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Israeli occupation: You have to see it to believe it

Most Jewish Israelis will admit the ‘occupation’ is bad, but few have ever gotten a taste of what it feels like to be anywhere near the receiving end of it. No matter how liberal an Israeli you are, if you have not experienced it in some way, first hand, the concept of Israeli occupation has an entirely different meaning to you than someone who has.

This article was originally published in The Forward on April 15, 2013.

Veteran Israeli journalist Amira Hass stirred up a controversy in the media here with an op-ed in Haaretz on April 3 that opens: “Throwing stones is the birthright and duty of anyone subject to foreign rule.” Hass, who has been living and reporting from the occupied Palestinian territories for 20 years, goes on to suggest that Palestinians should develop an educational curriculum on resistance to Israeli occupation that, for example, teaches to distinguish between soldiers as legitimate targets vs. civilians.

It was published just days after an Israeli court convicted a Palestinian of murder for throwing stones at a car in 2011, resulting in the death of the driver and his baby – and was the main argument of those who condemned her and the paper. Some went as far as to accuse her of inciting to violence.

Regardless of what one concludes about the article, or one’s stance on what constitutes (if at all) legitimate resistance to Israel’s violent and protracted occupation, Hass is an example — albeit somewhat extreme — of an Israeli who has “crossed the line.” She has chosen to be exposed to life under occupation first hand, and thus capable of empathy with the Palestinians. Empathy doesn’t necessarily mean agreement or support, but it does mean having the ability to understand and share the feelings of another. This is something practically impossible for the average Israeli to do, whose only experience in the West Bank, if at all, is either as a soldier, a settler, or maybe a tourist to a historical site.

Most Jewish Israelis will admit the “occupation” is bad, but few have ever gotten a taste of what it feels like to be anywhere near the receiving end of it. To do that you’d have to choose to experience it as a civilian alongside the Palestinian population, confronted with Israeli soldiers or settlers, which almost no Israelis do. No matter how liberal an Israeli you are, if you have not experienced it in some way, first hand, the concept of Israeli occupation has an entirely different meaning to you than someone who has.

This fact separates the majority of Israelis from the tiny minority of activists, journalists and NGO workers who have experienced it. I remember the first time I was in a West Bank village when the IDF entered and started shooting live gunfire. I remember the first time I saw little children in settlements no older than eight or nine throwing stones at Palestinians and myself and other Israeli activists; the first time an IDF soldier laid his hands on me and pushed me and repressed my right to protest. I remember being in the Bedouin village Al-Araqib (demolished over 40 times) when dozens of special army forces showed up at dawn in armored personnel vehicles, fully armed, to dismantle the homes of these citizens of Israel.

I remember when IDF soldiers stood and monitored Palestinian youths trying set up a little soccer field in the South Hebron Hills, just to make their presence known. I remember being arrested and watching countless other Palestinians and Israelis being arrested over and over again, for breaking absolutely no laws and causing no one harm.

These are incidents I had to see to believe. Once I experienced the plausibility of incidents that seem so implausible, they became a part of my working assumptions and impacted how I read every news item in the media about life here. I was an anti-occupation leftist before these experiences, but after them, I actually had a cognitive and physical understanding of just a bit of what it is like to be a Palestinian living under Israeli control.

An American journalist friend highly critical of Israel who recently visited the region for the first time told me that until he actually spent time in the West Bank, he found some reports he read back home showing Israel in a bad light so far-fetched that they were hard to believe. For example, a Palestinian detained after being assaulted in Hebron by a settler, who was not detained because, as the policeman explained, it was already the Sabbath. (Yes this happens, it just happened recently).

Most Jewish Israelis either don’t know what the government and army are capable of, or more likely are in denial about what the Israeli occupation is. Without actually spending time in the West Bank, it is impossible to comprehend how much violence Israel inflicts against Palestinians on a daily basis.

Hass’s empathy with the Palestinians’ right to resist Israeli control is deeply rooted in her exposure to and knowledge of the implications of that control, which she has been writing about for two decades. Her article addresses all those Israelis who have not crossed the geographic, ethnic, national, political and cognizant lines to see Israeli occupation with their own eyes. Out of sight really is out of mind, even in this tiny place. This is what ultimately separates the majority of Israeli society from the paucity of citizens who can see her article as an honest depiction of Palestinian life under Israeli rule. Jewish Israelis may have forms of resistance they understandably prefer, but it is ultimately not up to us as the occupier to decide how the occupied can resist.

This article was originally published in The Forward on April 15, 2013.

WATCH: Israeli journalist discusses her article defending Palestinian stone-throwing
Settlers accuse ‘Haaretz’ of calling for violence against them

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    1. “Most Jewish Israelis will admit the “occupation” is bad, but few have ever gotten a taste of what it feels like to be anywhere near the receiving end of it. ”
      “Most” Israelis, really? Where did you get your figures from. That is a lie. The occupation is a lie. Why would Israel want to bother itself with these people, when they have everything they need to live good lives. They dont need these ruffians, these Jew haters, these murderous barbaric arabs, who only know how to take, lie, and kill.

      Reply to Comment
      • Staceman

        Hey Deb, It’s pretty easy to sit on the sidelines and spout you’re one-sided rhetoric. At least the author tried first hand to get a taste of what’s really going on. What I find apalling is how the U.S tries to put together peace deals while providing billions in aid and weapons for Israel. Can anyone say “CONFLICT OF INTEREST”

        Reply to Comment
        • dennis Cohan

          And what would you know siting at your desk popping bonbons. It is the leftist Jews that make the rest of us look bad- go to hell

          Reply to Comment
      • David T.

        “… these Jew haters, these murderous barbaric arabs, who only know how to take, lie, and kill.”

        Exactly. How dare they take less then 22% of their homeland and have even a 10 times lower citizen kill ratio than Israeli Jews who only give, tell the truth and spread peace? And don’t get me started about the lies since 1919.

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      • tod

        pity for you, deborah. you are so full of hatred and so ignorant that you cannot be other than a desperate human being.

        XYZ, Russians, Chinese…ect… at least annexed their “occupied territories” and gave their occupied peoples the rights that an annexion implies. Israel, on the country, is the only country that for decades continues to literally steal the huge percentage of the local natural resources while keeping millions of human being in ghettos.
        If an hostile army keep millions of human beings under his control, how should we call such phenomenon?

        Reply to Comment
        • geri finkelstun

          history will prove us true, if only the historians allow the truth to be known. Arabs have been at war since before the state of Israel even was a thought.

          Reply to Comment
        • JivingyJew

          Come on Ahmed, give us a break- you and your friends on this thread, we know who butters your bread, over there at the Amnesty Int’l and Breaking the Silence. You don’t fool us. lol

          Reply to Comment
      • Hanoch Lerner

        Every word you speak is the truth. Jews have only wanted peace, and a place where they can be free from brutality and threat of being extinquished en toto. Hats off to you lady

        Reply to Comment
        • Greg Kiplinger

          you meant that the author is spinning lies and the Kelso lad is on target – but you won’t print this, only your leftist point of view. You are all a bunch of self loathers. Sad and cowardly you are

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      • Kevin Krauthamer

        Ms Debby You are right–the Arabs want war, and they want to steal everything they can get, so they murder and pillage their way in to Israel heartland

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    2. Benny

      It’s important that articles like this are being written. Not only does a lot of media distract attention from the occupation itself (referring to it all as the “Arab-Israeli conflict,” as if the Palestinians are a self-determining nation-state like Egypt or Jordan), most media also presumes that it’s easy to understand what it’s like to be a Palestinian.
      I’m sick of hearing “Just stop throwing rocks and everything will be fine,” and the general tone of “If you’re not getting what you want, you must be doing something wrong.” It’s nothing new. It’s just the old colonialist mentality. It took the British and the French centuries to learn that colonialism doesn’t work; hopefully the Israelis will learn sooner than that.

      Reply to Comment
    3. Do you think there is something special about Jews, that results in lack of empathy? For most people it would actually be pretty easy to imagine living under occupation, some of our ancestors experienced it in various ways. It’s really not that difficult to experience empathy. Why is it so hard for Jews, and what can normal people do to help them?

      Reply to Comment
      • XYZ

        You want empathy for “suffering people”? How much empathy do you have for the suffering Syrian people and what have you done to protest the continued support for the killing machines on BOTH sides, supported by the Russians, Chinese and Iranians (on Assad’s side) and the Saudis and Gulf States (on the other side). This protest can be done by demanding BDS against Russia, China, the Saudis, etc and does not require military involvement on either side. What are you and the other “progressives” who also have “human rights” on their lips” to show your empathy?

        Reply to Comment
        • aristeides

          XYZ defleting blame again. Look anywhere else but at Israel.

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    4. bluto

      Thanks for your witnessing.

      I wish the willfully blind Israeli commenters who ‘don’t get it’ to have the opportunity to spend their lives subject to what Palestinians have to put up with everyday at the hands of Israel

      Reply to Comment
    5. aristeides

      How much hate mail has this piece generated?

      Reply to Comment
    6. Neil Steven

      Meirav, another great post! Correct me if I am wrong…somewhere, someone has a map which shows what you would call Tel Aviv, the name Sheikh Munis. Will you one day return to NYC so that family with the map can return to their forefathers home? It is not like that would be such a big deal, you once packed up your belongings and came to Palestine and i am sure for the right reasons you would pack up your belongings again so a family with a map can return to their homes, and you can go back to NYC or anywhere you belong, because clearly that place is not here. yes?

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    7. Eric

      This is a collection of shameful lies from the beginning to end. The overwhelming majority of IDF soldiers are very respectful towards the Palestinians. The overwhelming majority of Jewish residents of the WB are law abiding citizens and never stole land or acted violently towards Palestinians. Many Israelis support the 2 state idea but that has absolutely nothing to do with occupation. Israel is not occupying the WB. In order for there to be an occupation there had to be a country called Palestine. It’s about time all those who discuss this issue accept the simple fact that the the WB is legally Israeli territory by virtue of the League of Nation Mandate. The Arabs could have had a state in parts of the WB if they hadn’t chosen violence and terror. The WB Arabs are still perpetrating acts of violence daily against Israelis and Arabs. There are very few acts of violence initiated by the Settlers. There are endless acts of violence initiated by Palestinians. My only conclusion is that the author of this article is either ignorant of facts, a liar, or a self hating Jew! Very poor journalism! True peace supporters know how much Israel is committed to peace – which would neccesitate honesty and tolerance.

      Reply to Comment
      • Ruth

        Well said and I agree. 972 is the most one-sided anti-Israel propaganda spreading paper around. Sometimes I wonder if they are underwritten by a Saudi Prince.

        Reply to Comment
        • Liberal lady

          your right – the staffers and writers lean hard to the left and have been brainwashed by liberal universities. look at the list, most are Jewish liberal lefties, how utterly sad

          Reply to Comment
      • This comment is an ironic and very apposite illustration of Mairav’s whole point. It would be difficult to spend time in a Palestinian community under military rule and walk away with the conclusion that the army is ‘respectful’ and that occupation is a fiction. So rather than recognising that Mairav has seen something bad and is writing about what she sees, you assume that she must be lying or self-hating – because you yourself haven’t seen it and what’s more aren’t prepared to do so.

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        • eric

          sorry Vicky – I live with the Palestinians on the WB and I see exactly the opposite. I interact with hundreds of palestinians daily. They are not in a free society because of the Palestinian extremists from Hamas and the like. So a Palestinian that comes out publicly in support of Israel is risking his or her life. The Palestinians have it far far far better under Israel than the arabs in gaza or all other arab countries and if they would be willing to compromise they would have a state on the majority of the WB.

          Reply to Comment
          • aristeides

            Eric – no they wouldn’t. Israel has no intention of allowing a real Palestinian state in the WB. What all the talk of “compromise” is about is coercing the Palestinians to agree that a bunch of Bantustans without sovereignty is called a “state.” Not the same thing.

            Reply to Comment
          • I live in Bethlehem. To make comments such as ‘there is no occupation’ and then claim that Palestinians back your view sounds a little extraordinary, to say the least. So is the vague claim that they don’t have a free society because of ‘Hamas and the like’, a phrase that doesn’t exactly suggest the most sophisticated knowledge of the local Palestinian political scene

            Where do you live and what do you do? I am having a hard time imagining the kind of job (apart from maybe as the owner of a very popular shop) that would bring you into contact with ‘hundreds of Palestinians daily’. I work across youth groups and quite a number of schools with big class sizes, and even I don’t encounter that many people. I’m also struggling to envisage the type of Palestinian community that houses a non-Palestinian man who believes that the occupation is legal – and that apparently shares his belief, which they are keeping top sekrit (from everyone except him!) for safety reasons.

            Reply to Comment
      • Leen

        Eric, the Israeli Supreme Court has already indicated that the Palestinian territories are ‘Occupied territories’ and Israel is an ‘occupying power’. Furthermore the Israeli supreme court has already ssaid the Fourth Geneva Convention is applicable in those areas. Any ruling that is passed by Israeli Supreme court is legally binding to all courts in Israel.. hence it is then the law of the country. Therefore, the claim that ‘there is no occupation’ is a bogus claim that is not even legally applicable by Israeli law.

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    8. Richard Witty

      “Jewish Israelis may have forms of resistance they understandably prefer, but it is ultimately not up to us as the occupier to decide how the occupied can resist.”

      For those liberal Zionists that bear sympathy with Palestinians, but foresee the failure of even light violence (and I mean FAILURE), to be asked to shut up, is a disaster.

      The Israeli far right is lusting after for the justification to annex Area C.

      Don’t give them that excuse.

      Rock-throwing doesn’t give that excuse, but just a little more violence does.

      To NOT SPEAK UP, is to disobey one’s conscience, even those of us that merely “prefer” different forms of dissent.

      It’s why I spoke of the “vanity of resistance” on your facebook page.

      Pressure is not the same as path.

      Reply to Comment
    9. foresomenteneikona

      I really appreciate this article, but there is something that is not quite right: Even those courageous Israelis who have chosen to share life with Palestinians cannot completely know what life is like for them.

      While I was spending time in the West Bank a couple of years ago, a Palestinian friend told me, “Until you change the color of your skin, until you surrender your American passport and receive a Palestinian one, you will not know what it is like to live under occupation as we do.” He was absolutely right.

      I expect that something similar holds true for even the most courageous Israeli activists and journalists.

      Reply to Comment
      • I think your friend right. The same could be said of being a woman in many places of the world, or many a faith.

        “cognitive and physical understanding” (from the piece) says it well–physical understanding.

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    10. XYZ

      The “occupation” continues only because the Palestinians have decided that it is preferable to have it continue than make the concessions necessary (mostly giving up the “right of return” of the Palestinian refugees). Period. Many of the 972 writers claim “yes, Israel made offers of an independent state and an end to the occupation but they didn’t offer ENOUGH to the Palestinians”. Well, how much is “enough”? If the occupation were that onerous, there would be a mass uprising of the Palestinians against their own leaders demanding that they accept a state that is being offered once and for all, but this won’t happen because the Arab-Israeli conflict is NOT about “the (1967) occupation” or “self-determination for the Palestinian people”. It is about the very existence of the state of Israel which is inherently intolerable to the Palestinians and the rest of the Arab world.

      Reply to Comment
      • sh

        Between the very existence of the State of Israel and the 1967 occupation lies the real albatross. You left it out (again).

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      • David T.

        “The “occupation” continues only because the Palestinians have decided that it is preferable to have it continue than make the concessions necessary (mostly giving up the “right of return” of the Palestinian refugees).”

        What has the occupation to do with Palestinians holding unto their right to return? And wouldn’t you say that giving up more than 22% of their homeland and half of Jerusalem would be concessions enough? What are Israel’s concessions? It’s vision of peace is Palestinians acccepting Israeli crimes, their land claim and giving up their recognized rights. Do you think Israeli Jews would do the same?

        Reply to Comment
      • Under occupation Palestinian residents continue to lose control over land. To claim that this is because “Palestinians” will not foregoe “the right of return” is ludicrous. “We will continue to steal from you until you do what we say.”

        A reading of the label XYZ’s comments on this site shows a belief that no Palestinian government can be stable or, if so, will be hostile. Two States is therefore out. This leaves occupation, so de facto annexation. This means Jim Crow and apartheid coupled with some expulsion (such as refused return when traveling outside the Bank). Under such logic, to say Palestinians must see things “our” way and do “as we say” is just another way of supporting annexation. I would note as well that the label never complains of settler violations of the law.

        Reply to Comment
        • XYZ

          That is not my position. I have held (and this is now being publicly advocated by Naftali Bennet) that the way to go is “modus-vivendi” and dropping pressure on the Palestinians to agree to a contractual peace which they can never do. The West Bank would be an Israeli-Jordanian-Palestinian condominium with Israel drawing down its security presence in the Palestinian areas, if the security situation allows. Giving the Palestinians full control of their economy and land in Areas A and B. Setting up a situation in which there would be no need for checkpoints on the Palestinian roads. Free access to Jerusalem (recall this was the situation BEFORE Oslo destroyed Palestinian movement). Devolution of power and evolution of Palestinian freedom, but without a formal agreement. This is what is going to happen inevitably.

          Reply to Comment
          • Are you willing to call the settlers to account for their own acts under the rule of law?

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          • sh

            In other words, split the goods with Jordan and get rid of as many more Palestinians as possible by by making them powerless slaves of both economies with citizens’ rights of neither. Neat. Bravo.

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    11. Ken Kelso

      As Steven Plaut said, Amira Hass supports Arab terrorists putting Jewish baby girls into comas.

      Reply to Comment
    12. Ken Kelso

      The Palestinians have nothing to do with the name Palestine.
      The name Palestine is named after the Philistines, not the Palestinians or any Arab group.
      The name Palestine was applied by the Romans against the Jews to destroy the name Israel.
      It was certainly not directed or bestowed to the Arabs in this area.

      The Philistines were from Crete and came to Israel 3000 years ago and were not Arabs or Muslims.
      Delilah and Goliath were Philistines. (Philistines died out.)

      Philistine is the name the Romans renamed Israel as a chagrin against the Jews.
      Yassir Arafat was not a Philistine, but an ARAB born in Egypt.

      Philistine originates from the Hebrew verb Palash, which means to invade. So the Arabs who started to call themselves Palestinians in the late 60’s are invaders and they want to create an Invadia state.

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      • David T.

        “So the Arabs who started to call themselves Palestinians in the late 60′s ….”

        “Palestinian” is the term of those who were citizens of Palestine before 1948 and is a national term including Arabs and Jews. The PLO definition of 60’s does only automatically include Jews who were living in Palestine before mandate times. Jewish on the other hand is not even a citizenship. That makes a “Jewish state” a racist concept.

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    13. jonathan

      it seems strange? we had been living in these areas, Israel, for over 3000 years. even in europe, we lived in countries for more than a thousand years; before islam was even a religion, with a book at least. our book,Torah, is actually usurped into their book,Quran. it is ridiculous to call our ability to have returned after almost being annihilated an ‘occupation.’ how can we not realize that these islamic people, who don’t even care for themselves and certainly their governments sure don’t, upon seeing us and finding us to be wanting to work together, still would rather torture their very own families and give up all their hopes to cry out to destroy us? we have returned to our land, and we are improving it and from here, the world. the hate that mars their own progress towards living as human beings is indeed sad. i don’t think they have easy solutions ,or have even begun to consider them because they are sold out by their leaders and taught hopelessness and hate. i truly do pity them, though not at the cost of destroying ourselves. when they are ready to have real dialogue and stop teaching,(or allowing), the hate to infect every aspect of their lives, we would be thrilled to work with them. for now, it is an outrageous situation which they perpetuate and it seems people are silly enough to ignore facts and even to believe them.
      the world is full of people who want to do the right thing ,but who lack reason to understand how to help. these people need a world conference to discuss how to rehabilitate them, as their lives and understandings of life are uncharacteristically flawed with hate and by teaching their children this hate. we can see that islamic radicals are creating real havoc in the entire world. many islamic nations really had something to share, though waste all their energies towards hate of themselves, each other, and of us. it cannot go on. we must protect ourselves when necessary and it is not because we are an aggressor who is trying to make them slave labor. it is because they are not ready to allow anyone else to be human, or to work together with other nations at this stage. truly sad and strange, though true.

      Reply to Comment
    14. This was Palestine’s travel document. Cause Palestinians were regarded as British protected persons outside of Palestine and could get help at British Consulates if needed.

      Here are pictures of the actual Palestinians ID-Cards for all of you who need some historical facts that you need to deal with

      Reply to Comment
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