Palestinians in the West Bank are occupied, and we all suffer

A settlement in the West Bank. sdobie FLICKR

This year, we celebrate the 69th anniversary of the founding of the State of Israel and the 50th anniversary of the liberation of the Old City of Jerusalem.

In honour of these historical events, I reread The Seventh Day, a book of interviews conducted by, and with, kibbutz soldiers after the Six Day War. It was like reading about the Punic Wars, as attitudes have changed so drastically since then.

Those soldiers were raised on the ideology of early kibbutzim. They fought, then went back home to consider what they had accomplished, wonder what the experience of battle had done to them and what this new reality for Israel, as the master of a million Arabs and Jerusalem, would mean.

Today, we know what this victory has meant: 50 years of occupation. Parse it how you will, Palestinians in the West Bank are occupied. For 50 years, Israel has been an occupying power. For 50 years – despite numerous wars, treaties and false starts – Israel has expanded into the West Bank, to the point where hundreds of thousands of its citizens now live beyond what we used to call the Green Line.


As New York Times writer Nathan Thrall put it, “Israel shows again and again that it prefers the option of continued occupation without consequences.”

But he is wrong about there not being any consequences. Indeed, Israel – and, by extension, we in the Diaspora – have had consequences without end.

‘Israeli indifference to the Palestinians and growing disaffection in the Diaspora with Israel leave one angry, depressed and fearful for the future’

First, the very nature of the Israel project was to offer a homeland to the Jews, but also to respect the citizens who were not Jewish, be they Christian, Muslim or Druze. Yet Arab Israelis fare far worse on almost every measure of well-being than their Jewish neighbours. Even non-settler Israelis cannot always expect the level of government support that the settlers enjoy. Internal resentment will take its toll.

Second, the occupation harms the Israeli soldiers who patrol the West Bank, policing barriers, checking IDs and humiliating Palestinians on a daily basis. These continuing rubs against civility take their toll on both Israelis and Palestinians.

Then we must grapple with the warnings that came right after the Six Day War. In his report on the legality of occupying the conquered territories, Holocaust survivor Theodor Meron warned that based on the Geneva Conventions, the settlement of Israeli citizens in the West Bank would be illegal under international law. Pooh-pooh it as you will, his considered and wise opinion stands in direct opposition to what is happening.

Messianic fervour of the settlers, hatred on both sides, boiling resentment, the Diaspora’s loss of interest in the State of Israel – these are all consequences.

Israeli indifference to the Palestinians – “hey, look, the wall really works, we can forget about those others” – and to a growing disaffection in the Diaspora with Israel leave one angry, depressed and fearful for the future.

J.M. Roberts wrote in History of the World: 1901 to the Present that, “There are few moments in the twentieth century so sodden with history as the establishment of Israel.”

Sodden with history? I hope we are not yet too soaked to realize that Israel is losing its way.

I can’t help but think that the high hopes with which the state was founded have evaporated in the messianic ideology that pervades the settler movement, in disdain for the Diaspora and a growing divisiveness within the state itself. As Rabbi D. Nevins wrote, quoting Rabbi Ulla: “Jerusalem can be redeemed only through the practice of righteousness. Only a just city of Jerusalem can be home to the divine presence.”

Israel, it’s not looking good.