Periel Shapiro

Playing the Occupier

A US soldier searches an Iraqi boy, Basra, Iraq, March 7, 2011. (Public domain photograph from
A US soldier searches an Iraqi boy, Basra, Iraq, March 7, 2011. (Public domain photograph from

As more of Gaza falls under IDF control, at a terrible cost, we should think about what comes next. In doing so, we should not miss the opportunity to reclaim our indigenous identity and allow Jewish families to return to the towns in Gaza from which they were uprooted. 

In 2006, we forcibly expelled Jewish communities from Gaza, to create Jew-free parcels of land. For us to have come to a point where we used armed force to push Jewish families out of their homes, it seems we really did not believe that we belonged there in the first place. 

And many still feel we don’t belong there, except maybe for practical reasons. Some argue that a civilian Jewish presence in Gaza would provide security benefits. Others feel that a military occupation is necessary and sufficient. 

But military occupation is deeply troubling, in ways the world does not engage with due to the immense distortion of their lens. 

Military occupation without allowing Jewish civilian settlement amounts to the enforcement of ethnic segregation. What else would you call it when the Israeli military takes control of a piece of land and then effectively restricts Jews from living there?

Occupation also blocks genuine interaction between Jews and Palestinians. Think of the Palestinian, who never sees a Jew except when they have a gun and a helmet. What do they really know of the Jewish people, and us of them?

But there is a much deeper problem with military occupation: It is a further expression of the pathological Western projection that Israel is a white, Western nation-state.

What would it say about how we think of ourselves, what would it broadcast to the world, if we were to militarily occupy Gaza and not allow Jews to live there? The world would see that we are willing to engage in forced segregation in order to keep a specific region ethnically homogeneous. We would be telling the world that we believe keeping Jews out of Gaza is not immoral segregation but righteous “decolonization.”  We would be showing acceptance of the notion that we’re occupiers, colonizers, who don’t belong, that we’re only in Gaza, or in Israel altogether, for security and safety. We would be drawing directly from the American occupier playbook in Iraq and Afghanistan, and in fact explicitly so; in recent months we saw many articles in Western papers comparing the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan to the war in Gaza. Why do we accept such inane comparisons?

If we occupy Gaza militarily without allowing Jewish civilian settlement, we would be playing the role of foreign occupier, as the world sees us, and we are bound to further internalize this absurd and toxic colonizer identity. We would be perpetuating a false narrative about ourselves, and eroding our indigenous identity. 

Allowing Jewish families to live in Gaza, and Judea for that matter, is simply the right thing to do, an anti-segregationist, pro-indigenous move, and a genuine expression of who we are as the Jewish nation, an indigenous peoples that deserves to freely roam and settle peacefully in its homeland.

About the Author
Dr. Periel Shapiro is a psychiatrist, psychotherapist, and mindfulness teacher. He lives in Judea.
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