This article first appeared on the Middle East Monitor on 29/8/2016
Israel is not a normal state, but has craved to be treated as such ever since its creation in historic Palestine, against the will of the indigenous Palestinian people, in 1948. It sometimes claims its legitimacy from the UN partition plan, the terms of which bear no resemblance to the area currently controlled by the state; at other times Israelis refer to Biblical connections, which they claim to extend over the whole of Palestine. Exceptionally, proponents of Israel claim that only the followers of Judaism and no other faith are entitled to a state or homeland in the land of their choosing, regardless of who inhabited that land when they claimed it.
To this day, Israel remains a state without declared borders; it is the illegal occupier of another people’s land, whose rights under occupation it has flouted for the past 49 years. Israel claims to be a Western-style “democratic” state but only certain inhabitants of the land it has controlled since 1967 – basically all of historic Palestine – have a right to vote in its elections. It claims to want peace based on a two-state solution but has been implementing policies to ensure that there will only ever be one state, Israel, the borders of which are those of historic Palestine, and where people are defined by a sophisticated system of identity cards, driving cars with differently coloured number plates. It operates different laws for different people; civil law for Israelis but military law for Palestinians in the occupied territories. The law applied to Israeli citizens discriminates between Jews and non-Jews. This discrimination extends to land purchase, which gives Jews rights over non-Jews.
So Israel is clearly not a normal state, because a normal state does not build homes and towns for one ethnic group, to the exclusion of others. Israel does this by building illegally Jewish-only settlements on occupied Palestinian land. Further, in some towns within its nominal border, it allows “admissions committees” to decide whether residents will allow other citizens to live there; it is usually Jewish citizens who make these decisions and non-Jewish citizens who are excluded.
A normal state does not regularly demolish the homes of the people it occupies, or evict their occupants so that it can move its ethnically-chosen citizens into them. Israel does this.
A normal state does not besiege an occupied area for over ten years. Israel has done this with Gaza, the most densely populated place on earth. It controls the entry and exit of goods and people. A normal state does not does not then attack the people living under siege repeatedly with the most destructive weapons on earth, short of nuclear warheads. Israel does.
A normal state does not repeatedly attack neighbouring states with impunity. Israel has done this to Iraq, Syria and Lebanon.
A normal state does not exist in one continent but play its sport in another. Israel does; it is in Asia but plays football in Europe.
A normal state does not violate agreements it signs, as Israel has done with the Oslo agreement and repeated ceasefire agreements with the Palestinians in Gaza.
A normal state does not carry out extrajudicial killings against the people living under its military occupation. Again, Israel does this with impunity.
A normal state does not treat children in the territory it occupies with the cruelty that Israel displays; it abducts children in the night and takes them before military courts in shackles.
The list of abnormal acts that Israel carries out is endless and developing on an almost daily basis. It is therefore hypocritical of it and its leaders to claim that it should be treated as a normal state.
This expectation was tested recently in incidents at the Rio Olympic Games involving the Lebanese team and an Egyptian judo player. The games had not even started when what turned out to be a misguided decision by the organisers became a major incident as teams were making their way to the Maracanã Stadium for the opening ceremony. In this now well-documented incident the Lebanese team refused to share a bus with their Israeli counterparts. Israel saw this as discrimination. “How could they let something like this happen on the eve of the Olympic opening ceremony?” complained one Israeli official. “Isn’t this contrary to what the Olympics stand for? … I’m in shock from the incident.” Those not familiar with the Arab-Israeli conflict would see no problem in any two teams from either end of the globe, let alone neighbours, sharing a bus.
However, this almost paled into insignificance compared to the now famous shunning by Egyptian Judoka Islam El-Shehabi of the extended hand of his Israeli opponent Or Sasson, after his defeat in the qualifying rounds of the 100 kg competition. El-Shehabi himself, who had come under pressure at home not to compete, said: “I have no problem with Jewish people or any other religions or different beliefs but for personal reasons you can’t ask me to shake the hand of anyone from this state, especially in front of the world.” Although the Egyptian’s appearance for the bout was seen as progress by many, this was not the official line. The International Olympic Committee (IOC) said El-Shehabi’s action was “contrary to the rules of fair play” and against the spirit of friendship exemplified by the games. He was reprimanded by the IOC and sent home by his team.
However, a normal state would not withhold the Olympic kit of the representatives of the people it occupies and ban their officials from travel, as Israel did. Furthermore, it would not restrict the movement of its sporting teams both within the occupied territories and to the outside world. Israel does this all the time. Its soldiers recently fired tear gas into a stadium where a Palestinian football match was taking place.
Away from the sporting arena, Israel claims that it faces discrimination in many ways, particularly from UN bodies. It insists that the UN Human Rights Council singles it out for special and disproportionate treatment. However, which other state violates so many aspects of international law and international humanitarian law, and has done so since its creation? The answer is simple: not one.
Israel is currently facing a campaign by the Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions (BDS) movement, which was called for by Palestinian civil society to place pressure on the state to behave in a “normal” way by adhering to international law. The BDS campaign was launched because of the failure of the international community to pressure Israel to conform to “normal” behaviour. Its call for an end to the occupation, equal rights for all citizens and the right of return for Palestinian refugees is peaceful, legal and highly moral. However, Israel has once again cried wolf and claims that BDS is not only discriminatory but also “anti-Semitic” because it targets “the only Jewish state” in the world. The fact is that there would be no need for a BDS movement if Israel behaved like a “normal” state.
Hence, if Israel really does want to be treated like a normal state it must first behave like one. It is currently so far away from such a designation that it merits being seen as the pariah, the rogue state that it is. Its leaders choose this status by their decisions to act in the ways that it does, not its critics. Israel should begin the process of change or risk further isolation and condemnation as even its most loyal allies begin to see what an embarrassment it is to them.