BNC welcomes cancellation of visit by settlement mayors to Netherlands
The Palestinian Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions National Committee (BNC), on behalf of its constituent organizations and unions representing the majority of Palestinian civil society, warmly salutes the decision taken by the Association of Netherlands Municipalities (VNG), in consultation with the Dutch Foreign Ministry, to cancel a visit by Israeli mayors due to the fact that six members of the proposed delegation are leaders of illegal Jewish-only Israeli colonial settlements in Occupied Palestinian Territory.1
There are now over 150 settlements in the Occupied Palestinian Territory, including East Jerusalem, housing 475,000 settlers and covering more than 40% of the West Bank. The settlements are deliberately constructed in order to place essential Palestinian agricultural and water resources in Israeli control.2 Israel's colonial settlement enterprise destroys Palestinian lives and livelihoods and results in the expropriation of Palestinian private and public land and the illegal annexation of territory to Israel. All of these are illegal under international law and prevent the achievement of just peace.
Under the IV Geneva Convention, Israel's transfer of its own civilians into the Palestinian territory it occupies constitutes a war crime. The United Nations has consistently and repeatedly affirmed that the Convention applies to Israel’s occupation of Palestinian territory.3 Due to the fact that Israel applies its own domestic civil law to the illegal settlements whereas the occupied Palestinian population is subjected to Israel's military orders, these settlements also entrench an apartheid regime which is a crime under international law.4 The International Court of Justice in its 2004 advisory opinion, moreover, has reminded states of their obligation to ensure Israel's compliance with international humanitarian and human rights law and to not render aid or assistance in maintaining the unlawful situation created by Israel.5 The BNC therefore welcomes the decision taken by the VNG to uphold this obligation.
At the same time, the BNC is concerned about the fact that the VNG says it has taken this decision based on its desire to maintain “neutrality”, because neutrality is an inappropriate response to serious violations of international human rights and humanitarian law. Illegal Jewish-only settlements in Occupied Palestinian Territory are but one part of Israel’s system of occupation, colonisation and apartheid over the Palestinian people. This system persists in a large part due to the failure of the international community to take the steps necessary to pressure Israel to cease its transgressions of Palestinian rights. In response to this failure Palestinian civil society issued in 2005 a call for a campaign of boycotts, divestment and sanctions against Israel until it complies with international law– a call that has been heeded by people of conscience all over the world, not least in the Netherlands.
Citizens and state bodies in the Netherlands and throughout Europe played a vital role in the end of apartheid in South Africa with concrete steps of solidarity.
It is worth mentioning that the South African Municipal Workers Union (SAMWU) in South Africa has recently launched a campaign to rid local municipalities of contracts and products that support Israeli impunity – we call upon the VNG to investigate the possibility of implementing a similar campaign in the Netherlands, focused on settlements as one of the most obvious and ongoing Israeli violations of international law. In effect, with its latest decision, the VNG has upheld the morally and legally sound principle that if an Israeli delegation refuses to exclude representatives of illegal institutions it should not be welcome in the Netherlands, Europe or anywhere else.
This same logic has been used by some supermarket chains applying ethical guidelines in regard to Israel’s illegal settlements specifically, whereby they have stopped stocking all Israeli products because Israel has consistently refused to properly and adequately label settlement products. It is now well documented that Israel has done everything in its capacity to deceive Dutch and European consumers by obfuscating or twisting facts about the origin of various products, thereby violating EU laws and regulations. Especially after the ruling by the European Court of Justice in the Brita case that Israeli goods produced in the Palestinian territories cannot benefit from EU trade privileges,6 it should be completely unacceptable for European states and municipalities alike to continue allowing all Israeli products that may include settlement products or components to enter European markets, enjoy tax breaks under the EU-Israel Association Agreement (despite Israel’s violation of its human rights clauses), and compete unfairly against local products. Israeli produce grown on stolen land and irrigated with stolen water should simply not be allowed into the markets of any state that claims the most basic adherence to international law and human rights.
We call on the VNG and Dutch civil society to implement “Israeli settlement product free zones” and to investigate what other steps can be taken to hold Israel accountable to international law and support the Palestinian struggle for justice and self determination.
The BNC further calls upon the VNG to thoroughly examine its relationship with the American Jewish Joint Distribution Committee, the organisers of the delegation,7 and the relationships with Israeli municipality associations it says it maintains.8 Given the inclusion within, and active support of, illegal Israeli settlements maintained by these organisations, any links with them are an active endorsement of Israel’s settlement project in much the same way as accepting the proposed delegation would have been.
Once again, the BNC warmly salutes the principled decision taken by the VNG. We hope that it can be built upon by further actions in support of freedom, justice and equality.