O is for Occupation

This is a cross-post by Marc Goldberg

Standing on the White House lawn alongside then President Ronald Reagan, Menahem Begin uttered the following words:

“I have read in some newspapers in this great country that Israel invaded Lebanon. This is a misnomer. Israel did not invade any country. You are doing that in a land when you want to conquer it or to annex it or at least conquer part of it.” Read his comments in full here.

As a point of fact the IDF had invaded Lebanon, the word play here did nothing to advance Israel’s cause in the United States or anywhere in the world, nor did it advance Begin’s case at home where he was subject to some of the largest displays of public unrest in Israel’s history. But that’s not why Begin refused to concede the IDF had invaded. He refused to conceded the word because he genuinely didn’t think the IDF had invaded. Begin was blind.

This statement is as good an example of any as to the degree to which the man would go in order to avoid accepting Israel was doing something that was in any way negative. His argument convinced no one, least of all the soldiers who had been busy invading Lebanon at the very moment their Prime Minister was denying they were doing so.

Begin was well known for refusing to accept the premise of an opponent’s argument and engaged often in this kind of wordplay. This was Begin’s greatest failing as a leader. He simply couldn’t bring himself to look at the negative impact his actions or the actions he sanctioned were having, not only on other countries but also on Israel.

When it came to the West Bank Begin was exactly the same. Utterly adamant in his refusal even to refer to the area of land as “The West Bank” he chose instead the biblical names of “Judea and Samaria”. Begin was unable to view the areas as anything other than places that were once part of the biblical Jewish kingdom that had been liberated by the IDF in 1967. The tragedy of this fundamental inability to look and really see the reality on the ground is the fact that it ensured his policy decisions were all off kilt. The very man who was supposed to be making policy decisions with all the facts at his disposal was purposely making himself blind.

Begin’s long dead but his legacy of doublespeak continues. Over and again I have heard people deny that the Israeli military presence in the West bank is an occupation. All of the reasons made famous by Begin during his tenure as Prime Minister and some more since have become (unfortunately) part of the Zionist discourse. All to the ultimate detriment of Israel and Israelis.

The first time I ever stated that we were “occupying” the West Bank I said it as a mistake. The word simply slipped out of my mouth and I was caught out on it. I was on leave for Rosh Hashannah during my army service, at a relative’s home in Jerusalem to celebrate and was being questioned by one of the guests as to my duties in the army. I can’t even remember what it was I was saying but I remember very clearly that the man stopped me mid sentence;

“So you believe there is an occupation then?”

I hadn’t ever even considered the question before, “of course” I blurted out, genuinely unsure how anyone could see it in any other way. The statement wasn’t one of politics simply one of fact. It was devoid of negative or positive connotations simply a descriptive word used as part of an explanation of what it was I was doing there. It was also my first introduction to the argument surrounding the wording of the activities of the IDF in the West Bank or, if you prefer, Judea and Samaria.

Over the years this argument over whether there is an occupation of the West Bank keeps coming up. It amazes me how many intelligent people will go to dizzying lengths of verbal and intellectual gymnastics in order to avoid using the word ‘Occupation’ to describe well…the Israeli occupation. International treaties from the 1920s, biblical proclamations and a whole range of other arguments both legal, moral and military are used to maintain this fantasy that Israel is not occupying the West Bank and by extension the Palestinians who live there.

Please note that I just described the Arabs living in Judea and Samaria as ‘Palestinians’ yet another battlefield in this war of expression and definitions ‘Palestinian’ is another word that many people simply won’t use when talking about…well Palestinians.

The Result

By re-branding the West Bank as Judea and Samaria on the international stage and by opening the door wide to settlement, Begin succeeded only in locking Israelis in a death embrace with Palestinians from which we are not likely to escape unscathed (or more unscathed than we already have been). The fact that in every day conversation there are Israelis, Jews and/or Zionists who still find it impossible (ala Begin) even to admit the truth about the military situation has ensured that the death grip is a fatal one, by the time their eyes are opened it will likely be too late.

The truth is that the refusal to use the word occupation is symptomatic of a much greater issue, an inability to look at the West Bank and see the reality of life there, to see what exists, to see what holding on to Judea and Samaria means for Israel and for the Palestinians living there. Personally it doesn’t even bother me if I stop using the word occupation and resort to something longer winded like Israeli military rule just so long as the people I am talking to are able to look over there and actually see what’s happening in the name of Israel and Judaism.