Why do so many in Israel celebrate the occupation?

Netanyahu has told us that he aims to annex parts of the West Bank so that he can take votes away from the far right. Ok. Just one question. We just had the most extreme right-wing government in Israel’s history. An Orwellian bunch. A justice minister who wanted to end the power of the judiciary, a culture minister who wants to end all culture that she didn’t like. They even had Trump to back up any kind of taboo idea Bibi could come up with. So why not then? Why did they not do this already?

The reality is that the Palestinian issue forces a question on Israel, and has done since the beginning of Israels existence, even Ben Gurion knew this. However much spin you put on this question, it is still a problem. Israel can have two out of three things. The three things are democracy, the whole country and Jewish rule. You can have democracy and Jewish rule, but then you must give up the idea of keeping the whole country. i.e. the two state solution. Or you can have the whole country and democracy and just give up on Jewish rule. This is the BDS proposal and you can see it as a coming paradise, a complete ethnically cleansed Palestine or a coming civil war, all of its proponents seem scarily fuzzy on what they imagine. Or else you can have the whole country and Jewish rule, but then you must give up on democracy and officially disenfranchise millions of people. This is the right’s go to position but for some reason they haven’t had the stomach for it yet. Apart from just before elections. Now Ganz, the “center left” candidate, says he supports Netanyhu’s annexation project. Why?

All Israeli tax payers have to pay endlessly for settler subsidies, settler roads and settler security. We have to send our children to risk there lives and guard their communities. It’s not like we get anything back. The old colonial powers wanted coal, iron and oil from the colonies. The West Bank has no natural resources apart from a slightly higher water table that Israel certainly could manage without.

Seen from outside none of it makes any sense. The real question is why any normal person would support the occupation. I have tried to understand this question for a long time, scouring the Jerusalem Post for all the opinion pieces that support the settlement enterprise.

Honestly most of the answers are not good. Some of it has to do with Jewish self confidence, that Israel must be big, Israel must be strong. The problem with this is that nobody is arguing differently, nobody says that Israel is a weak state with a weak army. Not since the Yom Kippur war anyway. Suspiciously many arguments have something to do with that God told them that they should live there. That God told them that they were better than other people and that they therefore should have more rights than them. The nicest thing to say about that is that it is an argument. The same one that the Hamas use but an argument non the less. It certainly does not need is a serious answer though. The far left of course argue that all of Israels right to exist is as flimsy as this, but that ignores the point that millions of Jews from Europe and the Middle East didn’t have anywhere else to go throughout the years. The settlers cant say that, they have a whole Jewish state just next door!

There is only one argument that the friends of the occupation do have. The one and only argument where a supreme master of the universe doesn’t take a keen interest in what ethnicity get to live on what real estate. This is the security argument. This is where Ganz comes in. He doesn’t believe in the Greater Israel stuff but he trusts the security argument and wants to annex the Jordan Valley because of it.

Which is why the right argues endlessly for it. The argument says that there will be rockets and other types of attacks carried out by the Palestinians on the West Bank into Israel if the army leaves. That’s it. That is the only argument. But all security arguments have both a “do” and a “don’t do” side. Napoleon could invade Russia or choose not to. Neither side is without risk here and now. Leave and end the occupation risks violence, but stay and keep the occupation risks violence. What violence will be more? Generals and leaders seem to adamantly disagree even on this, the only serious argument for the occupation. We may not know the answer or see the future but we know this much, constantly denying millions of people civil rights is not a recipe for any long lasting peace.

It’s true, of course that the cause of the left has been hurt by Hamas continuing to shoot rockets at Israel even after Israeli settlers left the enclave. However, when no one, not Israel, not Egypt and especially not Hamas, seems to have a real plan to make Gazan life more worth living, angry young men will continue to want to fight Israel. When it comes to Gaza, we can conduct a thought experiment about my beloved Tel Aviv. What if Tel Aviv were under same conditions Gaza is today? Surrounded by barbed wire fences, no one goes in or out, enemy soldiers checked all shipments coming in or going out, no port, no airport, 80 per cent youth unemployment. Even Tel Aviv. Liberal, open minded Tel Aviv, would in time get a lot of angry young men wanting to pass revenge on the Arabs, perhaps firing indiscriminately into Arab villages. We already have extremists, imagine if these people had an army of unemployed angry young men to fill their ranks?

So what if the West Bank turned into another Gaza? It would be awful, let’s say that out loud, for both Israelis and Palestinians. We also need to admit that it is an awful system now, where people live completely different lives and receive completely different rights from their neighbors just because of their ethnicity.

There are a couple of other alternatives to the two-state solution, such as AB Yehoshua’s quite beautiful federalist proposal. It would not mean that hundreds of thousands of settlers would not need to move, but it would need to transform the way Israelis and Palestinians value each other and as such would need an equally large change of course as our current one.

The question of the occupation is of course not a security argument alone. It is simply a moral one. Amos Oz used to say that the moral argument for the Palestinians and the moral argument of the Israelis is an argument between right and right. The argument against and for the occupation is a whole lot easier.

It is an argument between right and wrong.

About the Author
Toby Gisle is 42 years old, and a trained circus performer who now works as an English teacher in Tel Aviv. Although he grew up in London, he is originally from Sweden. His writings have appeared in a few different publications in Sweden.
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