Israel’s Annexation Plan: 6 Infographics for a Rights-Based Perspective

Will Israel follow through with its pledge to officially annex up to one third of the occupied West Bank in a few days? We don’t know. What we do know is that many “takes” leading up to this moment have left Palestinians out of the discussion altogether.

The erasure of Palestinian lives and rights⁠ — within discussion of an issue that most directly impacts them⁠ —usually takes the form of elaborations on how annexation would be bad for everyone else. Bad for Israeli state-building. Bad for the U.S.-Israel relationship. Bad for regional stability.

The New York Times gave space in its opinion pages to an openly racist screed that describes Palestinian citizens of Israel, who make up 20% of its population, as the state’s “ultimate enemy.” The piece is too abhorrent to link to directly, but an article in Mondoweiss does the unpleasantly necessary job of decrying it.

An article in Foreign Policy claims that “the two most obvious implications of the annexation…are the end of the peace process, and the end of Israel as a Jewish-majority state” before going on to analyze its potential destabilizing effects on Jordan. Palestinians are included only peripherally, not as human beings with rights, but as a “refugee problem” for neighboring states.

A Washington Post opinion writer opens with the claim that “this is a tough time” to be an ardent Zionist, striking a tone of self-pity that has become familiar among those grasping to hold on to systems of ethnic privilege. He describes this system as “a relatively secure and surprisingly durable status quo” for Israelis, and does not mention Palestinians.

The majority of Senate Democrats, including Senators Sanders and Warren, signed onto a letter warning Israeli leaders that the annexation would “have a clear impact on both Israel’s future and our vital bilateral and bipartisan relationship.” Neither the words “human rights” nor “international law” appear in the letter.

Attempts to take a more humanizing approach often still miss providing essential context. One NPR piece points out how protests by the Palestinian Authority are leaving some critically ill Palestinian patients in limbo, because “Palestinian bureaucrats refuse to arrange their travel permits to Israel or guarantee they’ll pay for the treatment.” The author seems to hold the PA responsible for, in their words, “disrupting the status quo.”

The author does not mention that Israeli authorities regularly denied vital medical care to Palestinians long before talk of annexation or PA non-cooperation. Forty-six Palestinian cancer patients in Gaza died in 2017 waiting for an Israeli exit permit. The author doesn’t ask readers to consider how obtaining life-saving treatment came to depend on an Israeli permit in the first place, or how it became the norm for the Palestinian Authority to cooperate with its own occupier.

Media coverage about Israel and Palestine has long been fraught with issues. A 2019 study of over 100,000 headlines from five major outlets found that “headlines centering Israel were published four times more than those centering Palestinians, and words connoting violence, such as ‘terror’ appeared three times more than the word ‘occupation.’”

Those new to this topic may not have the tools to question, or even notice, when a piece about a recent development is ahistorical or lacks a commitment to equality and justice. Zionist objections to annexation in particular may be convincing to the uninitiated, as they seem to subvert expectations. Aren’t these the people we expect to be cheering for Israel no matter what it does? Isn’t it courageous for them to speak out against the state they love? Only when we understand what they are defending and perpetuating — an apartheid status quo and daily state-sanctioned violence against Palestinians— can we reject these arguments in favor of a rights-based approach.

We created Visualizing Palestine with the knowledge that a rights-based perspective is not consistently presented by many news outlets. The VP team wanted to show, not tell, a narrative with human rights, dignity, and equality at its center.

Visualizing annexation is difficult precisely because it is not a singular “will-they-or-won’t-they” event, as some coverage makes it out to be. How do you capture a potential future moment of violation emerging from decades of actual, unrelenting violations? How do you show that this “new” development — de jure annexation — is not new at all, nor is it unexpected? That Palestinian parents and politicians and businesspeople and artists and intellectuals and teachers and teenagers and kids and babies will wake up on the morning of official annexation in the same apartheid reality they were born into?

VP has been telling this story since we started. Every visual we’ve created is a puzzle piece filling out the larger picture of one community’s struggle for freedom, justice, and equality. In the face of possible formal annexation, we selected six visuals from our collection that we feel are especially relevant right now, with a set of questions and answers you can share to guide others through the pitfalls of “both-sides-ism” journalism toward an analysis grounded in rights and justice.

Why do human rights advocates say Israel has already annexed the land in its annexation plan?

Since 1967, Israel has been advancing a policy of de facto “creeping” annexation in the West Bank, colonizing the area with 220 illegal settlements and containing Palestinians in ever-shrinking bantustans. What’s new is that Israel is declaring many of these illegal settlements to be part of its permanent, sovereign territory.

What is de facto “creeping” annexation? This brilliant interactive map by B’tselem and Forensic Architecture is perhaps the best illustration of it.

De facto “creeping” annexation is the sum total of the gradual, daily, ongoing violations that, since 1967, have deepened Israel’s hold on Palestinian territory and forced Palestinians into isolated, ghettoized urban enclaves.

It’s Israel’s illegal annexation of East Jerusalem in 1967 (7,000 hectares). It’s the immediate designation of a quarter of the West Bank as closed military zones after 1967 (150,000 hectares). It’s the constant transfer of hundreds of thousands of Israeli civilians into occupied territory, a war crime embraced by every Israeli government. It’s the billions of public and private dollars invested into building discriminatory infrastructure to connect the settlements to Israel. It’s the creation of nature reserves in the West Bank to prevent Palestinian development or agricultural use (34,000 hectares), under the guise of environmentalism. It’s the design of the “state land” legal provision to transfer Palestinian land to Israeli settlements (120,000 hectares). It’s Israeli settlers taking over Palestinian farmland (10,000 hectares) and attacking Palestinian property with impunity. It’s the establishment of a draconian, Israeli-controlled permit regime to prevent Palestinians from developing their own communities or tapping into their own natural resources. It’s restrictions on freedom of movement fraying the fabric of Palestinian society. It’s the bulldozing of farmland and uprooting of olive trees to make way for Israel’s 712 km wall.

Will Israel’s formal annexation lead to apartheid in the West Bank?

Israeli apartheid already exists as a result of decades of de facto annexation, military occupation, and systemic discrimination. Israel’s annexation plan is an outcome of its apartheid system, not the root cause of it.

Some people mistakenly believe that apartheid only exists in the West Bank, where Israeli settlers and Palestinians live side by side under two completely different Israeli legal systems. While Israel’s West Bank settlements do create a particularly obvious example of “one government, two systems, based on ethnic difference,” apartheid describes not just the situation in the West Bank, but the overall system Israel has devised that provides full rights only to Jewish Israelis and creates a ladder of deprivation for everyone else.

A recent Human Rights Watch report, for example, details how Israel pursues discriminatory land policies and spatial segregation toward its Palestinian citizens inside Israel, too.

Doesn’t Israel’s annexation go against U.S. policy?

Human rights attorney Noura Erakat says, “Israel’s annexation of Palestinian land will be the result of U.S. policy, not a betrayal of it.” Every U.S. administration since 1967 has tacitly supported Israel’s de facto annexation through unchecked military aid and by shielding it from accountability at every opportunity.

Why are some commentators saying that annexation will hurt Israel?

These commentators want to maintain the current apartheid system and are trying to shield the Israeli government from legitimate criticism for its human rights violations. Annexation, whether de jure or de facto, hurts and kills Palestinians. Justice requires centering the community whose rights are being violated.

Will formal annexation threaten regional security and stability?

Security and stability for whom? Under Israeli apartheid, millions of Palestinians have no security, no stability, and few or no rights. A system built on injustice is inherently unstable. People will rise up to dismantle unjust systems until their rights are realized. They have the right to protest and the right to resist settler-colonial domination.

If Israel decides not to formally annex the West Bank, will it be a victory for Palestinian human rights?

It is not a victory. Even if official annexation does not take place, Israel’s de facto annexation, the apartheid system that brought it about, and the state-sanctioned violence Palestinians endure will remain.

Justice (and international law) requires ending the occupation, lifting the blockade on Gaza, equal rights for Palestinian citizens, and recognizing the right of return for Palestinian refugees.

Visualizing Palestine is a non-profit that creates data-led, visual stories for social justice. We advance a factual, rights-based narrative of Palestine/Israel

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