Text size

Thus far, this intifada has been a total failure. It hasn't succeeded in realizing three of its clear political aims: to explain to the Israeli public in particular and to the world in general that the Israeli presence in the territories is nothing other than occupation; to explain that the occupation-control of another nation on its own land, by means of military force, when that nation does not have the the right to make decisions about its life, is both morally wrong and bad from a pragmatic political point of view; to explain that the Palestinians are sick of this occupation.

The story of the entire system of rule and domination is the story of the opposition to them. One doesn't have to go as far as South Africa, or the period of slavery in America, or the dictatorships of the former Soviet Union and Eastern Europe. Nobody would have talked about, or been aware of, masculine hegemony in modern societies, had women not challenged it. The Ashkenazi [Jews of European origin] institutional domination of Israeli society would have continued to appear like one of the facts of nature had the Israeli Black Panthers, and those born in deprived neighborhoods, not rebelled against it.

The Palestinian uprising in 1987, the first intifada, managed to make it clear to many Israelis that "Arabs" are not only interesting market places and cheap labor, but a civilian population whose life is conducted by Israel and its army, a population that pays taxes to Israel but does not have the right to vote and to intervene in the system that rules it. But the uprising was unable to convince most Israelis and their government that the Israeli presence in the territories captured in 1967 is something bad and should come to an end.

The fact is that the Israeli entrenchment in those same territories has become stronger, through the expansion of the settlements and the increase in the number of settlers, who are the emissaries of the government policy of domination (and not, as we like to present it, an independent force that imposed its will on the governments).

During the past seven years, the process of entrenchment and building settlements has continued, while the word, "occupation," has been almost entirely erased from our lexicon. The Palestinian Authority has been afforded very limited administrative-civilian powers over the majority of the Palestinian population, without control over the water, the land, freedom of movement and of employment for the population.

The fact that these administrative powers have been limited to a minimal geographic area, broken up into enclaves that are surrounded by Israeli military bases and settlements, didn't seem to the Israelis as a contradiction of their understanding that "there is no longer an occupation." The "occupation" has been replaced by the terms "areas A, B and C," which have no negative connotation. The territories have evolved from "occupied" or "held" into "a disputed area" and later on, gradually, into "Israeli territory," with Israel generously willing to "relinquish parts of it."

The Oslo process yielded a letter of commitment from PA Chairman Yasser Arafat to the late prime minister Yitzhak Rabin in which the former undertook to end acts of violence and terror. Most of the Israeli public understood the reality of the occupation not as a major moral and value-related issue, but as a function of the degree of Palestinian resistance to it. The moment the Palestinians promised to end "the violence and the terror," the reality of the occupation disappeared from Israeli awareness.

People in Israel don't remember that Arafat's promise was given in exchange for an international and Palestinian understanding that Israel would end its control over the Palestinians. Official Palestinian words of protest, here and there, against Israel's foot-dragging in the implementation of the new deployment in the territories and the expansion of the settlements evaporated in the atmosphere in which Israelis convinced themselves that there is no occupation.

In such an atmosphere, it is clear why the official Israeli version of Camp David was accepted without argument, why Palestinian caution in signing unfinished agreements was interpreted as a rejection of Israel's good intentions, and why the fact that annexation of the settlements in key strategic areas was not seen for what it was - a means of perpetuating control over a divided Palestinian political entity.

The intifada broke out because the Palestinian public was tired of this situation of occupation that adopts other names, which are user-friendly for 21st century Westerners. But because the Israeli public does not see the occupation, it perceives the uprising as a unilateral and unjustifiable act of aggression, rather than an act of resistance, of a type that has repeatedly taken place throughout human history.

Since the first days of the intifada, the Israeli public has felt very close to their fellow citizens in the territories, who were the first targets of Palestinian demonstrations, stones, and later, shooting: The soldiers are our children; the settlers are our relatives. They are seen as a peaceful population, under attack in their homes. Palestinian frustration about the high price that is being paid for an intifada that has not succeeded in making it clear to Israel and to the world that what we have here is occupation is winning people over to the tactic of suicide attacks inside Israel.

We are, therefore, at the beginning of the story of the Israeli occupation; and this is frightening.