The history of occupation is not just that of
Palestinian suffering and Israeli aggression; it is also the history of its
ideology, the history of the fictions the Israeli society fabricates in order
to justify its major colonial project which has just entered its 40th year.
These fictions do have a history: one can trace their career from birth to maturity,
their shifts from the margin to the center and vice versa, their rise and fall
among definite segments of the Israeli society or media, sometimes their (reversible)
A few years ago, I dedicated two
columns to the ideology
of occupation, following a nice synopsis of it given by an Israeli settler.
Most of those arguments are still on the market today. You can still hear Israelis
explain away the occupation by resorting to the Palestinian rejection of the
partition plan, 60 years ago. Also the notion that "they want to throw
us all into the sea" can boast a continuous career from the Passover
Hagadah ("in every generation they rise against us to destroy us")
up to the current political use of the Hamas Charter. But some things have changed.
If you nowadays ask an Israeli about the occupation, what answers will you get?
The orthodox and hard-line right wingers (Likud and rightward) would probably
come up with more traditional arguments ("it's all our land," etc.);
but if you come across a mainstreamer – one of those who consider themselves
"moderate right-wingers," "centrists," or "leftists"
(the terms are near-synonyms in present Israeli discourse), voters of Kadima,
Labor, or Meretz – I think this is what you are going to hear.
"The Occupation Has Ended"
Almost all the Israelis really believe the occupation
of Gaza is over. The Palestinians there are now free to run their lives as they
like, and Israel has nothing to do with it. They envisage a similar scenario
being realized, or perhaps realized already, for the West Bank behind the Wall.
This fiction has become popular since the Israeli withdrawal from the Gaza
Strip last summer; but its roots go back to the Oslo years, when especially
the Zionist Left (Yossi Sarid, et al.) cultivated the myth that a Palestinian
state in fact already existed, or was about to emerge within a fortnight (not
later than 1998, as the Oslo Accords indeed stated; remember also Bush's broken
In fact, this fiction represents a deep Israeli desire to deny: since the liberal
Israeli knows the occupation cannot go together with democracy and justice,
the occupation should disappear – but in a virtual way, by being denied. On
a deeper level, many Israeli liberals believe Arabs cannot go together with
culture and modernity, so denying their existence, both virtually and actually,
by locking the undesired neighbors behind a big Wall and forgetting all about
them, sounds like a pretty good solution.
"We're Here, They're There," Said the Jailer
"We're here, they're there" was Ehud
Barak's sophisticated "peace slogan." The actual power relations between
"here" and "there" have to be denied; in fact, the only
thing that reminds the Israelis of these power relations is the Palestinian
violent resistance. Were it not for "terrorism" (a term used indiscriminately
for both legitimate and illegitimate Palestinian violence), the Israelis would
have happily forgotten all about their locked-up neighbors by now. Accordingly,
the persistent homemade Qassam missiles that terrorize the Israeli town of Sderot
are conceptualized by Israelis as typical Arab ingratitude, as shameless ungratefulness
for the great gift that Israel has presented the Palestinians by withdrawing
from Gaza, allegedly restoring their freedom, honor, and well-being.
The reality is different. Having pulled its settlers out of Gaza, Israel is
now imposing a total siege on the tiny Strip: the 1.5 million Palestinians locked
up there have no access to the sea (Israel never let the Gaza
seaport be built), no access to the air (Israel destroyed the Gaza
airport), and all the crossings
are under Israeli control (i.e., practically closed most of the time). Since
the Hamas victory in the elections, Israel and the international community have
also been imposing an economic
siege on the Strip, severing the financial ties with the Palestinian authority;
to pay their Authority's employees, the Palestinians have to smuggle cash through
the crossings. Israel's "security system" – the Occupation incarnated
– is the one who decides whether Gazans will have flour, medicines, and any
other goods, how much, and when.
While this economic and physical siege is being imposed by air, sea, and land,
and while Gaza is daily bombarded by missiles, artillery, and naval fire, "center-left"
Israelis can say things like "Israel has left Gaza. The Palestinians could
use this fact to finally rebuild Gaza, to build houses for refugees, to encourage
investments, and to create jobs. Gazans could finally live like humans"
(quoted from a letter to the excellent Hebrew Web site Ha'okets).
The situation in the West Bank is not so very different. The Palestinians there
are locked in smaller cages than in Gaza, but the siege is less hermetic. While
the Palestinians are locked behind huge walls, with a satanic system of roadblocks
and permits, and sliced by roads-for-Jews-only and by settlements, harassed
day and night by army incursions into their villages, houses, and bedrooms,
many Israelis believe the occupation is now retreating, and its end is just
a matter of time, or rather of semantics.
Alas, colonialism does not disappear by being denied; in fact, the Israeli
occupation is at its peak, worse than ever before. There is no better evidence
for that than the discussion about whether
or not there is a humanitarian
crisis in Palestine, once a rich Land of Milk and Honey.
reported Tuesday that the Knesset would debate a new bill, harshly criticized
by leading jurists, that would make it possible to extend a suspect's remand
without him being present in court, and to prevent him from seeing a lawyer
for 30 consecutive days. The bill was submitted by the Justice Ministry and
is supported by the Shin Bet security service.
If you wonder why such a bill is suddenly needed, or who these "suspects" might
be, you'll first have to learn Hebrew; Ha'aretz's
version in this language explains: "Till the ending of the military regime in
the Gaza Strip, the investigation authorities had wider powers than those granted
by the Detention Law. Now that the military regime in Gaza has ended, a special
law is needed to give the security services wider enforcement powers." A few
days after this debate, as if to make a point, the Israeli army entered the
Gaza Strip and, for the first time since the withdrawal, abducted
"arrested" two Palestinians.The occupation is over,
long live the occupation.