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Occupation magazine - Commentary

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Living the occupation, 45 years
Adam Keller
Crazy Country blog
June 9, 2012

This week – to be precise, the fifth of June, 2012 – marks the 45th
birthday of the occupation. An occupation which already lasts for more than
two-thirds of Israel`s entire existence. Forty-five years of military rule
which the State of Israel maintains over millions of Palestinians who did not
choose this government and do not want to live under it, but which the State
of Israel decided to impose on them against their will, throwing in jail those
who oppose the Israeli rule imposed on them.

And this decision is democratically confirmed by the citizens of Israel.
Again and again they go to the polls, again and again voting into office - in
all elections held since 1967 - governments which continue to maintain
occupation rule over the Palestinians (who themselves are given no chance to
participate in these elections and this democratic decision-making process).
The one time that the citizens of Israel chose a Prime Minister who showed
signs of an intention to end the occupation - the elections of 1992 - an
assassin`s bullet removed that Prime Minister from power (and from the world
of the living).

Forty-five years have passed, no end to turmoil and upheavals and conflicts
and diplomatic moves and military moves and bloodshed and suffering to
Palestinians as well as to Israelis. In the West Bank the Palestinian
Authority was established and the Palestinians given a chance to elect a
parliament and a government, but no shred of a real power on the ground.
Still, up to the present moment, a 19-year old Israeli corporal standing at
the checkpoint on the highway between Ramallah and Nablus holds more power in
his young hands than do Palestinian President and Prime Minister and all their
ministers put together. In the Gaza Strip a disengagement had been effected
and settlements dismantled, but still no Palestinian can leave or return,
import or export, without permission of the State of Israel.

Basically, the contours of the political debate and political dilemmas of
Israel have not changed since the moment when the tanks of the Israeli Defense
Forces stopped on the banks of the Jordan River and the Suez Canal, forty-five
years ago. Over forty-five years the State of Israel did not annex the
Occupied Territories, did not apply to them its laws and certainly did not
give their inhabitants Israeli citizenship. On the other hand the State of
Israel also did not withdraw from these territories and did not allow its
residents to establish their own independent state, but rather intensified and
deepened its control, most particularly continually establishing and extending
settlements in those territories.

In June 1967, the Commanding General of the IDF Central Command was appointed
to act as the temporary ruler, legislator and judge over millions of
Palestinians. Such are his `temporary` position and his `temporary` power to
this very day, precisely forty-five years later. As stated in a well-known
Israeli proverb, nothing is more permanent than temporary things.

June 5, 1967

On this day, 45 years ago, at 8:00 in the morning, I arrived at the A.D.
Gordon Elementary School in Tel Aviv. Just as I entered the school gate the
air raid alarm sounded and pupils and teachers hurried to take shelter in the
basement but no enemy planes appeared over Tel Aviv. And when I returned home
in the afternoon I still worked with some of the neighborhood kids to prepare
sandbags and place them in front of the house, though clearly this was no
longer necessary.

On the news, the IDF Spokesperson stated that the Air Force and ground forces
of our country had repelled an Arab attack and went on to counterattack, which
was not entirely accurate. And the following days I basked, like the vast
majority of adults and children in Israel, in the euphoria of victory. I
devoured the Victory Albums which filled the shelves in the stores, and was
excited to no end at the country`s enlarged borders and its having gained `The
New Territories` (the term which everybody used at the time).

I was not among the few who protested and sounded a warning already then, in
the very aftermath of the great victory - the few isolated `Matzpen` activists
who went out at night to write on the walls `Down with the Occupation!` when
the occupation was not yet one month old.

It took me another three years. Until 1970, the time when General Ariel Sharon
set out to break with an iron fist the first uprising of the Gaza Strip
Palestinians. It was on that year that I sat with fifteen other young people
in the damp basement of a house in central Tel Aviv, and we heard a soldier
who had just returned from there who told of the horrific things he had seen
and in some of which he had himself taken part. That was the moment I and my
friends gave up using the phrase `Enlightened Occupation`.

At night we left with bundles of leaflets, printed on a creaking stencil
machine, and we went out and distributed them in the mailboxes in order to
expose to the citizens of Israel what the military censorship was concealing
from them.

June 5, 1982

Thirty years ago I walked along with thousands of other demonstrators through
the streets of Tel Aviv, in a march organized by the Committee for Solidarity
with Bir Zeit University. We carried placards reading `Fifteen years of
Occupation - Enough!`, to which were added signs hastily prepared at the last
minute: `No War in Lebanon!` and `An offensive in Lebanon – the route to

From the continuous media reports we learned that Defense Minister Sharon was
about to launch the war which he had been openly preparing over many months,
to break the Palestinian presence in Lebanon so as to better consolidate
control over the West Bank. I remember talking on the phone with a soldier who
served in the Air Force Headquarters, and she told me about the preparations
she witnessed for a massive bombing in Beirut – risking serious personal
consequences, had the army`s Field Security been listening in.

Later that evening I was among a group of reservists who gathered in a private
home. We discussed whether or not it was feasible, in the State of Israel, for
soldiers to organize on the eve of an unnecessary and harmful war and announce
their refusal to participate in that war. The meeting ended inconclusively,
because some of the participants felt that such an act would be too radical
and extreme. On the next day the war started, which in the best of Orwellian
tradition was dubbed `Operation Peace for Galilee`.

I heard the announcement of this offensive on a creaking little radio at the
gates of Tel Aviv University, where I stood with other students to distribute
leaflets against the war which was about to begin. And the next night, when
the tanks were racing deeper into Lebanon and the planes dropped a rain of
bombs on the cities in Lebanon (the exact number of civilians casualties will
probably never be known), activists came to distribute hastily printed
leaflets at the Hebrew Book Fair, held annually in this time of the year at
the center of Tel Aviv. The City Inspectors were quick to expel us from this
important cultural event. Distributing leaflets causes litter in the

After a few weeks the group of reservists gathered again and founded an
organization called `Yesh Gvul (`There is a Limit/There is a Border`) and
refused en masse the order to go to Lebanon (and later also the command to go
to the Palestinian Territories and take part in suppressing the first
Intifada). Many of them did time in the military prison, me among them (in
April 1984). It turned out that in the State of Israel it is quite possible to
go out and demonstrate and protest, also and especially in time of war - at
least when it is a war whose wickedness and folly are so clearly manifest.
Still, it took almost twenty years until Israel`s Lebanese adventure ended,
and a high price was paid in the blood of Israeli soldiers (and an even higher
price in the blood of Palestinians and Lebanese, though that is not so often
mentioned in our Israeli media). As could have been expected, it was found
that there are no shortcuts. The problems in Nablus and Hebron and Gaza, which
Sharon tried to solve with a single stroke of the sword, remain as complicated
as ever. Perhaps even more so.

June 5, 1997

Fifteen years ago it the was thirtieth birthday of the occupation, which was
also the end of the first year of Binyamin Netanyahu`s first term as Prime
Minister of Israel. In the demonstration marking the anniversary of the
occupation there were many placards reminding of Netanyahu`s deeds since he
took power, the provocative opening of a tunnel in East Jerusalem which
Netanyahu called `The Rock of Our Existence` and which had cost the lives of
sixteen Israelis and more than a hundred Palestinians, and the construction of
the settler neighborhood in Har Homa which was condemned by the entire world
with only loyal Micronesia standing with Israel at the United Nations.

During that event in Tel Aviv, there was much talking and debating as to how
much confidence we could place in Ehud Barak, who had just taken up Leadership
of the Opposition, and who embarked on a vigorous campaign to topple the
Netanyahu Government and who promised to continue and complete the lifework of
the assassinated Yitzchak Rabin. Some of the marchers mentioned dark episodes
in Barak`s military career, and others retorted that also Rabin had been a
general and gave the order to break the bones of protesters, and they said
`Give him a chance, first of all we must throw Bibi out`.

That evening Professor Tanya Reinhart spoke to a packed hall at the Tzavta
Club and put up an argument that at the time sounded peculiar. I.e. that it
was wrong of left-wingers to support the Oslo Accords, and equally wrong for
settlers to furiously denounce the same. Since, she argued, the establishment
of the Palestinian Authority was not a step towards ending the occupation, but
rather a new, sophisticated way of perpetuating it.

Two years later, Ehud Barak came to power, and was given considerable credit
as an incipient new peacemaker, which by now it is clear he in no way
deserved. He went to the Camp David Summit and returned without an agreement
and making accusations against the Palestinians who rejected his “generous
offers”. It was very difficult – in fact, virtually impossible – for the
present writer and his fellows to propagate the idea that these proposals had
not been so very generous. Immediately afterwards, Barak authorized Ariel
Sharon`s ascent of the Temple Mount, and the spiral of bloodshed and hatred
called the Second Intifada was launched. The peace camp in Israel was struck a
severe blow from which it never really recovered, and Ehud Barak eventually
got to the position of the most loyal assistant and political associate of
Binyamin Netanyahu.

June 5, 2012

And here we are. After so very many ups and downs and, after forty-five years,
the occupation is alive and kicking and trampling of millions of people under
its feet. There were in fact very few references to this anniversary in the
media. If at all dealing with history, the media preferred to dwell on the
round number of thirty years to the (First) Lebanon War. Though a group of
Meretz people did go out to physically mark the Green Line and remind of this

On the 45th birthday of the occupation there was very little talk of the
occupation as such, nor of the settlement enterprise as such, nor even of the
robbery in broad daylight of Palestinian lands as such. What however got all
the attention was a tiny fragment of all that - about the specific and
limited case of one plot of land where a band of settlers built houses, with
the active assistance of the Government of Israel and the Israeli Defense
Forces, on land which does not belong to them. The Palestinian owners of the
land, with the help of Yesh Din and Peace Now and the devoted Attorney Michael
Sfard, appealed to the Supreme Court of the State of Israel and got an
explicit order for the removal of the settlers from the land they had stolen.

Thus came about the explosive issue which shook the political system and
captured the headlines during the days of this week: Would the Government of
Israel implement an explicit order issued by the Supreme Court of the State of
Israel? Or would the Knesset pass a bill permitting and legitimizing the
takeover and theft of private Palestinian lands?

Ultimately, the bill did not pass, after the PM had been warned that its
passage might cause serious problems of International Law and bring the State
of Israel to the dock in the International Court at the Hague and further
undermine its already precarious international position. And at the end of a
big storm in a glass of tea, the PM was praised as a moderate upholder of the
Rule of Law, who bravely faced down the Extreme Right. After all, he did
pledge to dismantle five (5) manifestly illegal settler houses, though he did
also pledge to compensate for it by building several hundred new settler
houses in slightly different locations. And the occupation continues.

And on that morning, the morning of the anniversary of the occupation, some
Palestinian fields were burned in the South Hebron Hills. An act of arson too
small and too far away for the media to notice. 15 dunums of a not yet
harvested wheat field belonging to Palestinians villagers, near the settlement
of Shimah. But it was not specifically related to this symbolic date. In
recent weeks, there were two other cases of Palestinian fields set alight in
the same area. The military and police forces of the State of Israel were
unable to track down the perpetrators in any of these cases.

And the anniversary of the occupation was this year also the day after
Israel`s Prime Minister dramatically announced a major operation to arrest and
deport tens of thousands of Africans found within the boundaries of the State
of Israel, as well as the expansion of detention camps for those of them who
for any reason could not be deported forthwith. And on the night after this
announcement there were some impatient people who did not wait for the PM to
carry out his announced policy but proceeded to burn down the home of an
Eritrean family living in downtown Jerusalem and write on the house: `Get out
of this neighborhood!`. Professor Arnon Sofer of Haifa is an expert
demographer and has often warned of the demographic threat posed to Israel by
the proliferation of the Arabs and did some impeccable academic research on
this subject and he is now the right man in the right place, being appointed
head of the new governmental commission to recommend ways of fighting the
demographic threat which African refugees pose to Israel. Perhaps it was also
to such things that Professor Yeshayahu Leibowitz referred in his warning and
premonition, already at the time of victory euphoria in June 1967, when he
said that the occupation would corrupt Israeli society, deprive it of
conscience and moral bearings.

Also this year the anniversary of the occupation intersects with the beginning
of the Hebrew Book Fair, when publishers display on the city streets stalls
offering to culture lovers books at a very discounted price, four books for a
hundred shekels - just like in the vegetable market. And this year, also
pianos were placed in the streets of Tel Aviv and young pianists come to play
and make music accessible to the general public. And the Gay Pride Parade was
held in Tel Aviv under the auspices of the municipality and assorted
commercial companies, to show that Tel Aviv is an open and liberal city and
the capital of the gay community.

Barack Hussein Obama, President of the United States who might get re-elected
in November, this week mused aloud that the window of opportunity for Israeli-
Palestinian peace might have closed already.

June 5, 2027

What would see and behold those of us who are still here – still in this
world and still here in this miserable and crazy country - fifteen years from
now? Will June 5, 2027 be the 60th anniversary of a still ongoing occupation?
If so, who would still be found in the Israel of 2027 to cry out and protest,
and what would be the point in protesting against an occupation whose
beginning would only be remembered by people in their seventies?

It could well be. Certainly, an abomination which lasted for forty-five years
can also last for sixty years and more. And if so, it is likely that long
before the 60th anniversary of the occupation, the processes which are already
underway would have come to their ultimate conclusion. Brutal racism would
rule supreme and there would be no one able to stand up to it. The Israeli
army would have become the Settler Defence Forces, and settlers would be the
core of its officer corps (who but settlers would dream of devoting a life to
a career in an army whose sole raison d`etre is the oppression of a civilian

Such terms as `a Left Zionist` or `a leftist Israeli patriot` or `a leftist
serving in the IDF` will come to be considered an oxymoron. Israel`s
international isolation would be complete, and only the most sinister of
racists would think of associating with such a country. Also many of the Jews
worldwide, especially the young ones , would feel embarrassed by Israel and
cut off any contact. Anyone who could would seek to save themselves and escape
from this country and seek a more reasonable place to live. And Israel would
retrench itself in military might, and will continue with stubborn self-
righteousness to regard itself as moral paragon and dismiss all who criticize
it as anti-Semites or self-hating Jews. And it will angrily and with contempt
reject any proposal for change or compromise. No withdrawal from `Judea and
Samaria` where settlements will grow and expand, certainly no granting of
civil rights to Palestinians which will cause the end of `The Jewish State`.
And so will this country lurch along somehow, so long as its military
superiority lasts and as long as the United States is politically willing and
economically able to give support? But how long will the American empire
itself last?

And then, the deluge. A bitter fate to all who still remain here.

All of this could come to pass. We do not live in a Hollywood movie, and no
one has guaranteed us a happy ending with living happily ever after. It could
well be that we are actually living in a Greek tragedy or a Shakespearean one,
the kind which ends with everybody ultimately lying dead side by side on the
stage. There are quite a few of us who have already given up, who think that
we have already long since passed the point of no return, and there is nothing
left to expect but the inevitable slide into the abyss. And evidence to
support such ideas is not lacking – one needs just to read the papers, any
newspaper on any day.

And on what basis could one argue the opposite? That we have not yet passed
the point of no return, that everything is still reversible, that is is still
possible to halt at the edge of the abyss? That It is also possible that the
occupation will not have a 60th birthday, possibly not even a 50th one? That
on June 5, 2027, occupation would be no more than a distant fading memory, and
already there would be a new generation of Israelis and Palestinians who had
never known it personally who would grow up in a reality of peace between
their two countries?

Why, despite everything and in the face of everything, should we continue to
hope and keep faith and struggle and struggle and struggle? Why do devoted
activists work hard this very day, June 9, 2012, on organizing the procession
which is due to march this evening in the streets of Tel Aviv – knowing full
well that in itself it would not put an end to the occupation, that at best it
would add one small grain of sand to the balance?

- Because ending the occupation would not be only a moral deed which the
State of Israel should undertake for moral reasons, but also an existential
need which alone can ensure our long-term survival in this country. It is
quite logical to hope that people, millions of citizens in the State of
Israel, would eventually stop the slide towards national suicide and turn to
the only course which can ensure their future and that of their children and

- Because for the Palestinians continued occupation is intolerable, and they
would not tolerate it for long. And the Palestinians have already demonstrated
on several occasions their ability to remind of their presence and their pain
and their unresolved problem. To remind Israelis and the entire world.

- Because this unresolved problem has already several times proven to have an
effect at a distance, far beyond any proportion to the number of people and
the size of the territory involved. A problem which arouses emotions all over
the world, a major producer of news for the global media. An explosive problem
which can set off all kind of other explosive situations in various other
places. And therefore, a problem which global powers have an interest in
defusing before it blows up and blows away with it various vital interests of
these powers.

Beyond all this, because even after forty-five years, the adherents of
occupation and settlement have failed to convince the general public that
these territories which Israel occupied forty-five years ago are really part
of Israel. Very few Israelis (except for religious-nationalists) have ever
visited Hebron (unless the army sent them there as part of their military
service). Very few Israelis (except for religious-nationalists) think
seriously that the centrality of Hebron in the ancient tales recounted in the
Hebrew Bible is reason enough for the State of Israel to hold on to
Palestinian Hebron in the present day. It is reasonable to assume that if and
when an Israeli government decides to end its rule in the city of Hebron and
give it over to the State of Palestine, very few Israelis would do a serious
effort to oppose this move – except, again, for the religious-nationalist
settlers and their friends.

A lot could be said to the detriment of the Disengagement from Gaza, carried
out by Ariel Sharon 2005 – the replacing of direct military rule in Gaza
with a tight siege strangling its economy, and the dismantling of a small
number of settlements in the Gaza Strip so as to keep and expand many more
settlements on the West Bank. Still, the events of 2005 can be seen as a kind
of dress rehearsal for what is likely to occur, if and when an Israeli
government decides to evacuate the West Bank. In 2005 the settlers and their
national religious friends cried out in protest, organized several large and
impressive demonstrations and protests - but in all of them, participants were
drawn exclusively from this one segment of Israeli society. The settlers
called out for for help to other parts of Israeli society – to the Mizrahi
Likud voters in slum neighborhoods and development towns, to the Russian
immigrants, to the ultra-Orthodox. None of them came, none joined the settler
protests. And so, the Gaza settlements were dismantled on schedule, at the
time stipulated by the government.

To the best of my appreciation, so it will be if and when an Israeli
government decides to end the occupation, and evacuate the West Bank, and
facilitate the creation of a Palestinian state whose border with Israel would
be based on the Green Line. Most citizens of Israel would accept that
decision, even if not with a big burst of enthusiasm. The settlers and their
national religious friends will wage an all-out struggle against it, tooth and
nail. It would be a fierce struggle, possibly getting far more violent than in
2005. But the settlers would remain isolated and the evacuation would be
carried out.

All this, if a Government of Israel ever reaches such a decision, due to a
combination of pressures from within the country and from outside. But would
there ever be such a government? Would Israel put an end to the occupation,
before the occupation puts an end to Israel?


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