The other day I held one of my regular meetings with a Palestinian friend at my
favorite Tel Aviv café (Café Michal). I had promised Riad (pseudonym) that the
best Tel Aviv cappuccino would be no less attractive than the roasted Arab
coffee we had had in Ramallah the week before. Besides coffee and camaraderie,
we were planning to share much more – our common endeavor to advance a young
leaders movement between our two countries.
Riad’s coffee became cold as
I waited somewhat impatiently in my Tel Aviv comfort while he was delayed and
interrogated for three hours at the Kalandiya checkpoint. He was left waiting
one hour under the glaring sun. When he approached the soldiers to alert them
that he was late for a meeting, the soldier in charge threw his Palestinian ID
on the floor and told him to pick it up and come back in an hour. Then he was
interrogated by an apparently very nice officer, trying through every angle to
find out any possible ill intention or even terror affiliation. The fact that he
claimed to be on his way to a meeting of peace and that he had a valid permit to
enter Israel was irrelevant; finally he was allowed through with a warning “be
back by 6 p.m., otherwise we will arrest you.”
This is the daily,
humiliating banality of the occupation.
Had I encountered similar
treatment on my way into Ramallah, I would have turned around and maybe never
returned. Not so, “Riad,” who made it to Tel Aviv, told me of his torment with
an embarrassed smile. We did talk peace, the only way to change the reality of
mutual suspicion, humiliation and blame – a mutual dehumanization, leading to
perpetual conflict and violence.
Many Israelis dispute that the West Bank
is occupied territory, as they see it as part of the biblical land of Israel and
therefore believe that we have the right to rule the territory. The fact that
close to 3 million Palestinians live on this land is immaterial to them. The
historical vision is based on an outdated view of nationalism, whereby land
belongs to its initial inhabitants. Today the national identity of a territory
and a people are a function of the concept of selfdetermination as part of the
democratization of international relations.
Empires and colonies cease to
exist and people determine their national affiliation by majority.
West Bank is Palestine because the great majority of its inhabitants are
Palestinians, which makes it an occupied territory. Yet the international legal
argument is not the most important one, what matters is the daily reality in
these areas, and unfortunately it is one of occupation, unrelated to how good or
bad a neighbor the Palestinians are.
The occupation came about as a
result of an Israeli war of defense in 1967 when attacked by Arab
“Territories for peace” has since been on the table, not picked
up by us or the Palestinians in a sufficient way.
And hence occupation is
the reality for all Palestinians, not only in terms of their national destiny
but in virtually every facet of their daily lives.
While the Oslo
agreements obliged us to transfer all security and civilian authority in all
Palestinian cities to the Palestinian Authority, the IDF feels free to enter
these cities in pursuit of potential terrorists and stonethrowers despite a much
better than ever cooperation by the Authority security forces. While sometimes
necessary, this routine is hurting mostly innocent civilians, constantly in fear
of soldiers entering their homes. It creates a bitterness and disillusion with
political agreements, ultimately leading to more violence.
Palestinians are anxious for their well-being in their own cities, it is their
freedom of movement that is most curtailed. Machsom (“checkpoint”) has become a
synonym for humiliation, not only in entering Israel, but also between
Palestinian cities and villages. For those who want to or have to enter Israel,
there is a prolonged Via Dolorosa of obtaining a permit. The word itself is
denigrating as it derives from permission.
“Why not a visa?” the
Our answer to this is that all these measures are for
the sake of security.
This is a misleading perception.
security measures must be taken to counter terror and can succeed only with
Palestinians will not and should not gain
anything from violence.
Palestinian terrorists are also killing their own
people’s cause. Yet there is a difference between effective measures that our
various security forces are very much capable of implementing and collective
punishment of a whole population. The first weakens terrorism, the latter with
time encourages it. You can ask our “gatekeepers,” the former heads of our Shin
Bet security service.
Still, the main obstacle to any normal Palestinian
dignified life or future is the settlements. A visit to the West Bank is a visit
to an apartheid state. One hundred thirty settlements and another 100 outposts
with 340,000 settlers are spread all over the area. Palestinians in the West
Bank see, from their houses or in their daily travel, tens of thousands of
settlement housing units and view them as an assault on their daily lives and
their national aspirations.
With the settlements in place, there will be
no Palestinian state, leaving the Palestinians in despair.
there is a blatant contrast in the standard of living – modern Israeli
settlement housing with green gardens and swimming pools in contrast with the
relative poverty of Palestinian housing and infrastructure. The settlers in the
apartheid country can use their own roads and buses. Water from the West Bank
mountain aquifer is 87 percent used by Israelis (according to the WASH
The West Bank is gradually becoming a binational
state, with power on the Israeli side and demographics on the Palestinian
When we conquered the West Bank and Gaza in 1967, there were 1
million Palestinians living there, today only 46 years later, there are over 3
million Palestinians. The future balance is obvious.
The settlements as
well as the security restrictions are a heavy burden on the Palestinian economy.
According to the World Bank, half of the land of the West Bank, most of it
agricultural, is inaccessible to Palestinians.
Indeed a binational
The movement of Palestinian goods and people is heavily
restricted, which costs the Palestinian economy $3.4 billion a year according to
this year’s World Bank report.
The significance of the occupation for
both sides is devastating. From a political, economic and security point of
view, the deeper the occupation, the more impossible a two-state solution
becomes. The situation in the West Bank will one day comprise the whole area
from the Mediterranean to the Jordan River; an apartheid state with no
democracy, no Jewish identity, isolated from the world as a pariah state.
Palestinian hostility and violence will only grow with time – no nation will
take its lack of freedom lying down.
The Palestinians as well as the Arab
countries bear their fair share, if not most, of the blame for this conflict
because of their rejection of Israel’s existence and legitimacy in and since
1948. A change of attitude toward Israel must be a condition for any agreement
which is recognized by the Arab Peace Initiative of 2002.
situation of running the lives and destinies of the Palestinians, we will never
enjoy real security.
Security will be possible when the Palestinians have
something to lose – an independent state – such as in the cases of Egypt and
Jordan. Not only does the Palestinian economy suffer from the status quo, ours
International investments and tourism are down given the security
situation. Our international position is on a slippery slope as the entire
international community is opposed to occupation and settlements, including the
Most important, the occupation, while making Palestinian
freedom impossible, is a moral defeat for us.
We should be the first to
know that dictating the lives of others leads to self-defeat. All those who
attempted to dictate our lives as Jews perished.
Oppression of others, no
matter what caused it, is not only untenable, it is inhumane. Freedom and
equality are the most fundamental of human rights. If one forbids them to
others, one loses one’s own freedom, becoming enslaved to curtailing the lives
of others, and, gradually, the lack of morality and the violence that comes with
it creeps into one’s own society.
In deciding on the freedom of the
Palestinians, we will decide on ours.
If we want to remain a Jewish
democracy, we must take control of our own lives and freedoms rather than
attempting the impossible and immoral, ruining the lives of others.
writer is honorary president of the Peres Center for Peace and served as
Israel’s chief negotiator for the Oslo Accords.
This article was edited
by Barbara Hurwitz.