Column: Dispatches from the Edge: Israeli Settlements and a Scramble for the Arctic

By Conn Hallinan
Friday September 07, 2007

Did Israel know that its settlement policies in the occupied West Bank and Gaza were illegal? Yes, according to a senior legal official who warned the Labor government of Prime Minister Levi Eshkol in September 1967, “that civilian settlement in the administered territories contravenes the explicit provisions of the Fourth Geneva Convention.” 

The man who wrote those words is Theodor Meron, a Holocaust survivor and currently an appeals judge at the International Criminal Tribunal for the former Yugoslavia. Meron told the Independent, “I believe I would have given the same opinion today.” 

Meron says Eshkol’s foreign secretary, Abba Eban, was “sympathetic” to the view that the settlements would violate the Hague and Geneva conventions. 

There are currently some 240,000 settlers on the West Bank, and another 200,000 in occupied East Jerusalem.  

According to the Independent, Meron’s memorandum is “a direct challenge to Israel’s continuing contention that the Geneva Convention’s provisions on settling people in occupied territory did not apply to the West Bank because its annexation by Jordan between 1949 and 1967 had been unilateral.” 

The article points out that not only did the United Nations think that Israel was an occupier, so did the Israeli Army. A 1967 decree from the Israeli Self-Defense Forces command said that military courts would “fulfill Geneva provisions,” and the first West Bank civilian settlement at Kfar Etzion, was designated a “military outpost.” The Geneva Conventions allow military bases in occupied territories. 

A recent survey of West Bank land found that up to 38 percent of the settlements were built on Palestinian-owned land. According to Israeli writer Gershom Gorenberg, such settlements explicitly violate the 1907 Hague Convention. The settlements were declared illegal by the International Court of Justice and a series of UN resolutions. 

According to a new map of the West Bank produced by the UN Office for Coordination and Humanitarian Affairs, the network of Israeli settlements, roads and military bases blocks 2.5 million Palestinians out of 40 percent of the West Bank. The 60 percent of the West Bank left is split up by 450 roadblocks and 70 manned checkpoints. 

The expansion of “Israeli only” roads has drawn widespread criticism—and lawsuits— from human rights organizations. “We do not use the word apartheid in court,” says Yoav Loeff, a spokesman for the Association for Civil Rights in Israel (ACRI), “but it is difficult to find another term for roads that can only be used by Israelis.” 

In a recent report to the Israeli parliament, the Knesset, B’Tselem, a human rights organization, and ACRI, said that government polices are aimed at “the dispossession of Palestinian residents of the center of Hebron.” 

According to the two organizations, the Israeli Army has blocked Palestinian residents from walking on a-Shuhada, one of Hebron’s major streets. Under pressure from B’Tselem and ACRI, the Army admitted that the order was “in error” and unlawful, but have yet to allow Palestinian residents to use the street. 

A recent study by the World Bank found that restrictions like those in Hebron have deeply crippled the Palestinian economy. The bank found that while Israel did have “security concerns,” that many of the restrictions have the effect of “enhancing the free movement of settlers and the physical and economic expansion of the settlements at the expense of the Palestinian population.” 

The Israeli settler population is growing at a rate of 5.5 percent a year, compared with a 3 percent growth rate for Palestinians. 

One group that has taken the issue head on is Machsom (Checkpoint) Watch, which monitors the treatment of Palestinians at roadblocks. Founded in 2001, the group sends 50 to 100 women out in 24 shifts to watch over the checkpoints.  

“Most the soldiers are very angry at us,” Daphne Banai told Robert Hirschfield of In These Times. “They don’t like having ‘those bitches,’ as they call us, looking over their shoulders.” Machsom Watch has successfully lobbied for the installation of water taps and shade at some checkpoints, and according to human rights groups, made life a bit easier for the Palestinians. 

Banai says the checkpoints are a violation of human rights, and that she is less interested in improving the behavior of the Israeli troops that man them, than getting rid of them altogether. “I want them gone,” she says. 


Canada, Russia, the U.S., Denmark and Norway are laying claim to the frozen north. At stake are oil and gas reserves thought to lie under the Arctic Ocean, as well as control of the Northwest Passage, a sea route that could greatly shorten the distance between the East Coast and Asia. 

First, Moscow planted a titanium flag on the Arctic seabed to underline its contention that the Lemonosov Ridge that runs from Greenland to Siberia is part of Russia’s continental shelf. Under the Treaty of the Sea, a country can lay claim to areas beyond its 200-mile territorial waters if it can prove such a geographical formation is connected to its mainland. 

A few days later, Canada’s conservative Prime Minister, Stephen Harper, made a quick trip north to defend “our sovereignty over the Arctic.” Harper announced plans to build a military base on bleak Baffin Island, and another on the shores of the Northwest Passage. While other countries argue that the Passage is an international waterway, Canada claims the route is part of its territorial waters. Harper also announced Ottawa would spend $3 billion to build eight icebreakers. “We either use it [the Arctic] or lose it,” he said 

Because the United States never signed the Treaty of the Seas, Washington has been silent about Canadian and Russian claims, but it did send the icebreaker Healy through the Bering Straits to map the polar sea floor.  

Then things got silly.  

Reuters showed a video of the Russians planting their titanium flag on the sea bottom. But a sharp-eyed 13-year-old Finnish boy thought the photos looked awfully familiar. Indeed they did. The “Russian” submarines were footage from the 1997 movie, “Titanic.”  

There is nothing silly, however, about the more than $200 billion in gas and oil deposits the arctic may harbor. 


When former General Vang Pao was arrested this past June for trying to overthrow the current government of Laos, the media pretty much buried Vang’s role as a drug dealer. When mentioned, it was only in passing, and just that he was “linked to drug running” (New York Times) or that he “partly” controlled the opium trade (San Francisco Chronicle). 

Take the time to sit down with Arthur W. McCoy’s The Politics of Heroin in Southeast Asia, and watch Andrew and Leslie Cockburn’s “Drugs, Guns and the CIA,” a Frontline special.  

It wasn’t Vang who was in control, it was the CIA. The agency used the profits from the drug trade to run its “secret war” in Laos and underwrite the huge sprawling air base at Long Chen. Vang was their front man, but it was the CIA’s Air America that flew the opium from outlying areas to Long Chen. From there it went to Saigon and Thailand, where it was refined into heroin and shot up by GIs in Vietnam and people all over Europe and the United States. 

Vang Pao made millions off the drug trade, but the CIA used it to run a war. When the Pathet Lao finally sent the U.S. and its puppets packing, the CIA moved the drugs-for-guns operation to Central America where cocaine was used to fuel the Contra War against Nicaragua.  

Lest we forget.