Savir's corner: Occupation

In this situation of running the lives and destinies of the Palestinians, we will never enjoy real security.

Separation Wall (R370) (photo credit: Reuters/Mohamad Torokman)
Separation Wall (R370)
(photo credit: Reuters/Mohamad Torokman)
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 The historical vision is based on an outdated view of nationalism, whereby land belongs to its initial inhabitants.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.
The 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 armies.
“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.
If the 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 Palestinians ask.
Our answer to this is that all these measures are for the sake of security.
This is a misleading perception.
Stringent security measures must be taken to counter terror and can succeed only with Palestinian cooperation.
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.
Furthermore, 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 monitoring program).
The West Bank is gradually becoming a binational state, with power on the Israeli side and demographics on the Palestinian one.
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 state.
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.
In this 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 does.
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 United States.
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.
The 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.