“Beautiful Israel” and the 1967 War

Joel Beinin

The 1967 Arab-Israeli war unleashed forces that reshaped Israeli politics and society. But much about the war is rooted in the military tactics, governance practices and political culture of “beautiful Israel,” as liberal Ashkenazi Zionists often nostalgically refer to the pre-1967 state. This is true of the decision to launch the war. It is true of the impulse for territorial expansion, manifested by the annexation of a vastly expanded East Jerusalem on June 28, 1967 and the establishment of the first civilian Jewish settlements in the Golan Heights and the West Bank in July and September. And it is true of the imposition, following the six days of fighting, of military rule on the Palestinians of the West Bank and the Gaza Strip.

The countdown to the 1967 war began with sharpening military clashes between Israel and Syria. In a posthumously published interview with journalist Rami Tal, Moshe Dayan, former Israel Defense Forces chief of staff and minister of defense in June 1967, explained that before the war IDF methods on the Syrian border consisted of

snatching bits of territory and holding on to it until the enemy despairs and gives it to us.
…After all, I know how at least 80 percent of the clashes there started. In my opinion, more than 80 percent, but let’s talk about 80 percent. It went this way: We would send a tractor to plow some area where it wasn’t possible to do anything, in the demilitarized area, and knew in advance that the Syrians would start to shoot. If they didn’t shoot, we would tell the tractor to advance farther, until in the end the Syrians would get annoyed and shoot. And then we would use artillery and later the air force also, and that’s how it was…. We thought that we could change the lines of the ceasefire accords by military actions that were less than war.

Menachem Begin’s Herut (Freedom) Party, which emerged from a pre-state terrorist militia, the Etzel (commonly known as the Irgun in English), never accepted the 1949 armistice lines (the Green Line) as Israel’s legitimate border. The movement’s territorial aspirations were expressed in the refrain of a poem by the leading ideologue of the Zionist right, Vladimir Jabotinsky: “Two Banks has the Jordan / This one is ours, and that one as well.” Herut was marginal to Israeli politics until the 1967 war. On the eve of the war Begin joined the governing coalition as minister without portfolio. A decade later he became prime minister.

An influential kibbutz-based Labor Zionist movement—Le-Ahdut ha-‘Avodah (Unity of Labor)—which, like Herut, had opposed the partition of British Mandate Palestine into an Arab and a Jewish state, also harbored irredentist sentiments. Its members dominated the officer corps of the pre-state Labor Zionist militias, the Palmach and Haganah. From 1954 on Le-Ahdut ha-‘Avodah was an independent party led by Yisrael Galili, former chief of staff of the Haganah, and Yigal Allon, a founder of the Palmach. Both were ministers in the government that launched the 1967 war. In June 1966, Le-Ahdut ha-‘Avodah’s theoretical guru, Yitzhak Tabenkin, declared, “Anywhere war will allow, we shall go to restore the country’s integrity” (Tom Segev, 1967: Israel, the War and the Year That Transformed the Middle East, p. 180). In July 1967 Tabenkin became one of the founders of the Greater Israel Movement, which advocated annexation and settlement of the territories occupied the preceding month.

Members of Le-Ahdut ha-‘Avodah-affiliated kibbutzim convinced Dayan to conquer the Golan Heights on the fourth day of the 1967 war, a decision he later regarded as his worst political mistake, as after Israel destroyed its air force on the first day of the war, Syria no longer posed a threat. As Dayan recalled in the same conversation with Tal,

The kibbutzim there saw land [on the Golan Heights] that was good for agriculture…. And you must remember, this was a time in which agricultural land was considered the most important and valuable thing…. The delegation that came to persuade [Prime Minister Levi] Eshkol to take the heights…were thinking about the heights’ land. Listen, I’m a farmer…. I saw them, and I spoke to them. They didn’t even try to hide their greed for that land.

Jerusalem Mayor Teddy Kollek commissioned Naomi Shemer to write “Jerusalem of Gold.” The words express Jewish longing for the Old City of Jerusalem, then part of the Hashemite Kingdom of Jordan:

How the cisterns have dried
The marketplace is empty
And no one frequents the Temple Mount
In the Old City.
And in the caves in the mountain
Winds are howling
And no one descends to the Dead Sea by way of Jericho.

“No one,” of course, means “no Jew,” since thousands of Palestinian Arabs did these things daily. Such Israeli erasures of Arab presence were routine by 1967. They were facilitated by the expulsion of some 725,000 Palestinians during the 1948 war. Subsequently, military rule was imposed on almost all of Israel’s Palestinian Arab citizens until 1966. They were largely segregated in villages and impoverished neighborhoods in half a dozen “mixed cities.” In the early 1960s the army developed contingency plans to establish military rule over the West Bank and Gaza Strip should these lands be occupied in a conflict (Neve Gordon, Israel’s Occupation, p. 10).

The war broke out on June 4, three weeks after “Jerusalem of Gold” was first performed; it became the unofficial anthem of Israel’s victory. On June 7, when Israel conquered the Old City of Jerusalem and its environs, Dayan proclaimed, “This morning, the Israel Defense Forces liberated Jerusalem. We have united Jerusalem, the divided capital of Israel. We have returned to the holiest of our holy places, never to part from it again.”

To celebrate the “reunification” of Jerusalem, Shemer added a verse to her song that ensconced its annexation as uncontestable in Israeli popular culture:

We have returned to the cisterns
To the market and to the marketplace
A ram’s horn calls out on the Temple Mount
In the Old City.
And in the caves in the mountain
Thousands of suns shine—
We will once again descend to the Dead Sea
By way of Jericho.

The most disturbing aspect of contemporary Israel for those nostalgic for pre-1967 “beautiful Israel” is the hegemony of the alliance of messianic religio-nationalism and anti-democratic national chauvinism. This phenomenon, too, has pre-1967 origins. In 1924 Avraham Yitzhak Kook (1865-1935), the first Ashkenazi chief rabbi of Mandate Palestine, founded the Merkaz ha-Rav yeshiva (school for higher religious studies) in Jerusalem. There he taught “practical messianism”—the doctrine that returning to Zion and establishing a Jewish state were preparatory stages leading to the Messianic Era. Kook saw secular Zionists as the “Messiah’s donkey” (a reference to Zechariah 9:9)—God’s unwitting tool for hastening the coming of the Messiah.

Tzvi Yehuda Kook (1891-1982) radicalized his father’s teachings. His sermon on Israeli Independence Day, May 15, 1967, anticipated the ethos that eventually characterized post-1967 Israel.

…Nineteen years ago, on the night when news of the United Nations decision in favor of the re-establishment of the state of Israel reached us, when the people streamed into the streets to celebrate and rejoice, I could not go out and join in the jubilation. I sat alone and silent; a burden lay upon me.… I could not accept the fact that indeed ‘they have…divided My land’ (Joel 4:2)! Yes [and now after 19 years] where is our Hebron—have we forgotten her?! Where is our Shechem [Nablus], our Jericho—where?! Have we forgotten them?!

And all that lies beyond the Jordan—each and every clod of earth, every region, hill, valley, every plot of land, that is part of the Land of Israel—have we the right to give up even one grain of the Land of God?! On that night, nineteen years ago, during those hours, as I sat trembling in every limb of my body, wounded, cut, torn to pieces—I could not then rejoice.

When Israeli forces captured Jerusalem’s Old City three weeks later, Kook’s followers proclaimed these words a prophetic sign on the road to redemption. Kook and his followers regarded any withdrawal from “the eternal land of our forefathers” as religiously forbidden. They believed that settling all of the Land of Israel was the foremost of the 613 biblical commandments. Kook’s views informed the religious wing of the Greater Israel Movement and Gush Emunim (Bloc of the Faithful), the religio-nationalist settler movement founded in 1974, as well as settler leaders like Chanan Porat, a founder of the first West Bank settlement, Kfar Etziyon, established in September 1967 and Moshe Levinger, the principal figure of the Hebron/Kiryat Arba settlement established in 1968. Long before Kook’s views were openly articulated by cabinet ministers, as they have been since Benjamin Netanyahu returned for his second run as prime minister in 2009, they infused a new élan and direction into Israeli society, much as the kibbutz movement did before the 1967 war.

Joel Beinin is Donald J. McLachlan Professor of History and professor of Middle East history at Stanford University and a contributing editor of Middle East Report.

Familiar Ruptures and Opportunities, 1967 and 2017

Noura Erakat

The 1967 war was a fundamental, damning failure for the Arab world. In the course of six short days, Israel expanded its jurisdiction across the Egyptian Sinai Peninsula and the Syrian Golan Heights, as well as the West Bank and the Gaza Strip. For 19 years, Arab states had regarded Israel as a foreign colony established by the collusion of imperial powers. Amid the anti-colonial fervor that animated much of the global south at the time, these states refused to recognize Israel as a Jewish homeland. They demanded that Palestinian refugees be allowed to return and given the right to govern themselves as promised by Britain, the League of Nations Mandate system and the UN Charter. Israel’s expansion of its territorial holdings blunted the force of those demands.

Among the less frequently cited deleterious effects of the 1967 war is the way in which it reified the juridical elision of Palestinian peoplehood and the attendant right of Palestinians to self-determination. This erasure was first accomplished with the drafting of the Balfour Declaration in 1917 and then upon the incorporation of that text into the Palestine Mandate in 1922. Upon declaring its independence in 1948, Israel legally justified its right to statehood with reference to UN General Assembly Resolution 181, stipulating that Mandatory Palestine should be partitioned into an Arab and a Jewish state without discrimination as to the civil and religious rights of the minority populations. Israel denied that Palestinians had a similar right to statehood because Arabs had rejected Resolution 181.

Rather than correct this juridical erasure, UN Security Council Resolution 242, passed in an attempt to resolve the Arab-Israeli conflict, consecrated it. Resolution 242 predicated the return of Arab lands upon a permanent peace between Arab states and Israel. It failed to recognize the national rights of Palestinians, referring to them as a non-descript “refugee problem.” Egypt and Jordan, seeking to regain territories lost in the 1967 fighting and believing that Israel within its pre-1967 borders was there to stay, voted for Resolution 242. This failure catalyzed the Palestinian national movement, which took the helm of the Palestine Liberation Organization in 1968 and insisted upon leading its own cause, rather than leaving it as a derivative concern of pan-Arabism.

The elision of Palestinian peoplehood remains central to the ongoing conflict as well as to Israel’s settler-colonial mechanisms of dispossession, removal and concentration of the native population. It was upon the fiction of Palestinian non-existence that Israel could construct a legal argument denying the de jure occupation of the West Bank and the Gaza Strip. It is in accordance with this same fiction that Israel denies Palestinians the right to use armed force, as a matter of law, and deems all such incidents as criminal and terroristic. And of course, it is the fiction of non-peoplehood that permits Israel to deny Palestinian self-determination as a matter of positive right. The ambition to resist these conditions, and instead to inscribe the juridical peoplehood of Palestinians among other states in the form of recognition as well as within UN resolutions and procedures, drove the PLO’s legal and diplomatic agenda for nearly two decades.

Over the course of the early 1970s, the PLO achieved recognition as the sole, legitimate representative of the Palestinian people at the Organization of the Islamic Conference, the Non-Aligned Movement and the Organization of African States, as well as at the Arab League, over the protest of Jordan, which continued to lay claim to the West Bank. Having established the requisite groundwork among these regional bodies, the PLO turned its attention to the United Nations.

In 1974, it drafted General Assembly Resolution 3236, which aimed to supplant Resolution 242 as the guiding framework for establishing Middle East peace. Whereas 242 stipulated a permanent Arab peace with Israel without mutual recognition of Palestinians, 3236 reaffirmed “the inalienable rights of the Palestinian people in Palestine, including: a) the right to self-determination without external interference; [and] b) the right to national independence and sovereignty.” UNGA Resolution 3236 was a coup as it enabled Palestinians to pursue a diplomatic strategy without having to recognize, negotiate with and reconcile with Israel. That same year, the PLO introduced and passed General Assembly Resolution 3237 recognizing the PLO as the sole, legitimate representative of the Palestinian people and earning it non-member observer status at the UN. Together, Resolutions 3236 and 3237 created an alternative framework to UNSC Resolution 242 and re-inscribed the juridical status of the Palestinian people as a matter of international law, thus demonstrating the PLO’s efficacy.

Between 1974 and 1977, the PLO participated in the preparatory conferences culminating in the adoption of the Additional Protocols to the Geneva Conventions with the purpose of regulating irregular combat. The Protocols effectively legitimized armed force employed by non-state actors in civil wars and, more pointedly, in wars of national liberation. For the PLO, however, the primary aim underpinning participation in the Protocols talks was a further inscription of its embryonic sovereignty. These ambitions may have yielded positive outcomes for the Palestinian liberation struggle at the height of the power of the Non-Aligned Movement and the prevalence of national liberation movements worldwide, but as the relative clout of these forces began to wane, the PLO’s strategy fell out of place. The PLO’s diminishing influence, marked by its exile to Tunisia, the decline in external funding, and the rise of internal political threats from Hamas and organic leaders in from the Territories, exacerbated this condition. In the late 1980s, the narrow pursuit of juridical recognition ultimately led the PLO to embark on a strategy of capitulation and accommodation best captured by the unfavorable terms of the 1993 Oslo agreement.

By entering into the Oslo accords, the PLO’s moderate flank achieved what it had wanted the most since the early 1970s: Israel’s recognition of the juridical status of Palestinians as a people. It achieved this goal in exchange for freedom. Oslo was a reformulated draft of the autonomy framework first captured by the 1979 Camp David accords establishing peace between Egypt and Israel. Autonomy, unlike statehood, did not link sovereignty and jurisdiction to all peoples and lands. Moreover, autonomy is equally available to oppressed minorities, indicating the irrelevance of peoplehood in its governing apparatuses. Statehood, which is available only to a people, was explicitly off—and never on—the negotiating table. Unlike the Palestinian negotiators in Washington who rebuffed Israel’s efforts in that direction, the PLO in the Oslo back channel accepted Israel’s terms. It also agreed to amend its charter, relinquishing its commitment to armed struggle.

Over the following 24 years of the Oslo era, Israel, with the close cooperation of the Palestinian Authority (PA), has operationalized autonomy and transformed it into a viable arrangement. Not only has autonomy facilitated the dramatic increase of the settler population from approximately 200,000 to 600,000, but it has also retooled Palestinian police forces into a security apparatus for the settlements and their attendant infrastructure. Israel has entrenched its settler-colonial enterprise in Area C, or 60 percent of the West Bank, and is on the cusp of annexing this land as a matter of law. Notably, Israel’s settler-dominated government has revived a discourse of the non-existence of a Palestinian people evidenced by renewed calls to transfer Palestinians to Jordan as well as the 2012 Levy Committee finding that there is no occupation. Denying the juridical status of Palestinian peoplehood today would provide Israel with a (dubious) legal argument that it is annexing land that belongs to no other sovereign. On the horizon looms a reversal of the PLO’s ultimate achievement to date.

Worse, perhaps, is the fact that indefinite military occupation has severely altered the territorial, juridical, geographic and social status quo in place before the start of hostilities in early June 1967. Rather than revolt against these conditions, the Fatah-dominated PA, which has effectively subordinated the PLO, continues to pursue a statehood strategy without regard to the evolving conditions or new realities of de jure discrimination tantamount to apartheid. The PA/PLO strategy does not even remain committed to the PLO’s vision articulated in its Declaration of Independence (1988) and has, at nearly every juncture, attempted to accommodate rather than resist Israel’s domination. Not everyone has suffered equally, which helps to explain this conundrum. The unending process of negotiations has significantly enriched a Palestinian economic and political elite, which has acquired a vested interest in the new status quo.

What has become clear is that the framework of Palestinian nationalism established in the aftermath of the 1967 war is no longer sufficient to drive a liberation movement. That framework has been assaulted, and today is mutilated to the point of non-recognition. While Israel’s settler-colonial regime remains the most significant obstacle to Palestinian freedom, the first step in combating it must be the removal of a Palestinian national and economic elite that makes it viable. At the very least, Palestinians must also articulate and establish an alternative national liberation framework.

The bad news is that a robust nationalist movement does not yet exist. The most significant national body to emerge since 1993 is the Boycott National Committee (BNC), which guides the Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions (BDS) movement. The BNC, however, has been resolutely clear that it is not an alternative to the PLO and that, in practice, the BDS movement is an international solidarity movement based on human rights norms and devoid of a political vision. The good news is that Palestinians are in a very familiar position.

As in the aftermath of the 1948 and 1967 wars, when Palestinians took tremendous losses and were plagued by inept leaders, they face devastating odds today. What is coming next is a more serious deterioration of conditions on the ground, signaled by bolder Israeli moves to consolidate colonial takings and a securitization of the West Bank, much like it has already achieved in Gaza, that deepens the vulnerability of Palestinian civilians. But there is an end to this downward spiral. At that point, or in its approximation, Palestinians will likely initiate a new chapter of resistance shaped by articulations of freedom responsive to the present-day status quo. Perhaps this assessment is overly optimistic but, at the bottom of the well, there is no way to go but up. Either Palestinians meet this challenge or accept their erasure. Such surrender is even more unlikely than the scenarios conjured by unbridled optimism. The inscription of Palestinian peoplehood in the juridical corpus is insufficient to ward off erasure. A people only exist to the extent that they resist their elimination; it is the act of resistance, and not the language of law, that ensures existence. A once vibrant PLO made that clear in the aftermath of the 1967 war, and the dismal conditions today demand a similar resuscitation of intrepid vision and leadership.

Noura Erakat is a human rights attorney, assistant professor at George Mason University and co-founding editor of Jadaliyya. This essay is based on work for her forthcoming book, tentatively titled Law as Politics in the Palestinian-Israel Conflict.

One Anniversary Among Many

Zachary Lockman

In 1984 Meron Benvenisti’s West Bank Data Project issued a report warning that Israel’s colonization of the West Bank (including East Jerusalem) had passed the point of no return on the road toward irreversible de facto annexation. The long-term outcome, the report suggested, would likely be “a regime ominously similar to that of South Africa.” At the time there were some 28,000 Jewish settlers in the West Bank and another 76,000 in the belt of Jewish neighborhoods established after 1967 in and around East Jerusalem.

Today, 33 years later, with the fiftieth anniversary of Israel’s conquest of the remainder of Mandate Palestine upon us, the number of Jews living beyond the 1967 border is close to 800,000—about one of every eight Israeli Jews and now growing mainly by natural increase. Benvenisti’s forecast thus seems more prescient than ever. Of course, in politics things can change, sometimes rapidly and in surprising ways, but for the foreseeable future the prospect of a viable, sovereign Palestinian state being established in the West Bank and Gaza seems very remote, owing largely to Israeli intransigence enabled by unstinting US support and political cover. I would not put my money on Donald Trump altering this pathological relationship.

Yet some continue to see the two-state solution as viable, indeed the only game in town. In his valuable new book, A Half-Century of Occupation: Israel, Palestine and the World’s Most Intractable Conflict (California), Gershon Shafir explores how Israel rules the West Bank (Gaza is less central to his study) but rejects the characterization of its settlement project there as irreversible. Among other things he notes that, despite Israel’s best efforts over the past half-century, the great majority of settlers live close to the Green Line and that the built-up area of the settlements occupies no more than 2 percent of the West Bank, making a future evacuation technically feasible. Shafir acknowledges that the obstacles to Israeli withdrawal are political rather than geographic, but nonetheless insists that they are not insurmountable. Yet, because the forces within Israel supportive of a negotiated settlement with the Palestinians are so weak, he pins his hopes on the BDS movement, which he thinks should refocus its efforts on ending the occupation and welcome Israelis as allies in that struggle.

I summarize Shafir’s argument here not because I agree with it but because, unlike many other advocates of the two-state solution, he readily acknowledges the extent to which Israel’s colonization of the West Bank and Gaza can be seen as a continuation of Zionism’s drive, stretching back to the late nineteenth century, to pursue state building in Palestine through settlement, with the goal of securing as much land, and ultimately as much of the country, as possible. Before 1948 the fact that Palestine was under Ottoman imperial rule and then British colonial rule imposed constraints on Zionist immigration, settlement and state building. The displacement in 1947-1949 of 80 percent of the Palestinian population that had lived in the three quarters of Palestine that became Israel temporarily solved Zionism’s central dilemma—how to have the land but not its indigenous inhabitants. Nonetheless, the campaign to secure land for Jewish settlement within Israel never ceased and continues to this day, most starkly in the ongoing effort to expel the Bedouin of the northern Negev from their lands. After 1967 the project of Judaization was extended to the West Bank and Gaza (though in 2005 Gaza was consigned to a different fate).

It should not be surprising that, its core ideology, institutions and ethos fueled by a powerful narrative of victimhood and of national (and for many divine) redemption, this settler-colonial enterprise continues to settle and colonize. This is not to depict the Zionist project as driven by some inexorable or ahistorical logic: It has in fact forged its path through a process of trial and error, evolving in the process. Nor is it all-powerful: It continues to face significant challenges, including ongoing Palestinian resistance, unfavorable demographic realities, and a failure to secure for the occupation the kind of international legitimacy that Israel within its 1967 borders enjoys (but that the occupation erodes there, too). Israel seeks to resolve the dilemmas it faces through a variety of means, including the bantustanization of the West Bank, the outsourcing of aspects of the occupation to the Palestinian Authority, and the incarceration of the population of Gaza and repeated brutal military assaults on it. But these measures are not entirely coherent or effective, and they generate new problems and contradictions for Israel.

The occupation and colonization of the parts of Palestine which Israel conquered in 1967 clearly have their specificities, and it is clear that these ongoing projects have been central to many of the political, social, cultural and economic transformations that Israeli-Jewish society has experienced over the past half-century (and that have affected Israel’s Palestinian minority as well). So we should not lose sight of how what June 1967 set in motion altered the historical trajectory of Palestine, broadly defined, nor should we elide the difference between what goes on in the Occupied Territories and what goes on inside Israel. Nonetheless, the 1967 occupation is clearly embedded in a larger, more long-term story.

So perhaps, instead of fixating on the anniversary of the 1967 war, we should consider some other approaching dates that get much less attention. August 29 marks the one hundred and twentieth anniversary of the convening of the first Zionist Congress, which launched Zionism as an effective, modern political movement promising to rescue Europe’s Jews from antisemitism and persecution by securing a Jewish-majority nation-state in Palestine, notwithstanding the fact that that land was already inhabited. November 2 is the hundredth anniversary of the Balfour Declaration, which signaled Britain’s embrace of Zionism even as its military forces were conquering Palestine and for the first time made Zionism’s state-building project a realistic possibility. During the Mandate period the Palestinian national movement marked this latter anniversary with public protests; maybe this practice should be revived to highlight how the denial of the Palestinians’ human, civil and national rights continues to be enabled by an imperial power. In any case, given the current balance of forces in Palestine, the region and the world, as well as the disarray of the Palestinian national movement and its lack of a coherent or effective vision and strategy, it seems all too likely that more bleak anniversaries lie ahead.

Zachary Lockman is professor of modern Middle East history at New York University and a contributing editor of Middle East Report.

Resistance and Solidarity Across the Green Line

Maha Nassar

Of the many consequences of the 1967 war, one of the more unexpected has been the integration of the Palestinian citizens of Israel into the Palestinian national cause. Largely overlooked during the early years of the Arab-Israeli conflict, since 1967 Palestinians inside the Green Line (i.e., the 1949 armistice line) have gained prominence in Palestinian intellectual and political spheres. As we mark the passage of 50 years since the June war, we must recognize the efforts of these Palestinians, who are not only fighting for equal rights at home, but are working to bring greater awareness to the plight of Palestinians under occupation as well.

Israel has long tried to separate those Palestinians who managed to remain on their land and obtain Israeli citizenship from the majority who fled or were expelled from their homes. From 1948 until 1966 officials promoted the narrative that “Arab Israelis” were a content minority in a democratic state, despite being placed under harsh military rule. Far from being quiescent, scores of Palestinian individuals, intellectuals and political organizers in Israel challenged military rule and the Zionist ideology that underpinned it through a range of organized and everyday resistances. But with physical and political barriers between Israel and the Arab states severely restricting contact across the Green Line, most Palestinians and Arabs were unaware of this defiance within the state.

The 1967 war fundamentally changed this dynamic. The occupation of the West Bank, Gaza Strip and East Jerusalem meant that Palestinians on both sides of the Green Line could reconnect with one another for the first time in 19 years. Contact with the fedayeen emboldened some younger Palestinian citizens of Israel to take a more oppositional stance against the state. At the same time, many Palestinians in the Occupied Territories were inspired by the cultural and political resistance they saw among the Palestinians “inside,” who maintained their identity and fidelity to the Palestinian cause despite living under Israeli rule for nearly two decades. Israeli officials tried to disrupt these growing connections by barring Palestinian intellectuals and activists on both sides from traveling across the Green Line. Nonetheless, throughout the 1970s and 1980s Palestinian citizens of Israel gained greater visibility in the Palestinian, Arab and international arenas as they came to be seen as part of the larger Palestinian movement.

This visibility was dealt a major blow in the 1990s with the signing of the Oslo accords. By focusing almost exclusively on the conditions of Palestinians in the Occupied Territories, the agreements effectively excised those living inside the Green Line from the Palestinian national agenda. But the eruption of the second intifada, and in particular the October 2000 killing of 13 unarmed Palestinian citizens of Israel who were marching in solidarity with those under occupation, served as a bitter reminder of how intertwined these struggles were. Since then a number of organizations inside Israel have initiated concrete, on-the-ground actions to work against the occupation and to highlight the relationship between the multiple forms of oppression and discrimination that Palestinians face. One of them is the grassroots Ta‘ayush Arab-Jewish Partnership, whose members have recently faced down Israeli attacks as they accompanied Palestinian farmers and shepherds to their fields in the West Bank.

To be sure, even as Palestinian activists continue to work together across the Green Line, numerous challenges remain. Israel still tries to isolate Palestinian citizens of Israel from the larger Palestinian national body through, among other things, the targeting of Christian and Bedouin Palestinian citizens for recruitment into the Israel Defense Forces. Others worry that members of the younger generation who are immersed in a Hebrew-language environment are finding it increasingly difficult to connect to their Arab literary and cultural identity. Moreover, many Palestinians and Arabs around the world still harbor misgivings about the “Arab Israelis,” assuming that they have betrayed the Palestinian cause by accepting Israeli citizenship, even if it is the price they pay for remaining rooted in their homeland.

Despite these obstacles, this solidarity and resistance work continues to make gains as Palestinians on both sides of the Green Line draw attention to the intersectionality of their respective struggles. In April and May Palestinians inside the Green Line launched numerous initiatives in support of Palestinian prisoners in Israeli jails who launched a hunger strike on April 17 that lasted 40 days. In the Nazareth studio of the Musawa satellite channel (which reaches audiences throughout the Arab world), anchors provided daily updates on the hunger strikers and their demands for more humane treatment in Israeli jails, as well as coverage of the numerous protests and demonstrations taking place inside the Green Line. The channel’s popular host Fadi Zgairy also took the “salt water challenge” on air to demonstrate his solidarity with the prisoners, who were sustaining themselves with a daily glass of salt water in the absence of food. And on May 22, scores of municipalities throughout the Galilee, Nazareth, Little Triangle and Naqab regions joined Palestinians in the Occupied Territories and elsewhere in observing a one-day general strike to support the prisoners and their demands.

Today, as the occupation enters its sixth decade and as Israeli state discrimination against its Palestinian citizens nears the end of its seventh, recognizing such acts of solidarity and resistance across the Green Line is necessary if we are to envision a just solution for all the peoples living on this land.

Maha Nassar is assistant professor in the School of Middle Eastern and North African Studies at the University of Arizona and author of Brothers Apart: Palestinian Citizens of Israel and the Arab World (Stanford).

Fifty Years of Disavowal

Ilana Feldman

Israel has now occupied the Gaza Strip, West Bank and Golan Heights for 50 years. And throughout this long time it has disavowed its role and responsibilities as an occupier. By annexing land (Jerusalem and the Golan) it has claimed sovereign authority over occupied territory. By supporting settlements and the infrastructure they require it has acted as if these territories are Israel’s to do with what it wants. And all of this Israel has done as it has tried to undermine the capacity of the Palestinian population to thrive—or even remain on their land. Disavowal has always been a central occupation tactic, but its forms have shifted over the years. It seems fitting to mark the ignominious fiftieth anniversary by reflecting on these forms.

When Israel first gained control over the territories in June 1967 it deployed two forms of disavowal: 1) the claim that these territories were not occupied in the sense covered by the Fourth Geneva Convention, but rather were “administered” or “disputed” and 2) the argument that Israeli occupation was “benign.” Even as there might seem to be something contradictory in these disavowals, they generally went together. The first allowed the Israeli government to argue that, under international law, it had no particular obligations to the population and no particular constraints in its use of the land and its resources. The second permitted it to suggest that it was a benevolent ruler, anyway, so its lack of responsibility should not be troubling to international observers.

The first intifada against the occupation, which began in 1987, put an end to the language of benign occupation. It was increasingly hard to sustain this claim in the face of the widespread and evident Palestinian rejection of it and the extensive Israeli use of force to put down the uprising (captured in Yitzhak Rabin’s notorious policy of “breaking bones”). But the argument about administered territories remained a key Israeli government line until the signing of the Oslo accords in 1993 and the establishment of the Palestinian Authority the following year.

The Oslo process divided Palestinian territories into three areas reflecting the degree of Palestinian autonomy and Israeli military and administrative control over these zones. The Oslo years were marked by a significant expansion of Israeli settlement in the West Bank, with an infrastructure to match, but they were also a time when the status of the occupation was muddled. While Palestinians never had territorial contiguity, freedom of movement or anything approaching real independence, the idea that a Palestinian state was (supposed to be) coming led many observers to imagine that the occupation was already over.

The second intifada of 2000, and Israeli military re-invasions of Palestinian population centers in 2002, brought the occupation back into focus for many. But disavowal then took another turn. In 2005 Israel pulled its settlers and soldiers out of the Gaza Strip and declared the occupation of this territory over. But settler-colonialism is not required for occupation and Israeli control over Gazan lives did not cease with the pullback. In 2007, after Hamas gained control of Gaza, Israel declared it to be a “hostile territory.” This nomenclature not only continued the disavowal of occupation, but also seemed to aver that the beleaguered Gaza Strip was an entity with power and military force equivalent to Israel. The designation was accompanied by a ramping up of Israeli restrictions on the movement of goods into Gaza.

Each of these mechanisms for refusing the responsibilities of the occupier laid out by international law, and for deflecting attention from the nature of Israeli practice and repression in the Occupied Territories, has been deployed alongside an ongoing and increasing entrenchment of Israeli control over Palestinian lands and people. In the West Bank this entrenchment involves the continued seizure of land to support settlement expansion, the development of a separate infrastructure for Jewish populations, and the increasing immobilization and separation from each other of Palestinian populations. In Gaza it has evolved into squeezing of the territory and its population, inward, away from the boundaries. Gazan fishermen no longer have much available sea in which to work. Gazans have no consistently available crossings for travel by land—whether into Israel and Egypt or further afield. They are not safe from assault from the sky, by drone or warplane.

Palestinians have resisted occupation from its inception. International observers have a responsibility first to recognize this ongoing, brutal occupation and second to stand with Palestinians in opposing it.

Ilana Feldman is professor of anthropology at George Washington University.

How to cite this article:

Maha Nassar, Ilana Feldman, Zachary Lockman, Noura Erakat, Joel Beinin "Fifty Years of Occupation," Middle East Report Online, June 05, 2017.

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