As Israel jumps from one self-made crisis to the next, the State of Israel itself is in an alarming condition. The peace and security that Israeli Prime Minister Ariel Sharon promised during his year 2001 election campaign have vanished in the dust of Israeli tanks rampaging Palestinian cities.
Israel’s economy is declining at a record pace. The right-wing Sharon government has sparked a national debate in Israel that questions the legal right to citizenship for over 1.1 million of its Palestinian citizens. Israeli families across the social strata are sending their children to study abroad and emigrating at a pace that was not thought possible only a few years ago.
Over 400 Israeli conscripts, soldiers, or reservists are refusing to serve in the occupied Palestinian areas and some are now imprisoned in Israeli jails as conscientious objectors. The moral fabric of Israeli society is tearing apart at the seams as the Israeli military proudly reverts to a policy of assassination, imprisonment, demolition of homes, deportation, and collective punishment.
Israel’s unrelenting military onslaught against every Palestinian city, village and refugee camp in the West Bank and Gaza Strip has put the Israeli economy at serious risk.
As Palestinians living (if you can call it that) under Israeli military occupation for the past thirty-six years and Israeli military curfew for the last five months, our first concern is hardly for the welfare of Israel and its economy. On the other hand, I, as most Palestinians, fear that the threatening socio-economic collapse of Israel may bring even more death and destruction upon us.
Only last week the price of flour in Israel rose 6 percent and gas 14 percent. Flagship Israeli companies are reporting cuts in their workforce by the thousands.
One high-tech firm just cut twenty-five percent of its workforce in one day. Rochard Fox, senior director of sovereign ratings, from the international ratings agency, Fitch, told Reuters this week, “There’s a greater than 50% chance the [Israel’s] rating will go down based on current trends.”
Israel’s other credit rating has taken a pounding lately as the Israeli currency, the New Israeli Shekel (NIS), declined against the US dollar after Standard and Poor’s lowered its rating for two of Israel’s top banks to BBB+ from their previous A- rating.
Additionally, this week the International Monetary Fund (IMF) said that Israel faces negative growth and rising unemployment, which the IMF said would hit 10.7 percent this year and 10.9 percent next year. The IMF report predicted that Israel’s gross domestic product would contract by 1.5 percent this year. The IMF also forecasts for Israel an inflation rate of 6.2 percent this year and 3.0 percent in 2003. Combined with the bleak global economic scene and the growing strains of continuing its three-decade old occupation, these numbers should be ringing many bells within Israel.
Another arena that may further damage the Israeli economy is the global divesture campaign that was launched by Professor Francis Boyle, professor of international law at The University of Illinois College of Law. Already, groups at over fifty US university campuses have signed on to help organize the campaign and many other campuses and professors around the world are joining in.
This effort recalls the successful divesture campaign against South African Apartheid that contributed to Apartheid’s abrupt end.
As Israel continues to refuse to implement dozens of United Nations resolutions, the latest calling for an end to the siege of Arafat’s headquarters in Ramallah, it can only be expected that increasing numbers of communities will bypass governmental paralysis in taking action against Israeli and look for other means, such as economic sanctions, to pressure Israel into ending the occupation. Alternatively, Israelis do not have to wait while the US forces Sharon to end the siege of Arafat.
Israeli citizens have the power to step back from yet another embarrassing political scenario on their own, today.
Israel’s occupation of Palestinians is destroying Israel from within and ultimately only Israeli citizens have the power to reverse the current trend of self-destruction. After two years of watching Israel spiral downwards, the world no longer believes that the current Israeli administration is interested in addressing its sad state of affairs.
As a matter of fact, all efforts, even those by Israel’s strongest allies, are falling on deaf ears. Israeli Prime Minister Ariel Sharon instead chooses to continue his wildly irresponsible (many would say criminal) foreign and domestic policies while being cheered on by the current US administration and the more powerful elements of American Jewry and Christian fundamentalism.
It is no longer sufficient for Israelis to pay lip service to their intent to end the occupation. It is in Israel’s immediate best interest to set aside the political spin that aims at demonizing the Palestinian leadership and people and swiftly, even unilaterally if need be, beg the international community to assume responsibility for the West Bank, Gaza Strip and East Jerusalem. By doing so, Israel can finally end the long drain of military occupation.
There will be many years after the end of occupation to discuss the details of a final status political agreement with the Palestinians. But holding 3.5 million Palestinians hostage until a final status agreement can be reached will only destroy Israel from within.
Israeli voters taking back their country from those bent on forever persecuting Palestinians is the final hope for Israel to save itself from its own ill-advised, three-decade policy of occupation.
The fact remains that there exists only one policy that Israel, to date, has refused to even attempt to employ: actually ending the occupation. This action has the best chance of relieving Israel of the prisoner’s ball and chain that it has been dragging around for the last fifty-five years.
As many Palestinians are anxiously waiting for the US to gallop across the Atlantic on a white horse to solve our woes, I prefer to appeal to my Israeli neighbors to wake up and smell the occupation, for their sake and for ours.
Sam Bahour is a Palestinian-American businessman living in the besieged Palestinian City of Al-Bireh in the West Bank. He is co-editor of HOMELAND: Oral Histories of Palestine and Palestinians (1994).