Palestinians are not Israel’s ‘neighbors’: 11 corrections for PM Yair Lapid’s UN speech

Prime Minister Yair Lapid gives a speech during the 77th session of the UN General Assembly (UNGA) at UN headquarters (Stephanie Keith - AFP)

Amira Hass

Haaretz  /  September 24, 2022 

The prime minister is not the first in the history of the UN to give a speech filled with slogans and lies. In UN reports on Israel’s domination over the Palestinians, leaders and their aides can find information to refute them. The following remarks are meant to help them navigate between the details.

Prime Minister Yair Lapid was not the only one on Thursday, and not the first in the history of the United Nations, to give a speech before the General Assembly filled with slogans, lies, half-truths, propaganda, historical distortions, fantasies and beaten-to-death statements. If there were those expecting an original, honest and inspiring speech from Lapid – they are the ones with the problem.

Lapid is also not the first Israeli politician – and he won’t be the last – to use the memory of the Holocaust in vain, as Israel’s most successful propaganda nuclear weapon. Mentioning the Holocaust is utterly predictable as a tool to silence, in advance, even the mildest criticism of Israel’s rule over the Palestinians.

The problem is that there are too many heads of state in the General Assembly willing to believe, or pretend they believe, the propaganda that Israel is a peace-loving democracy, and also an innocent victim of conspiracies and terrorism. This pretense rescues those countries from the obligation to honor international conventions and international law, and take firm measures against Israeli violations of the law.

Take, for example, the new prime minister of the United Kingdom Elizabeth Truss, who has already stated that she is considering moving her country’s embassy in Israel to Jerusalem. The very statement is another prize awarded to Israel for the disaster it caused to Palestinian Jerusalem by cutting it off from the rest of the territory captured in 1967, another prize for its consistent policy of land takeover in the city, for impoverishing the majority of is residents while expelling many others out of its borders.

In regular UN reports on Israel’s domination over the Palestinians, leaders, aides and foreign journalists can find up to date and historical information refuting Lapid’s deceptive pretenses. To help them and others find their way through the abundance of details, and to clarify their significance, the following comments are written here:

  1. Let’s start with the greenhouses of the Gaza Strip, which seems to be the most bizarre piece of propaganda brought out of the attic for this speech. Other than cheap Palestinian labor, the settlers’ greenhouses on stolen land flourished before Israel’s unilateral disengagement from Gaza in 2005 for three main reasons: A regular supply of good water from Israel and from within the Gaza Strip, a continuous supply of electricity and access to markets and ports – the three conditions that did not and do not exist for Palestinians in the Gaza Strip.

Israel imposes an autarchic water regime on the Gaza Strip, as if it were a self-sufficient island geographically cut off from the rest of the country. After all, it would have been only appropriate if Israel supplied large quantities of water to Gaza rather than the tiny quantities it sells the coastal enclave today as compensation for what it pumps and steals from the Palestinians in the West Bank. For over 30 years there has been excess pumping from the Gaza Strip’s section of the aquifer with the result being too high salinity in the best case – so the water is not suitable for many crops – and pollution from the trickling down of sewage and toxins.

The disrupted supply of electricity is due to internal disputes among the Palestinians themselves, damage to infrastructure caused by Israeli bombing, limitations on quantities of imported fuel and the general economic deterioration caused by the blockade.

But the main obstacle were the draconian restrictions on produce exports from Gaza to markets in the West Bank, Israel and even overseas, from the beginning of the Second Intifada. Even if farmers could overcome the problems of water and electricity, they would be left with surplus produce and incur huge financial losses.

  1. “Lay down your weapons.” This was uttered by the head of a country whose economic and diplomatic strength depends on its arms and espionage industries, which have been developed in the world’s most available and effective lab: The occupied Palestinian territory, whose population resists and therefore is repressed by interrogations, weapons and arrests.
  2. The closure policy, or in other words the severe restrictions on movement was imposed on the Strip back in January 1991, before the suicide attacks, Hamas rockets and the establishment of the Palestinian Authority. The closure policy has undergone a number of changes since then, but the reason behind it was and remains a political rather than military or security decision: To disconnect the population of the Gaza Strip from that of the West Bank in order to foil the chance for a Palestinian state based on the 1967 borders.
  3. “We dismantled the military bases in Gaza.” But not in the West Bank. Just as Israel believes it is entitled to bomb in response to a shelling of Nahariya or Ashkelon, even if its leaders live between Caesarea and Jerusalem – so does Hamas see itself as entitled and even obligated to respond to the harm caused by Israel to the West Bank’s Palestinians. Luckily for us, Hamas does not have that many rockets to respond to all Israeli attacks against Palestinians’ bodies, health, land, water, freedom and property.
  4. And what will happen if they lay down their weapons? The pretense that Hamas is an equal military opponent to Israel serves its political purposes and image, but it does not free Palestine. In contrast, it helps Israeli propaganda.
  5. Fake news and images of the deceased girl on Instagram. One needs a great lack of self-awareness, disinterest and ignorance to enter this arena of fake news about military operations and “uninvolved” Palestinian civilians who were killed in Israeli bombing, shelling and shooting. The army, its soldiers and commanders, and not social media, have many times falsified facts concerning Palestinian casualties. They correct themselves only when the person killed is famous and American like Shireen Abu Aklehor when there are videos refuting its first claims. Precise data on the numerous civilian dead among the Palestinians can be found on the B’Tselemwebsite.
  6. The Palestinians are not Israel’s “neighbors.” They are the indigenous people who emerged, lived in and developed the land between the Jordan River and the Mediterranean Sea long before Zionist immigration. Leaving aside the historical circumstances that led to its founding, Israel was established at their expense through the expulsion of over half of them and the creation of a political system that from the beginning intended to exclude them.
  7. Israel is a democracy for Jews. In other words, it’s not a democracy. Almost two million Palestinians are today citizens of Israel who are discriminated against according to the law, in the allocation of budgets and in work and study opportunities. They are dispossessed of their lands and their history and are the target of racist attitudes and actions, both individually and politically. The Israel Police and Shin Bet security service are able to determine the identity of a Palestinian who murdered an elderly Jewish womanwithin an hour, but do not find and apprehend Palestinian citizens of Israel who have murdered hundreds of other Palestinian citizens. This alone summarizes the institutionalized discrimination and disrespect against Palestinians.
  8. All the achievements of Israel’s Palestinian citizens in various areas are the fruit of a long and determined civil struggle, and not a favor Israel is doing for them.
  9. Almost 5 million Palestinians live under the 55-year-old Israeli military and Shin Bet rule – whether directly like in annexed East Jerusalem and Area C, hybrid (direct and indirect) such as in the Palestinian Authority enclaves or effectively as in the Gaza Strip. The government of Israel determines nearly every significant parameter of their lives. It controls the borders, it controls the water resources and land that it appropriates according to its own desires, the freedom of movement and thus the economy too, family and social connections. All this while the Palestinians are deprived of any civil rights and are barred from participating in the process of electing the government that determines their lives.
  10. “Two states for two peoples.” Parroting the hollow slogan is the required lip service in international forums. But we can’t accuse Lapid and his advisers of providing this service. Here the blame lies with European and Arab nations, which have enabled Israel for the last 30 years to carve up the territory designated for a Palestinian state and turn it into small, disjointed enclaves surrounded by constantly expanding settlement blocs.

Like his predecessors, when Lapid blathers about “the two-state solution,” he really means the seven state solution: Greater Israel and the six – or maybe even more – Palestinian Bantustans.