A one-sided analysis of ‘the occupation’

Gershon Shafir’s new book leaves readers with a distorted impression of Israel.

A Half Century of Occupation Israel, Palestine and the World’s Most Intractable Conflict Gershon Shafir University of California Press 2017 296 pages; $20.56 (photo credit: Courtesy)
A Half Century of Occupation Israel, Palestine and the World’s Most Intractable Conflict Gershon Shafir University of California Press 2017 296 pages; $20.56
(photo credit: Courtesy)
Gershon Shafir, a former Israeli who is professor of sociology at the University of California, San Diego, and founding director of its Human Rights Program, has written one of the most critical, one-sided books against the State of Israel, titled “A Half Century of Occupation; Israel, Palestine and the World’s Most Intractable Conflict.”
A “progressive Zionist,” Shafir is a founding member of Scholars for Israel and Palestine (SIP), a group that describes itself as “pro-Israel, pro-Palestine, pro-peace” and urges US and EU governments to impose personal sanctions – such as visa restrictions and freezing foreign assets – on Israeli leaders who support the occupation and annexation and he is a member of The Third Narrative, established in 2013 by the “progressive” Labor Zionist group, Ameinu.
He is the author of “Land, Labor and the Origins of the Israeli-Palestinian Conflict, 1882-1914,” and “Immigrants and Nationalists,” and co-authored “Being Israeli: the Dynamics of Multiple Citizenship.”
Not only does Shafir discuss the main arguments against the Israeli Jewish presence in what he and others call the “Occupied Palestinian Territories” (OPT), the areas liberated by the IDF in the 1967 Six Day War, i.e., colonialism, ethnic cleansing, and apartheid, he focuses on what he calls “the everyday experience” of “an occupied population,” “the denial of national freedom and the indignities … [which] lead to resistance.” “Palestinian resistance,” he asserts, is “an understandable desire to overthrow foreign occupation and gain self-determination.”
“Resistance” as expressed in the PLO and Hamas Charters includes “armed resistance in the struggle to liberate Palestine” – all of it “from the [Jordan] River to the Sea.” Resistance to occupation is not only a political and military necessity; it is a religious, moral obligation – Jihad.
Resistance can include blowing up buses, airplanes and restaurants, running down people with vehicles, rock and firebomb attacks on Israeli vehicles, slaughtering families in their homes, and Hamas missile attacks. For Shafir and many Arab Palestinians, resistance to occupation justifies violence and incitement against Jews; as long as there is occupation, resistance is acceptable.
IN his argument, colonialism implies that Jews and the Jewish people have no authentic connection to the Land of Israel. Shafir uses the word “invader” to describe Jews, who live in Judea and Samaria, the historic heartland of the Jewish people. Most Arabs who live in this area, however, moved from other countries during the early 20th century and are not “indigenous.” Indeed, many groups and empires “occupied” the Land of Israel.
When the British Mandate ended and the State of Israel was declared in May, 1948, five Arab armies and irregulars invaded, in addition to local Arab gangs, assisted by elements of British and French military. Following a ceasefire in 1949, Jordan annexed the West Bank, while Egypt held Gaza under military rule; no attempts were made to establish a Palestinian state. Terrorist attacks against Israel continued from Gaza, the Jordanian-occupied West Bank, and the Syrian-occupied Golan Heights. When the PLO was founded in 1965, its aim was (and is) to destroy Israel (“occupied Palestine”) – not statehood.
Arabs don’t consider the Armistice Lines of 1949 as meaningful; all of “Palestine” is considered Muslim land conquered by infidels.
After WWI, under a League of Nations Mandate, Palestine was occupied by the British, who conquered it from the Ottoman Turkish Empire, who had taken it from various Christian and Muslim occupiers, who were preceded by Romans, Greeks, Persians, Babylonians and Assyrians. For millennia, the area was part of the First and Second Jewish Commonwealths. Known as Canaan in the Biblical period, it was conquered and settled by the Jewish people under Joshua and included Philistines, Hittites, and others. Unfortunately, Shafir presents no historical context.
“Ethnic cleansing” is belied by many flourishing Arab Palestinian towns and villages and their rising standard of living. Entire Jewish communities, neighborhoods and individual homes were destroyed in order to ensure that Arab claims are protected – even when they were never proven and had no validity. Israeli hospitals are filled with Arab doctors and patients. All Arab colleges and universities in Judea and Samaria – except one – were built after 1967 under Israeli rule. Arabs are also enrolled in every Israeli university.
There is ethnic cleansing in Bethlehem, where, under the PA, the Christian community has shrunk. Many thousands of Palestinians have been murdered by rival Fatah and Hamas gangs, and hundreds have been murdered, tortured and jailed for selling land to Jews, a capital crime under PA and Jordanian law.
Accusing Israel of apartheid (the system of racial discrimination that was used in South Africa) has been denounced by many, especially those who were persecuted, such as the late Nelson Mandela. Shafir and others misapply the term by accusing Israel of “ethnic/social apartheid” to describe Israeli laws and to vilify Israel and Israeli society. Here’s why it’s wrong:
1. Apartheid has a specific meaning; it cannot and should not be used to describe a different legal/social system. It is misused for emotional effect and political gain, not accuracy.
2. Israeli laws are intended to preserve and protect Israel’s existence as a Jewish state and reflect the views of the vast majority of its Jewish population; eliminating these laws would change the nature and purpose of the state. For example, Israel has brought Jews from Ethiopia, India and the FSU – because they are Jews. Rejecting non-Jews who infiltrate illegally into Israel to find work is neither illegal nor immoral.
3. As the only Jewish country in the world, Israel has the right and obligation to defend its self-definition and national identity. Its laws may seem discriminatory to some, but they are essential to maintain a Jewish society.
4. Laws, such as the right of return for Jews, do not deprive non-Jews in Israel of any civil or humanitarian rights or prevent them from enjoying a full and meaningful life. Palestinians who are not Israeli citizens live under the Palestinian Authority (PA) and/or Hamas; the humanitarian rights of those who live in Israeli-controlled territory are fully protected.
5. Facing constant terror attacks, Israeli security forces assert control and often enter Arab towns and villages to apprehend terrorists and confiscate weapons. An unpleasant fact of life, Israelis know what it means to live without it.
As Khaled Abu Toameh and others point out, Palestinians are discriminated against by Arab countries, such as Lebanon, Syria, Jordan, Saudi Arabia and the Gulf States, which deny them civil and humanitarian rights – not by Israel. Shafir ignores this.
The problem with Shafir’s neo-Marxist perspective is that for Arabs and Palestinians, the occupation did not begin with the war in 1967, but with Israel’s establishment in 1948 and its victory in 1949 – the Nakba (catastrophe); “the occupation” began with Zionism over a century ago.
Based almost exclusively on biased anti-Israeli secondary sources and questionable reports and data by pro-Palestinian/anti-Israel organizations, Shafir’s analysis is skewed. In some cases, his footnotes are wrong and don’t relate to the text. His bibliography reflects his one-sided perspective.
One of his most egregious errors is failing to understand the requirements of the Oslo Accords, which established the PA and empowered it in Areas A and B; Area C, in which all Israeli communities (“settlements”) are located, is under Israeli control. Nearly all Palestinians live under the PA in Judea and Samaria (the West Bank) and under Hamas in the Gaza Strip. Contrary to what Shafir writes, only a few tens of thousands of Palestinians live legally in Area C, along with nearly a half-million Jews. His unquestioning reliance on false and misleading data presented by pro-Palestinian organizations is a constant challenge for the reader.
The mantra “End the occupation” means evacuating all Jews from Judea, Samaria and the Golan Heights, dividing Jerusalem along the Armistice Lines of 1949, accepting PA sovereignty, returning the Golan to Syria, and evacuating Jewish neighborhoods, which were built in and around Jerusalem after the Six Day War – which Shafir calls “colonies” (“settlements”).
In addition, the PA/PLO demand of the “right of return” for Arabs who claim to be refugees includes those living in Syria, Lebanon, Jordan, and other countries, and relinquishing all areas conquered by the IDF from 1948 to 1949. Even if Israel would agree to such demands, however, that does not mean the conflict would end, since the very existence of a Jewish state under any circumstances is unacceptable.
In short, what makes the Arab-Israeli conflict “intractable” is the refusal of Palestinians and the Arab world to accept Israel’s legitimacy as a Jewish state. Although many Israeli Arabs oppose the state, most have made their peace with it.
With Iran, Hezbollah, Hamas and violent Islamist groups preparing for the next war with Israel, ongoing terrorism and a vicious power struggle between Palestinian groups, Shafir’s failure to consider the strategic and security issues facing Israel is not only regrettable; it is malevolent.
Shafir might concede that there are practical reasons why the State of Israel should exist – at least a state that is a secular, pluralistic and limited to the 1949 Armistice lines. He ignores, however, what Arabs consider “the occupation” of 1948 and pogroms and massacres committed by Arabs before 1948 in what was then called Palestine. Focusing only on the occupation without a context or balanced explanation leaves readers with a highly distorted perspective.
The author is a PhD historian, writer and journalist living in Israel. His book of short stories, ‘As Far As the Eye Can See,’ was published by the New English Review.