‘Occupation’ is simply Israel’s occupation. It’s what we DO. It’s our middle name.
When you look back to 1947, the UN suggested a partition-plan which allocated over 55% of Mandate-Palestine to a mostly newcomer population that constituted 1/3 of the total and owned some 7% of the lands. The Zionist-Jewish Yishuv polity accepted it. The Palestinians didn’t – how unreasonable!
Anyhow, that territory was supposedly ‘enough’ for us, wasn’t it? I mean we said ‘yes’? That was the basis upon which the state was declared. But by then we already depopulated over 200 Palestinian villages and some 300,000 Palestinians, and we then continued, and by 1949 we had 78% of Palestine and much less Palestinians.
Just like ‘centrist-liberal’ MK Yair Lapid would have it:
“Maximum Jews on maximum land with maximum security and with minimum Palestinians”.
What a liberal.
So we occupied that ‘extra’ 23% and we put the Palestinians whom we just called ‘Arabs’ under military regime until 1966. And no-one really forced us to go back to the 55%, and somehow the 78% became ‘recognized borders’, although we wouldn’t delineate them. Strange.
David Ben-Gurion once explained the co-relation between our non-existent constitution and our non-delineated borders, to the late Naeim Giladi, who recalled:
“After the Israeli attack on the Jordanian village of Qibya in October, 1953, Ben Gurion went into voluntary exile at the Sedeh Boker kibbutz in the Negev. The Labor party then used to organize many buses for people to go visit him there, where they would see the former prime minister working with sheep. But that was only for show. Really he was writing his diary and continuing to be active behind the scenes. I went on such a tour. We were told not to try to speak to Ben Gurion, but when I saw him, I asked why, since Israel is a democracy with a parliament, does it not have a constitution? Ben Gurion said, “Look, boy”–I was 24 at the time–“if we have a constitution, we have to write in it the border of our country. And this is not our border, my dear.” I asked, “Then where is the border?” He said, “Wherever the Sahal will come, this is the border.” Sahal is the Israeli army.”
Come 1967, and we fabricated an ‘existential threat’. Our own leaders and generals admitted it outright later. Here’s a small collection:
Matityahu Peled, who was military Chief of Operations in 1967, said in 1972 that the ‘existential threat’ narrative was “a bluff born and developed only after the war.” He went on:
“All those stories that were put out about the great danger that we faced because of the smallness of our territory, an argument advanced only after the war was over, were never taken into consideration in our calculations before the hostilities.”
Yitzhak Rabin, who was Chief of Staff in 1967, said in 1968
“I do not believe that Nasser wanted war…. The two divisions he sent into Sinai on May 14 would not have been enough to unleash an offensive against Israel. He knew it and we knew it.”
Menachem Begin, who was a cabinet minister in 1967 said in 1982:
“In June 1967, we again had a choice. The Egyptian Army concentrations in the Sinai approaches do not prove that Nasser was really about to attack us. We must be honest with ourselves. We decided to attack him.”
We knew we’d win in a matter of about a week if we started it. Our intelligence was completely in sync with CIA assessments. As US Secretary of Defense Robert McNamara said in April 1967:
“Israel will be militarily unchallengeable by any combination of Arab states at least during the next five years.”
Our neighbors were aware of our expansionist intentions, and particularly interesting in this respect is Jordan. It had control of the West Bank, which was our main ‘unfinished job’ as far as historical Palestine is concerned. Jordan was not yet involved in amassing troops, at the time Egypt was, but as tensions mounted, Jordan’s King Hussein became concerned that Israel might take advantage of the situation to grab the West Bank. Hussein reasoned that
“Israel has certain long range military and economic requirements and certain traditional religious and historic aspirations” that “they have not yet satisfied or realized”,
Indeed, as Ezer Weizman, then Chief of Operations of the IDF General Staff, later recorded in his memoirs: the IDF Central Command was discussing the possibility that Israel might find an opportunity to take the West Bank.
So then we provoked a war where we’d triple the size of all that was controlled before. Thus we came to occupy the Egyptian Sinai peninsula, Gaza (under Egyptian control), the Syrian Golan and the West Bank. And that massive Sinai desert, we just had to have it. Defense Minister Dayan said that it would be better to have Sharm Al Sheikh without peace than peace without Sharm Al Sheikh. So we held onto it, and Golda Meir wouldn’t even listen to Sadat’s peace overtures in 1970. Foreign Minister Abba Eban said to the UN in 1969 that we simply would not return to the June 4th 1967 lines, because that reminded us of Auschwitz. I kid you not. So if the 78% was Auschwitz, why did we say the 55% was OK at first? Could it be that we didn’t really mean it then?
Anyway, our neighbors got it: they got that we only understand the language of force. And so came 1973 where Egypt and Syria led a surprise attack – but think of it – they weren’t fighting on Israeli soil really – we were occupying their soil.
Anyhow we were a bit less cocky after that, and we eventually handed Egypt their Sinai. We haven’t really been existentially threatened by not having it. Quite the opposite. Thus – peace, without Sharm el Sheikh.
And we occupied Lebanon for 18 years. We just had to get in there to foil the budding Palestinian ‘peace offensive’ in 1982, and you know how hard it is to get out once you’re in. But Hizbollah talked to us in the language we understood, so we eventually got out in 2000.
Occupation is what we do. We’ve been doing it since the start, and we’ve never delineated our borders, so we’re just poised to expand and occupy all the time.
When we say “the occupation” today, most people think about the West Bank, with its rather overt Apartheid practices. Some also think of Gaza, which Israeli apologists reflexively refer to as ‘not occupied’ because of the 2005 ‘disengagement’, but really, most of the world understands that it’s occupied, including the US State Department. To say ‘we’re not there’ about Gaza, when we surround it, control it from land, air and sea, all the way down to birth certificates (not to mention our seasonal massacres which we initiate at will), is just cynical.
Relatively few think about the Syrian Golan when you say ‘occupation’, possibly because there is relatively little interaction with a native population there – an obvious result of having ethnically cleansed some 124,000 of the 130,000 inhabitants in 1967, when we also destroyed some 200 villages there. That’s our model of ‘peaceful coexistence’ – make them disappear and it will all be well. The paradigm of ethnic cleansing likewise existed in the West Bank in a very substantial way, involving the ethnic cleansing of about a quarter of a million Palestinians there, and this paradigm continues today in slow motion.
The status of Palestinian citizens within Israel has likewise not been regulated into equal status, as one might expect from a democratic country when it finally offers citizenship. This community is subject to some 50 discriminatory laws, as well as – and this deserves special attention – ethnic cleansing, as we have seen recently in the case of Umm Al-Hiran.
We must therefore see Israel’s ‘occupation’ as an all-encompassing paradigm, reaching beyond isolated localities and beyond this or that war or conquering campaign. Occupation is simply what we DO, in a very broad sense.
The reason that this is the case, becomes rather self-explanatory when we open ourselves to the notion that Israel is simply a settler-colonialist venture. Its means of making the native population ‘disappear’ as far as possible can be varied, ranging from extermination (as in the assassination of leaders, dispossessions, deportations and seasonal massacres) to provision of ostensibly ‘equal’ citizenship, albeit under a discriminatory national paradigm (favorably so if you’re Jewish).
Under the guise of a Jewish ‘nation’, for which this ‘Jewish state’ exists, we apply a settler-colonialist regime, which by its nature occupies the natives, and by its nature seeks erasure of the native culture. This applies Apartheid as an integral means. It also very arguably applies an even worse crime – genocide. As celebrated author Ben Ehrenreich recently noted,
“[T]he attempts to erase a people, to just erase them, to erase their history, I think follow a logic that can only be called genocidal”.
Thus, when we look at the 1967 occupation, we are looking at only a part of the picture. And we need to ‘finish the job’ conceptually – to see that it’s part of a greater paradigm, which is settler-colonialist, and is inherently genocidal. Incrementally so. As Ehrenreich puts it: “The question about genocide– yes, it’s an incremental genocide. And I think that’s a word that gives a lot of people pause and it certainly should”.
Here Ehrenreich is applying a concept – incremental genocide – which has already been noted by professor Ilan Pappe since 2006 regarding Gaza – which Haaretz journalist Amira Hass regards as a “huge concentration camp”.
When we look at genocidal regimes in history, the fact that they applied occupation did not normally overshadow their graver crimes. In fact, occupation, in and of itself, is not necessarily illegal – it is the paradigm in which it occurs, or the acts committed within it, which may deem it so. This notion pertains to several facets of the 1967 occupation itself:
- Israel’s provocation of a war (rather than supposedly acting in self-defense).
- Israel’s actions and war crimes within that territory (where war crimes includes the whole settlement enterprise, there is the crime of Apartheid as well as numerous other human rights violations).
And then there is that greater ideological paradigm, that elephant in the room – the settler-colonialist enterprise, of which we are often observing the leg of, and the leg doesn’t move.
That elephant has a name. Its name is Zionism. Its name defines the ideology which has informed Israel’s settler-colonialist takeover of Palestine. We must look it in the eye.
Occupation is thus only Israel’s middle name. The surname is Zionism, or Jewish State if you like. To challenge that is simply forbidden in Israel for all practical-political purposes, by the quasi-constitutional Basic Law – Knesset. Section 7A. in that law, regarding “Prevention of participation of candidates’ list” notes that
“A candidates’ list shall not participate in elections to the Knesset, and a person shall not be a candidate for election to the Knesset, if the objects or actions of the list or the actions of the person, expressly or by implication, include […] negation of the existence of the State of Israel as a Jewish and democratic state;”
You see, we’ve put in ‘democratic’, and that’s how we’ve also occupied democracy with our ‘Jewish state’. And no-one is allowed to say it isn’t a democracy. Submit to our ‘Jewish democracy’, or else…
As Professors Richard Falk and Virginia Tilley state in their recent UN commissioned report on Israeli Apartheid (p.2),
“effectively, Israeli law renders opposition to racial domination illegal”.
So no-one is allowed to challenge this elephant. It must always be allowed to keep its last name – Jewish State, Zionist, whatever you chose to call this ethno-religious Jewish nation-state.
It is under this name of this that we have committed our crimes, and some seem to think that this is just a matter of temporary occurrences, temporary border skirmishes, temporary threats, temporary military necessities and all that. But it’s much bigger. And is it really temporary? In 2012, Israeli Supreme Court Judge Dorit Beinisch defined Israel’s occupation as ‘prolonged’, as opposed to ‘temporary’. That’s how we work, you see. First ‘temporary’, then ‘prolonged’, then ‘permanent’.
We are witnessing the unfolding of a pattern, and merely marking a 50th anniversary of one of its occupation campaigns. There’s nothing to celebrate, and there’s an even greater paradigm to be addressed. If we don’t address it, we will be like safari tourists observing another hunt. And nobody is supposed to shoot, or even question, the elephant in the room. Don’t even talk about it.