Why Is Israel's Presence in the Territories Still Called "Occupation"?

[Avinoam Sharon]

Summary ... When an armed force holds territory beyond its own national borders, the term "occupation" is usually used to describe its holding on the land. However, not all the factual situations that we commonly think of as "occupation" fall within the limited scope of the term "occupation" as defined in international law.

When an armed force holds territory beyond its own national borders, the term "occupation" readily comes to mind. However, not all the factual situations that we commonly think of as "occupation" fall within the limited scope of the term "occupation" as defined in international law. Not every situation we refer to as "occupation" is subject to the international legal regime that regulates occupation and imposes obligations upon the occupier.

The term "occupation" is often employed politically, without regard for its general or legal meaning. The use of the term "occupation" in political rhetoric reduces complex situations of competing claims and rights to predefined categories of right and wrong. The term "occupation" is also employed in the context of the Israeli-Palestinian [sic] conflict to advance the argument that Israel bears ultimate responsibility for the welfare of the Palestinians, while limiting or denying Israel's right to defend itself against Palestinian terror, and relieving the Palestinian side of responsibility for its own actions and their consequences. The term is also employed as part of a general assault upon Israel's legitimacy, in the context of a geopolitical narrative that has little to do with Israel's status as an occupier under international law.

Iraq was occupied by the Coalition forces from the spring of 2003 until June 28, 2004, at which time authority was handed over to the Iraqi Interim Government. At that point, Coalition forces remained in Iraq, but Iraq was no longer deemed occupied. If handing over authority to a Coalition-appointed interim government ended the occupation of Iraq, would the same not hold true for the establishment of the Palestinian Authority and Israel?

Under the Interim Agreement between Israel and the Palestine Liberation Organization of September 28, 1995, it would seem that at least those areas placed under the effective control of the Palestinian Authority, and from which Israel had actually withdrawn its military forces, could no longer be termed "occupied" by Israel. Moreover, since the continued presence of Israeli troops in the area was agreed to and regulated by the Agreement, that presence should no longer be viewed as an occupation.

The withdrawal of all Israeli military personnel and any Israeli civilian presence in the Gaza Strip, and the subsequent ouster of the Palestinian Authority and the takeover of the area by a Hamas government, surely would constitute a clear end of the Israeli occupation of Gaza. Nevertheless, even though Gaza is no longer under the authority of a hostile army, and despite an absence of the effective control necessary for providing the governmental services required of an occupying power, it is nevertheless argued that Israel remains the occupying power in Gaza.

The full article is available in PDF format for easier reading.

[ Published: March 31, 2011 ]



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