Confronting Pro-Occupation Arguments

A year has passed since the first part of this article, in which I confronted a set of arguments justifying the Israeli occupation, eloquently formulated by an Israeli settler, David Moriah. Shortly afterwards came September 11th, and the agenda changed radically. A year later, readers’ letters seem to indicate we are almost back to where we had been: the same old arguments chanted again and again, every chanter believing he is the original poet, while actually all songs and music come from the Israeli propaganda machine and its counterparts abroad. So it’s time to confront the rest of the pro-occupation arguments.

I said almost – because meanwhile the American Secretary of Defence Donald Rumsfeld has spoken of the "so-called occupied territories". The present American government seems determined to take us all to darkest barbarism, where Holy Wars, Crusades against the Heathen, Axes of Evil, and Spoils of War are legitimate political terms. If Rumsfeld’s conception is true and the occupied territories are not occupied, then Israel is one of the worst racist dictatorships in modern times, where millions of inhabitants are held without nationality and without any political rights for generations. If Gaza and the West Bank are for Israel what Texas is for the United States, just imagine all Texans having no American citizenship and no voting rights for more than 35 years, their lands systematically confiscated and given to American settlers from other states. Strange as it may sound, the concept of occupation is essential for Israel’s democratic image. This is why even settlers try to justify the occupation rather than reject the term. Let’s see how.

"4. The occupier [i.e. Israel] has good reasons to assume that a significant part of the occupied inhabitants [i.e. Palestinians] intend to maintain the violence even if the occupation ends. They do not bother to hide their aspirations to totally destroy the Zionist entirely, which they consider a foreign element in the region. (Look at official maps of the Palestinian Authority and search for Israel)."

A very persistent argument. And a very dubious one too. Imagine a farmer going to the judge and saying: "My neighbour is beating me every day. Oh, and by the way, I have been occupying his field since 1967." Now I hope the judge would say: "Give him back his own field, then he should stop hitting you. And if he doesn’t, apply self-defence, or come back to me; but don’t take his field ever again!" However, Israel’s favourite judge is expected to say: "Fine, keep his field and hit him back, because he might hit you even if you return it!"…

The claim that many Palestinians consider Israel a foreign element in the region may be true. Israel itself is doing its best to remain a foreign element: why, to give just one example, does not every Israeli learn Arabic? At any rate, the "foreign element" claim holds true for many Egyptians (or Jordanians) as well, and yet Egypt (or Jordan) does not engage in any hostilities against Israel: politics and gut-feelings are not the same. The best way to perpetuate the hatred towards Israel, the best way to destroy any hope of its being accepted as a legitimate part of the region, is to continue the occupation.

Undoubtedly, some Palestinians (most notably the Islamic Jihad) indeed wish to see all Jews leave the land – precisely like some Israelis who wish to see all Palestinians leave it (though Israel has the might to impose such satanic plans, while Palestinians do not). But whereas Israel’s political centre never expressed a clear commitment to end the occupation, and, more importantly, never took even a single actual step towards ending it, the entire Palestinian political centre, above all the PLO, has been stating time and again for more than a decade that its goal is the territories occupied in 1967, not all of Israel. This position has recently been adopted by the Arab League as well.

As for the radicals: first, if occupation ends they might run out of support and have to stop or at least reduce their military activity. Second, it will be easier – militarily, diplomatically and morally – to confront them once occupation ends. This holds both for Palestinians dreaming of Greater Palestine (now engaged in terrorism) and for Israelis dreaming of Greater Israel (now engaged in settler’s terrorism, land grab etc.).

The "map" argument is also extremely popular. Very few of those who use it have ever seen the alleged Palestinian maps; neither have I. The map you see above my columns is a Palestinian one; see for yourself if Israel is there. But suppose such maps do exist, then what? When I joined the Israeli army (I wouldn’t have done it today, but back in 1984 things looked different) I received an official gift: a map of Israel. It included all the occupied territories (Gaza, West Bank, Golan); none of them was marked as occupied, there was no Green Line at all. I added it manually, using an old atlas. Or take a look at the weather forecast, every evening on Israeli television: no Palestine, no Palestinian Authority, no occupied territories, no Green Line. It’s all ours. Denying the existence of the other is not a nice side of the conflict. But turning it into a reason to perpetuate the conflict is a bad idea.

"5. The small area of the occupying state and the strategic location of the occupied territories, dominating sensitive locations in the heart of this land (like airport and security centres) make an absolute control of the area essential for security reasons."

That’s the typical "security" ideology, once popular among non-religious Israelis; they used to put it at the top of their arguments. It is losing ground, though. The old cliche "what if they get a Palestinian State and then shoot down an aeroplane taking off from Ben Gurion International Airport" sounds ridiculous when Palestinian terrorists prove time and again that they can hit any target anywhere in Israel. If there is one thing the Intifada proved, it’s that the occupation and the settlements are, from a military point of view, a burden rather than an asset. Since occupation failed to bring security, why not try ending it?

And by the way, how come Israel’s international airport and those other "security centres" are all so close to the Green Line? If it was a mistake, can’t they be relocated? And if they were put there intentionally, should Israel now get those occupied territories as a reward for its malice?

"6. The occupying state has raised the life standards of the occupied inhabitants in all areas (infrastructure, water, employment, universities and hospitals) much more than they could have achieved in any other scenario."

No joking – that’s an argument you can still truly hear. It was of course much more popular in the 1980’s, before Israel started to systematically reduce Palestinians to poverty by imposing unemployment, closure and siege. I remember my school-teacher telling us how few cars Palestinians had before 1967. A typical colonialist argument: "we brought prosperity to the natives" (who were happy to cultivate our coffee fields in return). Many Israelis are simply unaware of post-colonialist discourse, where such arguments are treated with the contempt they deserve. And the idea that people would trade their right of self-determination for economical welfare has seldom been confirmed by history.

Undoubtedly, it’s the Palestinians who brought Israel much more prosperity (by their cheap labour force exploited to build Israel’s economy) than vice versa. Israel hasn’t invested a single dollar in Palestinian infrastructure, unless you count the millions it is spending on destroying it, and has been using and abusing Palestinian land, water and labour force.

Whoever knows the terrible conditions of life now prevailing in the occupied territories would agree that this argument is too ridiculous to refute. But pay attention to its inherent hypocrisy. In the past, the alleged "prosperity" of the occupied territories was used to justify the occupation – as if Israel was there just to make Palestinian life better. But now, when unemployment and hunger in the occupied territories reach unprecedented extents, one never hears any of those prosperity-ideologues saying it is time to end the occupation and leave.

We’ll confront the rest of Moriah’s arguments in the last part of this article.

Author: Ran HaCohen

Dr. Ran HaCohen was born in the Netherlands in 1964 and grew up in Israel. He has a B.A. in computer science, an M.A. in comparative literature, and a Ph.D. in Jewish studies. He is a university teacher in Israel. He also works as a literary translator (from German, English, and Dutch). HaCohen's work has been published widely in Israel. "Letter From Israel" appears occasionally at