David In Wonderland


In his response to my recent article explaining why there is no question that Israeli settlement activity is prohibited under international law, David Suissa proves my main point perfectly. He and others seek refuge in a more comforting legal and political alternate universe because there are elements of reality that are simply too painful or inconvenient. Compounding his continued refusal to recognize the unanimous international consensus that Israel is the occupying power in the territories conquered in 1967, and that settling occupied territories is strictly prohibited under international law, he didn’t actually read my article at all. Instead, just as one who prefers a dreamworld to reality predictably would, what he saw (and responded to) is a mirage. It is the coinage of his own imagination that he takes on with such gusto, not my words, and a completely different article other than the one I wrote.

West Bank
Banned from Migron, residents are being moved to another settlement nearby. (Lior Mizrahi / Getty Images)

Suissa’s entire response is based on the illusion that I described Israel’s occupation as “illegal.” In fact, of course, what I was discussing was the indisputable illegality of Israel’s settlement activity, and I laid out an irrefutable case for why that is so. The question of whether the occupation itself is “legal” or “illegal” is a far more complex one, and entirely irrelevant to the question of settlements. It’s symptomatic of his overall disconnection from international legal and political realities that Suissa not only thinks I passed judgment on the “legality” of Israel’s occupation, but also that it has any implications at all for the indisputable illegality of settlement activity.

Suissa dutifully trots out almost every argument I noted that Israel and its supporters make in trying to either deny there is an occupation at all or that settlement activity is somehow not unlawful. He cites a number of Israeli documents and opinions to back this up, but, as I said, these arguments exist. The crucial thing is not that there are no forms of legal sophistry deployed in order to make these claims. It is rather that they are restricted to Israel and its closest supporters, and are categorically rejected by every other government and international authority in the world. Everyone can rationalize their own misbehavior, or that of their friends, but when no one else at all is buying it, you’ve clearly got no real argument.

On cue, Suissa argues that there is no occupation because there was no prior sovereign. If true, that would mean that all U.N. Security Council resolutions since June 1967 on the subject have been complete nonsense. But of course it’s not true, and neither the Security Council nor any other competent international body believes this nonsense.

Suissa points out that there has never been a Palestinian state. This is true. But the main reason for that, at least in recent decades, is the Israeli occupation itself. Since at least the 1980s, Palestinians have sought to establish a state in the occupied territories, but it is the ongoing occupation that prevents them from doing so. So his argument here is the equivalent of a person who killed his parents begging for clemency on the grounds of being an orphan. The logical contortion of defending the occupation by citing the fact that it has successfully denied Palestinian independence is really quite breathtaking in both inanity and chutzpah.

But Suissa is mainly focused on the completely false allegation that my arguments were based on the assertion that Israel is “an illegal occupier.” To the contrary, the legality or otherwise of an occupation is completely irrelevant to the prohibition on settling occupied territories. The U.N. Security Council, although it did not approve the American invasion of Iraq, did authorize the United States to act as the occupying power in Iraq after the invasion. This authorization was renewed on more than one occasion. There was no question that the American occupation of Iraq gained international legal legitimacy from these measures. But there’s also no question that any American settlement project in Iraq would have nonetheless been a gross violation of international law.

In the real world, all settlement activity in any occupied territory is prohibited by international law, the “legality” or “illegality” of the occupation notwithstanding, and no matter who was “the aggressor,” or whether there was a “prior sovereign” or not. In Suissa’s more comforting but fictive alternate reality, all of these questions have important legal implications for the settlement of occupied territory. But this is yet another hallucination, because, in fact, they don’t.

Suissa even tries to imply that U.N. Security Council resolution 242 is ambiguous about the occupation. Here, again, he looks at a text and somehow sees something very different than what is actually written in clear, unambiguous language. 242 is explicit in identifying “territories occupied in the recent conflict,” clearly stating that the territories are occupied and Israel is the occupying power. That has been reaffirmed in every single Security Council resolution since then.

Suissa’s prodigious imagination makes another fantastic leap when he tries to claim that the settlement project is merely a private enterprise by individual Jewish Israelis rather than state policy. This claim is so silly as to be a direct insult to the intelligence of his entire readership, individually and collectively. Yet again, only in a genuinely delusional state could one imagine that the settlement project is a private initiative without any direct connection to state policy.

Suissa’s response is an exercise in demonstrating the central point of my article: that there are some Israelis and a few of their individual friends who are willing to make outlandish legal arguments that are universally rejected denying the legal and political fact of the occupation or the illegality of settlements. And by harping on the strawman of the “illegality” of Israel’s occupation—a claim I never made in my article and which is irrelevant to the illegality of the settlement project—he demonstrates the sophistry that is required in order to get around the simple fact that international law strictly prohibits any form of settling occupied territory, and that only Israel and some of its most zealous individual supporters deny this.

Suissa certainly doesn’t understand international law regarding settlement of occupied territories, or Israel’s unquestioned status as the occupying power. Or at least he pretends not to. But whether he is genuinely deluded, and seeking solace in a comforting set of illusions, or he is cynically engaging in extremely disingenuous propaganda, I have no idea. And I’m not sure which is worse.