Opinion

The 11-day Siege of Sukkot

In honor of the Sukkot holiday, the State of Israel is imposing a closure of 11 days on the entire West Bank, and nobody in Israel is objecting

A Palestinian youth is seen at a checkpoint outside Jerusalem's Old City, July 28, 2017.
Mahmoud Illean/AP

“You shall rejoice in your festival.” In honor of the Sukkot festival the State of Israel is imposing a closure of 11 days on the entire West Bank, and nobody is objecting. The left is exhausted and in despair, the center is indifferent and silent, the right is probably pleased. For most Israelis it seems reasonable that in response to a single terror attack by a single terrorist, a prolonged siege is being imposed on millions of people. Second class people, of course, the kind whose movement and livelihood can be restricted for a week and a half, so that the members of the Chosen People can celebrate in peace and quiet in their sukkahs and travel comfortably all over the Promised Land.

The attack is of course only an excuse. Nor is this a precedent, it’s actually routine. Only the unusual length gives some emphasis to the cruel and draconian nature of the punishment. But this length derives mainly from the calendar, and from the way the festival and the following weekend fall on it. The truth is that for Israelis it’s already a natural situation: Every time they have holidays, the Palestinians have a closure. They can pray and ask forgiveness on Yom Kippur, praise human freedom on Passover, mark their flight from a tyrannical and oppressive government on Sukkot – and at the same time paralyze the lives of the subjects living beyond the hills of darkness. It turns out that there’s no limit to the blindness and unawareness.

It’s really a grotesque historical situation. After 50 years, the involvement with the occupation and its consequences is limited to procedures, symbols, esoterica. With what passion everyone here has been involved for the past year and a half with the trial of Elor Azaria. How much verbiage has been spilled over one scene in the film “Foxtrot” and on the burning question of whether its artistic design faithfully represents reality.

We argue to the skies over whether a Supreme Court justice should or should not attend an official celebration to mark the 50th anniversary of the settlements. But what about the thing itself, the way of life itself? The occupation is not a film or a ceremony. The occupation is the ability – and the ongoing choice – to forcibly steal from other human beings their land, their independence, their freedom, their movement.

The present closure is characterized not only by cruelty, but by a considerable degree of cynicism as well. The only reason that really makes it possible to impose it for 11 days is economic. This is a period in which the economy is almost entirely on holiday, and there’s no need for cheap Palestinian labor.

The lead editorial in Haaretz on Tuesday wondered how the entire security establishment aligned itself this time with the government of folly. How did it happen that the army, police and Shin Bet security service all stood at attention? After all, their traditional position is to enable normal life to go on. Collective punishment has been proven ineffective and is even liable to lead to the opposite results. As moderate and sober as it may be, this position also has a practical basis. First and foremost the moral discussion should be taking place, but it is has apparently been exhausted in the Azaria affair.

But if the question has already been asked, there’s no escape from proposing an answer, as frightening and conspiratorial as it may be: Is it possible that the hidden motive for this vengeful, disproportionate punishment is actually the first signs of Palestinian reconciliation between the West Bank and Gaza Strip, between the Palestinian Authority and Hamas?

The last time such a reconciliation was in the cards, in the guise of a Palestinian national unity government, the Netanyahu-Bennett-Lieberman government greeted it with Operation Brother’s Keeper, which quickly led to Operation Protective Edge. It’s not clear what kind of escalation they’re preparing for us this time. But there’s no question that an 11-day siege on the Palestinians while the Jews are celebrating and having a good time sounds like a good start.