The Democratic Pushback to Annexation

30 January 2020

Many of us watched this week in horror as the President of the United States stood beside the Israeli Prime Minister and announced a plan that gives an American green light to unilateral Israeli annexation in the West Bank.

It was nothing short of an unbalanced presidential edict disguised as a “peace” plan.

For many of us who have long been in the struggle for human rights and for democracy, for those of us who believe in the fundamental equality of every human being, and for those of us who believe that the only future for Israelis and Palestinians is one where the rights of Palestinians and Jews to self-determination are recognized and fulfilled, this week was a massive punch in the gut.

I took a moment to take stock of all that we and our grantees in Israeli civil society are saying and doing to counter the threat of annexation — and it’s staggering. It gave me hope that at times like these, even in the darkest hour, that there are Israelis and Palestinians standing up and speaking out against Trump’s plan and the march of folly towards annexation. You can check out the full picture here.

But for now, here’s a snapshot of everything NIF grantees are doing and saying to fight for a democratic and peaceful future for all Israelis and Palestinians:

NIF’s flagship grantee, The Association for Civil Rights in Israel, the champion of civil rights in Israel, is grounding its opposition to Trump’s annexation plan solidly on legal principles:

“[This plan] strengthens the separate dual systems of law that exist in the West Bank, and officially turns the status quo regime into an apartheid regime. This is a victory for [t]he Israeli settlement enterprise, which is, in its entirety, an illegal project of land theft and harm to human rights.”

You’ll notice that our grantees are saying that the plan to make the status quo permanent would mean “apartheid.” Yes, our grantees in Israeli civil society who deal with issues of occupation, freedom of movement, human rights are using that word to describe what Donald Trump and Benjamin Netanyahu envision for Israel’s future. The truth is, there is no other way to describe the kind of future the annexationists envision for Israelis and Palestinians.

I know that personally, for those of us who care so deeply for Israel and its future, that word — apartheid — is hard to hear. For me, it is like a pit in my stomach, evoking the worst associations of injustice and racial discrimination. It feels terrible to apply it to a place I love so much.

But that is precisely why we are fighting so hard: to prevent such a future from coming to pass.

Once the annexation plan was released, as Yesh Din’s Executive Director Lior Amihai, looked at the plan’s ‘conceptual map’ depicting the discontiguous cantons Trump and Netanyahu intend for Palestinians, he put it bluntly: In Trump’s vision, “Palestine is Bantustan, Israel is apartheid. Those who see this as a vision for peace are blind [to] eternal occupation, segregation and prison for the Palestinians.”

B’Tselem, Israel’s preeminent human rights watchdog, explained what Trump’s so called “Peace Vision” would actually do. It would “relegate [Palestinians] to small, enclosed, isolated enclaves, with no control over their lives as the plan eternalizes the fragmentation of Palestinian space into disconnected slivers of territory in a sea of Israeli control, not unlike the Bantustans of South Africa’s Apartheid regime.”

And in the face of this grave reality, the brave veterans of Breaking the Silence asked a poignant question: “Was [it for this that] what we patrolled the alleyways of Hebron and entered the houses of families in the middle of the night?”

Our grantees are not only looking the future squarely in the face, but they have done the work to systematically break down the fictions that Donald Trump and Netanyahu are selling — the notion that this plan remotely related to peace.

NIF’s grantee Ir Amim (City of Nations) whose mission is to render Jerusalem a more equitable and sustainable city for Israelis and Palestinians, saw right through Trump’s claim that he promised Palestinians a capital in Jerusalem. “There could be nothing further from the truth…The implication of this process would be to sever — to literally cut off — a third of the city’s Palestinian population. This is anything but a Palestinian capital in Jerusalem.”

Gisha: Legal Center for Freedom of Movement who know from navigating the Byzantine restrictions on movement Israel has imposed on people from Gaza, know that freedom of movement is essential for any just future. But Trump’s conceptual map, offering to connect the dots of the isolated Palestinian cantons with bridges and tunnels hardly changes the fact that “only vision presented in this plan is for enclaves, disturbingly reminiscent of Bantustans, whose residents will be deprived of rights and of control over their own fate.

Our grantees are not just speaking out. They’re organizing.

Zazim — Community Action, Israel’s campaigning community for change, has issued a call to action, inviting all Israelis to stand up against annexation and tell Knesset to reject: “Annexation, apartheid, and population transfer. [W]e must raise a clear and loud voice against annexation, and for a future of justice and democracy…”

Israel’s civil society is joining together to raise that voice at a nation-wide rally on Saturday night.

Omdim Beyachad (Standing Together), a movement of Jews and Arabs organizing for social change in Israel are calling for all Israelis, Arabs and Jews, to join together in protest of the annexation plan. Maisam Jaljuli, member of the National Leadership put it this way:

“Yesterday, President Trump and Prime Minister Netanyahu decided that Palestinians and Israelis don’t matter…As a resident of Tira, in the Triangle area, my Israeli citizenship would be revoked under Trump’s plan. I would lose my job, be cut off from my friends and everything I have worked for and contributed to Israeli society. It is an insult to my dignity to even hear of this threat. And, as you know, I’m not the only one whose life would be upended, if not destroyed by this plan.”

For Israelis and for Palestinians, this is personal.

And for anyone that cares about Israel’s future as a democracy and about the rights of Palestinians must be clear about the costs of annexation and occupation.

NIF and our grantees in Israel’s civil society will continue to make plain the costs of continued occupation for Israelis and Palestinians. The veterans of Breaking the Silence will continue to highlight the steep costs of occupation paid by IDF soldiers asked to carry out arbitrary violence. Yesh Din will continue its work documenting the systematic violation of human rights that take place in the occupied territories. The Association for Civil Rights in Israel will continue to fight in Israel’s courts for human and civil rights for all those living under Israel’s control.

Yes, one day, the occupation will end. And until that day, the New Israel Fund and our grantees will remain hard at work fighting for our values — and for the soul of Israel’s democracy.