An Israeli border policeman fires teargas towards Palestinian demonstrators
An Israeli border policeman fires teargas towards Palestinian demonstrators during a protest against the expansion of the nearby Jewish settlement of Kdumim in the West Bank. Photo by AP
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I thought the occupation would end differently. I thought that when the occupation finally ended, Palestinians would flood into the streets in delight and relief and weeping at their newfound freedom, a sudden intoxication of rights, their lifelong hopes for independence made concrete.

I thought the end of occupation would be deafening and terrifying and liberating and wholly new.

I thought that when the occupation ended, we would know.

But on Monday, when a former deputy chief justice of the Supreme Court, charged by the prime minister with studying the legality of Israel's presence in the West Bank, announced that from a legal standpoint there was, in fact, no occupation, the only sound that could be heard was an uncomfortable squirm from the prime minister himself.

“I very much appreciate the efforts of Judge (Edmond) Levy and the people who worked with him," Netanyahu said. "They did serious, quiet work over long months." Accent on the "quiet." The report has the tidy, all-business construction of a time bomb. And it's ticking in Netanyahu's inner office.

On the day that the report was reluctantly made public, a new study showed that while young American Jews are growing more attached to Israel, there has been no corresponding rise in support for Israel's policies towards the Palestinians.

These young American Jews may not possess encyclopedic knowledge of Israel. But along with an emotional tie to this place, a connection which transcends government policy, these young Jews have learned the first, most basic fact of Israeli life: Whatever it is that you love about Israel and connect to, the occupation is still there, alive and more powerful than ever.

They understand instinctively that if a Jewish country coddles and buys off Jews, bending over backwards to legalize illegal behavior on their part - while at the same time walling off and curbing the movement of Palestinians and denying them housing permits and demolishing their homes - something here has gone far wrong.

Part of what has gone wrong is our ingrained habit of answering questions on the fate of the territories, the occupation, and the possibility of a workable solution, with one variation or other of a two-word national motto: Yes, But.

Question: More than two million Palestinians in the West Bank lack basic freedoms of self-determination, speech, assembly, movement, livelihood, and opportunities for property ownership and construction for basic personal needs.
Answer:

A: Yes, but their leaders have kept them this way, by refusing Israel's overtures for peace.

B: Yes, but the Muslim world has kept them this way, by refusing to take them in.

C: Yes, but their terrorists have kept them this way, by foiling every chance for compromise and peace.

D: Yes, but settlements are irrelevant to the issue, because they wanted to destroy Israel even before 1967.

E: Yes, but if we withdraw from any territory, we will encourage more demands, and grant them platforms for rocket fire.

F: Yes, but there really are no such people as the artificial designation "Palestinians," nor has there ever been a Palestine.

G: Yes, but even though polls consistently show that a clear majority of both Israelis and Palestinians favor a two-state solution, an even larger majority has lost all faith that it can happen.

H: Yes, but even though the UN Human Rights Council is launching an investigation of the impact of the settlements and the occupation on the Palestinians, Syria is said to have a chance for membership on the Council, a fact that makes any Israeli wrongdoing pale in comparison.

I: Yes, but even though boycotts are gathering steam and a distinguished British expert on international law has reportedly concluded that European governments are fully within their legal rights to boycott products made by Jews in the West Bank, we must see this for what it is: rank anti-Semitism.

J: Yes, but the threat posed by Iran is such that this is not the time for an Israel of compromise and increased vulnerability.

K: Yes, yes, yes, we understand the problem, we are people of ethics and humanism and values, but … all of the above.

The Levy report adds new Yes Buts, arguing that the West Bank is not occupied territory and that Israel has every right to legalize and thus expand settlement.

No one is fooled. Not in the world, and not here.

Is it a problem that, deep down, Israelis know that this situation is not only immoral, but also unsustainable?

Yes, but there's always the possibility of a messiah or an undefined outstretched, mighty arm capable of delivering the Jewish people from themselves and their own works.

I thought that when at last the occupation came to its close, we would get our loved ones back, some of them in uniform, some of them in protest, from the conglomerate called occupation. This monster which we cannot really see and which we pen up behind a wall. This monster which takes our loved ones, and those of the other side, and mires them in the rage and the violence and the isolation and the curbs on freedom for both the occupied and the occupier that the occupation manufactures day and night, no time off, Sabbath and holidays included.

Yes, we think to ourselves, but what choice do we really have? And, with that simple sentence, we narrow our choices, and our future, to zero.

For all that it draws on distinguished legal scholarship and voluminous research, the take-home message of the Levy Commission report boils down to something very close to this:

In Israel, ending the occupation is as easy as closing your eyes.