A conference in the service of colonialism and de-development: the case of the Rehovot conference on ‘inclusive and sustainable development’

PACBI | 13 September 2010

Occupied Ramallah – September 13, 2010

The Weitz Centre for Development Studies, which was founded by the Jewish Agency and enjoys a long-standing relationship with the Centre for International Cooperation of the Israeli Ministry of Foreign Affairs (MASHAV), is organising an international conference on ‘inclusive and sustainable development’ in December 2010.[1] This Centre can be considered an extension of the Israeli government by virtue of its very close links to the Ministry of Foreign Affairs and hence its complicity in the system of oppression that has denied Palestinians their basic rights guaranteed by international law. The Centre is also linked to the notorious Jewish Agency, which has been involved in the Israeli colonising enterprise since its inception.[2] According to PACBI’s guidelines for the International and Academic Boycott of Israel [3] the Weitz Centre is a legitimate target for boycott. We therefore call upon academics and development practitioners to respect the Palestinian call for academic and cultural boycott [4] and to refrain from participating in this conference as this constitutes a form of complicity with Israel’s system of colonial and apartheid oppression and bolsters its efforts to whitewash its grave violations of the basic human rights of the Palestinians.

This conference represents a classic example of Israel’s well-oiled campaign to whitewash its persistent violations of international law and basic Palestinian rights through ‘re-branding’ itself as an enlightened, developmentally conscious and cultured country. In addition to the various forms of cultural outreach designed to highlight Israel’s achievements, this ‘re-branding’ endeavour includes inviting more academics and artists to Israel in order to show the ‘civilised’ side of Israel and help cover up the reality of occupation, apartheid and the brutal treatment of the Palestinians.

Israel’s history embodies a complex and elaborate series of developmental catastrophes for the Palestinian people. The creation of the state of Israel in 1948 dispossessed and uprooted hundreds of thousands of Palestinians from their homes and lands. Their peaceful lives were ruined, society fragmented, possessions pillaged and hope for freedom dashed. Nearly 62 years later, Israel still denies Palestinian refugees their UN-sanctioned rights to return to their homes, treats its own Palestinian citizens with institutional discrimination reminiscent of South African apartheid and conformant to the international definition of the term apartheid [5] simply because they are ‘non-Jews’.

The title of this conference is extremely ironic given that Israel has proved itself to be the world’s leading innovator in strategies of de-development, ethnic cleansing and destruction of the environment. For the past 43 years, the West Bank and Gaza Strip have endured the brunt of these strategies. Upon its occupation of the two territories in 1967, Israel issued an extensive number of military orders to control every aspect of social, economic and political life of the indigenous Palestinian population. Consequently, Israel denied the Palestinians access to their own natural resources, and vast areas of land were confiscated. Infrastructural development throughout the occupied Palestinian territories was non-existent. The only new roads opened until 1994 (the year the Palestinian Authority assumed partial control over the West Bank and Gaza) were exclusively designed for the benefit of colonial settlements. Benefits from such projects to the Palestinian communities only took place incidentally by virtue of proximity to an Israeli settlement.[6] Israel has hence worked systematically to suffocate the development of the indigenous Palestinian population whilst bolstering its settlement enterprise in the occupied territories.

Since 1967, the Palestinian economy has not just been held captive in a position of total dependence on the Israeli economy, but has been manipulated to further Israel’s own development and growth. For example, not only did Israel impose taxes that inhibited the growth of the Palestinian economy, it is estimated that half of the taxes paid by Palestinians in the occupied territories between 1967 and 1994 accrued to the Israeli treasury [7] with the rest spent on the military and civilian administration of the occupied Palestinian territories. In other words, Palestinians effectively had to finance the de-development process of their occupied territories and pay for the Israeli army’s atrocities and oppression.

At the same time, all institutions of higher education had to pay exorbitant amounts of money to the Israeli military government in the form of custom duties on books and other educational material in contravention of both the Jordanian law which was prevalent before the occupation and the Israeli law as it applied to Israeli universities. This is just another way through which the Israeli government impeded the development of these institutions and stifled Palestinian education.

During seventeen years of the ‘peace process,’ Israel sustained the exploitive structures it had earlier imposed on the Palestinians; in many cases, these oppressive configurations have intensified. In that respect, the Paris Economic Protocol which was signed as part of the Oslo Accords in 1994 perpetuates Palestinian economic dependence on the Israeli economy and preserves Israeli control over it. Israel remained in control of West Bank and Gaza Strip borders, which enables it to unilaterally stop at will the movement of Palestinian imports and exports, not to mention restrain the freedom of movement of the people. The Protocol gives Israel sole control over collecting taxes for the Palestinian Authority’s imports, which means that it can stop or suspend the transfer of payments as a means of pressure or punishment, as it did on a number of occasions. The protocol also enables Israel to unilaterally levy taxes on imported goods, giving preference to its own economic interests.[8]

Israeli-imposed closures, curfews, incursions, land confiscation, and destruction of productive properties during the ‘Oslo years’ have all combined to bring the Palestinian economy to its knees, resulting in unprecedented levels of unemployment and poverty. By 2005, real per capita income had fallen below its 1995 level and over one-half of the population were living below the poverty line.[9] Consequently, this overall deterioration in economic conditions gave rise to a food security problem to the extent that in 2006 the World Food Program labelled over one-half of the West Bank and Gaza Strip population as being food insecure.[10] This de-development process innovated by Israel has thus turned an otherwise dynamic society which, for decades, managed to maintain reasonable standards of living, relatively high educational rates and a functioning economy, into a group of hungry individuals waiting to be saved by meagre food rations.

The recent brutal attack on Gaza, yet another landmark in Israel’s long and vicious colonial history and de-development machine, left over 1,440 Palestinians dead, predominantly civilians, of whom 431 were children, and injured another 5,380.[11] The social and economic infrastructure of Gaza also sustained extensive physical damage because of Israel’s military doctrine of using ‘disproportionate force’ against the civilian population as a form of collective punishment. The UN Fact-Finding Mission headed by the respected South African judge, Richard Goldstone, found Israel guilty of war crimes and possible crimes against humanity. Goldstone concluded that Israel’s war on Gaza was “designed to punish, humiliate and terrorize a civilian population, radically diminish its local economic capacity both to work and to provide for itself, and to force upon it an ever increasing sense of dependency and vulnerability.” [12]

The Israeli government itself described its ongoing siege on Gaza as a policy of inflicting “economic warfare”.[13] Israel’s restrictions on imports and barring of exports has caused a total collapse of the private sector in Gaza. More than 85% of the population there is now dependent on aid, having exhausted most other coping mechanisms. The United Nations has described the situation in Gaza as a “human dignity crisis”. [14]

Another Israeli contribution to the ‘inclusive and sustainable development’ of the West Bank is the apartheid Wall, which extends over 725 km of the occupied West Bank land. Once the apartheid Wall is complete, approximately 10% of the West Bank land, including much of its fertile farmland and water resources, in addition to East Jerusalem, will fall in the ‘seam zone’ between the Wall and the Green Line, and will hence be isolated from the rest of the West Bank. An estimated 200,000 Palestinians (8% of the West Bank population) will be surrounded on three sides by the Wall.[15] This glaring example shows Israel’s innovative processes and methods of ‘sustainable development’ which amount to a targeted destruction of the lives and livelihoods of the Palestinians and their environment.

In the face of decades of such unrelenting oppression, Palestinian civil society has called upon people of conscience throughout the world to take a stand in support of our struggle for freedom and the realization of our inalienable human and national political rights by heeding our call for boycott, divestment and sanctions (BDS) against Israel.[16] As the Palestinian BDS National Committee (BNC) recently stated “Palestine today has become the test of our indispensible morality and common humanity”. Ultimately, conscientious academics, and particularly those concerned with issues of development, are expected to heed the appeals of the oppressed as to what they really need from them in the struggle to end injustice and colonial oppression.

Furthermore, an occupying power which has been involved in entrenching a process of de-development and decimating economic prospects in the occupied Palestinian territory should not be allowed to preach to the world about ‘sustainable development’, whilst denying this basic right to millions of Palestinians under its colonial rule, not to mention the millions of Palestinian refugees still denied their right of return to their homes.

We therefore urge you to refuse to participate in this international conference, to honour the Palestinian Call for academic and cultural boycott of Israel, and to treat Israel exactly as most of the world treated racist South Africa, or indeed any other state that legislates and practices apartheid: a pariah state, until it fully abides by international law. Only then can Palestinians have hope for a just peace based on international law and, more crucially, on the fundamental principle of equality for all, irrespective of ethnicity, religion or other identity considerations.

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Notes

[1] http://www.mfa.gov.il/MFA/MFA%20events/Conferences/Rehovot_Conference_2010_Inclusive_Sustainable_Development_Initiatives.htm

[2] http://www.badil.org/en/component/k2/item/1407-freeman-maloy-metropolitan-aspects

[3] http://www.pacbi.org/etemplate.php?id=1108

[4] http://www.pacbi.org/campaign_statement.htm

[5] http://bdsmovement.net/files/English-BNC_Position_Paper-Durban_Review.pdf

[6] http://website1.wider.unu.edu/lib/pdf/JID-15-4-03-9-Naqib.pdf

[7] Fischer S, Hausman LJ, Karasik AD, Schelling TC (eds) (1994). Securing Peace in the Middle East. MIT Press: Cambridge, MA.

[8] http://www.mfa.gov.il/MFA/Peace+Process/Guide+to+the+Peace+Process/Gaza-Jericho+Agreement+Annex+IV+-+Economic+Protoco.htm

[9] http://www.epsjournal.org.uk/pdfs/eps_v3n2.pdf

[10] ftp://extftp.fao.org/ODG/Reserved/ISFS/WFP%20FSIS%20activities/Assessment%20reports%20and%20project%20docs%20by%20country/OMC/OPT/Market%20Assessment%202006.pdf

[11] http://www.ochaopt.org/gazacrisis/index.php?section=3

[12] http://www2.ohchr.org/english/bodies/hrcouncil/specialsession/9/docs/UNFFMGC_Report.pdf

[13] http://www.gisha.org/UserFiles/File/publications/UnravelingTheClosureEng.pdf

[14] http://www.ochaopt.org/generalreports.aspx?id=97&page=28

[15] http://www.ilo.org/wcmsp5/groups/public/—ed_norm/—relconf/documents/meetingdocument/wcms_106367.pdf

[16] http://www.pacbi.org/campaign_statement.htm

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