Opinion

Words That Can’t Be Uttered

FILE Photo: Palestinians and left-wing activists hold large puppets during a protest against Jewish settlement activity in the Sheikh Jarrah neighborhood of East Jerusalem.
REUTERS

Two major events took place this week: Israel marked 52 years to the occupation of the territories, and MK Bezalel Smotrich opened his mouth. His words regarding the need for a halakhic state (a state run according to Jewish religious law) will accompany us during the election campaign. The occupation won’t.

The words Smotrich said are significant. Even if there’s no concern that we’ll reach such a junction, the path to it is ghastly enough – after all, gender segregation is already part of the coalition agreements. One needs some perspective here – the state, worried over Smotrich’s fantasies about the Kingdom of David, is the same state which for 52 years has been sending its sons to die for a vision of a Greater Land of Israel.

>> Read more: Smotrich's 'laws of the Torah' are as delusional as the Christian right's 'Judeo-Christian values' | Opinion 

Israel is 71 years old, 52 of which have been characterized by a split personality, with democracy here and tyranny there. It’s easier to meet people who were born into the occupation than people who remember Israel as it once was, before the occupation began. The age of 52 is a good one for confronting the truth.

We’ve become adept at convincing ourselves. A body comprised of generation after generation of soldiers who are sent mainly on policing missions is called an army. The management of a prison (Gaza) is called defending Israel. Tyranny is called maintaining security. Ask one of your right-wing representatives to explain the defense-related ingenuity underlying the sending of civilians to live in the midst of a hostile region. In a best-case scenario, after some comical contortions, you may hear the following amazing argument: “Without settlements Israel might evacuate the territories.”

Israel is pouring money and shedding blood into constraining itself. The less sensitive we’ve become to reality, the more obsessive we’ve become about the words that describe it. We can spend years debating whether we’ve become an apartheid state, which is what we’ve been doing. But the difference between the situation of a Palestinian living in the hills south of Hebron and a black man in pre-1994 Cape Town is of interest mainly to academicians and to people wanting to divert the conversation away from the real issues.

On the ground, de facto, for more than half a century we’ve been the tyrannical rulers of another people. Not only is there no intention of stopping this on the horizon, but every government has been investing money and the best of our sons so that a withdrawal from the territories will be as difficult as possible. Just don’t call it apartheid, otherwise our feelings will be hurt.

A term such as “wild weeds” is one we do like. Our occupation is suffering from a chronic problem of wild weeds, and who has the energy to deal with every leaf or blade of grass? Weeds make news, whereas a policy of folly is addressed by only a few. It’s difficult to review the separation of families, the nightly invasion of homes, the small acts of humiliation – the daily violence through which this insane project is sustained. Elor Azaria has a face. Go put a face on every Palestinian who never even made it to trial.

We tell ourselves that the occupation is connected only to Palestinians, its main victims. But Israel didn’t just conquer the territories, they took over Israel. Tyranny exacts its price, no matter how many resources we invest in denying its existence.

We relate to Smotrich as if he were a wild weed, not the authentic representative of the regime of segregation and discrimination we employ in the territories. We deal with Netanyahu as if he could have attained a coalition willing to back him up in his quest for immunity, without a deal for annexing territories being concocted under the surface. For a long time, the occupation has had its representatives in the Knesset, even if they recoil from this term. For now, the occupation needs Netanyahu. Perhaps the opposition will relate to Smotrich in the coming election campaign, but it won’t touch the occupation. In any event, we’ve become masters of deception. For 52 years. Good luck to us.