Laura Wharton
Jerusalem City Councilor, adjunct lecturer in political science

Let’s Stop Talking About the Occupation

Israeli soldiers are used by the "Civilian Administration" to enforce military rule and protect settlers, rather than to guard Israel's legal borders and protect the state (Photo courtesy of the author)

Let’s stop talking about the occupation: it’s too easy to fall into a trap bickering about international law, Jordanian rights, the legitimacy of the Six-Day War, and more. Let’s make it clear: approximately 2.5 million Palestinians live under Israeli military rule. About that there is no dispute.

Ironically, in beautiful Orwellian language, the military government has been called “the Israeli Civil Administration” since 1981, as part of a change agreed upon in the Israel-Egypt Peace Treaty (and the significant withdrawal from Sinai). Military Order No. 947, issued in that year, determined that the Administration’s duty would be to manage civilian affairs in the region: the head of the Administration is an officer appointed by the Chief of Staff of the IDF. Palestinian residents of the territories have no right to vote and are not citizens of any state; Israelis living in the territories are subject to Israeli law and can vote in Israeli elections.

Israel officially annexed the Golan Heights and East Jerusalem by its own laws, although its sovereignty has never been recognized internationally. Thus all the rest of the territories over the “green line” — that is, all of the West Bank — are not part of Israel, even according to Israeli law. Before the last round of elections, right-wing activists ran a campaign for “sovereignty”: they proposed legislating the formal annexation of the territories by introducing a law to that effect in the Knesset. Their initiative failed.

Yet generations of young Israelis, including approximately 300,000 settlers who live in the territories beyond the green line, are misled into thinking the territories are part of Israel. For Israelis, passing through the checkpoints is like passing by tollbooths on a US highway. Terms like Judea and Samaria are taken from the bible to perpetuate the illusion that they are all part of the State. Israelis in the territories are allowed to vote in their settlements, although Israelis are not allowed to vote from abroad. During the closures instituted because of COVID-19, Israelis were permitted to pass back and forth between Israel and the military-controlled areas, even when no entry from abroad was permitted.

Next week there be a vote in the Knesset regarding the extension of the Israel law that allows for Israeli jurisdiction over settlers. It will probably be approved, as it is every 5 years. Yet it is an opportunity to remind the Israeli public and everyone who cares about or follows what is happening in the country that since 1967 Israel has been running the lives of Palestinians in the territories through military rule.

One may argue about the alternatives, complain about the Palestinian Authority, and repeat the words terror and security one hundred times each. But ask any military expert if an army should be running civilian lives, whether it is proper use of soldiers, or whether it is healthy for a democracy of 10 million to hold 2.5 million people without any democratic rights.

The military rule should be put to an end; our soldiers should be guarding our borders, not the settlers; and it is time we start using clear language to describe the situation.

About the Author
Dr Laura Wharton is a member of Jerusalem's City Council as a representative of Meretz and an adjunct lecturer in the political science department at the Hebrew University of Jerusalem. Born in the U.S., she immigrated to Israel after receiving a B.A. in the government department of Harvard University and then served a full term in the Israel Defense Forces. She subsequently completed an M.A. and a Ph.D. at Hebrew University. For research that later served as the basis for her book "Is the Party Over? How Israel Lost Its Social Agenda" (Yad Levi Eshkol, 2019) she was awarded the Prime Minister's Prize in Memory of Levi Eshkol. She is a mother of two and has been living in Jerusalem for more than two decades.
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