CULTURAL PRISM: The occupied territories

The entire Middle East is torn by sectarian animosity and violence, yet the relatively calm territorial dispute with the Palestinians is made into a key issue.

January 4, 2018 22:25
CULTURAL PRISM: The occupied territories

THE SKYLINE of Tel Aviv as seen from Dolev, southern Samaria. . (photo credit: MICHAL GILADI)

‘Welcome to a settlement,” I announced, at an elevated observation point in the redroofed community of Tzufim. Having left Route 6, one of Israel’s major highways, only minutes earlier, and having crossed no physical barrier, this came as a surprise.

“I thought settlements were shabby caravans in remote, illegal outposts,” someone commented.

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The term “settlement” is commonly used to describe Jewish presence in what the international community considers “occupied” territories. Scores of neighborhoods, villages and towns throughout the Golan Heights, Judea and Samaria, the Jordan Valley and Jerusalem bear this negatively associated title. In fact, all of modern Israel is one big settlement according to the narrative that sees Jews as modern-era crusaders destined to be driven back to wherever they came from.

The Palestinian-Israeli conflict is fraught with misconceptions, many of them deliberately forged, and terminology tends to be connotative rather than denotative.

Tzufim neighbors the Palestinian city of Kalkilya, which is only 15 km. (9 miles) from the Mediterranean Sea. Tel Aviv is clearly visible, 19 km. (12 miles) away.

Iraqi expeditionary forces and the Jordanian army reached this area during the War of Independence in 1948, and from this very hilltop Jordanian “Long Tom” artillery pieces fired at Tel Aviv in 1967.

Standing here clarifies why we use the term “narrow waist” to describe Israel’s lack of strategic depth. History and geography matter when assessing the prospects for viable peace.

Tzufim is east of the Green Line but west of the security fence, which has dramatically fulfilled its purpose of preventing terrorists from penetrating Israel. The fence (it is mostly a fence, not a wall) twists and turns, creating enclaves. So although east of Kalkilya, Tzufim is on the Israeli side of the fence, and Kalkilya on the Palestinian side.

After construction, the Supreme Court determined (in 2005) that not only security necessity dictated the route in specific locations, and decreed that the fence be relocated to its current position.

This costly mistake demonstrated that the fence is exactly what Israel says it is – a security barrier against terrorism. It is by no means a political border, and is not meant to “separate” people, as our lives our invariably intertwined – Israelis live in Judea and Samaria, and tens of thousands of Palestinians come to work in Israel every day.

Throughout the past two years, despite the wave of terrorist attacks, the crossings have remained open, as this is a powerful stabilizer and enabler of normalization.

Contrary to common perception, it takes Palestinians about 7 minutes to pass through the crossings, as modern biometric systems enable immediate authentication.

The fence more or less follows the contour of the Green Line – another term with distorted interpretations.

The Jews embraced the UN Partition Plan for Palestine in 1947, but the Arabs rejected it, and launched a synchronized attack following Israel’s declaration of independence in 1948.

Armistice agreements following Israel’s victory noted a demarcation line, based on a line in green ink indicating the position of forces at the cessation of hostilities.

It was clearly stated that the line was not an international border and would eventually be dealt with in future negotiations toward peace.

So, the so-called 1967 line is actually the 1949 line, and the fact that in 2018 we still cling to this insignificant, arbitrary contour is mind-boggling.

Negotiations at the time were held with Arab countries, not the Palestinians, simply because they did not yet exist as a “people.” The Roman name “Palestine” was used by Jews and Arabs alike (this paper, for instance, was called The Palestine Post).

Both Samaria and Judea (“Judea and Samaria” is a modern term) were conquered by empires and kingdoms throughout history, including a sovereign Jewish dynasty 2,000 years ago. Most recently the area was part of the Ottoman Empire and then ruled by the British Mandate.

The term “West Bank” was coined by Jordan, describing all of the land between the Jordan River and the Mediterranean Sea, but currently relates only to Judea and Samaria, and is viewed by Israelis as inferring its political status.

The correct term, therefore, is “disputed territories,” because they were not conquered from a sovereign country, and are, in fact, disputed.

Though it significantly dwindled during two major exiles, Jewish presence in the Holy Land has been continuous for millennia. Archeological sites peppering the land reflect rich Jewish life, especially in areas that are now perceived as occupied. Still, there is a powerful narrative depicting Jews as newcomers who took the land from its native inhabitants.

All this is not to say that our Palestinian neighbors have no claim. Some immigrated to here from countries throughout the region, but some can trace their families here for generations. They live here and love the land no less than we do. They can call themselves “Palestinians” and strive for self-determination, and they certainly have rights both as individuals and as a collective.

But the way to achieve statehood is not by twisting facts and erasing documented history. A massive Palestinian campaign of creating and sustaining falsehoods is aimed at vilifying Israel and Israelis, painting an exaggerated image of oppression, and downplaying the many fruitful avenues of cooperation with Israel.

Palestinian leaders do this because they believe it best promotes their goals, and the international community proves them right by playing along.

The entire Middle East is torn by sectarian animosity and violence, yet the relatively calm territorial dispute with the Palestinians is made into a key issue. Israel struggles not only to maintain its security but to overcome a warped representation of reality.

Israelis also foster biased narratives, such as entitlement by God’s promise; an overly-simplistic image of returning to a desolate land with no natives; downplaying the magnitude of forced displacement; ignoring the inadmissibility of territory acquired by war; and failing to recognize the demographic challenge of a one-state mechanism. We are rightfully appalled when Palestinian propaganda attempts to negate a Jewish connection to Jerusalem, but some of us similarly claim exclusivity instead of respecting genuine, century- old Muslim sentiments to the holy city.

The first steps toward stability, reconciliation and peace, should be respecting history, respecting facts and respecting each other.

The writer is a cross-cultural strategist.

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