You could be excused for scratching your head at some of the curiously timed decisions and strangely bellicose statements coming out of Israel this week. Why was it necessary to announce new building in East Jerusalem straight on the heels of the previous ruckus? Who is the genius that didn’t realize that taking Palestinians off West Bank buses would be a godsend to BDS-supporters? Why does Prime Minister Netanyahu persist in his very public spat with the Obama administration and why doesn’t Defense Minister Moshe Yaalon desist from dissing the Americans, despite their snubs?
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Israeli leaders, after all, are not stupid. Contrary to what many of Israel’s enemies would like to believe, they are not evil either. And while each of their moves has its own distinct and often complex rationale – including a legitimate battle over Jerusalem - they all share a common underlying theme: they would be completely understandable in a world in which there was no occupation.
Think about it: once you take occupation out of the equation, Israeli indignation is the least we can do.
If there is no occupation, international protests against Israeli construction in the territories become both incomprehensible and reprehensible, as they are often perceived. If there is no occupation, then it goes without saying that building in Jerusalem is just like building in Paris or London, and any position to the contrary is no more than rank hypocrisy. If there is no occupation, why shouldn’t Jews be allowed to live wherever they want and what’s to prevent their government from accommodating them? Are they second-class citizens? Do they not bleed?
Once the occupation is cast as a figment of the world’s feverishly prejudiced imagination, everything else falls into place: Obama’s fickleness, Europe’s animosity, Arab sanctimony and the media’s duplicity. After you put on your occupation-denying blinkers it suddenly becomes very natural to view do-gooder human rights NGO’s as backstabbing defamers and well-poisoners, as they are often portrayed. In a world with no occupation, double standards are an elemental explanation for the world’s behavior and rampant anti-Semitism requires no further proof.
Viewed through this conveniently benign prism, Palestinian resistance and violence appear to be mindlessly directed at absolutely innocent bystanders who wouldn’t harm a fly. Even if it goes without saying that there is no justification for violence, if there is no explanation for it other than jihadist nihilism then it makes perfect sense to equate ISIS with Hamas and vice versa, and to point accusing fingers at a world that refuses to do so for the obvious reason that Hamas just happens to be killing Jews.
Aiding and abetting this self-imposed visual impairment are the Israeli media –with the notable and widely-condemned exception of Haaretz – that provide very little coverage of Palestinian hardships but periodically tout the good life of swanky hi-tech hipsters in Ramallah, just like they used to focus on the villas and shopping malls in Gaza, before these were demolished in Operation Protective Edge. The Israeli government often depicts Gaza as an area from which Israel has completely withdrawn and has no more control over, forgetting the fact that, with Egypt’s help, it holds the strip in a state of perpetual siege and isolation.
With their cheery blinders on, Israelis can focus on each Palestinian town and village individually and ignore the difficulties of moving from one place to the other.
Even the absolute security control of the IDF, which allows the army to randomly barge into Palestinian homes at midnight, is often portrayed as a good thing that the Palestinians would learn to love and appreciate were it not for the incitement of their leaders.
And once you convince yourself that Gaza is like Gedera and Tul Karem is similar to Tel Aviv, you immediately start to feel like a Jewish victim who is being unjustifiably pilloried in the New York Times. If there is no occupation, then the depictions of Palestinian trials and tribulation and the tales of civilian suffering and casualties are all part of an evil conspiracy and an insidious Big Lie propaganda campaign. Sans occupation, Netanyahu is right to describe Palestinian demands for withdrawal to the 1967 borders or for the division of Jerusalem as baseless, as he did in the Knesset this week. If there is no occupation, then what, for God’s sake, does the world want from our lives?
True, for many Israelis on the right, this denial of the occupation is no blindness to reality but a confirmation of a stalwart and proudly held ideology. But for many others it is part of a process known as “dissonance reduction” aimed at suborning reality to one’s expectations, at finding a convenient way to look at the mirror and feel good about yourself, no matter what the others may say.
For right wing politicians, this willful blindness provides fertile ground to play on fears, promote indignation, rile up public support and stay in power for as long as possible while keeping the harsh reality of Israel’s 47-year control of another people behind the Green Line and beyond the mountains of darkness.