After 45 years, Israel’s control over Palestinian life cannot be seen as temporary, or as an aberration. It is no longer about Israel having to choose between continuing the occupation and its democratic identity , since the choice has already been made. What is left to deal with now are the consequences of this choice.
By Hagai El-Ad
Five structures built on private Palestinian land being moved or not is not the question. Rather, look at the one-quarter of the occupied territories declared “state land,” where Jews are allowed to build “legally.” But what “state” are we talking about? In the name of what “law” and for whom?
For 45 years, “Judea, Samaria and Gaza have been under the State’s belligerent occupation. They are not part of the State of Israel.” Unflinching words from Israel’s Supreme Court justices, when discussing the decision to pull out of Gaza. No vague message or double-speak. The occupied territories are in fact as their title implies: they are not part of Israel.
Moreover, there are only few known government positions that have not changed for a generation. The words above offer a unique example, for they reflect the government’s position “since the Six-Day War and to this day,” as indicated by the Supreme Court. Hence, Israel’s stated position in the matter is not only crystal clear, but it has also been reaffirmed time and again, unchanged, for four and a half decades.
This supposedly clear-cut and unfluctuating position is a fiction. Anyone who has not spent the last 45 years on Mars knows as much. The fact that it has been relentlessly reiterated does not lend credibility to the hollow mantra, but rather on the contrary: it underscores how tenuous its connection to reality is. For in real life, in almost all respects, Israel acts as if the West Bank was an integral part of its sovereign territory, except for one fundamental aspect: the status of the Palestinians, who remain subjects without rights.
Indeed, the State of Israel was careful to maintain that, de jure, its jurisdiction would not be applied in the territories. This was mainly for the sake of convenience, allowing the State to dodge dealing with questions such as the citizenship of the subjects living under occupation, thus mostly avoiding the wrath of the world that would have been unleashed as a result of formal annexation.
But in practice, under the camouflage provided by this fiction, Israel has preoccupied itself for the past 45 years by finding creative solutions so that while averting annexation it could still mostly do as it pleases in the territories. The current incarnation of this creative streak focuses on the fate of five buildings in one settlement, but this is of course a distraction from the real prize. Five buildings? Private Palestinians land? Dodge the spin and focus on the million and a half acres, more than a quarter of the West Bank, that was declared “state lands,” where Jews can build “legally.” State land? Which state exactly, and what “law”?
This arrangement of an annexationless “temporary” occupation is the scheme under which Israel is building settlements and roads, taking advantage of land and water resources, denying Palestinians access to large areas, restricting people’s movement and their opportunities to develop their homeland and build their homes. All this, of course, only on a “temporary” basis and always for security reasons. All this, incidentally, not only according to the promises, on behalf of the State, of “generations of legal advisers,” but also with the approval of generations of Supreme Court justices. This is the reality that is uncovered beneath the fiction.
Once, when the occupation was young, the protest movement against it was called “the 21st year”. Yes, there were people back in 1988 that thought that going on like this was unacceptable. Back then, perhaps, it was still possible to end texts such as this one concluding that Israel must choose between continuing the occupation and maintaining its democratic identity.
Since then another generation has passed. Now, it is not the 21st year but rather the 46th that has just begun. The question is no longer the choice, for it has been made, and is continuing to be made, day in and day out. The question now is one of dealing with the consequences.
Hagai El-Ad is the Executive Director of the Association for Civil Rights in Israel. This post was originally published in Hebrew on Ynet.