Joshua Pomerance
Joshua Pomerance

What occupation? – The moral high ground of close minded openness

I have been bothered by something for quite some time now. Why is it that as a self-defined ‘centre to right’ politically minded individual do I immediately lose any moral high ground that automatically gets ‘given’ to left wing politics. Why am I considered anti-peace? Why is it assumed that l would prefer war and blood to anything else? Why am I considered ‘thuggish’, close minded and unable to hear a different point of just because my default position is not one where I inherently challenge the Israeli government policy. Ironically, this type of attitude is itself wholly close minded and usually comes from those who claim to be completely open minded to all peoples and opinions…unless those opinions disagree with their own views.

This quandary manifests itself largely, but not by any means solely, when talking about ‘the occupation’. I know what some have you have just done…some of you have read the last sentence seen the quotation marks and rolled your eyes. You have said to yourself “here we go again another right wing extremist who refuses to accept the facts and wont rest until there are no Palestinians anywhere in the borders of Israel”. To my rolling eyed readers, that is the type of reaction that I am talking about above.

Let me explain why… I do not think that there is an occupation taking place, I do not think that the aforementioned ‘occupation’ is an obstacle to peace and I do not think that Geneva conventions are being violated. However, and here is the kicker so be sure to read this twice if you need to, I do accept that there are hundreds of thousands of people living in unclear circumstances. I do accept that forcefully taking land, houses, villages and towns for one’s own purposes will get you nowhere (am I not casting any views as to whether this does or does not take place to be clear), I do accept that a solution is needed and I do accept that any solution cannot be made by one side, must suit the needs of all peoples in question and, most likely, won’t end with the Israeli government in control of land and borders assigned to it by the original League of Nations mandate.

What then, I hear you asking is my problem? What is wrong with calling those people that settle the land beyond the green line obstacles to peace? Why can’t we say Israel is the occupying force and make it incumbent upon ‘every Jew to call for an end to the ‘occupation’’ and bring about peace.

Well, as I said earlier, I don’t believe there is an occupation, and in fact I believe that we have let ‘the other side’ define our opinion and terminology for so long that it has become ‘the norm’. I believe calling the presence of Jewish people and the Israeli army beyond the green line an ‘occupation’ is not only factually incorrect, but also dangerous to any future potential of arriving at peace. Let me start by explaining why I don’t believe that there is an ‘occupation’ and why I believe labelling Jewish settlement beyond the green line is factually incorrect.

In 1920 at the Sanremo Conference the League of Nations partitioned land previously under the recently devolved Ottoman Empire. It was decided (finalised four years later) that the land of Palestine, including some land in what is now Syria would be ruled by Britain and France. For reasons beyond the scope here Britain gave the land which is now Syria to France. Therefore, we arrive at the now well known ‘British Mandate of Palestine’ who’s borders were decided by the League of Nations, as a land accepted, through a deceleration of the British government (and subsequently accepted by the League of Nations) for the establishment of a national home for the Jewish People. If the story ended there the outcome would be simple. The borders of Israel would be clear, all of the land including Gaza and land beyond the green line would be part of this place set aside to create a national home for the Jewish people.

However, we all know that is not the end of the story. In 1948, when the British Army left the land assigned to its rule, the surrounding Arab armies attacked and invaded the land. The sole purpose of this invasion was to stop any potential of a Jewish state being founded within any of the borders of what was the British Mandate of Palestine. Now, here is where things get interesting. In 1949, the newly founded Israeli state army and its enemies called the war to a halt. They drew what is known as armistice lines which was meant to mark the areas where the opposing armies ended up after calling the invasion to a halt. It is important to note, these were not borders, in fact in the 1949 armistice agreements with both Egypt (at this point found in Gaza) and Jordan (at this point found in Judea and Samaria) it states ‘No provision of this Agreement shall in any way prejudice the rights, claims and positions of either Party hereto in the ultimate peaceful settlement of the Palestine question, the provisions of this Agreement being dictated exclusively by military considerations’ and ‘The Armistice Demarcation Line is not to be construed in any sense as a political or territorial boundary, and is delineated without prejudice to rights, claims and positions of either Party to the Armistice as regards ultimate “settlement of the Palestine question”.’

Therefore, looking back the history of these areas we can see that they were, and since no agreement has since been made, still are, what is known as ‘disputed territories’. Such that, the Israeli claim to the land is based on the mandate given to it by the League of Nations which was then called in to question after the war when two enemy armies ended up within those borders. Now, how can a people who were given land by the international body whose right it was to give out the land, which was subsequently invaded, occupy land which was originally given to them to settle in!

It has become so common place to call these pieces of land ‘the occupied territories’ that actually we have forgotten that these pieces of land are disputed. Now if something is disputed no one can claim ownership of it enough that they can call others occupiers or trespassers. Surely that is the definition of disputed! Each one thinks they have the stronger claim over the land.

Having said all of this it seems clear to me when people call this piece of land ‘the occupied territories’ they are not only factually incorrect but they are also damaging any chance for an honest and mutually beneficial peace due to the fact that they are belittling and relinquishing any Jewish claim to the land. Ultimately what they are doing is undermining any possibility of Jewish presence in this piece of land under any peace deal, even as a land swap, because why would anyone agree to an alien presence in a land that they have no claim over?

As such, returning to my original point, when I refuse to accept that there is an occupation, when I insist on calling areas by the names that Israel calls them or at least calling the land disputed, when I disagree that these pieces of land are answer to all the questions in the Israel Palestine conflict, it is not because I think that there should be a one state for one people solution. It is not because I refuse to accept that living standards for Arabs living in these areas are not as good as they could be (although arguably better than if there was no Jewish presence here but we can talk about that another time.) Neither is it because I wish to commit inhumane atrocities to other human beings or wish to live in a constant state of war. Rather, I refuse to accept that stabbing people indiscriminately in the streets is a form of uprising against an occupying force. I refuse to accept that firing rockets in to civilian areas is a justifiable ‘last resort of a people that have been willing and ready to compromise for peace but have gotten nowhere’ even if I were to believe this was true. I refuse to accept that just because someone has said something to me over and over again it means that it is true and I refuse to accept that compromise and co-operation from both sides is not a necessary to step to achieve a lasting peace.

Consequently, I do not appreciate it when I am told that ‘every Jew has a duty to end the occupation’ as Emily Hilton wrote on August 11 2016. What makes this view any more ‘Jewish’ than mine. What makes this analysis of the situation any more correct that mine giving it the authority to call for a ‘Jewish response’. Rather, I would implore every Jew, and non-Jew, alike to analyse the situation themselves. Make their own decision as to what they think and respect that others can come to different conclusions to your own but that does not mean that it should not be held within the plethora of views that surface when talking about the Israel Palestine conflict. And finally, but perhaps most importantly, that no view however absurd you may think it is, should be thrown out as radical, extreme, ridiculous or any other superlative you can think of until it has been assessed, discussed and analysed by both sides. I believe that only by having this attitude combined with open and frank discussion between all parties involved will we be able to arrive at negotiated, long lasting and secure peace for everyone, in whatever form that may be.

About the Author
Joshua Pomerance is Executive Director of Mizrachi UK
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