Ran HaCohen


Ran HaCohen, teacher, writer

"All settlements are illegal, because the Geneva Convention forbids moving civilians into an occupied territory."

Ran HaCohen, who teaches at Tel-Aviv University, maintains an active web site, Letter from Israel, where he makes a very compelling case against the Occupation. He was referred by Don Bustany, who calls him "an Israeli critic of Israeli policies."

Ran HaCohen
Pt. 1

5:56 minutes
Real Video (3.0 MB)

Ran HaCohen
Pt. 2

4:03 minutes
Real Video (2.0 MB)

Ran HaCohen
Pt. 3

14:09 minutes
Real Video (7.1 MB)

Ran HaCohen
Pt. 4

2:25 minutes
Real Video (1.2 MB)

Ran HaCohen
Pt. 5

2:40 minutes
Real Video (1.4 MB)

Ran HaCohen
Pt. 6

3:20 minutes
Real Video (1.7 MB)

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We interviewed Ran at our hotel the night before we left Tel Aviv for the Western Galilee.

Summary of video clips:

Part 1: What I hear often is, "We offered and Arafat refused." What's your response to that? This is what I call the Barak legacy. Two impressive tricks. He started discussions with Syria. Strangely enough, it all ended when he offered Assad the father "the most generous offer ever, almost total withdrawal from the Golan Heights, and all of a sudden, in an incomprehensible way, Assad said no and everything collapsed. Then, a while later, he turned to the Palestinian track. He met Arafat several times, he went to Camp David, and all of a sudden the same story comes again. He made the "most generous offer ever," and Arafat refused.

The sheer similarity is suspicious. How come both Arabs in the very same way at the very last moment rejected "the most generous offer ever"? How come? Because I think they didn't. I think there was no offer. I think they were trapped (let's talk about the Palestinian case); the offer was not an offer. It wasn't serious. It was clear to Barak that it would make the Oslo process explode. He prepared the army for that for years... Due to the American control of world media, it was the Israeli-American voice that was heard world-wide, that is, Barak made the most generous offer, and it was rejected. And the Palestinian side was silenced. And the picture is totally biased...

In Barak's time, about 40 new settlements went up. Some of them legally, some of them illegally. Some of them illegally in Netanyahu's time were legalized by Barak.

How do you distinguish a legal from an illegal settlement? In my eyes, and in the eyes of international law, all settlements are illegal, because the Geneva Convention forbids moving civilians into an occupied territory. An occupied territory should be held until some settlement is found, and the occupying country is not allowed to use its natural resources, it's not allowed to develop it unless for the benefit of those living there, and is not allowed to move its own population into the occupied territory. So, actually, all settlements are illegal according to international law. Israel has developed several mechanisms legalizing, according to Israeli law, the settlements. For example, you say its for security reasons.... An occupying force is allowed to create military bases in an occupied land. So you say these settlements are necessary for security, and they are confirmed by Israeli law, which is actually Israeli military law, because the entire occupied territories are under Israeli military regime...

If you're an Israeli settler in Hebron, do you vote in Israeli elections? Yes. They take with them all the rights of an Israeli citizen, but they do it legally by way of this arrangement with the army. It's a tricky question, who is to take care of (for example) settlers who are making a pogrom in Hebron. Is it the army? The police? Are they under Israeli law, are they under military rule, it's not always clear.

Part 2: You say the Israeli settlers are making a pogrom against the Arabs? Yes. Against the Arabs in Hebron. They do it all the time. They burn houses, they destroy markets, they harass people, they beat people, they shoot at people. The settlers? Not the army? The settlers. The army does it as well, but I wouldn't call that a pogrom... Among their illegal actions, and it's not all the settlers. It's a small elite among the settlers. There are about 200,000 settlers. Some 6,000 in Gaza and the rest in the West Bank. Not counting East Jerusalem. About 200,000 more in East Jerusalem, which is also an occupied territory. The elite, the leadership of all the settlements. Do they tend to be right wing religious fanatics? Exactly. While many other settlers are just there because they can get a house an yard for half the price? Yes, exactly. For economic reasons. Israel has been avoiding building cheap new housing in Jerusalem for years, for decades, as a measure to push people into the occupied territories...

Among the illegal things the settlers do is grabbing the hills and taking land illegally, that is, without the Israeli permits. And these are those outposts, illegal settlements... Many settlements started illegally, imposed on the Israeli government, and were later legalized.

Describing settlers, the army and the Israeli state as three different entities with conflicting interests is not true. Sometimes they play as if they had conflicting interests, but basically they all play together.

Part 3: Do you think that I'm wrong to characterize the occupation as a severe and oppressive state of affairs? I can't see how anyone can deny that. When I've tried to bring this up, I've been told that it's just for security, and that they are there to route out terrorists. We (Israel) have the right to protect ourselves. It's false consciousness, this ideology of security. First of all, it failed. I don't feel secure in Tel Aviv... Even if they doubled the number of security persons at the entrance of every cafe or supermarket here, I don't think anyone would feel more secure... The main threat to the security of Israelis in the past few years are the suicide bombers. So how long have there been suicide bombers? Since 1994 or 1995. Shortly after the massacre in Hebron, where a Jewish settler entered the mosque about 40 Moslem worshipers. So we've had them for seven years. And how do the suicide bombers enter Israel? On foot. They walk in. Now if the argument for being in the territories were security, seven years should have been enough time to build a fence. When they withdrew from Lebanon it took about six weeks to build a fence. So how come they didn't make fence? If the first priority is our security, build a fence and keep these people out...

If security is not the basis for the occupation, than what is? It's the occupation itself. Territorial annexation, land and water. I think they consider the natural borders of Israel to be the Jordan River. Holding the land, holding the water, and getting rid of the population. That's it.

Look, I'm not a nationalist. I wouldn't have much to say if Israel had decided, in 1967 or whenever, okay, we'll take that land, and make the people citizens. I think that will be the next target of the peace movement, to make one state with two nationalities. Things are getting irreversible...

The whole project of the settlements... the idea was very clear: Preventing Palestinian contiguity. If you see two Palestinian towns, you can be sure that there is a settlement between them. And now it's getting so sophisticated that every Palestinian town is surrounded, either by the Green Line or by Israeli settlements. Up to a couple of years ago, freedom of movement was guaranteed to the Palestinians, to a limited extent. Now, not even that. They are really fenced in. There are villages in the West Bank that are simply fenced in and closed, and there's a soldier with a key, and if he is not there and you want to get in or leave, you wait...

It's getting ever more difficult. My source for this is Amira Haas of Ha'aretz, an Israeli journalist living in Ramallah. What she describes, especially since last April, is a situation where agricultural products cannot move freely within the West Bank. This means that in one village you've got masses of tomatoes for practically nothing, because they grow them there, and in the next village, maybe two or five or ten miles away, there's not one tomato, or the prices are as high as you can imagine, because trucks can not go. So they're splitting up the territories into small economical units, that are of course not viable... So they're building little Bantustans all over the West Bank...

And you don't think that in the long run this will help to eliminate suicide bombers? No. I think that in the long run it's going to eliminate the Palestinian people. I think that's what they are hoping for. In a way, they are right. Many Palestinians have left. Those who could, emigrated. The richer emigrated, to Sweden, Canada, the States, Jordan, and those that stay are demoralized. I think their aim is first to break any national identity...and in the long run to get rid of them altogether.

(Discussion of villages and refuge camps in the West Bank and Gaza.) Some of them have been living there for generations, some of them are refugees from '48 or '67, some of them may have come in the 19th century, but it's their home! You can't tell a Jew coming from the Ukraine or Russia "it's your home," and at the same time tell a Palestinian in the West Bank "it's not your place."

Many of the settlers will live there but commute to Tel Aviv or Jerusalem for work. Has travel for them been made easier at the same time it has been hampered for Palestinians. Yes, it's sort of an apartheid system. Two different systems, one for Jews, one for Palestinians, and for Jews, they have public transport, as few checkpoints as possible, they can commute freely. For Palestinians, the other way around. Israel has never invested one cent in building roads for the Palestinians. All the new roads in the occupied territories, hundreds of kilometers in the last few decades, have all been built for the Israeli settlers, bypassing Palestinian villages and towns. Which is against international law, which says that you can invest in occupied territory for the interest of the inhabitants, but not for your own interests.

Part 4: (Michael asks if Israelis understand the significance of the occupation.) I think it's a key question, and the answer is no. I think most Israelis, not only that they don't understand the significance and meaning of all that, most of them don't know what I just told you. They don't know of the fencing in of Palestinians, they don't know of the freedom of movement being stopped. They may have heard occasionally about harassing olive harvesting and so on, but they cannot imagine to what extent Israel has split up - broke to pieces - the whole West Bank and the Gaza Strip... Even those who are really opposed to occupation. They may have heard of several instances, but most don't know that Israel has been taking 80 per cent of the water from the West Bank...

Are the Palestinians left with severe water shortages? Yes. I don't know how it is now, but a couple of years ago, running water in Hebron was about a couple of hours a day, whereas the Jewish settlers in Keriat Arbah have swimming pools in their gardens. And you see the trees on the settlers' side green and flourishing, and those on the Palestinian side dying...

Part 5: Historically, Israel has a right to feel under attack from its neighbors, going back to the early days. Yes, but look, it's a question of how you handle that. There are many accidents on Israeli roads, but no one has yet come up with the idea of stopping people from riding cars. There's a limit to what you can do in reaction to a danger. There are things which you can do that are simply illegitimate. For example, putting tens of thousands of Palestinian inhabitants of Hebron under curfew - under house arrest, actually - for four days last week, and closing schools, etc., just because settlers wanted to celebrate on that weekend. You can say it's security. Okay, it's possible that one of these Palestinians would have liked to shoot at a settler, but is it legitimate to put tens of thousands of people under house arrest because 500 settlers want to celebrate. Is it really security? It's unreasonable. And I think most of the things that are done in the name of security in Israel are unreasonable to an extent that makes you at least suspect whether security is the real issue. If security is so important, why do you take 500 settlers and put them in the middle of Hebron? Is this for security? For whose security do you put people among 120,000 Palestinians in Hebron? Why do you take 6,000 settlers and put them in one of the most populated places on earth among one million Palestinians in Gaza? Is that an active government policy? Absolutely.

Part 6: Do you have a plan? If you were in control, what would you do for the next few years to make the situation better? As a first step, I think I would offer a house and financial support to every settler who wishes to come back... You need a lot of money for that. It could push the economy forward, and then, no force. Just tempt the people. Just as you tempted them to the territories, tempt them to come back. Most of them want to come back. Up to 80 per cent of the settlers would like to come back, because it's dangerous there. Nobody wants to live in a battlefield. And then when 30 or 40 or 50 per cent start leaving, you'll see the rest coming with them. And those who stay, there will be a way to cope with. This is where I would start.

It would also make a conceptual change, a change in consciousness. Of saying "Okay, we don't belong here." The settlers are not our enemies. I don't like the attitude of many leftists who say the settlers are our enemies. They are not. They went there because Israeli legislation made them or allowed them to go there. Okay, it's finished. We don't want this anymore. Come back home. We'll give you money, so you won't have to suffer. Build a new settlement inside the Green Line for settlers who want to come back. And then you split them, politically, into those who wish to leave, and those who don't. There are many settlers who wish to leave, but how can they? They have their homes there. They have to risk their own children, going to school in a battle zone. Because there is no financial means to come back. Some of them went back to their parents, within the Green Line. Everybody who had hired a flat in the Occupied Territories left. But those who bought houses there, you can't just leave your house and buy another one. I would start with that.

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Copyright 2003-2009 Peter Rashkin. Material under other bylines is copyright by the authors. All rights reserved.