Archive for July, 2012
Back on this theme, some detractors (who probably didn’t read the report before detracting) have attacked the Levy Report for bringing an end to the two-state solution and taking away Palestinian land rights.
For a quick and easy, cut-and-paste style rebuttal, I figured I would take a post by Benedict Roth on the latest uproar in the West Bank, followed by an excerpt from the Levy Report’s conclusions, then some commentary.
To wit (my bold):
Susya is a tiny Arab village–more a shanty-town than a village–sandwiched between two Jewish settlements at the southern edge of the West Bank. It has been repeatedly demolished by the Israeli army since its creation in the 1980’s. It is about to be demolished again, by court order, because it is sited on agricultural land and its residents have not been granted permission to build.
The Arabs whose shacks are being demolished have documents attesting title to their land. Ironically, they also hold title to the site of one of the Jewish villages, a few hundred yards away. Indeed they lived there until the early 1980’s. But they were ordered to leave by the military government after archaeological remains were found. So they camped on their fields nearby.
… So, today, nearly every Palestinian construction site is “illegal” and is subject to demolition while the Jewish settlement programme proceeds apace, fuelled by a ready supply of building permits and funds. By controlling Area C through its civil administration, Israel obtains all the benefits of annexation without incurring any obligation to grant its Arab residents legal and political rights. Water, electricity, land, public services and votes are all reserved for Jews.
a. The area of municipal jurisdiction of each settlement, if not yet determined, must be determined by order, taking into due consideration future natural growth.
f. In the event of conflicting claimants to land, it would be appropriate to adopt a policy whereby prior to any determination by the state regarding petitions for eviction or demolition, a thorough examination of the conflicting claims be conducted by a judicial tribunal dealing with land issues. This is all the more necessary with respect to claims of prior purchase or prescription, or where the possessor acted in a bona fide manner. Pending such determination, state authorities should be instructed to avoid taking any position in land conflicts and carrying out irreversible measures, such as eviction or demolition of buildings on the property.
g. To this end and with a view to facilitate accessibility by local residents to judicial tribunals, we suggest the establishment of courts for the adjudication of land disputes in Judea and Samaria, or alternatively, extending the jurisdiction of district court judges in order to enable them to handle in their courts, land disputes in Judea and Samaria.
h. It is necessary to draft into the security legislation a right for the public to review data banks administered by the various official bodies, including the Civil Administration, concerning land rights in the area of Judea and Samaria.
j. The composition of the Appeals Committee should be changed. It is presently manned by uniformed reserve officers, jurists, who are, of necessity, perceived at the least to be subordinate to, and even under the command of the Head of the Civil Administration. We feel that this situation is not proper, and therefore recommend that the Appeals Committee be composed of non-uniformed jurists, a factor which would contribute to the general perception of the Appeals Committee as an independent body, acting according to its own discretion.
k) The “Procedure for Dealing with Private Land Disputes” must be revoked. Such disputes must only be considered and adjudicated by a judicial body.
So let’s recap. A huge part of the problem (which, by the way, is a huge problem — I completely agree that the way the people of Susya are being treated is a disgrace) is that the people of Susya have been arbitrarily moved around and denied the right to enjoy land over which they hold title. This has been made possible due to the current Israeli Civil Administration in Area C; which has an Appeals Committee that is not a proper court and is essentially made-up of Administration officials; and which is overly secretive, extremely bureaucratic and very difficult for Palestinians to work with — whether they seek information or building permits.
I will note that I have a lot of (completely anecdotal) reason to believe that the difficulty in attaining building permits is not all down to direct discrimination, there is a significant amount of bureaucratic incompetence and corruption that presents hurdles to people who can’t “work the system” like Israelis can.
So what does the Levy Report recommend? That the Appeals Committee is abolished and replaced by a proper independent judiciary; that no new construction or demolition may take place without prior approval of this judiciary; that the judiciary is given the power to examine the land ownership rights that are currently ignored; and new freedom of information laws to make the whole process more transparent.
That, to me, looks a lot better for the people of Susya than the opaque, corrupt system they currently face, in which their claims are adjudicated by the people that they are going up against.
Please correct me if I’m wrong.
Interesting thought from Walter Russell Mead in response to some uproar going on in America over some stupid comment by one of Romney’s advisors:
Apparently the aide belonged to the Obama-as-Kenyan-socialist school of thought. In his own way, however, President Obama is one of the neo-Waspiest men in the country. He is not a product of Kenyan villages or third world socialism. He was educated at the Hawaiian equivalent of a New England prep school, and spent his formative years in the Ivies. He has much more in common with Harvard-educated technocrats like McGeorge Bundy than with African freedom fighters and third world socialists of the 1970s.
President Obama’s vision of a strong central government leading the people along the paths of truth and righteousness has “New England” stamped all over it. Puritan Boston believed in a powerful government whose duty was to promote moral behavior and punish the immoral; by 1800 many of the Puritan descendants were turning Unitarian and modernist, but while they lost their love of Christian doctrine they never abandoned their faith in the Godly Commonwealth and the duty of the virtuous to make the rest of the world behave. The New England mind has been open to insights and ideas that come from the third world ever since Henry David Thoreau and his fellow Transcendentalists read the Hindu scriptures in translation, but Obama is no more of a Muslim or an African socialist than Ralph Waldo Emerson was a Hindu.
I can really see this — Obama’s black skin and Arabic name are what prevent him from being seen as the private-school educated Ivy League professor that he really is (although he is still a common working man in comparison to Romney).
Also, I particularly like the way Mead linked the modern soft left big-state-ism to the old Puritans and the way they feel they have “the duty of the virtuous to make the rest of the world behave”. It really captures a line of thought that I have from time to time. There is just something that I don’t like about being told what working-class people want by highly-educated elites with middle-class professionals as parents who went to inner-city private schools and hold graduate degrees from Group of 8 Universities.
There is something horribly patronising in it — surely people from outer-suburban areas who work in trades, not professions, can speak for themselves. Why do they need legions of liberal arts/social science graduates to be speaking for them all the time?
I complained earlier about the sensationalism around the recent Levy Committee Report in Israel. I am looking in more detail at the parts that have been translated into English, and the more I see, the more vindicated my gut reaction seems to have been (ie this was completely blown out of proportion).
I also just went back and read the New York Times editorial that the anti-Israel left have been raving about since it slammed the report. What I saw was a little embarrassing for a paper of the Times‘ repute:
Most of the world views the West Bank, which was taken by Israel from Jordan in the 1967 war, as occupied territory and all Israeli construction there as a violation of international law. The world court ruled this way in 2004. The Fourth Geneva Convention bars occupying powers from settling their own populations in occupied lands. And United Nations Security Council resolution 242, a core of Middle East policy, calls for the “withdrawal of Israeli armed forces from territories occupied in the recent conflict.”
- There is no “world court”. The editorial must be referring to the International Court of Justice, which issued an advisory opinion (not a ruling) in 2004 that related to the security barrier being built by Israel and only tangentially to the construction of settlements. There are a lot of other issues with the judgment, but they are beyond the purview of this post.
- The Fourth Geneva Convention prevents civilian populations from being forceably transferred onto land that is under belligerent occupation. That is not the same as “settling”.
- That is what you call selective quoting. Res 242 did call for that, but the next paragraph called for this:
Termination of all claims or states of belligerency and respect for and acknowledgment of the sovereignty, territorial integrity and political independence of every State in the area and their right to live in peace within secure and recognized boundaries free from threats or acts of force.
It’s funny how the anti-Israel crowd likes to forget that part. There is also the fact that the Resolution called for withdrawal from “lands captured”, not “all lands” — Israel has already withdraw from “lands” and has committed to withdrawing from other lands if a viable deal is reached. The other parties to the 1967 conflict? Well, Egypt complied with that second condition… 12 years later. It took Jordan another 15 years after Egypt and we have yet to see Lebanon or Syria even consider it, never mind the Palestinian Authority or Hamas.
Whatever else may be said about the Levy report, this is just sloppy journalism from the Times. Shame really.
It’s just not that common to see such a blunt obituary. Normally people are a little tactful.
The writer who passed away a few days ago is Alexander Cockburn, and the piece by Colin Moynihan says that he became known as an “unapologetic leftist, condemning what he saw as the outrages of the right but also castigating the American liberal establishment when he thought it as being timid.” He is described by a former colleague at The Village Voice as having “a remarkable mind.”
One could say his mind was remarkable, if one chooses to use that word to describe someone who once wrote that the Soviet Union in Leonid Brezhnev’s day was “the golden age of the Soviet working class,” and who regularly reprinted Soviet and Cuban disinformation from its intelligence agencies as unadulterated truths.
From what Radosh was saying, Cockburn spared no punches against Radosh while he was alive — so I guess this is Radosh having the final word.
Not that I disagree with Radosh at all, but… ouch.
In response to the debate that I have been having with commenter “Greg”, beginning here and then moving here, I thought that I would do a quick thought exercise to explain why I do not necessarily support the reforms to the Marriage Act that are being advocated by Greg, Labor left, the Greens and various other such groups.
1. The “equality” paradigm
The way that the gay marriage lobby is trying to frame the debate is “marriage equality”. The use of “equality” to push their agenda is an obvious choice given where they are coming from — fighting for “equality” for groups including homosexuals is something that people on the left are used to doing, so framing the discussion this way allows gay marriage to easily form a part of their broader agenda.
I am not entirely convinced by the “equality” idea, however. “Equality” implies that there is some form of inequality currently being perpetuated through the marriage legislation. In terms of actual rights afforded, the current marriage laws to not discriminate on the basis of sexual preference as the gay marriage lobby claims. Anyone can currently get married — homosexual or not.
The real issue is not that homosexuals are being prevented from marrying, it is that the definition of “marriage” refers only to couples comprised of one man and one woman, and so does not encompass homosexual couples. Introducing same-sex marriage into the Marriage Act would not be ending discrimination, it would be redefining the idea of marriage and introducing a meaning that “marriage” has never before had.
This is where the conservative argument comes from — they place a huge amount of value in marriage as it is and they do not want to redefine it.
2. Placing a value on marriage
Bearing this in mind, the point that the gay marriage lobby will raise (as Greg did) is that it is discriminatory for society to place more value on heterosexual couples than on homosexual couples and that, in being denied the right to be a “married couple”, homosexual couples are being told that their relationship is not worth as much.
This argument relies on the premise that a relationship is inherently of higher value if it is registered as a “marriage” with the state than if this is not the case. This is where I take issue.
3. The alleged primacy of state marriage
I do not see how being married by the state makes a relationship more valuable. There are many couples who are not formally married but have lived together happily for decades and are “married” for all intents and purposes, as there are many couples in “sham” state marriages for some kind of benefit. I see the former as far more valuable than the latter.
I gave Greg the example of a Jewish couple that I know who decided not to be married by the state because they believe that God and not the government is the appropriate authority under which Jewish couples should marry, and I tend to agree with them on that.*
Greg was repeatedly mentioning the importance of marriage in society and seemed to believe that I was dismissing this by not placing value in state marriage. This is where we fundamentally differ on the issue — he is unable to distinguish “society” from the state, whereas I do not recognise the state as an entity with any legitimate place in marriage. When he saw that I did not want the Commonwealth to grant licenses to conduct marriages, he assumed that I meant that the States would grant these licenses instead and did not seem to grasp that I was arguing for these licenses to never be granted.
4. Gay marriage, marriage equality and marriage freedom
To summarise: the debate is about redefining marriage under the law, the argument for doing so rests on the idea that state approval gives a relationship higher value, however it is not legitimate for the state to be accepting or not accepting peoples’ relationships as valid. If you accept these premises, you should be able to understand why I am not particularly supportive of the idea of codifying same-sex marriage — doing so would only further entrench the idea that the state should be the entity that decides whether or not my relationships are valid and I fundamentally oppose that idea (clearly, it should be Facebook).
As usual in such debates, the two sides are talking past each other — one is fighting a rights issue and the other is fighting to defend an institution that is extremely important and meaningful to them. The unusual fact about this one is that there is a solution that would allow both sides to have what they want. Why would anyone want to fight for one that would only continue to be divisive?
And more importantly, WHY DOES IT MATTER WHAT THE GOVERNMENT THINKS ABOUT YOUR RELATIONSHIP???
*UPDATE: just a thought, but maybe the current value placed on state marriage is a remnant of the time when the state was thought to be the embodiment of a Sovereign that was appointed by God. Our current system does come from when the Henry VIII made himself the head of the Church of England so that he could have the power to marry and divorce instead of the Pope.
In a way, it’s a subtle means of not allowing Church to truly separate from State.
IN A rather surprising move, Liam had this to say in response to my previous post:
MK is right
Of course, I knew that before, but it’s just so nice to see it on Liam’s blog.
On the other hand, Liam doesn’t really think I’m right and I don’t really think he’s right. So to briefly respond to what he actually said:
This isn’t something the Right wants to go away. It vindicates what they’ve been saying all along (‘there is no occupation’) and what they’ve been doing all along (treating the West Bank as a de facto extension of Israel itself despite the very different legal status conferred on it).
In fact, the Ynet report also discusses the radical departure from the current interpretation of the legal status of settlements and settlement outposts in the West Bank, based on the Sasson report delivered to right-wing Prime Minister Ariel Sharon in 2005…
The Zionist Right prefers land to democracy. That’s fine. But it’s not Zionism. And it won’t enable the Jewish-democratic state of Israel to exist far into the future.
So aside from pointing out that sentence one directly contradicts sentence three, in that last paragraph (the Zionist Right is not Zionist eh?), I would like to ask the following question: “so what?” Yes the report contradicts what Sasson said in 2005, but – as Liam points out – what it does do is merely re-iterate the “Zionist Right” position on the matter, one that has been consistent since the 1970s.
I see this as another example of an alarmist trend in Israel/Palestine commentary that is increasingly bothering me. Somehow a conflict that seems to change very little and very gradually (excepting the occasional sudden flare-up of violence) has a huge “turning point” every second week.
I don’t see anything particularly notable in a clearly stacked panel of dubious jurists – which was put together in order to appease people Bibi has won several victories over recently – releasing a report that says exactly what everyone thought it would. It isn’t indicative of any new trends or schools of thought in Israeli society.
NOW THAT Kadima has joined the Netanyahu-led coalition, the settlers actually have far less power than they had a few months ago. Regardless, Bibi has always been playing a double game – he fought the settlers on evacuating Ulpana and won, all the while declaring himself pro-settler and commissioning new homes in the settlement blocs that no-one believes are actually going anywhere. He clearly has his objectives in mind and he has his political strategy – one that has served him very effectively to date. I honestly cannot see how this report would make any difference to either his objectives or his strategy.
Bibi talks big, but he is a very cautious actor and his achievements come gradually and incrementally. For a while now, he has been very subtly undermining the outposts while maintaining the “pro-settlement” pretence. I don’t see how this report would change that, or anything else really.
There has been a lot of hysteria over the Levi Commission Report, released in Israel last night Australia time (for anyone who can read Hebrew, the report is available HERE. Unfortunately, my limited grasp of Hebrew does not extend to complex legal documents).
Like this for example:
Accepting the substantial elements of this report means this: no more occupation, annexing the West Bank, giving citizenship to Palestinians, end of Israel as a Jewish-democratic state. Or, of course, it could really become apartheid, and not give Palestinians citizenship at all. This is what the Zionist Right is leading us to: the end of the two-state solution.
the Levy Committee avers that government encouragement of any construction conferred an “administrative assurance,” even if there were no legal and official permits issued.
Now, Israel uses the same British common law system as Australia does to form the basis of its legal system. I have never heard of any concept of “administrative assurance” that can be used in lieu of a permit. Generally, you have no permit, you can’t build.
There are a few other recommendations that also sound a little poorly thought-out, like removing various powers to evict settlers and making it easier to build settlements.
But then there’s this:
The committee recommends legalizing all the outposts even without a retroactive government decision, and to do so as follows: To issue an order delineating the settlement and designating the adjacent areas as needed to accommodate natural growth; to cancel the need to get permission from the political echelons for every single stage in the planning process, and to not implement demolition orders that have already been issued.
See, that sounds a little familiar. It’s similar, in a way, to something Ehud Barak was suggesting a couple of months ago. That sounds like Israel unilaterally annexing parts of the West Bank, which is altogether not a terrible idea IMO. It could reduce the bickering that goes back and fourth about borders and land swaps if Israel just says something to the effect of, “this is what we want, this is what we don’t want. You don’t like it? Make us a better offer.”
The committee also recommends the cancelation of the “bothersome use order” that allows the head of the Civil Administration to force settler-farmers off ostensibly Palestinian land, even if there is no Palestinian complainant … Levy believes that these are land disputes that the state should not involve itself in, but that should be sorted out before the courts. The committee, in fact, recommends setting up a special court to deal with land disputes in the West Bank.
That doesn’t sound like a terrible idea either – mostly because a court ruling is more binding than this strange state restraining order thing they have at the moment.
Finally, I’ll address the point about the Fourth Geneva Convention and belligerent occupation. I have looked into this at length, and it is basically true. The current international humanitarian law never predicted anything like the situation in the West Bank, so it is a huge grey area. Everyone who tells you it’s definitely legal or illegal is making laws where there aren’t any.
Irrespective of that, the current legal regime applied in areas B and C of the West Bank is a bizarre military administration derived from the Jordanian law as it stood in 1967 – it needs to be overhauled, and exercising some form of sovereignty is the only way that Israel could actually do that.
So basically, some good may yet come of this report. I’m also very skeptical of news reports on an 89-page document that was released a few hours before – we’re pretty much seeing reports on the executive summary. It’s never a good idea to jump to conclusions on these things.
In fact, in all probability, nothing will ever come of this report. It is dated 21st June – presumably when it was made available to cabinet, even though it only became public yesterday – meaning that the government has had it for over three weeks and hasn’t moved on it. My bet is that they won’t, this will be consigned to the massive vault of reports that caused a minor media shitstorm and were subsequently forgotten. The Israeli government must have somewhere.
There has been a lot of attention on Turnbull’s recent Michael Kirby Lecture but I only just got around to reading it. Overall, it’s very hard to fault him – he systematically goes through the different arguments against legalising gay marriage and quite convincingly debunks them. Whatever your views on gay marriage, it is worth reading as food for thought.
HOWEVER, he did not quite follow his reasoning to the logical conclusion – a conclusion that I reached a while ago. And no, I am not saying “so near and yet so far” because he said that he wanted civil unions rather than pushing a bill on gay marriage at this time. Here’s what I’m talking about:
So there is a clear distinction already between what constitutes a valid marriage in the eyes of the state and in the eyes of the Church.
Of course this distinction is more clear cut in countries where a marriage is recorded by a civil official at a registry office or town hall and then, subsequently, by a religious ceremony where one is conducted. I don’t doubt that explains why the legalisation of gay marriage has been less controversial there.
In Australia however ministers of religion are authorised to perform both the civil function, on behalf of the Commonwealth, and the religious one on behalf of their denomination.
My point here is that the question as to whether same sex couples’ unions should be termed a marriage by the state is not one which calls for a religious answer. No denomination can be compelled to recognise any particular form of marriage – it is entirely up to them.
So here’s the question: if that is true (which it is), WHY IS THE STATE STILL TRYING TO DO JUST THAT? And why is Turnbull supporting it? So long as the state figures it should be defining the word “marriage”, there will be problems that will be unnecessarily divisive and create a lot of avoidable public outrage. Why not let people who get married define what “marriage” should mean for them?
He only briefly supports state-regulated marriage substantially once, like this:
Study after study has demonstrated that people are better off financially, healthier, happier if they are married and indeed, I repeat, if they are formally married as opposed to simply living together. 
And his footnote said this (my bold):
 There is widespread evidence that marriage leads to better mental health, greater wealth accumulation, more stable households and better well being of children raised in a household. A 1998 study by the RAND Corporation, for instance, found that the median household worth of married households was almost four times higher those who were never married, with a median wealth of U.S.$132,000 compared to $35,000. Lupton, J., & Smith J., (1999), “Marriage, Assets and Savings”, available online here. The study measured 7600 households containing a member born between 1934 and 1941 (so between 51-60 years old). A study by the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services found varying levels of serious psychological distress according to different the different categories of marital status. Among adults aged 18–44 years, 6 per cent of those who were divorced or separated experienced serious psychological distress compared with, 3.6% of those living with a partner, 2.5% of never married adults, and 1.9% of married adults. Schoenborn, C., (2004), “Marital Status and Health: United States, 1999–2002”, available online here. The study also found married couples enjoyed much greater physical wellbeing…
Did you see what was wrong? Turnbull is a highly-educated and very intelligent person, so I am a little disappointed that he would be making such a basic mistake.
Those results are not causative – they do not necessarily show that getting married has any benefits at all. What they could just as easily indicate is that people who are generally more wealthy, and who have better mental and physical health are more likely to get married and, if married, are less likely to be divorced.
I would put my money on the latter being the case, rather than the former – I see no logical reason why the piece of paper proclaiming you to be “lawfully wedded” would make one iota of difference to your income or wellbeing, however I can definitely understand why a couple in good health and with steady incomes would be more likely to spend their lives together happily than a couple living paycheck to paycheck while battling psychological illness.
STATE MARRIAGE is a harmful institution. Legal interests should be attached to demonstrated co-dependency and not on a ceremony conducted by an official with a license. Marriage should be conducted by the clergy, or by some kind of communal leader, or whoever the hell else wants to do it – that is not something that the Federal Government needs to have anything to say about.
Turnbull is definitely on the right track, he just needs to take that extra leap.
He drew a circle that shut me out–
Heretic, a rebel, a thing to flout.
But Love and I had the wit to win:
We drew a circle that took him in!
Markham highlighted something that seems obvious, but everyone who claims to fight intolerance constantly seems to miss. Intolerance cannot be defeated with more intolerance, convincing people to be more tolerant of you requires being tolerant of them. The debate will not be won until you understand where the other side are coming from and recognise that they are not bad people and they have a valid perspective.
The best way to not win a debate is to start shouting “BIGOT! RACIST! SEXIST! HOMOPHOBE!” or whatever it may be, based solely on their being against a policy that you are in favour of and without actually listening to what the person is saying.
Don’t draw your own circle and shut him out the way he shut you out, draw the circle that takes him in.