On the Israeli Occupation of the West Bank

There is a fundamental Catch-22 with the security rationale of the Israeli military occupation of the West Bank. When Palestinians respond in violence to their oppressed situation, be it through acts of terrorism or riots, Israel justifies the occupation as a national security need. The Palestinian people need to be governed by martial law, in order to protect the Israeli population from security threats.

But then when Palestinians renounce violence and switch their resistance tactics to more nonviolent demonstrations and protests, Israel justifies the occupation as a successful national security tool. The Palestinian people need to be governed by martial law, as evidenced by how improved the security of the Israeli population has been over the past half decade. We can’t stop now, or else they’ll just return to their violent ways.

Thus there is no end in sight. And in the meantime, Israel continues to expand settlements which make the prospects of a two state solution much more difficult to achieve. An occupation is supposed to be a temporary situation. It is a distinctive characteristic that separates occupation from annexation and colonialism. But the Israeli occupation has existed for over 45 years.

Beyond the problematic state of the occupation in a legal context, it is immoral and undemocratic to maintain the situation that exists today in the West Bank. You have Israeli settlers living in the same region as Palestinians, and if an Israeli commits a crime, they are subjected to Israel’s civil courts, like any other Israeli citizen living anywhere in Israel. But if a Palestinian commits the exact same crime, in the same exact spot, they are subjected to an entirely different set of laws and legal proceedings, and they’re sent to a military court.

First of all, there is no due process for the military courts. Second of all, the military courts have astonishingly high conviction rates. (99.74%) And thirdly, Palestinians don’t have a right to vote for the Israeli government, even though the government is the body that makes the decisions and appoints the individuals that control their lives.

So why doesn’t Israel just annex the West Bank, instead of occupying it? If Israel wants to continue to expand settlements and build up the West Bank, why don’t they just de-facto annex the territory, like they did with the Golan Heights?

There’s a simple and oft-cited calculation for this issue. It goes like this:
There are three variables. 1. Israel as a democratic state. 2. Israel where the majority of citizens are Jewish. And 3. Israel controlling all of the land.

^In any final scenario, Israel will ultimately have only two of these three variables.

To annex the West Bank would mean Israel would need to grant all the Palestinians living there citizenship, and give them the same rights as any other Israeli. Which they don’t want to do because they want to maintain a Jewish majority in Israel. Because of demographic realities, including the Palestinians in the citizenry would effectively end the Jewish majority. And to grant Palestinians citizenship but deny them equal rights would make Israel a patently undemocratic state. And so their solution for now is to continue to build up the West Bank with Jewish settlements, say they’re waiting for a “peace partner” (even though the current President of Israel has categorically said they already have one) and justify the occupation with “security concerns.” I’ll say it again. These Palestinians have been living under occupation for 45 years.

I care about the state of Israel. A lot. I spend an inordinate amount of my time reading and thinking about these issues. And I want the citizens of Israel to be safe and secure. Yet it really disturbs me when people, especially Jewish people, roll their eyes at the notion of “human rights”. Or even “democracy” and “dignity.” I really want to know, would all of the individuals who say the occupation is a necessary evil for security purposes, be able to look into a Palestinian’s eyes, as I did last week, and say to them, “I’m sorry but my need for safety is more important than your basic human rights.”

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photo credit: Rachel Cohen

Final thought: in terms of history, and especially history of countries engaged in conflict–one thing I learn over and over in my history classes is, there is really no such thing as a status quo. 

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4 thoughts on “On the Israeli Occupation of the West Bank

  1. If Israel decided tomorrow to end the occupation of the West Bank, to whom would Israel give the territory? By leaving out any mention of the Palestinians’ inability to compromise, you’re missing a big piece of the explanation of why the occupation continues.

  2. Those pictures are great and I agree with practically everything you said. I got really into the conflict when I went last year. the settler issue is absurd and seems blatantly wrong. What always gets me though is the extreme level of violence. True, it is from both sides. However, one is from a historically defensive force that has needed to fight for its independence since before it was declared. The other, an unorganized, quasi-national force (never truly unified, nationalism was always reactionary) that has turned a lot of the time to terrorism. One wrong move by the israeli’s, and the terrorists react, against families in restaurants, or kids outside of a nightclub. Israelis target terrorist and military targets. The israeli army’s combat:civilian death ratio is the lowest in the world, in spite of their internal security concerns. Israel does not create the violence, they may not always act towards its end, but there is a double standard in expecting israel to act like other western democracies do, given its unique and somewhat remarkable history.

    The palestinians have not been occupied for 45 years. before 1967, they were occupied by jordan. before 1948, the english, before 1917, the turks, before 1516, the ottomans. there has never been a palestinian people, ever, so the israelis are not “occupying” palestinian land. That is not to say they are not occupying the future palestinian state, they are. the arabs only got there in 700 AD, on a series of conquests. the point is is that the history of that land is very curious and complex, and has a lot to do with today’s situation.

    It certainly is an interesting and important topic.
    Mark twain wrote this 15 years before the first aliya. Pretty amazing what its like 130 years later:
    “…[a] desolate country whose soil is rich enough, but is given over wholly to weeds-a silent mournful expanse….A desolation is here that not even imagination can grace with the pomp of life and action….We never saw a human being on the whole route….There was hardly a tree or a shrub anywhere. Even the olive and the cactus, those fast friends of the worthless soil, had almost deserted the country.”

    • Hm. I really don’t buy the argument though that they’re not being occupied, and that they’ve always been occupied. If you’re defining “occupied” as living in land of another’s, without self-determination for your people then yes, they’ve been doing that for a long time. But so were the Jews in exile, and that wasn’t an occupation. (I’m sure some people would argue the Holocaust was but I don’t want to get into that) I define occupied as a military occupation, where one group of people is living under martial law of an occupying power. And it’s not just that Israel is occupying a future Palestinian state. They are CURRENTLY occupying the Palestinian people. There’s no other way to describe it. Some people like to use the term “disputed territory” instead of “occupied territory” because it sounds nicer, and brings to mind just friendly neighbor quarrels. But people don’t lose their basic rights to a dispute, they lose it to an occupation. I’m just tired of all the branding people try to do on the occupation, when the majority of military leaders/historians/politicians involved call it one.

      And I also don’t believe that there has never been a Palestinian people or that that’s even a relevant argument today. I think that might be one of the more sad charges people throw at them. That’s why Newt Gingrich’s comment of an “invented people” got so much public rebuke. Their national identity has definitely been strengthened in the past 20 years or so, but the Jewish national identity has been strengthened too since the Zionist movement. There was never an American people until people created American society. I think just because we can’t trace Palestinians the same way we can Jews doesn’t mean we can deny their peoplehood. Here’s a good op-ed from a Palestinian on this issue: http://www.nytimes.com/2011/12/15/opinion/we-are-palestinians.html

      The Mark Twain quotes fit in well with the Zionist narrative of “a land without a people for a people without a land”, I just think there has been a lot of evidence that has come out in the past 50 years that challenges that. Also: http://www.palestineremembered.com/Acre/Articles/Story845.html

      But on your final point, I definitely am not blaming the IDF because you’re right, there are weird double standards when it comes to violence with Israel and the rest of the world. My criticism is towards the government. Anyway, thanks for commenting!

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