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13 February 2008

Human Rights and Politics in Israel-Palestine

From MITWorld:

SPEAKERS:
Anat Biletzki: Chair, Philosophy Department, Tel Aviv University
Fellow, Program on Human Rights & Justice, MIT
Biletzki's MIT website

Jeff Halper: Coordinating Director, Israeli Committee Against House Demolitions
Israel Committee Againsat House Demolitions website

ABOUT THE LECTURE:
Human rights are central to the fraught politics between Israelis and Palestinians, these two panelists argue. Any conceivable solution to such an endless conflict must begin by acknowledging the current bleak realities of Palestinian life under Israeli rule, they say.

Anat Biletzki and the group B'Tselem have conducted painstaking studies of how Israel’s longstanding agenda of allowing its civilians to settle on Palestinian occupied land constitutes an infringement of the Palestinians’ basic equality, property rights, freedom of movement, their very “right to self-determination.” The settlements were given a “cloak of legality,” sanctioned as they were by one Israeli government after another. Geographically, the settlements break up what might have been a contiguous Palestinian state.

Biletzki ties the settlements together with other work by the Israelis conducted in the name of security to demonstrate the existence of a forbidding, two-tier society : a system of roads off limits to Palestinians in the occupied territories, or permitted only via carefully guarded checkpoints; the wall (or separation barrier), which runs through Palestinian land; and the total control of Gaza, from the economy to communications, which increasingly makes it “a big prison.” This barricading of Palestinians has become a “routine phenomenon” –and not worthy of the headlines, in the way bombs and torture are, says Biletzki. She insists that “our political conversation must become a human rights conversation,” and hopes that she can make an impact on American Jews and policy makers, who don’t believe in the possibility of making a deal with the Palestinians: “If we give them the land, they’ll throw us into the sea.”

Jeff Halper describes the current situation for Palestinians as apartheid, knowing full well the awful resonance of the term. He sees the system of settlements, roads and the wall as a deliberate land grab, “imprisoning tens of thousands of Palestinians within cities, towns and villages.” The word apartheid “cuts through -- immediately you get it.” This is important because the situation in Israel “is a global issue that affects everyone. It’s the epicenter of instability in the entire region…one of the reasons you can’t take toothpaste onto an airplane.”

Reframing the issue will bring the kind of negative attention that South Africa once drew, as well as international sanctions, and corporate divestment. While Halper believes Israel has essentially foreclosed a viable two-state solution, he still imagines that the U.S. might persuade Israel to pull out of the settlements, so Palestinians can move back in. “There would be dancing in the streets of Tel Aviv,” Halper predicts, because so many Israelis “want this albatross off their back.”

NOTES ON THE VIDEO (Time Index):
Video length is 2:28:28.

Balakrishnan Rajagopal, Ford International Associate Professor of Law and Development, Department of Urban Studies and Planning, and Director of the Human Rights Program, MIT, introduces the session.

At 1:47, John Tirman, Executive Director and Principal Research Scientist at MIT's Center for International Studies, introduces the speakers.

At 6:00, Anat Biletzki begins.

At 40:55, Jeff Halper begins.

At 1:14:25, Rajagopal invites audience questions. These include:

  • Whether Israel is practicing discrimination or apartheid;
  • How refugees figure into the situation;
  • Whether the speakers’ organizations should improve their visual presentations;
  • If there is a way to achieve a one-state solution;
  • Whether the speakers are biased, because they don’t recognize Israel as a liberal democracy;
  • What the next step might be.

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