Opinion

On Yom Kippur, Israelis Should Think About the Sins of the Occupation

Will Israel's decision-makers feel a little shame when they chant 'we have trespassed,' and when you get to 'we robbed,' 'we have done violence,' 'we coveted' and we 'spoke deceitfully'?

A boy holds a Palestinian flag during a protest against Israel's plan to demolish the Bedouin village of Khan al-Ahmar, in the occupied West Bank September 16, 2018
\ MOHAMAD TOROKMAN/ REUTERS

On the eve of Yom Kippur, the Pavlovian question of an ordinary atheist is: How do the judges who approved the demolition of a Bedouin village, along with the senior officials of the Civil Administration who are supervising it, reconcile this with fasting and asking forgiveness? Is there a pinch of regret when the stomach rumbles? A flash of embarrassment over the hypocrisy and cynicism when you pull on your non-leather shoes? A little shame when you chant “we have trespassed,” and when you get to “we robbed,” “we have done violence,” “we coveted” and we “spoke deceitfully”?

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Just asking this question shows how strong the indoctrination is to assume that a person of faith is more ethical than one who doesn’t believe in God, that a person of faith is more attentive to questions of morality and justice toward human beings, no less so than he observes the commandments, from the smallest to the greatest. In this atheist’s question hides the silly expectation that Agriculture Minister Uri Ariel and Supreme Court Justice Noam Sohlberg, for example, both kippa-wearing settlers, will be hard on themselves on the day Jews consider the most sacred, and unlike Defense Minister Avigdor Lieberman, the secular settler, and will be embarrassed over the hypothetical gap between their Jewish faith and their role in promoting expulsion of Palestinians.

Ariel is one of the ideologues of the Israeli religion of expulsion, and he shares this religion with both secular and religious people. The expulsion of the residents of the Latrun enclave in 1967 and the destruction of their villages (Amwas, Yalu and Beit Nuba) was carried out by secular commanders. Justice Aharon Barak, who is so excoriated by Ariel’s party colleagues and identified in the eyes of many others with the “Ashkenazi secular elite,” forged the interpretation of the regulations on entry to Israel, allowing the deportation of Palestinian Jerusalemites from the city of their birth and thus from Israel.

The demonstrators in Afula, who protested against Arab citizens moving to apartments for which they paid good money, are religious and secular Jews. Those who did not allow the inhabitants of Ikrit and Biram to return to their land, despite a High Court ruling and the promises of politicians, were secular. The secular kibbutzim benefit from the land of those who were expelled and fled in 1948, and barred from returning. The Israeli religion of expulsion is pluralistic, its umbrella is broad and it includes both consumers of non-kosher food and kissers of mezuzahs.

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We’ve now gotten used to kippa-wearers, their ritual fringes dangling, throwing rocks at Palestinians or shooting them on the sacred Sabbath, or attacking Ta’ayush activists and injuring them with a holy passion. The question of whether they realize they are breaking the Sabbath laws is no more legitimate than the other question, which is: When their acts of violence allow them to steal more Palestinian land, do they know they are breaking one of the Ten Commandments on how to treat the other? They know very well. And they don’t care, because the establishment is with them and is assisted by them: police, judges, rabbis, army commanders, senior officials and the Education Ministry.

As Israeli law does not allow one to call for a boycott and sanctions against the state that harms its subjects and plans new expulsions, we can only turn to God – existent or not – and propose that He reject requests for forgiveness from some kinds of Israelis: prime ministers and defense ministers, bombers and those who give the orders to bomb buildings with residents still inside, architects who paved the way for pushing the Palestinians into crowded enclaves (on both sides of the Green Line), soldiers who do not refuse but snipe at unarmed protesters, administrators in the Civil Administration who approve house demolitions, officials in the Finance Ministry who approve discriminatory budgets, rabbis who incite others and police investigators who can’t find pogromchiks and Jews who incite to violence. In the absence of hope, a little faith in a courageous decision by God couldn’t hurt.