As Hamas and Islamic Jihad fire hundreds of rockets from Gaza into Israel, criticising Israel’s occupation may seem inappropriate. But it is the occupation that is behind the continuing Israeli-Palestinian conflict, writes Alon Ben-Meir.
At a time when hundreds of rockets are fired by Hamas and Islamic Jihad from Gaza against Israel – threatening population centers, including Jerusalem and Tel Aviv – criticizing Israel’s occupation of the West Bank would seem inappropriate at best.
Many Israelis justify the continuing occupation in light of the intensifying violence. They argue that Israel cannot allow the West Bank to become under any circumstances like Gaza – a staging ground for rocket attacks that could cause unimaginable death and destruction.
The repeated acts of violence emanating from Gaza and the relative calm in the occupied West Bank are used to “validate” this claim. In reality, the occupation itself is the root cause behind the unending Israeli-Palestinian conflict and the current deadly flare-up between Israel and Hamas.
Although Israel has legitimate national security concerns and has every right to defend itself, the continuing occupation is largely used as a cover for those expansionists who believe in Greater Israel.
Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and many members of his cabinet make no secret of their belief that “the Jewish people are not foreign occupiers”.
In his speech to Congress on May 24, 2011, Netanyahu emphatically stated:
“This is the land of our forefathers, the land of Israel, to which Abraham brought the idea of one god … no distortion of history could deny the 4,000-year-old bond between the Jewish people and the Jewish land.”
Naftali Bennett, the Economy Minister, reflected the sentiments of many Israelis when he stated in 2012: “Obviously all of Eretz Yisrael (the land of Israel) belongs to us.” And now he openly calls for the outright annexation of Area C, which represents 60% of the West Bank.
Given these deep ideological and religious convictions and the failure of the last set of US-sponsored peace negotiations, the little hope left for the Palestinians to establish a state of their own has been further diminished.
To deny that Israel is an occupying power, as many Israelis do, is the height of hypocrisy. The assumption that a historical and biblical right to the “land of Israel” which goes back four millennia supersedes the right of the indigenous Palestinians defies both logic and the reality on the ground.
Regardless of who is right or wrong, occupation by its very nature erodes the moral values of the occupier, which leads to violations of the occupied’s human rights with near-impunity. In this regard, the blockade of Gaza is as bad as, and perhaps even worse than, the occupation of the West Bank.
This in turn engenders hatred and resentment, as the occupied harbor enmity and often resort to violent resistance, revenge and retribution. The abduction and the murder of three Israeli teenagers, and the kidnapping of a Palestinian boy who was beaten and burned to death as an act of revenge, instigated, at least in part, the current cycle of violence.
As the Greek dramatist Euripides observed, “The strong should not abuse their strength, nor the fortunate think Chance will bless them forever." What he and other Greek playwrights understood was the theme of blood crimes, where one outrage begets another outrage, so that what ensues is a never-ending cycle of destruction. Or as Aeschylus puts it, “Old arrogance gives birth to new...”
The sad irony is that as long as Hamas openly seeks and promotes the destruction of Israel and violently resists the blockade, it provides Israel with the excuse and rationale it needs to maintain the blockade and, by extension, the occupation of the West Bank.
This explains why the Netanyahu government does not seek the destruction of Hamas and instead chooses to “manage” its militancy by degrading every few years its military capability and destroying much of its infrastructure to keep it at bay.
The question that Greek tragedy keeps coming back to is: can we learn from all this suffering? How much wanton destruction of life has to occur before we “suffer into truth” – that is, before we learn the truth of moderation, self-control, and respect for boundaries and ultimately reconciliation?
Conversely, even though Hamas knows that it will never be in a position to destroy Israel, and regardless of the acute suffering of the trapped and despondent Palestinians in Gaza, continued militancy provides it with its raison d’être, the staying power and the “legitimacy” as it seeks to portray itself as the champion of the Palestinian cause.
This incessant and obsessive repetition of acts of vengeance and retaliation ultimately spells the end of civic morality. But as Aeschylus also observed, there is a final day of reckoning: “sooner or later... the appointed day comes.” How long must we repeat this senseless cycle of bloodshed?
Israel and Hamas will sooner or later agree on another precarious ceasefire, which will last only so long as it continues to serve their interests. In the interim, both will be preparing for the next round of fighting at the expense of the majority of Israelis and Palestinians, who are fed up with their so-called leaders whose ideological compulsion and self-denial overshadows national interests.
Israel must remember that in the wake of World War I, and especially following the defeat of Germany in World War II, a new global political order was established and subsequently enshrined in the United Nations Charter; no country has been able or permitted to maintain a belligerent occupation. In this sense today only Israel is considered to be an occupying power.
Hamas’ leadership knows that they cannot destroy Israel and will be unable to indefinitely rule Gaza, not because Israel can destroy them but because the vast majority of Palestinians in Gaza will rise and demand an end to their misery and servitude, for which Hamas is blamed.
They are prisoners in their own land, encircled by Israel from the land, air and sea, and policed by Hamas. The ghastly conditions under which they live are becoming ever more unbearable and hapless every time Hamas challenges Israel.
President Abbas will do well to stay the course and continue to pursue the path of peaceful negotiations, but he must insist that if Hamas wants to remain a part of the unity government, then Gaza must also fall under the overall authority of the PA.
Egypt is rightfully insisting that any ceasefire must involve the PA’s security forces guarding the border crossing with Egypt, and Israel should also be firm that the PA be a signatory to any new ceasefire agreement.
Insisting on these conditions now in exchange for some concessions to Hamas could change the dynamics between Hamas and Israel and may well provide a new opening for the resumption of peace negotiations.
To be sure, occupation is a curse that dehumanizes both the occupier and the occupied. It runs contrary to every tenet of humanity.
Israel must take the initiative because its extraordinary achievements and permanence cannot be sustained by its military prowess alone, but rather by its dedication to the moral values for the lack of which millions of Jews have suffered and perished.
By Dr. Alon Ben-Meir for Haaretz.
Ben-Meir is a professor of international relations at the Center for Global Affairs at NYU. He teaches courses on international negotiation and Middle Eastern studies.
Date created : 2014-07-17