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The occupation is a symptom, not source, of Israel's racist system

It was the state’s policies within its 1948 borders that inspired the 1967 occupation, not the other way around.

Knesset chambers. (photo: Tzipi Livni/flickr CC By NC-SA 2.0)

Knesset chambers. (photo: Tzipi Livni/flickr CC By NC-SA 2.0)

During a Knesset debate in May 2011, Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu chastised opposition parties for criticizing his government’s lack of progress in achieving a two-state solution. Referring to Palestinian demonstrations held the day before in commemoration of the Nakba, Netanyahu pointed out that the protests “did not take place on June 5, the day the Six Day War erupted,” but on “May 15, the day the State of Israel was established.” He continued: “This is not a conflict about 1967. This is a conflict about 1948, about the State of Israel’s very existence.”

Although not in the way he conceived, Netanyahu was right. In the flurry of activity this week marking the fiftieth year of the occupation, many have forgotten that the basis of its regime existed well before 1967. The Emergency Regulations, a product of Britain’s colonial mandate, were first exercised on the 150,000 Palestinians who remained inside Israel’s borders after the 1948 war. The state honed its discriminatory policies of land grabs, checkpoints, and brutal violence against its minority citizens for two decades, before transferring them to the Palestinian territories.

The shadow of military rule has never left Palestinian life in Israel. Dozens of civil laws, most of which were written in neutral terminology or bestowed extensive powers to the state, continue to ensure Jewish privilege at the expense of Palestinian citizens’ rights. Over twenty of these laws were enacted by Netanyahu’s governments in the last eight years, with some of the most egregious ones being condoned by the Supreme Court itself. The result was a nuanced system that maintained the appearance of a democracy, but in fact cemented racial hierarchy among Israel’s citizens.

This system is what allows for the ongoing displacement of Naqab (Negev) Bedouins into impoverished townships under the guise of “modernization,” while confiscating their lands to build rural Jewish communities. It enshrines free speech as a legal right yet empowers authorities to stifle Palestinian expression in schools and theaters. It invites Jews from around the world to immigrate and naturalize in Israel, but bans Palestinian citizens from bringing their spouses into the country if the latter are from Gaza or the West Bank.

An Israeli Border Police officer stops and inspects Palestinians trying to leave their East Jerusalem neighborhood of Issawiya, October 15, 2015. Police erected checkpoints at the entrances and exits of almost all Palestinian neighborhoods of Jerusalem, a form of collective punishment following a spate of stabbing attacks. (Oren Ziv/Activestills.org)

An Israeli Border Police officer stops and inspects Palestinians trying to leave their East Jerusalem neighborhood of Issawiya, October 15, 2015. (Oren Ziv/Activestills.org)

Liberal Zionists like to claim that these racist policies are the result of the occupation’s corrupting influence. But it was the state’s political experiments before 1967 that inspired the occupation, not the other way around. In East Jerusalem, Israel proved again that it could easily transform military conquest into normalized discriminatory rule, capable of crushing local resistance and withstanding international pressure. The Knesset even revived history last June when it approved “anti-terror” legislation that anchors many of the Emergency Regulations’ temporary provisions into permanent law, making Palestinian citizens susceptible to the same draconian policies that their grandparents were subjected to years ago.

The success of these experiments is why leaders like Education Minister Naftali Bennett are promoting the annexation of large parts of the occupied territories; some are even suggesting that several thousands of West Bank Palestinians be granted Israeli citizenship or residency. Israel learned early on that if it could not expel all the Palestinians from the land, it could contain them through more subtle methods of colonial management. So if the state has been able to maintain its racial caste for this long, why should it stop now?

The occupation is therefore not the source of Israel’s problem – it is merely a symptom of it. The “Jewish state” has always demanded that Palestinians accept, legally and morally, that their belonging to the land is second to that of Jews; that the price for peace is to embrace inferior rights, whether they are citizens or dominated subjects. It should not take another fifty years – or more accurately, another seventy years – to recognize the injustice of that demand.

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    1. Ben

      ‘It was the state’s policies within its 1948 borders that inspired the 1967 occupation, not the other way around…
      “This is not a conflict about 1967. This is a conflict about 1948, about the State of Israel’s very existence.”
      Although not in the way he conceived, Netanyahu was right.’

      These four conceptually interlinked essays by Oren Barak, Rami Younis, Noam Sheizaf and Amjad Iraqi are extraordinary in examining the issues of 1948 and the failure of the Left. As Sheizaf says,

      ‘What could be easier than sitting inside the Green Line and blaming the settlers for the occupation? This arrangement has allowed the Israeli Left to duck accountability for its part in Israel’s control over the Palestinians, be it in land expropriation, in killing, and in everything else…The idea that we are dealing with radical ideologues absolves the Left of contending with the outcomes of Zionism prior to 1948 or between 1948 and 1967. It also permits the center-Left to portray itself as the “legitimate representative” of the State of Israel, even as its political capital drastically weakens, and all while most of the world boycotts the settlers. None of this is to say that Tel Aviv and Beit El share the same status — the settlements are a source of violent and continuous friction with the Palestinians, and have engendered legal apartheid in the West Bank. But the residents of Tel Aviv and Beit El bear the same responsibility for the occupation.’

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    2. Firentis

      In other words, for people like Amjad Iraqi the existence of Israel is the problem, not the occupation. The unspoken goal for such activists thus is the elimination of Israel. It is unsaid because it would sound rather violent were it to be announced openly. So instead there is rhetorical dancing by announcing that rather than eliminating Israel all that these activists want to do is to eliminate any and all connection between that country and Judaism or Zionism. Oh, and of course to implement a policy of bringing in millions of Arabs until there is no Jewish majority and they could change the name to something else because Israel itself as a name is too associated with Judaism/Zionism. Obviously such a goal can not be accomplished peacefully so these people would support violence to accomplish this goal and give it a nice progressive name like ‘resistance’.

      But heaven forbid that I point out that their goal is the destruction of Israel. Then all of the rhetorical cowards come out of the woodwork to accuse me of misinterpreting the author. When asked whether in the author’s end-game there is a country called Israel they are usually silent on the matter and instead move on to counterattack by using such terms as ‘judeosupremacy’ or by making allusions to Nazis. Their unwillingness to actually answer the question speaks volumes.

      Reply to Comment
      • Ben

        No. His goal is not the elimination of Israel, destruction of Israel, etc. His goal is the recognition of what happened and the incorporation of that recognition into solving the problem Israel has created by refusing a two state solution. And to recognize that the discriminatory policies of the occupation did not jump fully formed into being in 1967 but grew from the discrimination from 1948-1967, that “Liberal Zionists like to claim that these racist policies are the result of the occupation’s corrupting influence. But it was the state’s political experiments before 1967 that inspired the occupation.” I am sure that in the author’s “endgame” he does not wish a formally blessed and Palestinian-recognized “nation state of the Jewish people” forever lording it over Palestinians in this way and viewing themselves as having to make no recognition whatsoever of all this. And so that Israel demanding–on top of the relentless discrimination since 1948, discrimination that the occupation was a natural continuation and embellishment of–that the Palestinians now essentially formally bless and recognize all this as the natural order of things, is so far beyond what one can expect human beings to realistically do that it bespeaks the peculiar narcissism of the Israelis.

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    3. Lewis from Afula

      International palestinianism is the source of the conflict. The idea that the arab colonizers from the 7th Century had the right to EXCLUDE Jews from the Land of Israel is the root of all evil.

      The only just solution is to forcibly repatriate the Illegal Jordanian squatters in Judea & Samaria back home. Their relatives in Amman and Irbid are waiting for them!

      Reply to Comment