As a layman I found the April 17 “debate by juxtaposition” between Alan Baker (“‘Occupied territories’ a flawed, biased term”) and Jessica Montell (“West Bank is under occupation, that’s a fact”) quite revealing. Mr. Baker objects to using “occupied territories” to refer to Israel’s relationship to the West Bank on the grounds that such usage is “flawed legally, historically, and factually.” Mr. Baker makes specific claims to support his initial claim. For example, he states, “International law relates to occupation of foreign territory from a ‘prior legitimate sovereign,’ and these areas never constituted the legitimate sovereign territory of Jordan or Egypt. Hence, the accepted international law definition of ‘occupation’ of territory cannot be attributed to Israel’s status in these areas.” He then cites several international documents in support of his position.
Ms. Montell argues differently. She claims that the term “occupied territories” is an “inherently legal term,” and then goes on to give the term her own idiosyncratic legal definition. She argues that the Israeli military is the legislative, judicial, and executive governing authority in the West Bank and that, therefore, the West Bank is occupied territory. But this implicit definition cites no rebuttal to Mr.
Baker’s frequently argued point that a necessary condition for territory to be occupied in the legal sense is that the territory must have been seized from a “prior legitimate sovereign.” Clearly, neither the Jordanians nor the Palestinians themselves can claim to have been the legitimate sovereign of the West Bank prior to the Six-Day War. Mr. Baker seems to be correct in saying that the legal status of the West Bank is sui generis.
The real point here has to do with the connotation of “occupied territory.” In the public’s mind the “occupier” is immediately identified as the bad guy, which is exactly how Ms. Montell seems to view the situation. If Ms. Montell’s purpose is to support Israel or even to support justice in general, using loaded terms against Israel is not the way to do it.
Robert F. Lazarowitz