There's some good anniversaries to celebrate around now. Like, 50 years since the US Supreme Court struck down all state laws forbidding interracial marriage, in the Loving vs. Virginia case. For 50 years, race has not been a factor in who you can legally marry in the US. Aren't we modern? (Britain had and has plenty of racism. It never had a law forbidding interracial marriage). For about 1 year, gender has not been a factor either.
And some not so good ones. Last week was 50 years since the 6-Day War, when Israel conquered the West Bank, including East Jerusalem, the Gaza Strip, and the Syrian Golan Heights, and thus began the Israeli occupation of the remaining Palestinian territories - those that they had not been mostly expelled from in 1948.
So I'm writing this a bit late, but we had a demo in Cambridge marking it today, so it's as good an occasion as any, and hey, what's a week in 50 years?
But when you get to 50 years, calling it an "Occupation" gets a bit silly. Military occupations are supposed to be temporary things. In international law, and in reality. I mean, everything is temporary, but after enough time, an occupation ceases to be merely an occupation, and becomes something else. An empire. A new border. A new country. Like, if a peace process goes on long enough, without actually leading to peace, you need a new name for it. Nothing complimentary comes to mind.
The Israeli occupation of the Palestinian territories quite quickly stopped being a mere military occupation, when an army of one country temporarily controls another in the aftermath of war: Israel started (illegally, under the Geneva Conventions which Israel signed) moving in civilian settlers in the 1970s, and now there are 800,000 Israeli settlers, including in East Jerusalem, 13% of Israel's population. There are cities. There are industrial zones. There is large-scale agriculture in the Jordan Valley. (Where the Palestinians are denied access to the most fertile land in the region, and the plentiful water resources of the Jordan, and are reduced to a precarious, marginal existence, constantly vulnerable to demolitions and expulsions when the Israelis covet the patches of land on which they temporarily reside). This is way, way, beyond an "Occupation".
What is it then? An annexation? Israel formally annexed East Jerusalem, in a move never recognized by any other country, even the US - though they never gave the Palestinian residents of East Jerusalem citizenship. They are "permanent" residents, but this permanency is a fragile thing that can be easily lst by, say, going away to study or work for too long. In the rest of the West Bank, Israel maintains strategic ambiguity. Israel has no defined borders. So where there are Israeli settlements, that is "Israel". If you want to send a letter to an Israeli settler in Ariel, you address it "Israel". But where there are concentrations of Palestinian population that can't easily be ushered away, that is - well, it's not not
Israel, but it's not Israel either. Israel has perfected the art of having its cake and eating it.
Apartheid is an apt name in many ways, but apart from the familiar moans of liberals that you can't possibly use that awful word, because it's reserved for South Africa, andSouth Africa is special
, (hint: it isn't: there's a legal definition of the "crime of Apartheid" in international law - look it up) - apart from this, Apartheid is just woefully inadequate to encapsulate the horrific conditions to which Palestinians are subjected.
Of course, there is gross economic discrimination. Israeli settlers in the West Bank get 6 times as much water per person as Palestinians, at a fraction of the price (the water coming from the West Bank aquifer). Then there are the separated road networks, the high quality Jews only express highways. While Palestinians who want to move around their country are subjected to a gauntlet of checkpoints and roadblocks, endless humiliations and risk of arrest or being shot; African Americans in parts of the South especially would recognize some of this, only on steroids. Palestinians cannot leave, or reenter, their country without Israeli permission.
In 'Area C' under the 1994 Oslo accords, the less populated areas where Israel exercizes full civil and security control, Palestinians are essentially never granted planning permission, and thus anything they build can be, and frequently is, knocked down at the whim of the Israeli authorities. Or if not demolished for the lack of permits that are rarer than unicorns, the same result can always be obtained on grounds of "security".
Perhaps most egregious is the "justice" system. Israelis living in the West Bank are subject to the regular Israeli civilian justice system, with lawyers and due process and a presumption of innocence. Palestinians in the West Bank are subject to a military justice system, where they have no such thing. Israeli military courts convict 99.7% of the Palestinian defendants before them. over 400 Palestinians are currently in Administrative Detention, which is detention without charge or trial, where the prisoner has no lawyer and is not allowed to know what they are accused of. Administration is for an initial period of 3-6 months, but can be renewed indefinitely. 800,000 Palestinians have at one time or other been imprisoned by Israel in the past 50 years. At a rough estimate based on demographic statistics, that's somewhere between 20-25% of the entire population of the Palestinian territories aged 15+ that have been alive since 1967. Oh wait, but Israel imprisons children too, so maybe that statistic is misleading.
Palestinians in the West Bank. Have. No. Rights.
What do you call such a set-up? Apartheid is accuate - inhumane acts "...committed for the purpose of establishing and maintaining domination by one racial group of persons over any other racial group of persons and systematically oppressing them" - but insufficient. It will have to do for now.
As for Gaza, while Israel is still legally the occupying power (and we should not forget it), that has in practice morphed from an occupation to a siege, and a slow-burning humanitarian catastrophe: a UN report a couple of years ago predicted that Gaza will become unliveable by 2020. Water supplies are running short.The sewage system is creaking and cracking. Israel's intent is to choke Gaza while not actually creating a situation where people die in such large numbers that the media notices, but things don't always turn out the way we intend, do they?
The notion of a 2-state solution is dead, if unfortunately not quite buried. The idea that you can shift this huge settler population and all the accompanying industry and infrastructure back across the Green Line, or that Israel would ever agree to it, is absurd. Whatever the legal position, either internationally or in Israel, there is one political entity between the Jordan and the Mediterranean. A just peace in Israel/Palestine now can only mean one thing: equality for all its people, regardless of ethnicity or religion.
Hopelessly idealistic. Yes. But the only option. It's the sort of thing that can never happen, until it does. It will only happen with serious external pressure, combined with effective internal resistance. Both are currently lacking, although internally there are encouraging signs, such as the recent mass hunger strke by Palestinian prisoners in Israeli jails, which led to significant Israeli concessions (which they will presumably renege on at some point, because that's how Israel generally behaves, but it's something). Externally, the movement for Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions (BDS) is growing, and is seriously scaring the Israelis, enough that they are recruiting armies of internet trolls to oppose it, giving Israelis flying out of the country propoaganda materials on how to counter it, while in North America and parts of Europe, Israel's apologists are doing everything they can to condemn the movement as anti-Semitic, and if possible make it illegal. But as yet, it is not enough to cause serious economic harm to Israel, or cause them to consider coming to the negotiating table.
Some day it may. Diaspora Jews are, slowly or rapidly, falling out of love with Israel, especially the younger generations, as the monstrous nature of the Israeli state becomes ever harder to hide between even the best PR and invocations of the Holocaust. It could take decades, or it could happen incredibly suddenly, when no-one is expecting it.
But battles for equality are never easy, and are never finished. Look at the US, or South Africa. Some in the Palestinian cause seem to decry the very idea of negotiations and messy compromises. They seem to imagine that, with enough Palestinian resistance and external pressure from BDS, the State of Israel in its current form will all at once be swept away by the inevitable laws of historical justice and the moral arc of the universe, or some such, the Knesset will dissolve itself and hand over power to a Revolutionary Committee, and a beautiful new secular, non-racial state with equality for all will be ushered in. (I exaggerate a little, perhaps).
No, it will probably come rather more slowly and messily than that, if it come at all. Dismantling this pervasive network of repression and control is a gigantic task, likewise creating a political settlement in Israel/Palestine that gives not only freedom, democracy and equal rights for all, but confidence for all groups that this state of affairs will persist. Absorbing however many of the 7 million or so Palestinian refugees, those expelled by Israel in the war of 1948 and their descendants, in a peaceful and sustainable way is no small task either, though I do not believe an impossible one. As for reducing and ultimately ending ethnic-based economic inequality and discrimination. Well.
But I do think this is the only long-term solution, what the rest of the world, insofar as it cares about the situation, should work for, rather than perpetuating the fiction of a 2-state solution that lies somewhere at the other end of an ephemeral rainbow called the 'peace process'. I believe there is also a moral debt from the west to the Palestinian people. Another anniversary this year is the 100th anniversary of the Balfour Declaration, whereby the British promised to create a Jewish homeland in Palestine, without any thought of consulting the existing population thereof. Britain, and later the US and other leading powers, created and enabled this state of affairs, and still uphold it. So I think we kind of have a responsibility to do something about changing it. Or at the very least, stop actively supporting it.