Michael Sfard on some consequences of the Palestinian State

Michael Sfard, an Israeli lawyer who specializes in human rights and military matters, and who is legal adviser for the organization Yesh Din among others, wrote an article published in Haaretz yesterday predicting that if a Palestinian State is admitted into the UN in September (or anytime soon), then “The mechanisms of legal defense that it [Israel] built since the occupation of the West Bank and Gaza Strip, to combat the ‘danger’ of international jurisdiction about its conduct toward millions of people who are under its control” are about to collapse.

The article, published here also says that “Together with the diplomatic ‘tsunami’ that Defense Minister Ehud Barak has forecast, Israel can expect a legal tsunami, which for the first time will claim a price for violating human rights in the occupied territories. The Israeli-Palestinian conflict, and the prolonged occupation of the Palestinian territories that Israel conquered in 1967, are not an internal Israeli issue. This is an international conflict in which the international community has a legitimate interest. However, during the years of the occupation the state of Israel has repelled the professional legal mechanisms of the United Nations, that deal with protecting human rights, from discussing its actions there…”.

Sfard’s argument continued: “In the territories Israel refused to apply the various human rights treaties that deal, inter alia, with discrimination against women; rights of the child; racial and other discrimination; and torture. Some of Israel’s most talented advocates were sent to Geneva to claim that these treaties were not binding on Israel beyond the Green Line. Israel considers itself the representative of the victims and survivors of the Holocaust, and as such was one of the initiators of the establishment of an international criminal court for war crimes. The height of jurisdictional isolation came when Israel decided not to ratify the court’s statute so as not to grant it authority to investigate and discuss crimes that, allegedly, were/are being carried out by Israeli officers and soldiers. Over the course of 44 years, Israel has succeeded in putting the job of judging its actions in the occupied territories in the hands of [Israel's own Supreme Court, the] High Court of Justice, which approved almost every policy and practice of the army in the territories, deepening the occupation and making possible massive violations of human rights under its patronage. Israel succeeded in leaving the investigations of its crimes to [Israel's] military advocates/attorneys who made sure that the policy of investigation would be such that enforcing the rigor of the law on soldiers and officers who had violated it would be a sort of miracle. All of this is about to come to an end”.

He wrote that “The significance of a Palestinian state joining the UN is that, for the first time, it will be the Palestinians who will decide what the international legal framework is that is binding in their territory. After more than 40 years in the wilderness of the occupation, the Palestinians will have the possibility of influencing their fate through legal means”.

This is because, he noted, “the significance of accepting Palestine as a member of the UN is that the new member will be sovereign to sign international treaties, to join international agreements and to receive the jurisdictional authority of international tribunals over what happens in its territory”.

While Michael Sfard’s article focussed on big and weighty matters like torture and ethnic discrimination, and acquiescence in oppression and denial of another people’s self-determination, there is also something closer to home that will be affected, reported in another article in Haaretz, here, that will be affected: “An investigation by Haaretz has found that the phenomenon of uprooting [ancient Palestinian] olive trees [mainly from the occupied West Bank but also from the Galilee] and turning them into pet plants for the [Israeli] rich has been going on for several years now without causing much of a ripple, and feeds a market worth tens of millions of shekels … One can be yours, starting at NIS 30,000 [almost $9,000], with prices reaching close to NIS 100,000 [almost $30,000]“. A photo accompanying this article shows a long line of ancient trees waiting to be “adopted” at “Al-Bustan nursery, near Baka Al-Garbiyeh”…

It is worth taking a close look at this reportage in Haaretz:

    A., identified only as a landscape designer because he apparently wants to conceal his identity, tells Haaretz:
    ” ‘Everything is done in an orderly fashion, with permits’, he insists. ‘These are trees that grew for generations upon generations, mainly belonging to Galilee Arabs. In principle, Arabs do not remove trees from the ground, but sometimes they have to enlarge their house, sometimes a road is paved through their land, and then they are forced to uproot the trees and are given permission by the JNF. Trees from the territories? No way. It is forbidden to bring trees from there because the State of Israel does not have permission to uproot there‘.

    At Al Bustan, the nursery owned by Philippe Nicolas near Baka al-Gharbiyeh, they know A. He passed by there on his quest, strolled up and down the long avenues of ancient olive trees, and also purchased a few.

    ‘We have 21 dunams [1 dunam = 1/4 acre] of olive and other trees and another 100 dunams in Afula’, says one nursery worker. ‘There are 100-year-old trees and even 1,000-year-old trees. Of the especially ancient kind we have two left, after one was sold. The first one cost NIS 75,000, the second one goes for NIS 60,000′.

    When asked who the clientele for these trees is, the employee has a ready answer: ‘There are a lot of crazy people in this country. In Caesarea, in Savyon’, he replies. But when asked what the source of the trees is – who the seller is – his initial response is silence, and a small smile.

    ‘Do you see these? I got them yesterday. We brought them at 11 pm, with a 50-ton crane and 20 workmen. This is a 2,500-year-old tree. It’s not from here, it’s from abroad. From Palestine. It’s all from the territories’, he explains. ‘I go to the owner of a grove in the territories, pick out trees and say: “I’ll pay you for a tree like this, say, $10,000′, and then he goes into shock. If he keeps the tree, the olives won’t bring in that kind of money even over 10 years. For them this is serious money. If the potential seller agrees – and not everyone agrees; there are some who won’t hear of it – I arrange for a person who goes in and buys. And then he goes through the checkpoints with a permit. We get clearance from [the Ministry of Environmental Affairs and register the tree and receive a license. Just like an Arabian horse gets a permit that it's a thoroughbred Arabian, it's the same for the tree'. The Civil Administration [n.b. - despite the name, this is a body created and staffed by the IDF and the Israeli Ministry of Defense], which is the only body authorized to permit olive trees to be brought into Israel, has a different version. Samir Mouadi, the Agriculture Ministry’s officer at Civil Administration headquarters, maintains that no permits whatsoever were granted last year for the transfer of olive trees from the West Bank. Administration officials add that they are not aware of any trees being smuggled into Israel – an intriguing claim considering that the phenomenon has been going on for years and that one of its aspects received considerable publicity in the past: In January 2003 the daily Yedioth Ahronoth ran an extensive article on a massive uprooting of olive trees in the territories, in particular along the route of the separation barrier being built at the time. According to that article, construction of the barrier necessitated the uprooting of thousands of trees, some of which were never returned to their owners as required but were allegedly sold by several of the contractors working on the barrier – with the Civil Administration’s knowledge“…

The article also says that “Tree dealers [whose garden shops and lands straddle the de facto border carved out by the Israeli military-constructed Wall in the West Bank] complain that the PA has been making life difficult for them lately. ‘I’m allowed to bring goods onto my property, but with olives it’s harder’, complains one nursery owner. ‘The PA asks that olive trees not be uprooted because from an economic standpoint they are one of the most important resources in the West Bank, and we’re just barely keeping the inventory restocked’. In the next breath, he offers to sell six ancient olive trees that came into his possession just a month ago. Trees can also be ordered in advance according to specification. ‘I don’t have such a large tree right now, but within a week I can get you a 500-year-old tree’, he adds”.

The dealer is in Israel, the land where the olive trees are located is in the West Bank…and this is further explained by another paragraph further down in the article: “The Civil Administration had this to say in response:’”In 2010 no permits were issued to Palestinians to transfer olive trees from Judea and Samaria into Israel. At the gate located in the village of Hableh permission is mainly granted for transferring work tools and goods that serve the landowners, in view of the fact that there are no permanent residents in this part of the village’.”

And, the Haaretz article says that the Jewish National Fund [JNF] is the only body capable of acting when such theft or questionable transactions do occur: “If the Civil Administration hasn’t heard anything about tree smuggling, and the flora and fauna supervision unit doesn’t have any teeth, then the deterrent power that all the parties involved rely on is the JNF’s supervision unit, consisting of fewer than 10 people who are supposed to cover all of Israel and the PA combined. ‘We are working to catch every olive tree that was transplanted without authorization and without a license, to put the person responsible for it on criminal trial, and have the tree itself confiscated by the state’, says Amikam Riklin, who heads the JNF’s supervision unit. ‘Whoever violates the olive tree violates the landscape of the country, and we cannot let trees be taken without authorization to the home or the neighborhood of whoever it is’.”

But, if the tree itself is confiscated by the state [after the intervention of the JNF], then what happens to it?

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