The Occupation is Killing Us

Now that Palestinians are coming out of the backstreets of East Jerusalem to knife, maim and kill Israelis on the West side of town we’re starting to catch on that Jerusalem isn’t all that united. According to a Panels Politics Polling Institute survey printed in the last weekend edition of Maariv, 66% of the Jewish population is calling for a separation between Israeli and Palestinian neighborhoods in Jerusalem, drawing attention to the political impermanence of our “eternal capital.”

The poll’s unprecedented findings convey the public mood in light of the recent spread of violence to Hebron, Ranaana and Be’er Sheva, raising questions about the political wisdom of our longstanding occupation of the West Bank.

The problem with the “occupation” is that many supporters of our settlement policy deny that such a state of affairs even exists. “What kind of occupation?” is the typical reaction when that tricky term comes up in conversation. After all, say the apologists for our much maligned, stick-it-in-your-face settlement program, we can’t compare the IDF with all those barbaric invading armies who throughout history occupied the lands of other nations against their will.

But even nice Jewish occupiers like us have to admit that our military presence and settlement activities in parts of Biblical Judea and Samaria are unwanted, to say the least, by the Palestinians, whether they are actual natives with roots and family trees or just showed up on this side of the Jordan River to reap the benefits of the “Zionist invasion” in the early part of the last century.

There are no perfect angels in this conflict. Most Israelis agree who the “good guys and the bad guys” are, but our national consensus falls apart whenever that dreaded word “occupation” clouds the picture. So for the sake of clarity, here is a rundown of the seeming benefits and actual drawbacks of the occupation, from 1967 onward:

– The occupation was supposed to provide us with security. But over the past forty-eight years terrorism has increased many times over and we have lost thousands of soldiers and civilians. After every single war or “military operation,” whether we are the initiators or the retaliators, we are left with little or nothing to show for the terrible costs we pay in human life. With no clear war aims to speak of, we just drift from one round of hostilities to the next, and our enemies rejoice as we bleed.

– The occupation was supposed to present a strong military deterrent. But all it offers is target practice for our terrorist enemies, and a constant pretense for further hostilities against soldiers, settlers and Israeli citizens.

– The occupation was supposed to give us a strong bargaining chip. But successive governments became so enamored with the cards they were holding, i.e., the occupied territories, that they turned the settlements into a stumbling block for negotiations.

– The occupation, or Greater Israel, if that sounds more patriotic, was supposed to deliver the promise of national unity, according to some Messianic Jews who, in the post-Six Day War euphoria, were convinced that they saw the light. We all know what became of that domestic harmony.

– The occupation, or settlements, if that sounds more folksy, was even supposed to create an illusion of “coexistence” with our Palestinian neighbors, under the guise of a benevolent Israeli military administration. We all know how that tuned out too.

So much for the good things the occupation was supposed to bring for the State of Israel. Here are some more of the bad things:

– The occupation has destroyed our ideal of “avodah ivrit,” Jewish labor, with our reliance on cheap Palestinian labor, notably in agriculture, construction and other blue collar trades. This workforce, comprising non-citizens, exacerbates social gaps in Israel, encourages unemployment and in times of strife adds to the security problem, leaving us with a sense that we’re not occupying the Palestinians – they’re occupying us.

– The occupation takes over our national dialogue, from heated cafe debates to our all too frequent national elections. The occupation is a constant point of contention, dividing every two Israelis into three and polarizing political parties into factions. The conditional expansion of the settlements forms the basis of government coalitions, at the expense of the national interest.

– The occupation generates mistrust, hatred and violence, all of which have a detrimental effect on tourism, trade and the economy as a whole. Moreover, the divisive occupation breeds national and religious extremism on both sides of the conflict, which may not have started with the occupation, but keeps getting worse because of it.

– The occupation inflames the passions of Israeli Arabs who identify with the Palestinians, expanding the conflict and reducing our sense of personal security to intolerable proportions.

– The occupation stresses the dispute over control of the holy sites in Jerusalem, with all the potential for regional and global disaster that implies.

– The occupation impedes some of our foremost Zionist goals: namely, to create a modern society that is Jewish and democratic and stands for equality and tolerance. Moreover, the different set of rules we apply in our treatment of the Palestinians as opposed to Jewish settlers lends credence to claims that we are turning into an Apartheid state. Whether this accusation is real, fancied or exaggerated, the damage it causes to Israel’s image is considerable.

– The occupation is used by our enemies as a propaganda tool and puts us at a great political disadvantage in times of conflict, which invariably end with renewed pressure on Israel to end the occupation.

– The occupation is the convenient raison d’être cited by anti-Zionist/anti-Semitic hate groups, making life perilous for Diaspora Jews. The occupation misleads Jews and non-Jews who confuse the Zionist dream with Israeli policies in the West Bank.

– The occupation is an anachronism in this post-colonial age, a conspicuous and unpopular national policy which alienates our natural allies. Sadly, our expansionist settlement adventure also contradicts Ben Gurion’s principled claim, derived from the Bible, that Israel seeks to become “a light unto the nations” (Isaiah 42:6).

– The occupation inhibits the formation of a clear border between Israelis and Palestinians, and puts off the inevitable universal recognition of both Israel and Palestine. In the interim, the occupation rules out any semblance of normal living. There is nothing normal about a country without borders.

– The occupation makes us forget what our real assets are. The IDF, our human resources, the steady support of the United States and recognition of our state by most of the civilized world are our biggest assets. The occupation is our biggest liability.

Indeed, this ill-advised occupation policy is no way to run our already beleaguered little country, which is still striving to carve out a place for itself in this very unstable region. Someday, when we cut our losses, draw recognized borders and go about the practical business of defending them, historians will ask: “just what were those Israelis thinking, ruling over a hostile Palestinian population?” But we don’t have to wait for next-generation historians to tell us, and our children and grandchildren, what should already be plainly clear: this occupation is slowly destroying everything we are trying to build here.

About the Author
Avi Shamir is a freelance writer, editor, translator and the author of "Saving the Game," a novel about baseball. A Brooklyn College graduate with a BA in English, Avi has contributed to the Jerusalem Post, The Nation, Israel Scene, In English and The World Zionist Press Service.