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Liberal Zionists think the ’67 occupation is all about them

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I wasn’t really planning to write about “the occupation” because I maintain that the greater crimes committed by Israel happened in 1947-48, not 1967.  There’s a reason we refer to ’67 as “Al Naksa,” the setback, whereas 1948 is “Al Nakba,” the catastrophe.  But then a friend sent me a link to a Washington Post article on how “the occupation” had hurt Israeli democracy, and I had to respond.

In his article, offensively titled “How the Occupation Damaged Israel’s Democracy,” the author, Israeli historian Gershom Gorenberg, correctly points out that “Much has been written on how the occupation affects the Palestinians living under Israeli rule, how it constrains their freedom of movement, their political rights and their dreams,” before getting to his point, namely “To that, I’d like to add what’s less obvious: The occupation is what keeps Israel from being what it could be. It drags us down.”

Gorenberg explains how “the occupation,” which he likens to an addiction, is costing Israel untold amounts of money, that would be better used to alleviate Israel’s child poverty rate, reduce class size, and create academic jobs that would stem the brain drain.  These ills, however, pale when compared to Gorenberg’ greatest concern: “The worst damage that the occupation does, though, may be to Israel’s democracy.”

Gorenberg ends his essay with a call to end the occupation, in order to save that ailing democracy.  He doesn’t quite say this, but the suggestion is that, once Israel ends its occupation of the West Bank and Gaza, everyone will live happily ever after.

Even with the qualifier with which he opens his essay (this isn’t about Palestine, it’s about Israel), I could not help but be furious as I grasped Gorenberg’s total erasure of Israel’s impact on Palestinians before the occupation.  Indeed, one would get the impression from his essay that Israel was not occupying Palestinian land in 1948.  Thus:  “It all happened so unexpectedly 50 years ago: the crisis between Egypt and Israel, the war that began on June 5, 1967, and expanded from one front to three, the silence of the guns after just six days, and the cease-fire lines that marked Israel’s conquests of the West Bank, the Golan Heights, the Sinai and the Gaza Strip. Suddenly, Israel was occupying land beyond its sovereign territory and ruling over the people who lived there.” [My italics]

Suddenly?  What had Israel been doing, since 1948, if not occupying over 70% of Palestine, imposing military rule over the Palestinian people within its (never acknowledged) borders, and determining the fate of the entire Palestinian people, within and outside of its “sovereign territory,” by denying the refugees it had created the Right of Return?  What fictional narrative, what rewriting of history does Gorenberg, a historian, wish to engage in, as he negates that Israel was ruling over another people since 1948, and as he calls pre-‘67 Israel a democracy?

No country founded on genocide, with the explicit intent to privilege members of one perceived ethnic group while disenfranchising others, no country that imposes decades of military rule on some of its members, (those not of the right ethnic group), no country that violates the human rights of those deemed of the “wrong” ethnicity,” can be declared a democracy.

Gorenberg, of course, is not alone in focusing on the occupation as Israel’s downfall.  Many people, mostly Israeli and American Jews, who are otherwise very critical of Israel, still view “the occupation” as a particularly horrific aberration, rather than, as Jonathan Ofir points out, the issue isn’t the occupation, it’s Zionism.

Ayelet Waldman, an Israeli ex-pat who is very critical of her country, and her partner Michael Chabon, have also just published a collection of essays by various writers about the occupation which they timed for release this week, on the 50th anniversary of Al Naksa.  They speak of how they felt compelled to invite writers to witness for themselves the horror of Israel’s abuses in places like Hebron, Susya, or at various checkpoints.  There is no mention of Bedouin villages like Al Araqib, in the Negev desert, which has been destroyed over 100 times, (113 as of last count) or the separate and unequal schooling and infrastructure services within Israel.  At the end of an otherwise excellent interview in which they emphasize the importance of speaking out against Israel’s apartheid, with no fear of being called self-hating Jews, Waldman explains what she hopes the book will accomplish: “We want the occupation of the West Bank and Gaza to end, and we think that one of the ways that will happen is if the oppressive, racist government and the violent occupying force—and I include in that violent, occupying force all of the many settlers—are called to account by the world at large.”

In another interview, Waldman also focuses exclusively on the occupation, as she states:  “If there were no occupation, I might be dancing a horah in the streets of Tel Aviv,” thus completely dismissing the fact that Tel Aviv is built partly on the ruins of Jaffa, “the bride of the sea,” which used to be the cultural capital of Palestine until it fell to Zionist troops in 1948.

I have absolutely no intention of making light of the occupation.  When we speak of “the longest standing military occupation in modern history,” we must think of the many millions of absolutely innocent people, many of whom are the descendants of refugees, born and raised in refugee camps themselves.  We must remind the world that the Gaza Strip, subjected to a genocidal siege for over ten years now, is still occupied, even after the removal of the settlers.  We must think of the millions, literally, who have never known a brief moment of freedom and self-determination in their entire lives, if they are a day under 50 years of age.  We must think of those who had to flee their homes five decades ago, rather than 70 years ago, and cannot return.  This week, the commemoration of the Six-Day War that resulted in the fifty-year occupation, is a solemn moment to reflect on the magnitude of the dispossession of the Palestinian people, the multitude of daily indignities of life under occupation, the relentless violence of Israel’s military against a defenseless imprisoned people.

But we must understand, and emphasize, that this violence did not start in 1967, and that “ending the occupation” alone will not end it.

Nada Elia

Nada Elia is a Palestinian scholar-activist, writer, and grassroots organizer, currently completing a book on Palestinian Diaspora activism.

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14 Responses

  1. Mooser on June 8, 2017, 3:53 pm

    A visit to the Wailing Wahl would do Mr. Gorenberg a lot of good.

  2. smithgp on June 8, 2017, 8:29 pm

    I don’t get it, Mooser. Wailing choice?

    • Mooser on June 8, 2017, 11:46 pm

      Hello “George Smith”! My Dad told me, many times, “If you have to explain a joke, it’s not funny”. But people always ask me to explain them anyway.

      • smithgp on June 9, 2017, 11:52 am

        Thanks! Indeed, not very funny.

      • Mooser on June 9, 2017, 1:37 pm

        “Indeed, not very funny.”

        Yes, Father knew best about those things.

      • Abuadam on June 10, 2017, 4:58 pm

        Always to the point dripping in sarcasm, eh Mooser.

      • gamal on June 10, 2017, 5:48 pm

        “eh Mooser”

        thats too cryptic for me, has something happened or not?

        have you not observed that every religious teacher that there has ever been committed heresy, blasphemy and many obscenities, people kill prophets often for (ostensibly) good reason, except those like Muhammad or Padmasambhava that they cant get the better of, orthodoxy and those mawkish sentimental “religious” ceremonies, those dirge like commemorations are the antithesis of religion, its fashionable nowadays thats all, it won’t last because they are nothing but organised despair.

        its very funny, kind of marvellous.

  3. JosephA on June 8, 2017, 10:10 pm

    Nada, thank you for the well written and thoughtful commentary.

  4. wondering jew on June 9, 2017, 4:06 am

    Nada Elia, You seem to be saying that the nakba is the abc of it and the occupation is the xyz of it, so might as well deal with the basics, or if not deal, meaning a term of action, then deal, meaning a term of emotional digestion.
    currently the antizionists among the jews are few and far between and largely alienated from most things “jewish” and thus the discussion is mostly between zionists and zionists and you seem to wonder why this is. or not wonder but express irritation.
    in the last 140 years the following have been the main stories of the jewish people: large scale migration from eastern europe: the ellis island contingent creating a jewish reality: american jewishness/judaism that barely was dreamed of in 1880. the shoah. the establishment of israel. it is simplistic to view the establishment of israel as some kind of cure for the shoah, but simplistic or not, this cause and effect relationship exists in many jewish minds.
    these are just some thoughts, not a complete answer. obviously there is no answer from your angle, as in: harm was done to us, this harm must be undone. i hear you. nonetheless i hope my thoughts are not misplaced.

    • Mooser on June 9, 2017, 2:05 pm

      “it is simplistic to view the establishment of israel as some kind of cure for the shoah, but simplistic or not, this cause and effect relationship exists in many jewish minds.”

      And what could be more Jewish than taking cynical advantage of Jewish trauma and attendant reduction to a false “simplistic” existential pathology in Jews to achieve Zionism’s aims?
      I mean, what else is tribal unity for?

    • Mooser on June 9, 2017, 2:09 pm

      “currently the antizionists among the jews are few and far between and largely alienated from most things “jewish” and thus the discussion is mostly between zionists and zionists”

      Shorter “yonah”: ‘Jewish anti-zionists aren’t real Jews. If they were they would be Zionists.’

  5. Donna Nevel on June 9, 2017, 8:19 am

    I always very much appreciate and learn from Nada Elia’s thoughtful pieces and share them widely.

  6. James Canning on June 9, 2017, 1:30 pm

    I think Israel must be pressured into ending the occupation of the West Bank, and that no such pressure will be obtainable unless many powerful Jews in the West become convinced the occupation is badly damaging Israel itself.

    • Elizabeth Block on June 9, 2017, 4:28 pm

      James Canning is right. At the same time, being asked to consider the damage to Israel as more important than the damage to Palestine is a bit like being asked to feel sorry for concentration camp guards who suffered (as I expect some of them did) from PTSD.

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