupation at the UN

There is no chance Israeli society, of its own volition and without any help, will end the nightmare. Too many mechanisms insulate the violence we conduct in order to control the Palestinians.

Israeli forces search Palestinians in Hebron, September 20, 2016.
Hazem Bader, AFP

I spoke at the United Nations against the occupation because I am striving to be a human being. And human beings, when they take responsibility for an injustice against other human beings, have a moral obligation to take action.

I spoke at the United Nations against the occupation because I am an Israeli. I have no other country. I have no other citizenship and no other future. I grew up here and will be buried here. I care about the fate of this place, the fate of its people and its political fate, which is my fate, too. And in light of all these ties, the occupation is a disaster.

I spoke at the United Nations against the occupation because my colleagues at B’Tselem and I, after so many years of work, have reached several conclusions. Here’s one: The reality will not change if the world does not intervene. I suspect that our arrogant government also knows this, so it’s busy fearmongering against such an intervention.

Intervention by the world against the occupation is just as legitimate as any human-rights issue. It’s all the more so when it involves an issue like our ruling over another people. This is no internal Israeli matter. It is blatantly an international matter.

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Here’s another conclusion: There is no chance Israeli society, of its own volition and without any help, will end the nightmare. Too many mechanisms insulate the violence we conduct in order to take control of them. Too many excuses have accumulated. There have been too many fears and too much anger – on both sides – over the past 50 years. In the end, I’m sure, Israelis and Palestinians will end the occupation, but we won’t do it without the world’s help.

The United Nations is many things. Many of them are problematic, some of them are really foolish. I don’t agree with them. But the United Nations is also the organization that gave us a state in 1947, and that decision is the basis of the international legitimacy of our country, the one where I’m a citizen. And with every day of occupation, we not only chew away at Palestine with delight, we also destroy our country’s legitimacy.

I don’t understand what the government wants the Palestinians to do. We have ruled their lives for nearly 50 years, we have shredded their land to bits. We wield military and bureaucratic power with enormous success and get along just fine with ourselves and the world.

The United Nations Security Council votes during a meeting on North Korea, Thursday, March 24, 2016 at United Nations headquarters.
AP

What are the Palestinians supposed to do? If they dare demonstrate, it’s popular terror. If they call for sanctions, it’s economic terror. If they pursue legal means, it’s judicial terror. If they turn to the United Nations, it’s diplomatic terror.

It turns out that anything a Palestinian does besides getting up in the morning and saying “Thank you, Rais” "Thank you, master" is terror. What does the government want, a letter of surrender or for the Palestinians to disappear? They won’t disappear.

We won’t disappear either, nor will we be silent. We must repeat it everywhere: The occupation is not the result of a democratic vote. Our decision to control their lives, as much as it suits us, is an expression of violence, not democracy. Israel has no legitimate option to continue this way. And the world has no option to continue treating us as it has so far all talk and no action.

I spoke at the UN Security Council against the occupation because I am optimistic, because I am an Israeli, because I was born in Haifa and live in Jerusalem, and because I am no longer a young man and every day of my life has accompanied our control of them. And because it is impossible to carry on like this.

We must not carry on like this. I spoke at the UN Security Council against the occupation because I am striving to be a human being. 

Hagai El-Ad is the executive director of the human rights group B’Tselem.