I am beginning to think one of the reasons the Israeli occupation has endured for so long is that we insist on speaking of it as an occupation. Let’s stop doing that.
When you speak of an occupation, you are walking into the hands of the hasbara people. An occupation, they will remind you – at least, the more subtle of them will – is actually legal. Countries may occupy parts of other countries during warfare. Occupations are supposed to be short: The basic concept of the laws of war is that war end, often quickly. Once the war ends, the territories occupied have to be restored to their owners. Much as many Israelis lament it, after World War II the bastards changed the rules and it’s no longer legal to obtain territories by force.
The assumption that occupation is supposed to be short, however, is unenforceable. As long as we stick to the paradigm of occupation, Israel will claim (legally, correctly) that it stands in the shoes of the sovereign; that it has valid security concerns; and, using the loophole of “security concerns”, will basically do whatever it pleases with the territories.
To give two obvious examples: Israel has seized large tracts of land for “military purposes.” Under occupation law, it is perfectly entitled to. Some of these land was indeed used for military purposes (building camps, etc.); others have been turned over to settlers. Often slyly, without any official announcement: the army simply left the base unguarded, and lo and behold – settlers walked in into the abandoned base and turned into a settlement. The settlement is perfectly illegal, of course, but the army will tell the court (assuming this ever gets into court) it has other, more pressing matters to attend to. The judges will sigh, mutter that isn’t their job to outguess the military commander, and that would be the end of it.
Another trick is to say settlements are actually military bases and that they are needed to control the area. This schtick is considered in bad odor legally since the late 1970s, but recently the settlers have been speaking about it again.
You can’t win against the occupation: The army will be able to cover just about anything under the wide umbrella of “security needs.” The history of legal fights against the occupation is long and distinguished; some of my best friends have engaged in it; but it’s mostly distinguished in its glorious defeats.
Take ‘Amona, for instance. For three years I’ve watched the best legal minds of Yesh Din (for which I freelanced) deftly avoid and deflect any legal mumbo-jumbo the government could throw at them, including some truly deplorable shit, and forced the courts to order the removal of the illegal settlements. The struggle over ‘Amona deserves a book of its own. The battle was won, but the war was lost. Haaretz reported yesterday that the army has issued an order declaring ‘Amona to be a closed area to all – but allows the settlers to enter it, while preventing the Palestinian owners from accessing their land.
The case is in court. Assume a ruling in 2025. Which will be postponed until 2029. No reason to hurry. It’s only the livelihood of Palestinians.
And this is the crux of the matter. As long as we speak of territories, of land, we are bound within the rules of occupation, where the occupier and his “security needs” will always win.
Stop doing that. Start speaking of the Israeli Military Dictatorship.
Avoid all discussions of sovereignty. They’re useless. Speak of night raids intended only to terrify people, dozens of which are carried out by the IDF each night; speak of impunity, in which soldiers can kill, wound, main, and bully without paying any price; speak of detention without orders; of invading houses without warrants; of housing soldiers in private houses for military purposes; of arbitrary confiscation, which is often indistinguishable from looting; speak of daily indignities, humiliations, checkpoints you can pass depending on the mood of the soldier on duty; speak of administrative detention, which is indefinite imprisonment without trial; speak of the horror lurking beneath all this, the knowledge that if you protest too much, you or your loved ones may be taken to a legally-sanctioned dungeon and be tortured.
Speak, in short, not of territories but of people. People who had to live at the whim of enemy soldiers and secret policemen for decades. Speak of the fact that Nazi Germany (a “security concern” if ever there was one) was occupied for only seven years before it was entrusted back to its citizens; so was Imperial Japan; and yet the Palestinians live under the Israeli Military Dictatorship for nearly 52 years.
Speak of the Israeli Military Dictatorship, and you will see the fairy tale of the “only democracy” go up in smoke. Speak of the IMD, and see hasbarists scramble for answers they cannot find.
Unchain yourself of the concept of the Occupation, hard as it may be, and this freedom from an old concept may yet lead to the freedom of Palestinians.