Occupational Hazard

After 40 years, it seems that the time has come to replace the spoken language about the occupation, the language that approves it by generalizing it, and to start shaking up its content.

There's a problem with the occupation. I mean, there's a problem with "the occupation." And with phrases like "Enough of the Occupation," "Away with the Occupation" and "Against the Occupation." And with other lines in which the words "the occupation" appear, such as "the occupation corrupts" or "the occupation is cruel" or "the occupation starts within me" (as someone declared on a recently distributed light-blue bumper sticker, a saying that could actually be meaningful if it weren't New Age-indulgent).

The problem with "the occupation" has to do with a widespread and fascinating phenomenon in spoken and written language: The tendency of words to become diluted, to be emptied of their content, to be stripped of meaning, to roll off the tongue and blow away in the air like chaff in the wind. In other words, the tendency of serious words to become cliches. To lose their punch from overuse. The problem has been especially heightened lately by the colorful posters that have been popping up in cities all over the country, proclaiming "40 years of occupation" or "40 years to the occupation" or "the occupation is 40 years old" (Mazel Tov! How good of us to remember!).

Indeed, in cliched terms, there's no reason we shouldn't mark "40 years of the occupation" along the same lines as "60 years of the state" or "Tel Aviv is 100" and other such festive occasions. Because the cliche is like a monument or an "anniversary" ceremony: It expresses only that which is already taken for granted, and dead and buried, and now just a hazy memory. Whereas the actual occupation, in all its various aspects and components, is an ongoing cruelty that must be stopped. It is something that continues to occur in the here and now. It is not the generalization, but its deconstruction. It is not the abstract, but the actual, the concrete, the daily reality.

And, wouldn't you know it, but on the streets of Jerusalem, of all places, some graffiti have recently appeared that are perhaps trying to grapple with the problem; to bring the aspects of the occupation to the surface of awareness and to protest against them. Such as the graffiti "Stop, Checkpoint Ahead of You," which was sprayed on a large planter in the city center; or the bitter sentiment, "You're celebrating freedom, while Palestinian women are imprisoned by closure. Ironic, huh?" or the really clever: "Where are you during the closure?" [a parody of sayings like, "Where are you for the holidays?"]. Graffiti-sprayers the world over obviously believe that language both reflects and creates reality, or at least affects it.

And truly, after 40 years, it seems that the time has come to replace the spoken language about the occupation, the language that approves it by generalizing it, and to start shaking up its content. Here are a few ideas for graffiti against the occupation that don't contain the words "the occupation" and which I feel like spraying all over the place - on gleaming new public buildings, in shopping malls, and in the centers of nightlife in our cities: "How many hours did you stand at the checkpoint today?"; "I'm an illegal resident?"; "Having a blast in the refugee camps!"; "Every morning, on the way to work: Three hours on foot around the wall"; "A 'strike' in the high schools: The IDF is bombing from the air."

Okay, I know, they still need a little work. The quality isn't quite uniform. But that's alright, because what's important is: Not to keep silent. To continually invent new slogans. Not to let the meaning dissipate. Not to fall asleep on the watch (see - it's already happening again, you really have to watch out for those cliches). Not to be lulled by routine. Until there is not a single day more of this thing called "the occupation."