A Free Nation in Our Land

For the sake of its own freedom, Israel must make every effort to reduce and minimize as much as possible its rule over the Palestinians.

Since 1967, Israel has effectively become two states: Israel within the Green Line, a democratic, multi-party state whose citizens enjoy freedom of speech and movement; and next to it, the Palestinian territories under military rule, where the exact opposite is the case. At first it seemed that this would be a temporary situation until a settlement of one sort or another was worked out. For that reason, the internal contradiction between the two kinds of authority wielded by Israel was not profoundly understood. The Oslo agreements only deepened the perception that the situation was temporary.

But a situation that persists for decades has its own internal logic. Add to that an expanding population of settlers - about a quarter of a million today - who live in the West Bank under Israeli civil law, and not military rule. Hence, a situation has been created under which two populations live in the same territory under two legal systems, with national affiliation the deciding factor. Not exactly apartheid, but certainly not equality before the law.

For decades it seemed to most Israelis, including those who support a withdrawal from the West Bank, that this is a tolerable situation - not exactly what we would like to see, but temporarily, certainly not the worst option. Increasingly, this appears to be an illusion, because what goes on in the occupied territories is now starting to seep into Israel proper. Many who during their military service got used to treating Palestinians as an occupation army treats the occupied, began to treat - at least mentally, if not in practice - Israeli Arabs in the same way. The tolerance shown by the authorities for the violence of some of the settlers against Palestinians shaped a worldview that became acceptable to many with regard to Israeli Arabs. Shady deals aimed at taking over land in the territories became a model for taking over Arab properties in East Jerusalem, supposedly an integral part of Israel. And there are plenty of other examples.

The Green Line has been blurred in such a way that the norms that exist in the reality of the occupied territories have became increasingly acceptable norms within Israel proper. It is clear that racist legislative initiatives in the Knesset, as well as despicable statements made by some rabbis, are fed by the atmosphere created by Israel's rule over the territories. McCarthyist proposals to investigate the funding sources of NGOs that criticize IDF actions in the territories are obviously connected to the simple fact of the ongoing occupation. Indeed, how true it is that he who represses another people ultimately loses his own freedom. It doesn't happen overnight, but gradually, bit by bit.

Perhaps the people of Yisrael Beiteinu do understand what ruling another people means for the future of Israel. But Netanyahu, who comes from a different background, should be aware of the consequences and object to them. For him, it seems, the challenges facing the Jewish state are perceived exclusively in narrow security terms: balance of power, firepower, deterrent capabilities and amassing territory. He has never uttered a word that might suggest he understands that the problem - a problem that had contributed in no small measure to the delegitimization of Israel - is not the control of territory, but ruling people against their will.

Not for the sake of the freedom of the Palestinians must Israel make every effort to reduce and minimize as much as possible its rule over another people - but for the sake of our own freedom. And this must be done even in the absence of negotiations.