International Community Must Help Shatter Distinctions Between the Two Israels

In their heart of hearts, Israelis believe that the answer to the question of who they really are is determined by, and only by, what happens within the 1967 Green Line.

An Israeli settler prepares olive oil containers at the Achia Olive press factory in the Jewish settlement of Shilo in the occupied West Bank on November 12, 2015. The European Union announced that goods from settlements -- Jewish communities built in areas occupied by force in 1967 -- must be specifically labelled, infuriating Israel. The EU ruling affects products imported from settlements in the occupied West Bank, east Jerusalem and Golan Heights, all taken by Israel in the 1967 Six-Day War.
AFP

The European Union’s decision to adopt directives for the labelling of products produced in Jewish settlements in a sense exports a division that has only existed in Israeli consciousness until now — between the “sane” Israel, the only democracy in the Middle East, and Israel the occupier. It is this division between two Israels that has enabled most Israelis to maintain their unblighted image of themselves, while entrenching the occupation with every means possible and at the expense of all moral restraint. This distinction is what dulls the pangs of Israeli conscience that are necessary for the liberation of the Palestinians.

In their heart of hearts, Israelis believe that the answer to the question of who they really are is determined by, and only by, what happens within the 1967 Green Line. What happens in the territories stays in the territories and is not registered in the moral notebook of their consciences. In any event, most Israelis keep to the Green Line as a rule (except in the Jerusalem area,) and in practice steer clear of the West Bank. Even the language entrenches the distinction, with the term “settler” distinguishing between the Israelis living in the West Bank and those within the Green Line.

This imaginary dividing line in the Israeli consciousness is what makes the maintenance of the status quo possible. From that standpoint, the EU’s decision to punish only the settlers and to spare the “sane Israel” will deepen belief in this artificial division between the two entities, both of which answer to the name Israel, and in the process simply help entrench the status quo.

In a democratic country, citizens share responsibility for the state’s actions and decisions. Despite the constant erosion of democratic values, the fact that the functional procedure of general elections is maintained, with citizens respecting electoral outcomes and the legitimacy of decisions emanating from those outcomes, means that all Israelis should be held accountable for the settlement enterprise. It is wrong that the settlements alone bear the punishment for a policy that the country as a whole decided on, just as moral (or legal) accountability cannot be pinned on Israeli soldiers for acts that are nothing more than the execution of Israeli policies — policies that, from a functional standpoint at least, express the will of the people.

If the international community does in fact have an interest in promoting the end of the occupation and reconciliation between the two peoples, it needs to help Israel free itself from this imaginary divide. It needs to shatter the distinction between the two Israels and make it clear to Israelis that they all bear responsibility, whether they voted for Yesh Atid, the Zionist Union or Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s Likud. Until all Israelis can look in the mirror and view themselves as the henchmen of the occupation, they will not be imbued with the necessary self-motivation to rid themselves of the ugly image with which they have been tarred. The international view of Israel must reflect for Israelis how they really look.

There is the possibility, of course, that Europe and the international community are really disinterested in changing the status quo and working toward the establishment of a Palestinian state. It’s possible that, in their heart of hearts, they have absorbed the concept of a clash of civilizations and view Israel as it is portrayed by Netanyahu, standing on the front lines of the Western world’s war against radical Islam.

The imposition of sanctions on the settlements alone, as if they were a separate entity from the State of Israel and hostile to it, creates the impression of political action towards ending the occupation, but that’s not how it will actually work out. After all, what will happen? The settlers will enjoy the status of the victim and be embraced by Israeli society, while at the same time receiving state economic compensation from tax proceeds, most of which, of course, are paid by Israelis living within the Green Line.

As always, the only ones who will really be hurt, as Netanyahu has threatened, are the Palestinian workers: “The Israeli economy is strong and will withstand it; the ones to be harmed will actually be the Palestinians who work in Israeli factories.” Not only do Israelis need to ask themselves what they really want; the international community must do so too.