Not made in Israel

A group of U.S. lawmakers have decried the EU policy through legislation introduced in both the House and Senate. The bills (H. Res. 567, S. Res. 346) equate Israel and “Israeli-controlled territory,” erasing a distinction that the U.S. has long made between Israel and its occupied territories.

As Lara Friedman of Americans for Peace Now explains:

Israeli settlement
In the background is an Israeli settlement in the West Bank, near Bethlehem. In the foreground, in front of the fence, are Palestinian homes.

This conflation flies in the face of nearly 5 decades of unbroken U.S. policy opposing settlements. Since 1967, every president, regardless of party, has maintained this policy. And until recently, every Congress, regardless of which party was in control, supported this policy, including in law (e.g., legislation barring Israel from using U.S. loan guarantees in areas occupied in 1967). Indeed, never before in the history of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, until now, has there been any serious effort to legislate U.S. support for settlements.

In a report released in January, Human Rights Watch said that settlement businesses violate international law because they are built on land seized by Israel during the 1967 war. The settlements “operate a two-tiered system in the West Bank that provides preferential treatment to Jewish Israeli settlers while imposing harsh conditions on Palestinians.”

Unlike the Israeli settlers who are subject to Israeli civil law, Palestinians do not have clear labor protections, which creates a high risk of discriminatory treatment alongside other forms of abuses. This lack of government oversight, as well as Palestinian workers’ dependency on special permits given by the Israeli security service, facilitates an environment in which employers can deny Palestinian workers their full rights.

Some Israeli officials argue that Palestinians benefit by working in these settlement businesses, calling the businesses a hub for co-existence and bridges for peace. As the Human Rights Watch report notes, however, this co-existence looks more like exploitation. Palestinian workers earn less than the Israeli minimum wage and have little choice in employment since their own economy is struggling with an unemployment rate of 27 percent. They risk losing their work permits if they demand anything of their employers.

As Mennonite Central Committee works in the region, we are guided by the vision of Palestinians and Israelis enjoying the “peaceful habitation” and “secure dwellings” described in Isaiah 32:18. Moving toward this vision starts by recognizing and acknowledging the present realities–the illegal confiscation of land and other resources, the exploitative work situations and all other forms of injustice.

Join us in telling your members of Congress not to add their names to legislation that encourages ignoring these indignities by blurring the line between Israel and the occupied territories. Urge them to support peace and justice for all peoples in the region, not the illegal settlements.

Rebecca Babirye is completing an internship in the MCC U.S. Washington Office this semester, focusing on foreign policy.

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