Approaching forty years, the Israeli Occupation of the Palestinian Territory has become an indelible stain, creating conditions for violence and significantly reducing the credibility of Israeli assertions of democracy. Recently, former United States President Jimmy Carter was has been widely chastised by so-called “friends of Israel” for associating the word apartheid with Israel’s Occupation regime in the Palestinian Territory (the West Bank and Gaza). While it may be possible to question the wisdom of importing the term apartheid from the lexicon of what was a regime of racist tyranny in South Africa, the underlying and long term effects, and, quite obviously, the goals, of the Occupation have been to separate Palestinians from their homeland and to divide them internally while disinvesting them of any and all political and cultural rights. This may not technically be apartheid but it certainly describes a system of oppression that has embedded itself into the current and foreseeable reality in Israel and Palestine. The point, about the word Apartheid, is that the atrocious and opprobrious nature of the Occupation ought to suffice in order to secure it a meaning in the global lexicon that is comparable to that of Apartheid. Then, even if Israeli Prime Minister Olmert does remove a few roadblocks or an outpost or two it remains clear that the real barrier to normal civil life for all persons in the region remains Israel’s Pharaoh like refusal to relinquish its hold on the OPT and to allow the Palestinian people to be free of the Occupation.
In many ways the nature of the Occupation is most visibly illustrated by the settlement policy, which continues to be imposed on the Palestinian people. The Israeli advocacy group Peace Now’s recent report on Israeli settlements built on private (and stolen) Palestinian land is an important document that clearly informs the Israeli public about the appalling nature of the Occupation and its assault on the rule of law, democracy and human rights. Following the report, neither a single Israeli nor “supporter of Israel” can, in good conscience, deny knowledge of the brutal nature of Israel’s forty-year occupation of the Palestinian Territory (OPT) which is most visibly manifested by Israel’s illegal policy of transferring and settling Israeli citizens onto Palestinian land.
As damning as the charges in the report are, it has become clear that Israel’s political establishment does not view this report as an indictment of its settlement policy nor of the Occupation in its entirety. Rather, it is more logical to assume, that behind closed doors the report is either ignored or seen as an of affirmation of the ‘success’ of Israel’s forty-year policy of occupation, annexation, disenfranchisement and abuse of the indigenous Palestinian population. In fact, the report functions as an indication of the banality of the evil of the occupation. The settlements involved, such as Ma’ale Adumim and Ariel, have become normalized in Israeli public discourse. Life in these ‘communities’ is conducted as normal. Commerce goes on, libraries are constructed, schools and playgrounds continue to be built and residential construction continues unimpeded. The extent of the normalization and banality of the occupation and the settlements has reached such heights that Israelis are barely conscious and surely indifferent to the fact that the settlements and the settlers are a dominant part of Israeli privileged society, siphoning precious resources from both Israeli and Palestinian society while offering nothing positive in return. The Occupation is so banal and endemic that little attention, neither in Israel nor in the United States, is paid to the fact that Israel’s new Ambassador to the United States, Salai Meridor, is himself a settler, from the settlement of Kfar Adumim.
Meanwhile, as the daily niceties of life proceed unimpeded for Israeli settlers, normal life for Palestinians is impossible. Daily activities taken for granted by most of us - going to the doctor, the market, visiting friends and families, attending school or university - has become criminalized for the entire Palestinian population because of the occupation regime. Palestinian life is so highly regulated and controlled by the Israelis that any attempts at movement outside of the structured confines imposed by Israel becomes an unlawful endeavor. The irony of the occupation is that Israeli settlements are “legal” or they are merely “illegal outposts” usually on their way to de facto or de jure legalization while the entirety of the Palestinian population is treated at best as illegal aliens in their own land with no rights, living under a regime of absolute discrimination and abject inequality. This is a classic example of the situation, described by Hannah Arendt in ‘The Origins of Totalitarianism’ in which individuals endowed with human rights are denied access to these rights precisely because of the fact that they are disenfranchised and made to be homeless, deprived of their “place in the world.” Further, even human rights advocacy and peaceful resistance to the occupation has been effectively criminalized by Israel which has recently banned the transport of Palestinians by Israelis and others inside the OPT - significantly impeding human rights work.
For seasoned observers of the occupation this should come as no surprise because Israel, especially since 1967, has developed an entrenched culture of impunity. For example, almost all of the Public Committee Against Torture in Israel’s (PCATI) complaints against torture and inhuman treatment go unanswered and are at best disingenuously investigated. For this reason PCATI calls for comprehensive reform in this flawed investigatory mechanism. Settler violence towards Palestinians remains unchecked, the deleterious effects of settlement and separation barrier construction are ignored while the international community’s insistence at even a modicum of respect for international humanitarian law and human rights law is disregarded or viewed as another indication of how the world is “against Israel.”
The occupation is a form of tyranny. Recent scholarship by Israeli academics and human rights attorneys (see Ben-Naftali, Orna, Aeyal M. Gross and Keren Michaeli. Illegal occupation: framing the Occupied Palestinian Territory, 23 Berkeley J. Int’l L. 551-614 (2005)) have pointed to the unambiguous illegality of the occupation and to the fact that Palestinians have been essentially dehumanized and divested of their human and political rights by virtue of the Occupation. Palestinian aspirations to self-determination have never been considered in a serious manner (and I believe never will be) by Israel. The powers of the Palestinian Authority are effectively reduced by Israel to nothing more than that of a local municipality. In short, the situation created by Israel is one of repression without representation. Throughout history similarly oppressed peoples have resisted such intolerable conditions.
The question is where do we go from here? The answer, at least from an interim point of view, is to impress upon Israel that absent any real progress towards Palestinian self determination the international community will have to view the status of Palestinian residents of the OPT as having undergone a substantive transformation to that of being, by virtue of Israeli long-term oppression, eligible to participate in Israeli political discourse and be given the right to participate in determining the policy and legislation which has governed their lives for forty years. The occupation itself is no longer recognizable as an occupation per-se but rather, at least, as a partial annexation. Those under occupation have been exploited and have had their land expropriated for the benefit of the occupier while their political rights have been consistently denied. Time has indeed taken its toll and the status change to which I refer I will call ‘constructive naturalization.’ That is, in light of Israeli refusal to honor Palestinian democratic aspirations and given Israeli intransigence in its refusal to end the Occupation and guarantee the establishment of a sovereign and viable Palestinian State the Palestinians must now be enfranchised with, at the very least, the right to participate in and influence the policy making process to which they have been enslaved for four decades. Therefore, without a corresponding relinquishment of Palestinian nationality rights, the option of extending Israeli voting rights to Palestinians under occupation must be seriously considered.
Louis Frankenthaler is the education and development director for the Public Committee Against Torture in Israel, an Israeli human rights organization. He moved to Israel in 1995 and worked in the human/civil rights NGO community before completing an MA in Jewish Education at Hebrew University.