With the approach this week of celebrations marking Israel’s 70th birthday, 12 million people live in the country. Some of them are citizens, some are residents, some are detainees, and all are subjects. Everyone’s fate has been determined by the country’s governing institutions.
On this Independence Day, we have to acknowledge that the country’s genuine borders are the Mediterranean Sea to the west and the Jordan River to the east, including not only the West Bank but also the Gaza Strip. Israel controls all this territory and everyone who lives there through various and sundry means, even if from a legal standpoint there’s no mention of this.
Forget the law. Israel long ago abandoned it. In practice it rules Israel, the West Bank and the Gaza Strip. In the case of Gaza, it suffices with control from the outside, which is more convenient. On Israel’s 70th birthday, the time has come to recognize that the occupation of the territories in 1967 is not temporary. It was never meant to be and never will be. The 1967 border has been erased. The distinction between 1948 and 1967 doesn’t exist.
It was only in the state’s first 19 years, a blink of an eye from a historical perspective, that the country existed without the territories. For the balance of its history, the occupation has been an inseparable part of it, its character, its government, its essence, its DNA. What existed here for a brief time and is gone will not be coming back.
It’s critical that we rip the cover off the alleged transience of the occupation, which for some Israelis has been a sweet delusion and for others a dangerous threat. There is an abyss dividing a temporary occupation and a permanent one.
In its early years, Israel was small in area and population, but its youth, like everyone’s youth, quickly passed. For most of its existence, Israel hasn’t resembled the girl we remember. Its days as a small country with a Jewish majority have passed and the clock can’t be turned back. It’s no longer the small woman of our dreams. It’s the big woman of our nightmares.
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On Israel’s 70th birthday, the time has come to recognize that Israel is a binational state under whose control two peoples live, equal in size. It maintains separate governing systems for them: a democratic one for Jews, discrimination for Israeli Arabs, and dictatorship for Palestinians. It’s not an equal democracy for all its subjects, meaning, of course, that it’s not a democracy.
There’s no such democracy where what’s allowed for one people isn’t for another. Therefore, on its 70th anniversary, Israel being called a democracy when fewer than half its subjects live in freedom is nothing but a propaganda trick that has worked to a greater extent than one would have thought.
It’s not only Israelis who deny and repress this reality. It’s more convenient for the Western world, too, to look at Israel’s more enlightened side, to ignore its dark side and continue to call it a democracy. After all, in the West, what country hasn’t also had such a colonialist back yard? And who could really confront Israel, a country that rose from the ashes?
Israel is therefore the darling of the West, despite the hollow lip service to the Palestinians, and so the West too has embraced the excuse of the occupation’s temporary nature: “Just wait, wait a little longer for the ‘peace process’ and the Israelis will be pulling out of the territories.” So it’s important that the lie of the transience of the occupation be exposed.
If the occupation isn’t temporary, it would be clear that Israel isn’t a democracy but rather an apartheid state par excellence. Two peoples and two systems of rights. That’s was apartheid looks like, even if it hides behind excuses ranging from temporariness to security grounds, from the right to the land to the concept of the chosen people, including the divine promise and messianic redemption.
These excuses don’t change the picture. In South Africa, no doubt an apartheid state, the regime invoked similar excuses to justify its existence. No one bought them. But with Israel there actually are buyers. One difference between South Africa and Israel is that Israel is stronger, more sophisticated and better connected to the world. And it has done a better job obscuring its apartheid.
It’s big, strong and nondemocratic. Israel oppresses the Palestinians through various means with one result: There isn’t a single free Palestinian in the West Bank or Gaza Strip. Their fate is determined by the Israeli government in Jerusalem and the Defense Ministry in Tel Aviv, and they have no rights at either one. Is this not apartheid? Is it democracy?
And now on to the showy and proud Independence Day ceremonies planned by Culture Minister Miri Regev. Let’s not rain on her parade.