Addicted to Occupation

Have the Palestinians hit rock bottom? Not yet. Have the Israelis? Not nearly. But, at the risk of being dismissed as weak-willed by my heavy-user brethren, I confess that rock bottom is where I am.

At first it was all about freedom. The addiction that now goes by the names "Greater Israel," or "Occupation," or, more commonly, "Our Reality," felt nothing like a disease at first. It felt, in fact, nothing like occupation. It felt free.

Before the first real taste of occupation, 19 years of statehood seemed to have made Israel into the world's largest ghetto. Choked by recession, slowly strangling within borders that only barely repelled neighbors bent on the annihilation of their country, hundreds of thousands of Israelis had survived the Holocaust only to be facing what appeared to be a new one, in 1967. The first dose hit like medicine, like manna, like deliverance.

As is true of many narcotics, occupation at first granted a kind of weightlessness to people who had suffered all their lives from an excess of gravity. There was a sudden sense of empowerment, of limitless room to move, of unaccustomed safety.

What no one knew then was what every addict comes to discover, often too late: You don't have any idea that you're addicted until you face the pains of withdrawal.

We were no different from other addicts. We thought we could stop any time we wanted. So we didn't. If someone asked questions, wondered about the wisdom of endless occupation, the heavy users, the pushers of occupation, derided them, questioned their manhood, called them names like "rachruchi" (softy) or "yefe nefesh" (bleeding heart), a suggestion that one was less than potent, latently homosexual, or both.

Like other addicts, our first instinct, when the pangs and the nausea and the cramps and the searing pains of withdrawal began taking effect, was to medicate with more of the drug. To settle further. To reoccupy. To fantasize anew - as the pushers and the heavy users of Yesha and yeshivas abroad had never stopped doing - about the drug as a means for spiritual enlightenment, of ultimate fulfillment, of the destiny of man.

And, like other addicts, we were not about to stop until we hit rock bottom.

While we dealt with our addiction, as co-dependents, as enablers, as addicts, as pushers, the Palestinians were neck-deep in their own version of addiction to occupation.

Their dependency was every bit as absolute. But theirs was a different drug of choice. It was violent revenge, the promise of redressing humiliation through the infliction of punishment, the promise of regaining a sense of manhood through the brandishing and use of firearms, the belief in the idea that nationhood can only be - should only be - attained by means of macho displays and actions.

The Palestinians, in short, became addicted to machismo, as sold to them by the drug lords Arafat, Yassin and Rantisi. Just as the Israelis' drug of occupation was meant to take away the Israelis' chronic fear of annihilation, the Palestinian's drug of machismo was meant to take away the Palestinian's chronic pain of dishonor - and, in the bargain, to magically return all Palestinians to the homes that myth and memory had kept intact.

The drug didn't work as expected, but it had an especially alluring side effect. As long as the occupation continued, Palestinians need not take responsibility for anything they did. They taught their children, and convincingly, that occupation is the great crime of mankind, the abomination beside which all other acts of man pale.

The Palestinians, thus, became ineluctably addicted to occupation as well. It is, at this point, the basis of their culture, the cornerstone of their identity, the explanation and expiation of all their failings.

Have the Palestinians hit rock bottom? Not yet. Have the Israelis? Not nearly. But, at the risk of being dismissed as weak-willed by my heavy-user brethren, I confess that rock bottom is where I am.

So this is my first meeting of Occupiers Anonymous. I am new here, and distinctly uneasy. I have protected settlers in the northern Sinai, in southern Gaza, and the length of the West Bank. I have occupied Lebanon and the Golan. I have occupied every territory it was possible to occupy. I am an occupier, and I want to stop.

In the past, I blamed my failure to stop occupying on the settlers who manufactured new occupations and on the l eaders who enabled them. I blamed my failure on the Palestinians who missed no opportunity to misread the Israelis. I blamed my failure on the terrorists who destroyed any chance of ending the occupation because their very self- image and power depended on an occupation without end.

But this summer I have decided to begin the 12 steps. God, grant me the serenity to leave the places I can leave. Give me the courage to stand and defend the places I should. And the wisdom to know the difference.