Pen Ultimate / Otherwise Occupied

Words are objective and impartial. It all depends on which side of them you are located

At passport control at Ben-Gurion International Airport a tourist was answering some routine questions - "name," "address," etc. When he was asked "occupation?" he answered: "No, just visiting."

The word "occupation" still raises eyebrows in this country, as seen in a slightly outdated argument that recently took place in the Knesset, according to Shahar Ilan's report ("Israeli citizens, Palestinian Parliament," Haaretz, June 25). Three weeks ago MK Ahmed Tibi submitted a no-confidence motion on the occasion of the "40th anniversary of the Israeli occupation of the territories," on behalf of the United Arab List-Ta'al faction. The Knesset secretariat changed the wording to "Israeli control of the territories."

The issue was brought to the presidium - a forum of the Knesset speaker and her deputies - and although Dalia Itzik did not think a change was warranted, her deputy, MK Yuli Edelstein (Likud), prevailed, basing his demand for a change in the name of the motion (during Knesset debates, MKs have an unlimited right of free speech) on his knowledge that "the Knesset secretariat always has been careful to ensure moderate language in the wording of the motions ... If we were to allow the MKs to give free rein to their fantasies ... it would become a slogan-writing contest."

As "slogan-writing" implies an effort aimed at selling (a product or an idea), which may be euphemistic with respect to the reality it refers to, it remains to be seen - although we should have seen it at least 40 years ago - whether the word "occupation" is indeed a matter of opinion (like "liberation") when applied to the territories in question.

The root kaf-bet-shin, on the basis of which the Hebrew word for "occupation" - kibush - is derived, appears for the first time in the first chapter of Genesis, and God does not leave any doubt as to its meaning. On the fifth day of Creation, right after he creates man in his image, both male and female varieties, "God blessed them, and God said unto them, Be fruitful, and multiply, and replenish the earth, and subdue it: and have dominion over the fish of the sea, and over the fowl of the air, and over every living thing that moveth upon the earth" (Genesis 1:28).

The word that was used by King James' scholars to translate the directive based on the root kaf-bet-shin in the verse above is "subdue." Merriam-Webster's definitions of "occupation" are: "the possession, use, or settlement of land ... the act or process of taking possession of a place or area ... the holding and control of an area by a foreign military force," etc.

Incidentally, the English word "kibosh" (etymology unknown) means: "something that serves as a check or stop (i.e., "put the kibosh on that")."

'Recurring and ongoing'

The argument against the use of the word "kibush" with respect to the territories that ended up under Israeli rule after the 1967 Six-Day War, is based on the belief that the whole of the Land of Israel is ours by right. There's no doubt about that, but even before the Lord promised it to Abram/Abraham: "The Canaanite and the Perizzate lived in the land." Even so, although he gave it to Canaanites first, God giveth and God taketh away. So he says to Abraham, while he is already in Canaan: "Lift up now thine eyes, and look from the place where thou art northward, and southward, and eastward, and westward: For all the land which thou seest, to thee will I give it, and to thy seed for ever" (Genesis 13:14-16).

The Canaanites may have had some objections, but if so, Genesis does not elaborate on them. And then Jacob and his sons left for Egypt, and on their way back years later, Moses had no choice but to instruct the Tribes of Reuben, Gad and half of Menashe thus: "And the land be subdued before the Lord: then afterward ye shall return, and be guiltless before the Lord, and before Israel; and this land shall be your possession before the Lord." (Numbers 32:22).

There can be no doubt that for God to deliver on his promise, the Israelites themselves had to subdue - i.e., to conquer and occupy - the Land of Canaan, a process that necessitated in due course destruction of cities (cf. Jericho) and many casualties on both sides, although the Bible is very discreet about the losses suffered by the Israelites. God most probably participated in all of that (cf. the walls of Jericho).

On that subject Hanoch Levin wrote (in "Ketchup"), already in 1969: "Here is the whole land of Israel / As promised to Abraham and his fold / Who will multiple as the sand on the seashore to multitude untold / But I'm not the sand on the seashore that lies there of old / And I don't deliver on promises made by the Lord ... This is the whole of the land of Israel, dying for which is not one of my premises / And let the Lord by himself deliver on his own promises."

Therefore, to those offended by the word "occupation" when referring to the State of Israel's status in the West Bank (or Judea and Samaria, if you insist; Gaza is no longer occupied, not that that has solved the problem) - perhaps we should make a point of saying: "40 years of renewed Israeli occupation of the territories."

The Children of Israel wandered in the desert for 40 years, until all the generation that made evil in the eyes of the Lord was consumed. In the 40 years since the 1967 war, an entire generation was born, in whose eyes the territories were always under Israeli rule. They are perhaps unaware that the lands that were not included in the borders of the Jewish state, according to the partition plan voted on by the United Nations in November, 1947, and which ended up under Israeli rule, had to be occupied by force. Thus, to be precise, and not to mince words, we should say: "40 years of recurring and ongoing Israeli occupation of the territories."

Words are objective and impartial. It all depends on which side of them you are located - but not only on that. For instance, on a plane, when you see the word "occupied" on the restroom door, you probably want desperately to get in. However, when you are confined to life in occupied territories, and subjected to daily harassment, you have a pressing need to get out.

There are issues here of blame and "of who fired the first shot," of course, and the argument can be made that the territories may have been occupied once (or twice or thrice), and should be ours forever. That which we call an occupation, by any other name, will be as bad. The issue here is not what it's called, but what it is, and the price those who are occupied and those who occupy both pay. There are Israelis who do not like this harsh (in their minds) word. But the Palestinians have to live with the harsh facts. It costs them much more.

And this is something it is high time to put a kibosh on.