There Is No Such Thing as a Free Occupation, nor Even a Cheap One

B. Michael
B. Michael
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Israeli soldiers take part in a raid in Ramallah, in the Israeli-occupied West Bank April 1, 2022.
Israeli soldiers take part in a raid in Ramallah, in the Israeli-occupied West Bank April 1, 2022. Credit: REUTERS/Mohamad Torokman
B. Michael
B. Michael

Waves, being waves, pretty much repeat themselves. Sometimes they’re high, sometimes low. Sometimes fierce, sometimes gentle. Sometimes gladdening, sometimes wistful. At this very moment, yet another wave is washing over us.

It, like all the waves that came before and all the ones to follow, carries with it all the usual components: blood, death, bravery, burial. Deep shock, photogenic shock, resolute leaders, furrowed brows, orchestrated hysteria, a rising and howling rabble. All-day special programming that manages to make even grief and death boring. Herds of hosts who call for censure to prove their patriotism to their public.

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Cliches at cemeteries, promises at press conferences. Mobilization of reserve soldiers, “heightened presence,” a show of elite forces. And of course a motley crew of retired generals is brought out of mothballs and given protected tenancy status at the TV studios, where they fill the airwaves with the same pearls of wisdom that got us to where we are today.

This goes on until the all-clear signal. Until routine is resumed. Until the next wave. This is what we’ve grown accustomed to over the past 55 years, convincing ourselves that this is the full cost of the occupation: a few people killed every year, a few days of fear and commotion, and that’s it. Not so terrible. We can live with that.

But there’s no such thing as a free occupation, nor even a cheap one. To correctly determine the full, cumulative cost of the occupation, it’s not enough to price out only current events. One has to drag in the past as well. Those who are old enough can rummage through their memories.

I am old enough. I remember, for example, the first television story (was it by Rafik Halabi?) about an olive tree the Israel Defense Forces had removed in the occupied West Bank. What a commotion it stirred up! It can’t be. That’s impossible, it’s wild slander. “Our army doesn’t uproot trees,” said people shaken by the news. The reporter was almost fired.

I also remember the first time live gunfire was directed at protesters. The first person wounded. The first one killed. I remember the days when the earth quaked when private Palestinian land was stolen by cunning to serve the pagan whim of settlers. I remember a country in which there was no torture (at least not officially), a country in which the army spokesman occasionally spoke the truth. A country that prided itself on its oranges, and not on “stripping” the fertile land of the vanquished and manufacturing weapons of mass destruction and oppressing all who are needy.

I can still remember a country that didn’t have a ghetto for millions of prisoners, as well as millions of disenfranchised people. A country whose army was not an occupying police and whose “armed forces” had not become the suffocating arms of an octopus. That did not brutalize tens of thousands of people daily, that did not compile hit lists or have “target banks.” That did not steal water from the thirsty or demolish the homes of the destitute. That did not deploy legions of sharpshooters to kneecap teens. That did not turn a blind eye to pogrom gangs and in which the Smotriches and Ben-Gvirs were reviled.

I remember a country in which all of the above had not yet become yawn-inducing routine. A country that had not yet been corrupted or turned ugly, losing its soul and conscience. A country that had some chance of being normal and humane. This chance was also taken away by the occupation.

Israel’s Declaration of Independence ends with the words: “We affix our signatures to this proclamation at this session of the provisional council of state.” They prophesied and did not know what they had prophesied. Thanks to the occupation and its costs, this may be the only promise in the Declaration of Independence that has come true: a provisional state.

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