Israel’s military occupation and control of the West Bank, East Jerusalem, and Gaza has gone on almost half a century, since it conquered those territories during the 1967 Six Day War. While many fear Israel will become an apartheid state unless it relinquishes all or most of these occupied territories, the evidence is overwhelming that Israel created an apartheid system and became an apartheid state at the end of the 1967 war, 48 years ago.
THE LAW OF MILITARY OCCUPATION
Under international law and Section III of the Geneva Conventions of 1949, a conquering army becomes an occupying power once military operations have ceased. The occupying power has the duty to restore public order and safety and protect the local civilian population. Under Article 49, it cannot seize or annex any part of the territory occupied or forcibly deport civilians, nor can it permanently transfer its own citizens into the occupied territory. It must also relinquish control of the occupied territory and return it to civilian authority and control as soon as reasonably possible once order is restored.
The US conducted one the most difficult military occupations in history at the end of World War II after it had defeated the combined Axis Powers of Germany, Italy, and Japan. Despite the bitterness of the conflict, the US restored public order and safety and took less than eight years to rebuild the infrastructure and civilian democratic institutions of all three countries and return each to sovereign democratic rule. The US didn’t seize or annex the sovereign territory of these three countries, it didn’t deport civilians, nor did it transfer portions of its own civilian population into the three countries it occupied. The US post-World War II occupations are models of how military occupations should be conducted, and today, Germany, Italy, and Japan, all former bitter enemies of the US, are healthy, prosperous democracies, and strong allies.
THE UNLAWFUL DEPORTATIONS AND ANNEXATIONS
By sharp contrast, Israel’s military occupation of the West Bank, East Jerusalem, and Gaza has defied international law almost from the beginning. Some 300,000 Palestinians fled or were forced to leave their homes during and after the 1967 fighting and then were deported from the territories occupied by Israel, as were another 130,000 from the captured Golan Heights.
Israel also prevented Palestinian refugees from lawfully returning to their homes and lands by denying them entry at the borders and by using force against those who surreptitiously attempted to return. It destroyed dozens of Arab towns and villages to prevent their Arab inhabitants from returning. It also seized and annexed Palestinian lands including East Jerusalem and about 27 square miles of West Bank land which became Greater Jerusalem the so-called eternal capital of Israel. Later it annexed the Golan Heights. Both annexations have been declared illegal under international law.