Western countries devote a lot of money to spreading the “culture of human rights” throughout the world. The occupied Palestinian territory has been a special focus of generosity. Western-funded human rights projects seek to propagate this “culture” by teaching Palestinian security forces the importance of correct arrest procedures. Palestinian school children are taught to respect democracy and tolerate those different from themselves. Palestinian youth are taught about gender equality.
All noble and good principles for how to live in a democracy that is respectful of human rights. Palestinian human rights NGOs dedicate as much as a third of their budgets to teaching Palestinians to respect these honourable principles, much vaunted by western governments.
But human rights and international humanitarian law affirms other principles, too. These are principles related to self-determination and the right to resist subjugation. These are principles that most Palestinians know, and most western governments don’t like to talk about as much.
The Declaration on the Granting of Independence to Colonial Countries and Peoples was adopted by the United Nations General Assembly on 14 December 1960. It affirms that the “subjection of peoples to alien subjugation, domination and exploitation constitutes a denial of fundamental human rights.”
These principles are already part of Palestinian culture. Palestinians know these principles because generations living in the West Bank, Gaza Strip, and East Jerusalem have grown up under Israeli military occupation that has expanded unabated for decades.
The United Nations General Assembly Resolution 3236 (adopted in 1974) similarly recognized the Palestinian people’s right to self determination. It also recognized “the right of the Palestinian people to regain its rights by all means in accordance with the purposes and principles of the Charter of the United Nations.” There is no explicit prohibition that makes armed struggle for self determination illegal.
One of the purposes of the United Nations is “to take effective collective measures for the prevention and removal of threats to the peace, and for the suppression of acts of aggression or other breaches of the peace.” A military occupation is a breach of the peace.
The United Nations Special Committee to Investigate Israeli Practices Affecting the Human Rights of the Population of the Occupied Territories has been documenting Israel’s breaches for decades. This special committee records the home demolitions, the illegal settlements, the abuses by occupation soldiers that are endemic to the occupation. Year after year western governments are given proof of what threatens the peace.
By all means, the international community asserts: resist those breaches of the peace, attempt to remove those threats. But they won’t do it themselves. The European Union is Israel’s largest market for imports and exports. The United States gives Israel $3 billion to $4 billion in annual aid. The US and EU have influence over Israel, but choose not to use it. They choose not to end the occupation.
Instead, they distribute copies of the Geneva Conventions to Palestinian police.
These Conventions, product of the horrors of World War II, obligate the High Contracting Parties to act. Because these parties refuse to do so, Palestinians, who are also living with the legacy of that calamitous war, are left to uphold humanitarian and human rights principles on their own.
When Palestinian youth throw stones at occupation soldiers, when they try to dig holes through the Separation Barrier that eats through the West Bank, when they fight with Israeli settlers who have stolen their land and homes, they are spreading a real culture of human rights.