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Shocked by Donald Trump’s ‘travel ban’? Israel has had a similar policy for decades

In US President Donald Trump’s first week in office, three policy issues dominated the headlines: his plans to build a wall on the Mexican border, the President’s support for torture, and his executive order targeting refugees, residents and visitors from seven Muslim majority countries.

All three have prompted widespread outrage, in particular, the ban on refugees and blanket immigration restrictions being applied on the basis of national origin and religion.

British Prime Minister Theresa May, however, only issued a reluctant and mealy mouthed criticism of Trump’s scorched-earth approach to his first few days in the White House. May is one of only a handful of world leaders seemingly eager to position themselves at Trump’s right hand side.

One other leader, however, has gone even further than the British PM in seeking to praise Trump, both before and since his inauguration – and that’s Israeli premier Benjamin Netanyahu. There are a few reasons for this, including the tacit approval a Trump administration is expected to give to the settlement expansion bonanza already underway.

But there’s another element at play here, which goes deeper than Netanyahu’s political agenda. For what many do not realise, is that the policies – and their undergirding ideology – that Trump is unleashing on the US have been pursued by the state of Israel for decades.

First, let’s take the wall. Israel began the construction of its Separation Wall in the occupied Palestinian territory (OPT) almost fifteen years ago. Justified in the name of “security”, some 85 percent of the wall’s route is built inside the OPT, to incorporate illegal West Bank settlements.

It was on that basis that, in 2004, judges at the International Court of Justice (ICJ) in The Hague deemed the wall illegal, and called for its immediate dismantling.

Israel’s Wall is not even the security miracle that its defenders claim. None other than Israel’s own security services attributed a sharp decrease in “terror attacks” in 2005 to the “truce” unilaterally adopted by Hamas. Tens of thousands of Palestinian workers without permits enter Israel every day, with some 200 miles of “gaps” in the Wall’s route remaining.

The real link to Trump’s ideas comes in the justification of Israel’s Wall on “demographic” grounds; in other words, keeping Palestinians out because they are Palestinians – and note that the idea of a wall aimed at “separation” actually pre-dates the Second Intifada.

An Israeli official admitted in 2010 that the Wall was “built for political and demographic reasons”, while the man who designed it revealed how “the main thing the government told me in giving me the job was to include as many Israelis inside the fence and leave as many Palestinians outside.”

Then there’s torture. Trump’s unabashed endorsement of torture has horrified politicians, human rights activists and former prisoners alike. In Israel, however, the torture of prisoners is routine – and rubber-stamped by not just the state, but also by Israel’s Supreme Court.

Just last week, Israeli interrogators confirmed in Haaretz some of the methods used on detainees – including physical and psychological abuse. The revelations came as no surprise to Palestinians, nor those Israelis who have documented practices such as sexual torture.

This grim reality is also well-known to international human rights groups – Amnesty’s most recent annual report described how “Israeli military and police forces, as well as Israel Security Agency (ISA) personnel, tortured and otherwise ill-treated Palestinian detainees, including children.”

“Methods included beating with batons, slapping, throttling, prolonged shackling, stress positions, sleep deprivation and threats”, Amnesty added, further noting how despite almost 1,000 complaints since 2001, the authorities have not opened a single criminal investigation.

And finally, what about immigration? As horrendous as Trump’s orders have been, thus far they pale in comparison in scale and duration to what Israel has been implementing for some seven decades.

Since 1948 Israel has enforced a “Palestinian Ban” (Muslims and Christians), designed to ensure that no refugees can return to the lands and homes from which they were expelled. In parallel, the state’s borders are open for any Jewish person, from anywhere in the world.

Not only that, but in more recent times, Israel has also passed legislation – backed again by the Supreme Court – that prevents Palestinians with Israeli citizenship from family reunification – purely “on the basis of the ethnicity or national belonging of their spouse.”

Former Prime Minister Ariel Sharon said of the law: “There is no need to hide behind security arguments. There is a need for the existence of a Jewish state.” Trump – and the likes of Steve Bannon – would approve. Just as they would, no doubt, of the fact that Israel approved just eight requests for asylum, out of 7,218 requests filed by Eritreans from 2009 to 2016.

Writing in +972 Magazine, Edo Konrad noted the double standards of those who condemn Trump, but who back institutionalised racism in Israel. Here in Britain too, Trump’s critics include those who justify, or ignore, Israel’s own toxic mix of walls, discriminatory immigration system and torture.

This dissonance is only likely to become more publicly uncomfortable for Israel’s friends in the West. For Netanyahu’s embrace of a Trump White House is not just political manoeuvrings – it is reflective of a disturbing reality with which the Palestinians are only too familiar.

Published first by The Independent.

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