Israeli occupation: an Orwellian nightmare

Self-righteousness tends to elevate every Israeli act of violence as a morally defensive measure

Israel is in a class by itself. Its actions, however grotesque and devoid of basic humanity, do not seem to evoke enough international outrage. It was, therefore, not surprising that the proposed bill, recently approved by the cabinet, to designate Israel as the “nation state” of the Jewish people did not evoke much critical response internationally. The proposed bill, when passed, will reduce the country’s about two million Arab citizens living in Israel proper into second-class citizens having to prove their loyalty time and again to the Jewish state. Apart from other things, this is clearly in contravention of the Israeli boast that it is the only democratic state in the Middle East. Israeli minorities are already, in effect, second-class citizens. But the proposed bill would have the effect, more of less, of formalising their second-class status in law. For instance, its provisions, such as the elimination of Arabic as an official language and to allow Jewish religious law to take precedence, might turn it into a virtual theocracy.

This is part of a continuing process of making irreversible the exclusionary character of an expanding Jewish state, with its creeping annexation of the West Bank and East Jerusalem, with the Gaza Strip as its outer enclave subject to periodic raids and blockades. Indeed, Israel’s new president, Reuven (Ruvi) Rivlin, does not have any time and patience for those who advocate a Palestinian state. According to David Remnick of The New Yorker, “[the new President] is ardently opposed to the establishment of a Palestinian state. He is instead a proponent of Greater Israel, one Jewish state from the Jordan river to the Mediterranean Sea.” And: “He professes to be mystified that anyone should object to the continued construction of Jewish settlements in the West Bank.” Ruvi’s view is: “It cannot be ‘occupied territory’ if the land is your own.”

With such views at the highest level of the Israeli government, and this includes Prime Minister Netanyahu though he might not now openly expound or support Greater Israel, the tragedy of the Palestinian people condemned to Israeli occupation and all that follows from it appears to be never-ending. It is, therefore, odd that President Ruvi simultaneously supports the civil rights of the Palestinians, as portrayed in Remnick’s article, while dismissing the existence of their homeland.

It is this sort of self-righteousness that tends to elevate every Israeli act of violence toi a morally defensive measure. For instance, take the case of the recent killing by two Palestinian youths of five Jews in a Jerusalem synagogue and their subsequent deaths in a shooting by Israeli security forces. The retribution for the Israelis killed in the synagogue attacks did not end with the two young killers shot dead on the spot. Such punishment would need to be exemplary, in the Israeli view, and carry even greater deterrence by punishing their families and relatives by demolishing their homes. According to Sydney Morning Herald correspondent Ruth Pollard, who met the 70-year-old father of one of the young men who was shot on the spot, he had no clue that his son and his cousin would be involved in the killing of five Israelis in a synagogue. He said, “My son was not religious, he did not go to the mosque to pray. I cannot believe my child would do such a thing.”

Having agonised and reflected over it for some days, Mohamed Abu Jamal, father of Ghassan, one of the killers at the synagogue, had an explanation of sorts that goes to the heart of all the violence and counter-violence that plagues Palestine. According to Abu Jamal, “When an external force [Israeli policy] exerts such pressure on a person and makes it impossible for him to live, to earn his daily bread, when you increase the psychological pressure on people, when you add the Gaza war and all those who we saw die, you can feel such despair.” He added, “All of this combined with his financial difficulties led to this moment…they [the Netanyahu government] forced him into a corner, he was suffocating.”

Continuing, the father said, “ Even now they are still pushing, they have yet to return the bodies of my son or his cousin. They cannot commit a crime when they are already dead, so why is the [Israeli] choosing to punish us?” While crying quietly, Abu Jamal says plaintively, “I believe in peace. I believe in a two-state solution for my people but I also believe in dignity for my people, and there is no dignity here.” This, in a nutshell, is the genesis of the Palestinian question.

But as David Shulman writes in The New York Review of Books, “One has to bear in mind that Israelis live in a largely mythic world in which Israelis are by definition innocent victims of dark, irrational forces operating against them, heroic death in war always makes sense and violent coercion is the option both of necessity and of choice.” And he quotes the Hebrew proverb that says, “If force does not work, use more force.” Israel is a great practitioner of this precept, making any peaceful settlement of the Palestinian issue virtually impossible. We have seen the use of force time and again and more recently in Gaza on an industrial scale, killing more than 2,000 Palestinians and destroying its infrastructure, heaping even more misery on this Palestinian enclave that is already blockaded by Israel from all sides. The periodic bombing of Gaza is amusingly called the ‘mowing’ of grass, making death and destruction a routine but ‘necessary’ chore.

Such blatant violence on the Palestinians, including the death of a Palestinian cabinet minister in a peaceful protest, is only part of the story. A much more insidious exercise of control and coercion of the civilian population was revealed in a September 12 letter by a group of 43 officers and soldiers from Unit 8,200, the cream of Israeli intelligence. In their letter to the Israeli prime minister and the chief of staff, they said that they were refusing to serve and do the things that their conscience apparently does not permit. They said (as quoted by David Shulman in his article), “The Palestinian population under military rule is completely exposed to espionage and surveillance by Israeli intelligence…There’s no distinction between Palestinians who are, and are not, involved in violence. Information that is collected and stored harms innocent people. It is used for political persecution and to create divisions within Palestinian society by recruiting collaborators and driving parts of Palestinian society against itself.” It went on: “Intelligence [thus collected] allows for continued control over millions of people through thorough and intrusive supervision and invasion of most areas of life.”

In other words, all of Palestine is a vast jail that might have been envisioned by George Orwell. But who cares? It is only Palestine and, in any case, as Israel would say, “They are just terrorists”.