Institute for Contemporary Affairs
Founded jointly with the Wechsler Family Foundation
- The Israeli organization “Breaking the Silence” (BtS) published a study in December 2020 highly critical of Israel’s transportation infrastructure projects in the West Bank. However, the study ignores the relevant provisions in the Oslo Accords signed by the PLO and Israel.
- This study is meant to delegitimize Israel’s presence in the territories and undermine an agreed negotiation process. It cannot be divorced from those international and national non-governmental organizations and member states of the European Union that advocate an identical hostile political line to Israel and finance and support Breaking the Silence.
- The study falsely assumes that the territory belongs to the Palestinians. In fact, Israel’s entry into the territories in 1967 after being attacked by its neighbors, and its subsequent control and administration of the territories, were in accordance with the relevant requirements of international law.
- Occupation of territory during the course of an armed conflict is not illegal. To the contrary, it is an accepted and recognized legal state-of-affairs. Pending a negotiated resolution of the conflict, Israel committed itself to abide by international humanitarian and legal norms, and such administration has been under strict judicial supervision by Israel’s Supreme Court.
- There exists no binding international determination that the territories are Palestinian. Similarly, according to the 1995 Israel-Palestinian Interim Agreement on the West Bank and the Gaza Strip, the permanent legal and political status of the territories has yet to be negotiated.
- International law enables the legitimate utilization by the authority administering the territory of non-privately-owned land and property, pending the permanent settlement of the dispute. The Oslo Accords enable both sides to conduct planning, zoning, and construction activities in the areas under their respective jurisdiction, and thus to construct roads and transportation infrastructure.
The Israeli organization “Breaking the Silence (BtS)” published a study in December 2020 entitled “Highway to Annexation: Israeli Road and Transportation Infrastructure Development in the West Bank.”1
This study is highly critical of Israel’s transportation infrastructure projects in the West Bank areas of Judea and Samaria. Like any transportation infrastructure anywhere, it is composed of roads, junctions, and supply routes to connect population centers to ensure efficient transportation and communications throughout the area.
However, the content and tenor of the study by Breaking the Silence [in Hebrew, Shovrim Shtika] perceive all transportation projects connected to Israel’s administration in those parts of the territories under its control under the Oslo Accords through an extremely narrow political prism. This political prism perceives any and all development activity as “further entrenching Israel’s deepening hold on the occupied territories through continued suburbanization of Israeli settlements and the fragmentation of Palestinian territory.”
While transportation infrastructure in any modern society serves as a basic, logical, and essential means of connecting people, modernizing society, and ensuring efficient supply routes, the BtS study presents all infrastructure development projects in the West Bank areas of Judea and Samaria as a means of advancing plans for de facto annexation.
BtS is a highly controversial and partisan Israeli non-governmental organization, established in 2004 and composed ostensibly of a few veterans of the Israel Defense Forces. Its aim, as stated on its website, is “to bring an end to the occupation through exposing alleged abuses by Israeli soldiers and by boosting public awareness with the aim of giving the Israeli public access to the reality that exists only minutes away from their own homes, yet is rarely portrayed in the media.”2
The BtS organization’s initial mission statement specified that it was oriented to give information to the “Israeli public.” Within a few years, Breaking the Silence evolved into an international and multi-language organization seeking out international audiences and sponsors.
The expansion of the organization’s initial aims regarding actions by Israel’s soldiers into the field of government policy and transportation infrastructure projects is perhaps indicative of the inherent linkage between BtS and other organizations connected to the anti-Israel Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions (BDS) campaign. The campaign and its agents are financed and supported by foreign states and organizations active in undermining Israel’s status in the territories.3
Misleading and Partisan Perception of Settlements
The flawed premise of the BtS study is fundamentally contrary to the actual legal and political situation pursuant to the Oslo Accords. BtS views the territories as “occupied Palestinian territories,” and all Israeli settlements are considered to be illegal and intended to entrench and deepen Israel’s hold toward annexation.
By the same token, all road and transportation infrastructure connecting Israeli towns, villages, and settlements to each other and Israel’s major population centers are considered by BtS to be equally illegal since they are solely intended to serve the policy of annexation.
While the descriptions of the infrastructure and road projects listed by the study may well be technically accurate, any casual reader of the study will rapidly realize its extreme partisan political nature merely from the repetitive and fatiguing terminology used. The study makes a point of presenting the transportation infrastructure in loaded terms taken from the most extreme Palestinian propaganda and indoctrination narratives, as well as from European Union Council resolutions or the Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions (BDS) campaign.
Such terminology is composed, almost exclusively, of a collection of the following curious predictable, obvious, and politically-generated phraseology:
- settler population
- settlement expansion
- settlement growth
- settlement infrastructure
- settlement enterprise
- settler leadership
- settler leaders
- settlement blocs
- settler traffic
- settler population
- settlement regional councils
- settler Samaria Regional Council
- settler Yesha Council
This manipulative and exaggerated use of terminology, indoctrination, and word-gaming attempts to create a false, pejorative form of phraseology in referring to Israel’s settlements.
Such phraseology barely disguises the weakness of any genuine and substantive argumentation and displays a complete lack of understanding of the international legal aspects inherent in the administration of territory after armed conflict. It ignores the relevant provisions in the agreements between the PLO and Israel regarding settlements, as an agreed negotiating issue between the two sides.
Regrettably, this study has recently been taken-up and reproduced by reputable journals such as France’s Le Monde, in an article published by its Jerusalem correspondent Louis Imbert on December 7, 2020, under the politically suggestive title, “In the West Bank, Colonization by roads.”4
Echoing Le Monde, the Israeli newspaper Haaretz published an article on December 11, 2020, by its West Bank correspondent Hagar Shezaf, reproducing the BtS study, with the curious and typically extreme political title reflecting the Haaretz editorial board: “Highways to Annexation: Across the West Bank, Israel Is Bulldozing a Bright Future for Jewish Settlers.”5
This shallow study by Breaking the Silence,” its publication, and circulation is meant to delegitimize Israel’s presence in the territories and undermine an agreed negotiation process. It cannot be divorced from those international and national non-governmental organizations and member states of the European Union and elsewhere, including some Israeli organizations, that advocate an identical, hostile political line to Israel and finance and support Breaking the Silence.
Money Talks for Breaking the Silence
According to the organization’s web page, the study and the organization’s activities are supported financially by:6
- The Spanish Agency for International Development Cooperation (AECID) (Spain),
- Bertha Foundation (USA),
- Broederlijk Delen (Netherlands),
- Catholic Committee against Hunger and for Development CCFD – Terre Solidaire (France),
- Dan Church Aid (Denmark),
- Die Schwelle, Foundation for Middle East Peace (Germany),
- Medico International (Germany),
- German Catholic Bishops’ Organisation for Development Cooperation Misereor (Germany),
- The Moriah Fund (USA),
- New Israel Fund (Israel),
- Open Society Foundation (USA – George Soros),
- Pro Victimis, (Geneva),
- Rockefeller Brothers Fund (USA),
- Sigrid Rausing Trust (Sweden),
- Support Committee for Israeli Peace and Human Rights Organizations SIVMO (Netherlands),
- Swiss Federal Department of Foreign Affairs,
- Delegation of the European Union to Israel,
- Trocaire (Ireland),
- Oxfam (UK),
- Danish Representative Office in Ramallah (Denmark),
- NGO Development Center (PLO and Sweden)
- ZIVIK IFA Institut fur Auslandbezeihungen, Germany
Misleading Political and Legal Assumptions
The false and flawed premise that serves as the basis for the study by Breaking the Silence that Israel’s settlement policy is illegal and, therefore, the infrastructure and roads are illegal adopts the Palestinian/EU narrative.
In turn, this narrative is based on false assumptions emanating from the premise that “occupation,” in and of itself, is illegal and that the territory belongs to the Palestinians.
Status of the Territories
The first assumption in the Breaking the Silence study regarding “Palestinian territory” is legally and politically flawed and deliberately misleading.
Israel’s entry into the territories in 1967 after being attacked by its neighbors, and its subsequent control and administration of the territories, were in accordance with the relevant requirements of international law as set out in the UN Charter, the internationally-acknowledged 1907 Hague Regulations concerning the Laws and Customs of War on Land,7 and the 1949 Fourth Geneva Convention relative to the Protection of Civilian Persons in Time of War.8
Occupation of territory during the course of an armed conflict is not illegal. To the contrary, it is an accepted and recognized legal state-of-affairs in international law and practice. Pending a negotiated resolution of the conflict, Israel committed itself to abide by the international humanitarian and legal norms for the administration of such territories, and such administration has been under strict judicial supervision by Israel’s Supreme Court.
All the relevant UN resolutions accepted by the parties that serve as the basis for the Middle East peace process, such as Security Council resolutions 242 (1967)9 and 338 (1973),10 call for negotiation and agreement between the relevant parties as the sole means of settling the territorial dispute, including such issues as recognized boundaries, refugees, territorial inviolability, and political independence.
Apart from numerous politically-generated, non-binding UN resolutions and statements by regional organizations, there exists no binding, recognized agreement, contract, or any other binding international determination or resolution that determines that the territories are Palestinian.
Similarly, according to the Oslo Accords between Israel and the PLO, and specifically the 1995 Israel-Palestinian Interim Agreement on the West Bank and the Gaza Strip, the permanent legal and political status of the territories has yet to be negotiated and agreed between the PLO and Israel, both of whom agreed in the Oslo Accords to negotiate the permanent status, without any unilateral action aimed at altering such status prior to the outcome of the negotiations.11
Furthermore, and pending a permanent status agreement, the parties agreed in the Oslo Accords to divide between them the control and jurisdiction over the territories, such that the Palestinian Authority (established for that purpose), attained control and jurisdiction over the populated towns and villages in Areas A and B, whereas Israel retained control of Area C where Israel’s military and civilian infrastructures are located.
Thus, any determination that the territories are “Palestinian territories” is legally flawed and an attempt to undermine and prejudge the outcome of negotiation between the parties that has yet to be completed.
Status of Settlements
Israel’s settlement policy has consistently been based on the applicable rules of international law, which enable legitimate utilization by the authority administering the territory of non-privately-owned land and property, pending the permanent settlement of the dispute. Thus, the use of non-privately-owned public land for settlement or for agriculture is fully consistent with accepted international norms, as long as the status of the land is not changed pending its final negotiated outcome.
As such, Israel’s settlements cannot be seen to be a violation of international law. Any such determination is based on a selective, politically biased viewpoint taken outside the accepted international practice.
Furthermore, Israel and the PLO acknowledged in the 1993-9 Oslo Accords that the issue of settlements is an agreed-negotiating issue between them as part of the permanent status negotiations. The Accords enable both sides, pending the completion of the permanent status negotiations, to conduct planning, zoning, and construction activities in the areas under their respective jurisdiction (Palestinian Authority in Areas A and B, and Israel in Area C).12
Thus, any attempt to claim that Israel does not have the authority and jurisdiction to construct transportation infrastructure in the area under its control displays a willful disregard or utter ignorance of the relevant instruments of international law as well as of the provisions of the Oslo Accords. It is even at variance with the Palestinian agreement to the fact that Israel has the right and responsibility to administer Area C.
According to its website, the basic aim of the Breaking the Silence organization, initially directed toward the Israeli public, was to “expose alleged abuses by Israeli soldiers and boost public awareness” and thereby “bring an end to the occupation.”
This initial aim appears to have evolved and deepened into an extensive international outreach campaign aimed at the international public and financed by some of the most extreme elements in the international community that are intent on undermining the legitimacy of Israel’s status and policies regarding its administration of the territories under its control.
The adoption of extreme political and ideological bias against Israel and the use of false and misleading accusations devoid of legal or historic substantiation prejudices any possible credibility, bona fides, or sincerity that the organization and its founders might have entertained upon its initial establishment in 2004.
It is incumbent upon those organizations and states that support and finance Breaking the Silence to review their backing in light of the damage that the organization causes to their own credibility.
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3 For a list of such states and organizations see the Breaking the Silence website.
11 https://mfa.gov.il/mfa/foreignpolicy/peace/guide/pages/the%20israeli-palestinian%20interim%20agreement.aspx See article XXXI(8) according to which “Neither side shall initiate or take any step that will change the status of the West Bank and the Gaza Strip pending the outcome of the permanent status negotiations.”
12 Id. Israel-PLO Interim Agreement, Annex III https://mfa.gov.il/MFA/ForeignPolicy/Peace/Guide/Pages/THE%20ISRAELI-PALESTINIAN%20INTERIM%20AGREEMENT%20-%20Annex%20III.aspx#app-27