My recent visit to Israel and Palestine was complicated by the acts of our American President, which undermined international law in President Trump's efforts to help his friend Israel's Bibi Netanyahu win his election this month.
Israel has occupied Palestine for more than 50 years, in contravention of the Oslo Accords, a set of agreements between the government of Israel and the Palestinian Liberation Organization, aimed at achieving peace in the region and fulfilling the "right of the Palestinian people to self-determination." The Accords were, among other things, supposed to determine the borders of Israel and Palestine in a promised "two-state solution," the status of Jerusalem, and the Palestinian right of return. This, however, has not come to fruition. President Trump's official recognition of the State of Israel, and the Golan Heights as part of Israel, is one factor affecting the complex situation. Both actions are dramatic changes in American foreign policy that damage the rights of Palestinians.
The Golan Heights was part of Syria, but Israel conquered it during the 1967 war and annexed it to Israel in a maneuver not recognized by the international community. Most countries see Israel as illegally occupying the region. Trump's action has effectively endorsed forcibly taking land from other countries, which may embolden other world leaders to make similar moves. The precedent is extremely dangerous and violates United Nations Security Council Resolutions.
I encountered both anger and despair from Palestinians I met in the West Bank over Trump's recent actions. I found that, in general, Israelis do not want to discuss politics with outsiders, while Palestinians appreciate conversation about their plight. The often-repeated sentiment was that international pressure will be required to stop Israel from continuing to appropriate land. It is the only country in the world today whose borders are continually expanding.
The high walls, machine gun-armed checkpoints and plentiful barbed wire underscore the lack of freedom Palestinians have in this embattled region. The irony of the oppressed becoming the oppressors is not lost on visitors to the divided country. Comparing the situation to Apartheid, instead of the Holocaust, is less polarizing.
Of course, many nations have blemishes in the history. Apartheid in South Africa and the Native Americans in the U.S. are some examples.
Global citizens must not ignore injustices present in geopolitics. Said one West Jerusalem Palestinian during my recent visit there, “Your vote in the United States has more effect on the fate of Palestinians than mine does.” I will be especially mindful of this painful reality in November.