Reality Checking The Occupation

It has gotten to the point where it is rare to see a left-winger write about Israel without interjecting the following types of statements (whether it is related to the article or not) – I think the Israeli government is the problem, the occupation is corrupt and unsustainable and Israel is on its path to becoming non-Jewish and non-democratic. This belief has become so ingrained that it has almost become a religious dogma.

Leo Pinsker, one of the founding fathers of Zionism noticed something peculiar while meeting with Western European Jews in the 1870’s. The “enlightened” West was supposed to be better than where Pinsker was from, but despite the political emancipation and the Jewish community’s desire to assimilate, the persecution persisted. The Jews at the time said that the anti-Semitism was their fault, that there was no deep-rooted hatred against them and if only they had assimilated more they would have been accepted. In fact, what happened was that despite the Jews assimilating more and more, every year after their emancipation, there was an increase in the amount of anti-Semitism in Western Europe.

Pinsker realized that the problem was not the Jews, and that no amount of assimilation would have made things better. Unfortunately, this messaged was not well received by the Western European Jews and in almost perfect correlation to their increased rate of assimilation; those individuals faced even worse persecution. I believe there is a strong parallel between what Pinsker observed and what the Jewish people are going through today. Many Jews believe today that if only they could offer greater concessions, they would be accepted. In reality, almost the opposite is true.

Aside from the richness of people pretending to care about the democratic nature of a state while saying that the democratic nature of that state is the problem, there is something else that baffles me. There is this absurd belief that despite the fact that Palestinians are franchised citizens who vote for their own government, that if they in addition to the population of Israeli non-Jews somehow outnumber Jews, they somehow will automatically become Israeli citizens.

There are plenty reasons to dislike the occupation, but the constant fear mongering about the end of Israel due to demographics is quite silly.

First of all, individuals who are not citizens of Israel do not influence the nature of the democracy of Israel. With that said, there is strange belief that occupations are only acceptable so long as the state occupies a state with a lesser population than it. This is the probably the most ridiculous part about it. The number of people who are occupied is completely irrelevant, just as the population of the occupying state is. This is supplemented by an even more absurd argument, which is that all non-Jews, whom are citizens of Israel, are not actually Israeli and part of the state, but really Palestinian citizens in waiting. If you think that Israel will become an undemocratic apartheid state if Jews drop below the 50% threshold, then I hate to break it to you, but then you already believe Israel to be an undemocratic, apartheid state (and likely also do not have a sufficient understanding of the concept of what democracy or apartheid is)

I am actually quite surprised that the people adhering to this belief have numbers so low. Why include the Palestinians in the West Bank and not the East Bank in Jordan? How about the Palestinians in southern Lebanon or in Syria? These individuals are even more disenfranchised than the Palestinians living in the West Bank and with them including in the tally, already allow for Arabs to outnumber the population of Jews in a contiguous area.

There are four main points that I think have become dogmatic in many parts of the Jewish world 1) that all land occupied in 1967 is by default under Palestinian title 2) Israel would not lose anything by relinquishing the West Bank 3) the occupation is the main reason why Palestinians have bad lives and therefore Jews should feel responsible for their problems 4) Israel and the Jewish people will be completely accepted if they ended the occupation.

1) Even ignoring the inability for someone to coherently argue that Israel does not have a claim of title to the West Bank while it does for Beer Sheva (if anyone thinks they have an argument, please let me know), Israel has a clear right to at least some of the land in the West Bank as per UNSCR 242. One cannot accept UNSCR 242 without conceding that the West Bank is disputed territory and that Israel is legally not required to withdraw from the entire West Bank.

2) Yes, Israel could exist without controlling any of the West Bank, but that does not mean it would be wise to relinquish all of it. There is a clear security benefit given by having control over places such as the Jordan valley. Moreover, as the state of the Jewish people, there is a tremendous value in controlling over holy sites such as… the Kotel. Whether or not one cares about the Jewish religion, there is no denying the importance of the land to the Jewish people and the significance places like Hebron have. It is important to understand that if Israel were to leave these places, they would become Judenfrei. It would be incredibly difficult for the state of the Jewish people to help facilitate and be culpable for the de facto banning of Jews from their holy sites.

3) Living under occupation does create incredible hardships for the Palestinian people and there is no denying that. With that said, Palestinians are about on par, or ahead of the comparable Arab states in many of the most important metrics in terms of things such as quality of living, health, education and economy etc. Fortunately, the Palestinian situation is greatly assisted by the massive amounts of aid they receive, and the close integration with the Israeli economy.

If Jews did not exist, Palestine would not be a developed country. It would likely be undemocratic, have contempt for western values and be filled with poverty. Hamas rules Gaza without interference from Israel and the situation there is perfectly clear. Even in the West Bank, where Israel is uninvolved, the reality of the situation shows its face. There is no democracy in the West Bank, no freedom of the press, no religious freedom, no gender equality and this would not change without Israel.

4) There is a reason why Anti-Semitism has existed for thousands of years. Although it is almost always blamed on specific issues of the day, almost all Anti-Semitism stems from unrelated, deeper causes. The situation in Europe right now is dire. It is unacceptable, disheartening, horrifying and probably about one million other negative adjectives. With that said, I would like to speak about normalization with the Arab world because I think it is much more relevant to this point.

There is this fantastical belief that if Israel were able to make peace with the Palestinians, all of the Arab states would transform into friends of Israel. First of all, even with a peace agreement, the conflict will not end and most Palestinians will still hate Israel. Presently, Israel has peace agreements and normalized relations with Egypt and Jordan. Somehow, these two “friendly” states are still extremely anti-Israel and Anti-Semitic.

There is something I find extremely interesting about the Arab Peace Initiative. The backing states claim that the reason that they have problems with Israel is because of the conflict with the Palestinians. If that is to be accepted, then the entire concept of the Arab Peace Initiative is erroneous because with any resolution of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, there would be no other reason to dislike Israel and normalized relations would begin immediately. The fact that they have invested so much in this initiative of normalization demonstrates that the cause of their hatred of Israel, and lack of normalized relations is in fact, not the Israeli-Palestinian conflict but something else. Aside from Israel becoming a non-Jewish state, this “other” factor causing surrounding states to hate Israel will not go away. In light of this, the weight of the Arab Peace Initiative becomes quite meaningless.

I am not saying that Israel should not make peace with the Palestinians or that they should not relinquish territory; in fact, I am strongly in favour of both of these things. However, I find the rhetoric being used to discuss the current situation extremely troubling. It is oversimplified, fallacious and causes mayhem. Worst of all, it makes the possibility of a peaceful settlement to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict even less likely.

About the Author
Daniel lived in Israel where he pursued his graduate studies focussing on Israeli policy. Daniel is now back in his home country of Canada studying law. Come check me out at