From Two States to One

Last week in Tel Aviv, a judge imposed a $25,000 fine on three tenants who extended their balcony illegally by annexing 23 sq. meters (250 sq. ft.). Well, that’s not really a scoop. Illegal construction is a punishable offense everywhere, even if there are no immediate victims like in this case. Israel is a law-and-order state; you can’t just take an area and keep it.

Unless you are in the occupied territories, of course. There, taking possession of land and building temporary or stationary flats without any permission – and not just flats, but houses, neighborhoods, entire settlements – is not an offense but a Zionist and Jewish-religious duty. If it is done without any immediate victims, that’s fine. If it forces some Palestinians out of their homes or fields, that’s even better. Just like the tenants in Tel Aviv, the West Bank occupants will soon be paid a visit by the state; but whereas in Tel Aviv the visitors would take them to court, in the West Bank they would connect them to running water and electricity, and leave a few soldiers behind just to make sure the owners of the stolen land do not harm their security, or even their sense of security. (These soldiers need accommodation too; and so on.) And whereas in Tel Aviv the occupants, if they happened to be civil servants, might lose their job for their offense, quite a few Israeli officers live in illegal outposts throughout the West Bank, and the military “has no policy” regarding such cases. Akiva Eldar, who exposed this story in Ha’aretz, wonders “how an officer who breaks the law and ignores court orders can serve as a model for his soldiers.” I myself don’t see the problem: the soldiers are in the territories for the very same objective as their law-breaking officers – to dispossess the Palestinians. I think such officers should get a raise. In fact they do get a raise, since settlers pay less taxes (for better services) than normal Israelis.

The Two Jewish States

All that isn’t much of a scoop either. Critical Israelis – the last of the Mohicans – know that there are two Jewish states in the Land of Israel: the state of Israel, and the Occupied Territories. The former is rather democratic, the latter is a dictatorship. The former is ruled by a government and police who impose law and order, the latter is a Wild East ruled by the military and terrorized by settlers. A crime on this side of the Green Line is a patriotic deed beyond it. We have been living this way for more than four decades. Most of us have never known anything else. In fact, it should not surprise anybody. Didn’t the British do the same in India and in their other colonies? The French in Algeria? The Dutch in Indonesia? Only conscientious people can’t live with it; most people can. You cross a line and you become a different person.

Merged Into One

But the right-wing Israeli governments – and all Israeli governments are right-wing or worse – have never liked this way of looking at things, symbolized by the Green Line. The Green Line makes the wrong impression: someone might err to think that the territory beyond it isn’t ours. So Israel, the older Jewish state, has been doing its best to erase the line. You take the highway from Tel Aviv to Petach Tikva, for example – a town within Israel – and on your way you see a big signpost directing you to “Ariel.” The signpost is of the same form, size, and color as any other. No one bothers to tell you that Ariel is an illegal Israeli settlement at the very heart of the West Bank, that by going there you rely on, and thus are complicit in, the Israeli occupation. You cannot tell when and where you have crossed the Green Line and moved from the first Jewish state to the second, from the one with a Jewish majority and democratic institutions to the other, where the Jewish minority imposes its military dictatorship on a Palestinian majority.

Last week, to give another example, I was taken by taxi from Tel Aviv to Jerusalem. It was early morning, and I took a little nap. Suddenly the taxi stopped. Admittedly, I do my best to avoid (West) Jerusalem – a tense, poor, and ugly city, plagued by a mixed crowd whose only common denominator is mutual resentment – but I do know the way there, and the taxi had no reason to stop when it did. I opened my eyes and saw an unfamiliar view. The taxi driver took the notorious apartheid highway stretching through the West Bank. He didn’t feel he had to consult me about crossing the Green Line. That’s normal.

Indeed, the legal status of the occupied territories is still different; the Israeli law is “exported” into them by legal casuistry that bothers only a few legalists and lawyers; in fact, every Israeli soldier and citizen, so to speak, carries the Israeli law with him while crossing the Green Line; the rest is done by military decrees. But for all practical considerations, as far as Jews are concerned, the two Jewish states are in fact one.

But Which One?

The idea behind erasing the Green Line was to annex the second Jewish state and incorporate it – that is, its Jewish citizens and its land and resources, but not its Palestinian inhabitants – into the first Jewish state. But what is happening now is that the two Jewish states are turning into one not in the predicted way. The occupied territories are not swallowed by Israel – they are swallowing it. Symbolically, Israel’s bestial Foreign Minister Avigdor Lieberman is a settler. In fact, the logic of the occupied territories takes over Israel proper. The phony solidarity exclusively among Jews (as long as they are politically conformist), the xenophobia and open racism toward non-Jews, the intolerance toward any kind of criticism and dissent, the insular culture of a beleaguered citadel, all turn Israel into a magnified West Bank settlement, surrounded by a high-tech fence and united by the imagined ocean of anti-Semitism all around it. It’s not just the over-representation of settlers in the military and in politics. What’s on the rise are norms of lawlessness and dehumanization of the other (be it Palestinians, migrant workers, or African refugees), religious extremism in a distorted form of Judaism, and above all, perhaps, the ideology and the historical narrative of the settlers, regarding anything from what Zionism means to the interpretation of recent events like the withdrawal from Gaza or the Lebanon war, that spreads far beyond the limited circles of the actual settlers.

One horrifying incarnation of this are settlers who now colonize Israel itself. In Israel’s mixed towns – from Tel Aviv (of which Jaffa is part) to Acre – settlers from the West Bank establish nests of hatred in the form of Jewish-Orthodox groups living together and, disguised as “Torah schools” and “social work,” incite and spread the word: Jews in, Arabs out. Palestinians are harassed and sometimes physically attacked. The riots in Acre in 2008 were the result of such settlers’ activity; tensions are now rapidly growing in several mixed towns, including Jaffa, where settlers recently broke into a Palestinian home, attacking its owner and telling her that they “will force all Arabs out of Jaffa.”

While the entire Arab world is willing to compromise and accept Israel more than ever before, and while wise heads in Israel and outside are still chewing the eternal “One State vs. Two States” debate, a One-State Solution is being implemented, as Israel is turning from a state with a colony to a colony with a state.

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