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Occupied territories, Illegal violent settlers and UN judges Israel justified? Three topics covered in this article.

Occupied territories, Illegal violent settlers and UN judges Israel justified? Three topics covered in this article.

Topics in this article

  • Occupied territories
  • Illegal violent settlers
  • UN rightly condemns Israel

I will go through the topics listed below point by point, and give a brief (legal) explanation of each.

Occupied Territories

The term “occupied territories” is constantly heard in the media, but also at government level, and from international institutions such as the European Union and the United Nations. It often refers to the Israeli presence in the West Bank. First, a word about that term “occupation.

In international law, the term “occupation” refers to a situation where there is an international armed conflict in which one state (the occupier) exercises control over territory belonging to the other state.

Historical context

To understand whether this international law term applies to an area such as the West Bank, historical context is important. In this context, it is relevant to go back to the end of World War I. This is because the Allied nations of that time divided parts of the defeated Ottoman Empire, including the area where the State of Israel is located today. That area was placed under Mandate under the approval of the predecessor of the United Nations (League of Nations) in 1920/1922, with the British Empire as “Mandatary. Simply put, the British Administration had to prepare the Mandate area for independent administration so that a Jewish State could later be founded. That area eventually looked as follows (orange):

The Mandate Area included areas we know today as the “Gaza Strip” and “the West Bank. Thus, that entire area was intended for the establishment of a Jewish State. However, due to rising tensions between Arabs – Jews in the decades after 1922, it was decided by the United Nations in 1948 to come up with a partition plan (Resolution 181). According to this recommendation, the Mandate Area was to be divided into an area for the establishment of a Jewish State and an Arab State. (Important note here is that at that time people were not talking about the “Palestinians” or a “Palestinian State” but an “independent Arab State.”) The Jewish leadership agreed to the partition, but the Arab leadership rejected the United Nations recommendation.

After this, Israel became independent, on May 14, 1948. Now there is debate about what exactly were the territorial boundaries of the State of Israel on this independence date. One plausible contention is that these were the boundaries of the Mandate Area, which includes areas such as the West Bank (as shown in the image above). Indeed, a strong argument for the application of these boundaries is found in the international law principle of “uti possidetis juris. According to this principle of customary international law, a newly formed state – upon gaining independence – adopts the boundaries of its legal predecessor. So in this case, that is the British Mandate with its territory. The application of this territory is even more obvious now that the partition proposal under Resolution 181 had been rejected by the Arabs. So there are valid and legitimate reasons to consider the borders of the original Mandate as the basis for the establishment of the State of Israel.

War of independence and Jordanian occupation

One day after the declaration of independence, Israel was invaded by Egypt, Iraq, Jordan, Lebanon, and Syria. The very young state of Israel lost control of parts of its territory as a result of this invasion and subsequent fighting. In this context, it is important to note the aforementioned legal definition of “occupation. Indeed, as a result of the 1948 invasion, an international armed conflict arose, between the aforementioned Arab countries and Israel, as a result of which Jordan – after conquering – began to exercise control over territory that belonged to another state: Israel. That area was “the West Bank. Simply put, by the definition within international law, Jordan thereby became the occupying power in that area.

One of the consequences that Jordanian occupation brought was that Jewish villages in the West Bank were dismantled. Any Jewish presence was banished from the area by Jordan. Until 1967, when the Six Day War broke out. As a result of this war, Israel recaptured the West Bank from Jordan. It thus liberated this area from Jordanian occupation. One could say that after this, namely after 1967, the West Bank was no longer “occupied.

In the years after 1967, the Israeli presence in the West Bank grew again. Israel built military guard posts there to protect itself from any new invasion, and Jewish citizens also returned to the area to live there again. Indeed, some Jewish citizens still had property rights in the West Bank from before the Jordanian occupation in 1948.

Status of the West Bank after 1967

The question now is: Is there an “occupied territories”? At least in the period from 1948 – 1967, yes. This has been explained above. The occupation of the West Bank resulted from the Jordanian presence in that area. Jordan had no claim (historical or legal) to that territory, but exercised control over it for nineteen years after its invasion and conquest in 1948. The question then arises as to what or whether Israel became the occupying power in these territories after 1967? Given the historical context of the Mandate era, the principle of “uti possidetis juris” and the presence of Jewish villages in the West Bank even before 1948, this would be a gross misconception. Indeed, the framing that Israel would “occupy” an area such as the West Bank in that case completely ignores the historical, legal and cultural ties between the Jewish people (and the State of Israel) and the West Bank. Nor does the previously formulated definition of “occupation” give rise to the conclusion that Israel would be the occupying power in the West Bank. Indeed, given this definition, it is important to note that in this case there is no international armed conflict between Israel and the Palestinians; if only for the fact that no Palestinian State exists to this day.

What then was the status of the territories after 1967? The following can be said about that: that status is diffuse. Not so much because the legal basis for Israeli presence in the West Bank is not there. For there is – as described -. But all the more so because there are conflicting claims to the territory after 1967, which have kept the international world in turmoil for decades. Indeed, after the Six-Day War, both Israel and the nascent Palestinian entity claimed sovereignty over the area. At many times in the decades since, there have been negotiations to reach a solution regarding final status. However, to this day, those negotiations have not resulted in a permanent solution. Against that background, then, the term “disputed territories” would be a much better term. Without a solution on the final status of the territories between Israel and the Palestinians, and without a definitive determination of where the international (recognized) borders lie, the status of these territories will be better categorized as “disputed. Not occupied.

Illegal violent settlers

There is regular talk in the media about “illegal violent settlers. In this context, it is worth reflecting on two terms in that phrase sound, namely: ‘illegal (…) settlers’. Often in reporting, the term ‘Illegal settlers’ is pasted on any Jewish presence in the West Bank. The reason this happens has to do with the context considered earlier, namely the narrative at the political, diplomatic and journalistic levels that speaks of Israel’s “occupation” of the West Bank. The use of the terms ‘illegal settlers’ must be viewed from that context.

The term “illegal” assumes that the presence of Israeli citizens in the West Bank is not legitimate. Without elaborating on this again, reference can be made to what has been described above and concluded. Indeed, the assertion of an illegitimate or illegal presence of Israel or its citizens in the West Bank, among others, is false.

Then the term “settlers. This is not really an international legal term, but assumes “colonization. From the historical context, we know that colonization took place e.g. in the period 1500-1900, when European countries colonized parts of the world. An entity then took control of an area with which it previously had no connection/connection (historical, cultural or legal) and then added it to its Empire. There are plenty of examples of this.

Then to Israel. In the case of Israel, do we see “colonization,” or in other words, that it took control of and inhabited an area with which it previously had no historical, cultural or legal connection/connection? Absolutely not. Indeed – the League of Nations (predecessor UN), in the Mandate for Palestine in 1922, spoke of this as follows: “Whereas recognition has thereby been given to the historical connection of the Jewish people with Palestine and to the grounds for reconstituting their national home in that country.” So there has been explicit recognition from the international community of the connection of the Jewish people with the area called “Palestine. We know this, of course, also from history (Bible, historiography). And even before 1922, there has always been Jewish presence in the land, including in the West Bank. So the suggestion that Israel would “colonize” territory and that there are “settlers” is pertinently false and absurd.

Then the claim that there is ‘violence’ among Jewish/Israeli residents in the West Bank and elsewhere. This may (unfortunately) of course be the case. Although it is important to emphasize that the individual facts here are not always known or clear, it is common knowledge that among Jewish citizens there are sometimes religious fanatics who (out of zeal?) proceed to commit crimes. For example, arson, destruction of property or committing other crimes. The Israeli army is also known to take action against this. It even occasionally results in a clash between the army and these people. However, what is also striking is that the attention from the media and the international community, among others, for these vandalists is disproportionate. Indeed, this group of people is spoken of in a very generalizing manner (which is why the term “illegal violent settlers” is often read). Furthermore, this also creates a frame as if every Israeli citizen in the West Bank is by definition violent. This in turn is reflected in the negative sentiment surrounding Israeli citizens, in the international world.

UN justly condemns Israel

In a general sense, unfortunately, we can say Israel is often condemned in statements and resolutions of the United Nations, its officials and institutions.

What stands out in this context and precedes this is the degree of attention paid to Israel within the United Nations. For example, virtually no other country has been condemned as much in Resolutions within this institution as Israel. Take for example the United Nations General Assembly Resolutions from 2015 to the present. What is striking is that as many as 141 (!) Resolutions with a condemnatory tone can be found regarding Israel. This is a huge contrast to the second country to come in this series, namely Iran with “only” 7 such Resolutions. Another institution within the United Nations that deals with human rights, namely the “Human Rights Council,” has adopted 104 condemnatory Resolutions regarding Israel from 2006 to date. The second country in number after Israel to be addressed in this way within this institute is Syria with “only” 43 Resolutions of a condemnatory nature. Finally, even a UN organization like the WHO (World Health Organization) seems to be joining this trend, with 9 condemnatory Resolutions from 2015 to date targeting Israel. For the remaining states, no Resolutions of this nature have been adopted at all in this time frame. For further infographics accompanying the aforementioned dates, see: https://unwatch.org/database/

As one explanation for this phenomenon, one can point to the coalitions of countries within the United Nations. These coalitions act as alliances in drafting resolutions, voting, and setting agendas for meetings. One such bloc is the Organization of Islamic Cooperation, consisting of as many as 56 UN member states. Just imagine what 56 UN member states, almost all of which harbor a hatred or disapproval of Israel, can accomplish with each other.

If you look at the nature of the condemnation it often looks at Israeli settlements, Israel’s use of force against Palestinians and occupation of territories. Israeli settlements and occupation of territories has been discussed above. In reality, the “violence against Palestinians” may also consist of anti-terrorist operations in which the Israeli military acts against terror cells, or individual terrorists. It is important to keep that context in mind, because Israel continually faces a situation where Palestinian terror groups make no secret of their desire to kill Jewish civilians, and Israel must ensure the safety of its citizens. That action is often not without violence. So it involves action-reaction or even preventive action.

In addition, for example, very topical, you see now in the war against Hamas in the Gaza Strip how Israel defends itself after Oct. 7. That “right of self-defense” is enshrined in Article 51 of the UN Charter and it allows States to defend themselves, if they are the target of an armed attack. Israel was the target of a (vicious) armed attack on Oct. 7, with far-reaching consequences: many dead, as well as hostages. It therefore invoked this right, and was supported in it for many (Western) countries.

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