Last May, it was Justice Minister Yosef Lapid who stunned the political establishment by comparing images of a Palestinian picking through the remains of her demolished home with his personal experience of the Holocaust.

On Tuesday, it was the turn of the attorney-general, Menachem Mazuz, who had the audacity to point out that the West Bank and the Gaza Strip are occupied.

In a report compiled by his Justice Ministry team, Mazuz proposed that the government should apply the Fourth Geneva Convention, which governs the treatment of civilians in occupied land.
  
Settlers or squatters

Applying the convention would mean that Israel is not permitted to settle its citizens on land seized from Palestinians after 1967. It could even give Jewish colonists the international status of war criminals, according to an Israeli legal expert.

Speaking on Israeli Public Radio on Tuesday, Moshe Negbi said: "The real reason that Israel has so far drawn back from this text is that it never wants to acknowledge that the territories are occupied and that the settlements are forbidden." 
   
Mazuz of course is not the first Israeli official to talk about occupation publicly - though he may be the first to do so with a full understanding of the legal consequences.

Slip of the tongue

Israeli Prime Minister Ariel Sharon caused a political storm in May 2003 when he used the phrase occupation in an address to deputies from his Likud party.

"You may not like the word, but what's happening is occupation," he insisted. 
  

Sharon shocked Likud colleagues
last year by using the 'O' word

However, the attorney-general at the time, Elyakim Rubinstein, later phoned Sharon and told the former general and defence minister – who presumably knows what an occupation looks like - that he had got his facts wrong.

Since then, Sharon has referred to land taken after 1967 as the "disputed territories" – as has his government.

On Tuesday, it was Allan Baker, Israeli ambassador-designate to Canada, who rushed to criticise Attorney-General Mazuz for his recommendations. "This is why there is a Foreign Ministry," he told The Jerusalem Post.

"It doesn't need this type of team of academics to tell it what to do."

The bigger picture

Nevertheless, Tel Aviv is unlikely to adopt Geneva Conventions and admit its occupation publicly. Nor would its strongest ally, the United States, propose such a move.

Former US Secretary of State Madeleine Albright summed up her government's position best with a confusing: "We simply do not support the description of the territories occupied by Israel in the 1967 War as occupied 'Palestinian' territory."

There are numerous reasons. As one former United Nations rapporteur explains, an occupier would have to recognise that those under its control do retain title to their land and resources by virtue of the fundamental right to self-determination. 

 "The real reason that Israel has so far drawn back from this text is that it never wants to acknowledge that the territories are occupied and that the settlements are forbidden"

Moshe Negbi, legal affairs expert of Israeli Public Radio

Law professor Kalliopi Koufa adds that occupied people have the right to resist the occupation itself. And attempts to suppress Palestinian resistance would be incompatible with the UN Charter and the Universal Declaration of Human Rights.

In her report Terrorism and Human Rights, she cited with approval the 1999 Convention of the Organisation of the Islamic Conference on Combating International Terrorism:

"People's struggles including armed struggle against foreign occupation, aggression, colonialism, and hegemony, aimed at liberation and self-determination in accordance with the principles of international law shall not be considered a terrorist crime."

Morality of resistance

For the last three years, a professor of philosophy at University College London has being making this very point - saying that Palestinians have every right to what Israel condemns as "terrorism".

Ted Honderich told Aljazeera.net on Tuesday that the "ongoing rapacity of ethnic cleansing, the violation of the remaining homeland of the remaining Palestinians … issues in a moral right on the part of the Palestinians to their 'terrorism'".

He condemns human-rights groups, such as Amnesty International, that equate the violence perpetrated against Israelis and Palestinians.

"I think this stuff from Amnesty as it stands is typical unreflective moralising, avoiding the issue. Everyone should choke on such attempts at 'balance'".

"There is no place at all for balance in actually dealing with the rapist engaged in the rape of the woman with a knife at her throat. The rapist has no rights that bear significantly on the question of whether he should stop or be stopped. The analogy with Israel is not a wild one, but exact."

Settler response

With one of the strongest armies in the world to protect them, and with millions and millions of dollars invested in the West Bank and Gaza, few settlers believe that Palestinian resistance fighters or Israeli troops will ever push them out of their illegal settlements in the occupied territories.

Gush Katif training camp in Gaza
hosts up to 250 Israelis a week

But just in case Israel takes the attorney-general's advice and recognises the occupation, Baruch Ben Yosef and hundreds of other Israelis are preparing to fight.

"Resistance will be according to the force used against us," he explained while inviting the media to see his Gush Katif training camp on 11 August. "If it's verbal, we will respond verbally. If it's sticks, we will use sticks. Nobody is going to pick up a gun if we're not shot at, but if we are, we will shoot back."

Yosef has already set up a training camp to prepare Israelis for the defence of settlements – not from Palestinians but from Israeli troops.

"This is a preparation camp for youths to learn how to combat and resist Sharon's plan to expel the Jewish residents of the Gaza Strip," he said.

"They are learning how to get through army and police lines in order to resist the expulsion, if and when it happens."