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From denial to recognition: There is no 'humane' occupation

As Israelis, as Jews, as human beings, we must confront the daily reality that takes place throughout the occupied territories. And in doing so, we must face ourselves.

By Frima (Merphie) Bubis

Israeli soldiers arrest a Palestinian man during a raid on the West Bank city of Hebron, September 20, 2017. (Wisam Hashlamoun/Flash90)

Israeli soldiers arrest a Palestinian man during a raid on the West Bank city of Hebron, September 20, 2017. (Wisam Hashlamoun/Flash90)

 

As we began building our sukkot, the Yom Kippur reading from the Book of Jonah echoed in my head: “How can you be sleeping so soundly!” (Jonah 1:6). As though I myself heard the captain crying out, over the roar of the raging storm to the prophet fleeing his mission, as he hid away, asleep, below deck.

Other moments in the story flash through my mind, as though in fast-forward: how Jonah was thrown into the stormy sea and found himself “in the fish’s belly three days and three nights” (Jonah 2:1); how after he had agreed to his mission and went to the city of Nineveh to rebuke the people, he was surprised to see that “the people of Nineveh believed God. They proclaimed a fast, and great and small alike put on sackcloth” (Jonah 3:5); how the prophet refused to accept God’s mercy on the people of Nineveh and “begged for death, saying, ‘I would rather die than live’” (Jonah 4:8); and finally, how change came only at the last moment, after the Lord had rebuked him: “You cared about the plant, which you did not work for and which you did not grow, which appeared overnight and perished overnight. And should not I care about Nineveh, that great city!” (Jonah 4:10-11).

Perhaps only then did he finally see how blind he’d been, and finally understood his purpose and the true meaning of being a prophet.

Three years ago, I was still spending Yom Kippur in uniform. I served as a soldier in the Civil Administration — the military body that is entrusted with controlling and monitoring the Palestinian population in the occupied territories. I was part of a huge bureaucratic apparatus and saw how us soldiers frequently presented orders and enforced rule. I learned with time about the vast spectrum of everyday arbitrary actions that are concealed behind the headlines that have long since become familiar to us.

For example, I learned how we prevented dozens of Palestinian farmers from harvesting their olive trees because of their proximity to Israeli settlements. Or alternatively, a conversation that the brigadier general held with soldiers about the sacred concept of “proportionality” in order to reemphasize the open-fire regulations after Palestinians were shot by mistake. I knew that the lives of hundreds of thousands under our full control were always subject to “security needs,” and I did not truly understand my role in all of it, what it was that I had done.

It is not the extraordinary events that now come to my mind, but rather the day-to-day ones. I remember the conversation I had in the operations room the morning after we imposed a closure on a village of about 3,000 Palestinians. While this closure was the answer to a Molotov cocktail thrown the previous night at an Israeli car, it meant the soldier at the checkpoint had a question: whether or not to let a couple and their ill son pass through to reach a clinic in the next village. To me, the answer was a clear yes, since this was exactly what we meant when we used the term “humanitarian cases,” which could enable us to allow movement even under closure. But the approval of the regional commander was needed. The brigadier general emphasized that while it was permissible this one time, we must examine every case individually — that we should not consider this decision a set policy.

A left-wing Israeli protester stands next to masked Israeli riot police at an anti-occupation demonstration in the West Bank, April 1, 2016. (Oren Ziv/Activestills.org)

A left-wing Israeli protester stands next to masked Israeli riot police at an anti-occupation demonstration in the West Bank, April 1, 2016. (Oren Ziv/Activestills.org)

Our outward gaze comes so easily. We look at the “other,” at Nineveh, and we and judge his or her responsibility. We count sins so effortlessly. When I encountered cases of Jewish terrorism against Palestinians and their property, I knew how to identify clearly who were the perpetrators and who were their victims. When I processed complaints from Palestinians about violence from IDF soldiers, I could discern instantly who was in the wrong. It was much harder for me to identify my own responsibility, to understand that I was an active participant. It was much harder to grasp that no occupation can be moral, orderly, or enlightened. To discover that, indeed, the opposite is true. It is the very premise — that 18-year-old Israeli soldiers hold the power, through our laws and military orders, to administer the ‘civilian life’ of millions whose basic rights are denied — that is unacceptable.

In Professor Haviva Pedaya’s beautiful interpretation of Rabbi Israel Najara’s poem “I Will Go” (Ana Elech), she identifies Nineveh as “a focal point of evil, about which the alarm must be sounded, and which must be denied.” She defines the giant fish as a place that teaches Jonah “to be a man who does not refuse his mission.” She explains that Jonah’s mission was not to predict what was to come, and that the proof that he was a true prophet was not whether Nineveh would be destroyed and his vision realized. Rather, his role was to illustrate the choice between fleeing and fighting to change, to be “a messenger who brings the Word of God in order to rock the foundations and thereby create new possibilities.” This, according to Pedaya, is the essence of the Book of Jonah: the transformation of the heart from evil to righteous, from self-inflicted blindness to a willing gaze. The desire to be exposed, to expose and to become open to repent.

During the holiday of Sukkot, as the sukkah inspires us as a symbol of transience and uncertainty, we must not forget the decision of the Minister of Defense to impose an unusually long closure on the occupied territories by closing all the checkpoints between Israel and the West Bank. But the closure is not really imposed on the “territories”. It is imposed on the millions of Palestinian residents who live there, and on over 100,000 workers who are prevented from providing for their families. On the Eve of Sukkot, I read about this decision and thought about the shift between closure and repentance. Between denial of our role in this dark reality, and the possibility of rebirth, recognition, and choosing a different path.

I pray for us. I wish to remind God of the lesson he taught Jonah: see us, see the repentance we seek to create in this Land, and show mercy on Your creations.

Frima (Merphie) Bubis, 23, was raised in the religious-Zionist community, and today is the Jewish Diaspora coordinator for Breaking the Silence. This post was first published in Hebrew on Local Call. Read it here.

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    COMMENTS

    1. Itshak Gordin Halevy

      For most of Jews, Judea and Samaria are not occupied territories.

      Reply to Comment
    2. Lewis from Afula

      End the occupation………………………..by deporting all Yesha Arabs. Their relatives in Amman are waiting for them.

      Reply to Comment
      • JeffB

        @Lewis

        Ben is throwing a fit about these sorts of statements. So let’s make what you are claiming specific by working an example. I agree with you the left can be horrifically inaccurate and oversimplify their history. Ottoman records show the Haddadeen clan doing major construction in Ramallah during the mid 16th century and essentially revamping the city. They then have them living there and moving other Christians in. Are the Turks lying and Ramallah was not a Christian city until recently? Clearly there are members of the Haddadin clan in Jordan. So one can argue they weren’t a separate nationality. But are you claiming they didn’t also live in Ramallah or that they aren’t a separate nationality?

        Reply to Comment
    3. john

      for the rest of the world, they are.

      Reply to Comment
    4. JeffB

      @Frima

      First off heck an essay for someone who is 23. I agree with you 18 year olds shouldn’t be making life and death choices, but among 18 year olds Israel picked a good one to do so.

      In terms of you point also agree. It is time to end the military dictatorship in Area-C and impose civilian law with a representation in making the law and proper procedures in carrying it out.

      Reply to Comment
      • Ben

        “impose civilian law with a representation in making the law and proper procedures in carrying it out”

        As usual, one has to ask: What does it mean?

        It sounds like one of those purposefully vague, indeterminate, fog-shrouding, dressing-up, make-nice, occupation-managing, legitimacy-crafting, devious phrases, so vague as to be meaningless, and capable of hiding or dressing up a lot of bad things. Without full annexation of all three Areas, A, B and C, with extension of the franchise to all, any halfway maneuver in Area C becomes just one more devious use of Oslo to extend the occupation.

        “there is no denying what the Oslo Accords and the Paris Protocol have become: providers of the legal framework and international legitimacy for the oppression of millions.”
        read more: https://972mag.com/an-agreement-on-indefinite-occupation-oslo-celebrates-19-years/55788/

        Reply to Comment
        • JeffB

          @Ben

          America 2 generations ago annexed Alaska not all of Russia and Canada. We weren’t disenfranchising the Russians and Canadians when we extended full civil protections to Alaska. Similarly there are discussions of annexing Puerto Rico, not all of Latin America.

          Your argument is silly. There is a huge difference between annexing territory where the majority of the population wants a government to represent them, and annexing territory where the majority of the population does not want a government to represent them. Area-A and Area-B do not want to be in Israeli. Area-C does.

          Reply to Comment
          • Bruce Gould

            @Jeffb: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Area_C_(West_Bank)

            Area C, excluding East Jerusalem, is home to 385,900 Israeli settlers[3] and approximately 300,000 Palestinians.[4]

            The international community considers the settlements in occupied territory to be illegal,[5][6][7][8][9][10] and the United Nations has repeatedly upheld the view that Israel’s construction of settlements constitutes a violation of the Fourth Geneva Convention.[

            Reply to Comment
          • Lewis from Afula

            RE: “United Nations has repeatedly upheld the view that Israel’s construction of settlements constitutes a violation of the Fourth Geneva Convention”

            Article 80 of the UN Charter (written in 1945) declares that prior League of Nations obligations cannot be altered. This includes the San Remo Treaty of 1920, that awarded Judea & Samaria to be part of the Jewish National Home. Moreover, San Remo obligated international law to allow “Jewish settlement on to the Land”. San Remo was passed by UK, US. Japan, France, Italy and the entire 57 states of the international community at the time.

            Thus, the UN CANNOT outvote San Remo obligations as they are breaking the UN’s founding charter. Its like a President of USA declaring himself to be the “President for Life” Its fundamentally unconstitutional and breaks all the laws of the United States.

            I challenge you to check all this on Google.

            Reply to Comment
          • Ben

            @LFA: San Remo, blah blah blah. All of this misses the forest for the trees. Over the years the international community has also recognized countervailing Arab claims. The basic, sane assumption has always been and still is that the claims on Palestine by Jews and Arabs are both valid yet irreconcilable and so that partition (the two state solution today) remains the most practical one, which will allow the partial fulfillment of the claims and aspirations of both sides. The messianic religious-nationalists don’t want to hear that and simply indulge in extremism increasingly bearing the hallmarks of post-World War I fascism: militarism, anti-intellectualism, xenophobia, perpetual war, oppression of the individual, vilification of “leftists,” accusations of treason hurled at those who break the silence and other peace-seekers, etc.

            Reply to Comment
          • Lewis from Afula

            Ben.
            So international law is NOT international law !
            I will remember your line of argumentation when this point (invariably) comes up again.

            Reply to Comment
          • Ben

            I have no idea what you mean. I can’t read minds and neither am I a cryptologist.

            Reply to Comment
          • JeffB

            @Bruce

            I’m not entirely sure about those figures even using your source. If you click on the link in the wikipedia article you get 300k Palestinians in Area-C only if you include any Palestinian living in any village partially in Area-C. Even if true that’s a very aggressive count. I’d like to see better counts, there is no good reason these numbers are so wildly disputed.

            As for the UN’s position I’d agree that’s their position. It however makes no sense. The left doesn’t talk that way. You don’t talk that way. If you actually believe that this is an occupation then the settlers are emigrants from Israel who have chosen to move a country called Palestine. Israel didn’t deport them. What happens in the west bank is the doing of the military dictatorship that Israel sponsors, not the Israeli government. If you think its a separate country then you need to consistently talk as if it were a separate country. Hamas in Gaza is then what? You don’t want to recognize them as a the government of part of the State of Palestine. So what are they?

            As for a violation of the 4th Geneva Convention I’d disagree, because there the definition of occupation matters. By Israel making claim, which for example it did for section of Hebron in Oslo, or its reference to these as disputed territories it invalidates it being an occupation. The main reason to believe that Area-C is occupied is that Israel uses martial law on some residents. Arguably I think a fairer reading of the situation given israeli policy and behavior is that Israel is the governing power in Area-C. Moving a huge numbers of civilians in, creating a unified infrastructure… are not things occupying powers do.

            Reply to Comment
          • Ben

            Sigh. How many times do we have to review the most basic matters? The occupation is not a belief it is a fact. Established in international opinion and international law. No county in the world but Israel, and its right wing at that, disputes that, and Israel’s own High Court has ruled it an occupation. The 4th Geneva Convention applies whether or not Palestine is “a country” and absolutely irrespective of what “claim” Israel makes. (You give “claims” magical powers. It is quite mystifying how you perseverate on this.) The 4th GC is about protected persons, civilians, not states. (How many times do we have to go over this?) Israel’s own expert, Theodore Meron got this right in 1968 in a top secret memo and reaffirmed it in the clearest terms decades later, twice. To say “Israel making claim…invalidates it being an occupation” is patent nonsense, an embarrassing assertion. Israel using martial law is *consistent with* the occupation it knows it to be, not “reason to believe” it is an occupation. Martial law is what occupying powers do. The Sun rising in the East and setting in the West is consistent with the Earth being round, not “reason to believe” the Earth is round. “Israeli policy,” whatever that is at any given time, does not make it “the governing power” in international law or in reality. Moving huge numbers of civilians in, creating a unified infrastructure…are not things occupying powers *legally, legitimately* do, but occupying powers have been known to do these things when they are breaking the law and violating the Fourth Geneva Convention. (This is so basic, and so repetitively ignored by you, that one wonders if you are merely trolling us?)

            Reply to Comment
          • JeffB

            @Ben

            I showed you the international law on this. The restoration or creation of civil law ends an occupation. If there exists a non-marital government territory is not occupied. That is the fact. You just don’t like the facts. In Area-C Israel is imposing civil law on the Jewish population, ergo they are not under occupation. But they live in the territory so the territory is almost certainly not occupied. Were it to extend civil law to the Arabs then we aren’t even in a remotely grey area.

            Area-A and Area-B have their own government. The Israelis do not keep them under martial law. They are likely colonies not occupied.

            As for claims again as I showed you. Making claim to a territory under your control means the territory is not occupied either. Again the definition, “Martial Law in a hostile country consists” if the territory is not in a hostile country it ain’t occupied. And the law makes that explicit article 4, “Military oppression is not Martial Law“. Or Article 20, “Public war is a state of armed hostility between sovereign nations or governments. It is a law and requisite of civilized existence that men live in political, continuous societies, forming organized units, called states or nations, whose constituents bear, enjoy, suffer, advance and retrograde together, in peace and in war.” etc…

            You can assert all you want but the law doesn’t say what you claim. The UN is simply lying.

            Reply to Comment
          • Ben

            This is a sideshow to serious argument, JeffB, what you are at this point engaging me in. But here goes.

            Please just listen to yourself. Israel is imposing civil law on the Jewish population, you say. Beg your pardon, JeffB? Imposing? You give away the game with “imposing.” Special treatment for specifically privileged individuals is not “imposed,” it is bestowed. Listen to yourself. JeffB. All you have to do is stop for a minute and listen to yourself. The illegally transferred in Jewish population has always been lovingly accorded civil law, has been given that special privilege, by design. By design, JeffB—that is the whole point of the occupation. The Jewish population has never been subject to actual on-the-ground martial law. The soldiers there can’t even touch the settlers, they have to call in the police wen they witness outright crimes before their very eyes—when the perps are Jewish, that is. On the contrary it is the settlers who order the military about! So, *of course,* the illegally transferred in, occupation-supported Jewish population is not “under occupation”! What world are you living in, JeffB? It is the world of a comfortable, theoretical armchair far from the nightmare of the occupation that the non-Jewish inhabitants are subjected to day in day out, night in, night out.

            Then comes the real icing on the cake, the cherry on top. You gotta love this:

            “But they live in the territory so the territory is almost certainly not occupied. Were it to extend civil law to the Arabs then we aren’t even in a remotely grey area.”
            So, Jews, civilian settler proxies for its army invading the West Bank, live in Palestinian territory, pushing Arabs off their land, and those Jews have civil law accorded them, so, voila!, that territory is…not occupied! And, oops, we forget about those, um, pesky Arabs all around and under their feet under relentless brutal military occupation on their own land for 50 years, but never mind, at the last minute JeffB recalls them, as an afterthought, and “if Israel were to extend civil law to the Arabs,” then….

            You just got to stand back and gape at that one, at the tautological wondrousness of it.

            Translation into plain; honest English: “Were the Palestinian territories not occupied, then they would not be occupied.” Brilliant! You are funny, JeffB. Cause for mirth over here in Ben’s household. Really, they get a kick out of you.

            But look at all the seriously non-funny things you ignore: Israel has relentlessly pushed and shoved Palestinians off their land within Area C and out of Area C whenever it could, via illegal occupation and transferring of assault rifle-toting civilian settler proxies for its army,. But now, heh, those privileged settler proxies have had civilian law bestowed on them, always have, so, voila!, no occupation! You just cannot put this forth as a serious argument, JeffB. It is just perverse. It is just ridiculous.

            (Now, we know also that you have those special Area C Blinders on and refuse to acknowledge that Area A and B are occupied as well (spare us the obfuscations about that, we’ve been there) and refuse to acknowledge that the whole Area C business is just a sneaky way of shoving Palestinians out of Area C into occupied Area A and B Bantustans—but we’ve had enough fun for tonight. Over and out.)

            Reply to Comment
          • Ben

            More pseudo-comparable, bogus analogies! Your specialty! The US has currently designated Areas A and B of Latin America and Russia after illegally occupying them? Who knew? I thought they had given up the frank illegal colonizing business about a century ago. Regarding “the population,” see Bruce’s reply.

            When did you administer a popular referendum in Area C? Did you serve the Palestinians coffee while you tenderly solicited their preferences and distributed ballots? Did you shove them off their land and steal it and throw out as many as you could before or after that? Was that after you did this, Mr. Democracy?:

            “In Area C, Israel is building new settlements, universities and cultural centers; excavating natural resources and using them on the Israeli market; and displacing thousands of Palestinians living there – a massive human and civil rights violation that is condemned by the international community but at the same time accepted and even enabled by the insistence on keeping the Oslo Accords as the main diplomatic and legal framework on the ground. All those nice diplomats working so hard to save Oslo and the peace process are really saving the occupation.
            The financial agreement which accompanied Oslo – the Paris Protocol– is keeping the Palestinian economy as a captive market for Israeli decision-makers and capitalists. Israel is collecting taxes for the Palestinians – and using them for diplomatic leverage. Under the Paris Protocol, the Palestinians are not allowed to have a central bank or use their own currency. In short, it is an agreement that was designed to make sure that regardless of other developments, the Palestinian economy will remain occupied.
            It is no surprising then that Israel is doing whatever it can to prevent the Palestinians from walking away from Oslo or the Paris Protocol. The Palestinian Authority is exactly where Israel wants it – too weak and dependent on Israel and foreign donors to present a serious challenge to the occupier, but strong enough to oppress its own people (and it is treated by Israel with the same contempt all occupiers have for their collaborators). This is the reason for the financial aid Israel recently transferred to the Palestinians at the first sign of unrest. 250 million NIS is a tiny sum compared to the diplomatic meltdown and the financial costs that would accompany a move to the old model of direct occupation.”
            read more: https://972mag.com/an-agreement-on-indefinite-occupation-oslo-celebrates-19-years/55788/

            Reply to Comment
    5. JeffB

      @Ben

      Israel may have to administer an election in Area-C to the residents.

      As for the direct costs of occupying Area-A and Area-B that’s not what I’m suggesting but I wouldn’t be so sure. Israel is a labor starved economy in a world where there is a shortage of good investment opportunities. Israel is a low correlating asset. Were Israel to make permanent claim on Area-A and Area-B and develop it I could easily see Israel attracting $50b / yr for 2 decades to develop the economy. Tremendous economic growth and profits for both sides if the Palestinians are game.

      I wouldn’t assume the West Bankers having seen what happened to Gaza want a repeat of the hostility. I could easily imagine a very large percentage of West Bankers looking at the Israeli standard of living and saying 70% of that is way better than what they have now or are likely to get as an independent state and being quite happy. I wouldn’t dismiss the possibility of an economic peace out of hand. That could buy 2-3 generations of peace during which time Israel could socially integrate the Palestinians, biologically integrate the Palestinians in the West Bank so that 2-3 generations of peace becomes a permanent peace.

      Reply to Comment
      • Ben

        All spoken from the perspective of a smug colonialism.

        “The Israeli government suffers from a serious misperception in regard to its economic relationship with the PA. Israel aspires to increase and abuse the Palestinian dependence on its economic clout in the West Bank. What the Palestinians want is political and economic independence. They are ready, unlike most other Arab countries, for economic cooperation with Israel.
        Returning funds to the Palestinians — funds that belong to them in the first place according to the Paris agreement of 1994 between Israel and the PLO — and granting work permits for cheap Palestinian labor signify basing such economic relations on Israeli dominance, instead of equality. A more constructive relationship will require Israeli investment in the Palestinian high-tech sector, joint economic zones, tourism cooperation and a more equal share of water resources for the Palestinians. Above all, this necessitates a different Israeli worldview leading to the sharing of the land between two states. What is proposed today leads up to a form of economic colonialism.”

        Read more: http://www.al-monitor.com/pulse/originals/2016/03/israel-palestine-economic-peace-colonialism-equal-partners.html#ixzz4vAgQbn7N

        Reply to Comment
        • Carmen

          JeffBee, otherwise the Charles Lindburgh apologist for the occupation. For Jeff/Charles, all anti-zionist arguments are just plain ‘silly’! Kinda Stuart Smalley of him too. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=6ldAQ6Rh5ZI

          Reply to Comment
        • JeffB

          @Ben

          The author of the article and I have different outcomes in mind. Of course we have different means. I’m looking for absorption. That over the course of a century or so there is Palestinian economy just an Israeli one where the descendents of Palestinians, who by this point are also the descendents of Israelis. He wants two states on equal footing.

          I don’t have too much of a problem with what he suggests for Gaza.

          Reply to Comment
          • Ben

            We know. The “Belarussian-French-Huguenot-1860-Blacks cultural hollowing out” model of occupation and creeping annexation, excuse me, “absorption.” I see you’ve added a nifty 100 years to the 50 gone by. So it’s a 150 year project now? Thanks for the update. Human rights schmuman rights, huh? Yup, different outcomes, different means. But only you would express it with laboratory instrumentation manual coldness. That special JeffB je ne sais quoi.

            Reply to Comment
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