Peace in our Time?

June 18, 2007

Assaf Oron on 40 years of Occupation

Filed under: Blogroll, Gaza, Israel, Middle East, Palestine, Peace, Peace Now, Saudi, Uncategorized — angelajerusalem @ 9:40 pm

Forty years ago this week, tiny Israel demolished the greatest Arab armies and acquired territories three times its size. For us Israelis, these newly occupied territories — East Jerusalem, West Bank, Gaza, Golan, Sinai — were love at first sight. The occupied people — especially more than a million Palestinians — much less so.

In Israeli Prime Minister Levi Eshkol’s words, “We want the dowry, not the bride.” Legal experts concluded that settling Israelis in occupied territories would be illegal. The late Yeshayahu Leibowitz, Israel’s leading intellectual, warned that occupation would turn Israel into a terror-ridden police state. But these voices were drowned in the euphoric din. The Israeli Defense Forces and Shin Bet secret police were ready; we embarked on a mission to have the cake and eat it.

Already in June 1967, citing “municipal unification,” we annexed East Jerusalem, immediately confiscating land and building Jewish neighborhoods. The world looked the other way. Before long, all old borders were erased from our maps. New roads connected Israel with the territories. New settlements were built on “borrowed” land. We loved touring those biblical landscapes, and Palestinians seemed happy. After all, we brought them modernity and great jobs.

Their jobs: building our homes, washing dishes in our restaurants, tilling our fields. No civil or social rights. Palestinians became the ideal cheap foreign laborers — ones who returned home every night. The Shin Bet made sure Palestinians “looked happy,” spreading its nets everywhere: recruiting collaborators, corrupting leaders, jailing or expelling incorruptible ones, torturing bad guys when needed. The IDF provided boots on the ground (including mine), liberal daily doses of humiliation and a system of kangaroo military courts.

The occupation is still intact. We have settled more than 400,000 Israelis beyond the 1967 borders, seamlessly integrating them into Israel. Palestinians are impoverished, demoralized, bitterly divided and oppressed by us more than ever. Considering the fate of other modern occupation regimes, our little “dowry” project seems like an astounding success. Or is it?

Many tend to forget, but settling Sinai and ignoring Egypt brought us the costly 1973 war. We gained peace by completely evacuating Sinai, but failed to apply the same logic elsewhere. So it happened again: Since 1987, East Jerusalem, West Bank and Gaza have erupted with rebellions and terror waves, turning the occupation into an emotional drain and a financial sinkhole — kept afloat only with U.S. support. Most Israelis don’t visit the West Bank anymore, and Jewish Jerusalem suffers a mass exodus of its young.

Meanwhile, the have-the-cake-and-eat-it attitude permeates and corrupts Israeli society and politics to a frightening degree. Tribalism and internal rifts between Jewish population groups have intensified. External threats temporarily unite us, but last summer’s war exposed another problem: After decades of functioning mostly as an occupation police, a bloated IDF could not defeat Hezbollah — a force the size of one regiment.

Most Israelis blame everything on “Arab mentality” or on the Oslo process, conveniently leaving us with an empty to-do list. But occupation and settlement were our free choices. We must take drastic, honest steps to dismantle both.

Unfortunately, the occupation mind-set predates 1967. “Good Arabs,” a new book by Hillel Cohen based on declassified government documents, describes our military rule over Israel’s Arabs from 1948 to 1966. All the occupation’s ingredients were there. In the 1950s, our “security” system even objected to municipal elections in Israel’s Arab towns, for fear of losing control. From the start, our security establishment has equated Israel’s security with controlling Arab lives.

What a narrow-minded, immoral, disastrous mind-set. Go tell Israelis that: We blindly trust our “security experts.” After the much-heralded 2005 Gaza evacuation, Israelis did not question the outrageous security demand to continue controlling Gaza’s exit and entry, its imports and exports. We merely converted Gaza from occupied colony to remote-control prison, precipitating the current chaos there.

Israel is sinking fast. Our Jewish population will soon be outnumbered by the country’s Palestinians, most of them under occupation. Perhaps Americans, who have funded this madness, will help us undo it? Oops, I forgot: Americans are now stuck occupying Iraq.

Assaf Oron is writing his doctoral dissertation at the University of Washington


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