We All Profit From the Occupation

It's convenient to place all blame for the occupation on the extreme Zionist settlers. The painful reality, however, is that we all share responsibility.

Haggai Matar
Haggai Matar
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Haggai Matar
Haggai Matar

Uri Misgav claims that “those who lead the occupation and settlement enterprise” are a “small and determined avant-garde” of the religious Zionist settler movement that has magically succeeded in “imposing its will and values on a silent, confused and paralyzed majority” (“The post-Zionists,” Haaretz, May 31, 2013).

In other words, 46 years after the occupation of the West Bank and Gaza Strip, Misgav apparently thinks that the silent and innocent majority has simply not been paying attention to what’s happening around it for more than two-thirds of the country’s history. An odd majority, indeed.

Perhaps the silent majority might be forgiven its blindness. After all, it was busy. Three documentary films in recent years describe what it’s been busy with.

“The Lab” by Yotam Feldman follows former army officials and academics who became defense exporters, representing about 150,000 families in Israel who make their living directly from the arms industry. “The Gatekeepers” by Dror Moreh features former heads of the Shin Bet security service, who built their careers in the torture cellars. “The Law in These Parts” by Ra’anan Alexandrowicz introduces us to the jurists who laid the legal foundations for the expropriation of land and the separate legal systems for Jews and Arabs.

Almost all the men (because there are only men) in these films are secular. Many of them consider themselves humanists or members of the center-left and support territorial compromise. And all of them profit directly from the occupation.

They are not the only ones. In the same paper where Misgav’s column appeared, an article by Amira Hass also appeared about the plan to launder illegal construction, some of it on privately owned Palestinian land, in the settlement of Eli. Hass mentions the architect who prepared the construction plan, which is now in the approval stage at the Civil Administration: Yehoshua Shachar of Tel Aviv. He is not a settler, and as far as anyone knows, he is not a member of the religious-Zionist movement’s avant-garde gang. He’s just a man from Tel Aviv who is helping expand the settlements on Palestinian-owned land, who did not answer Haaretz’s questions.

Fairly close to Shachar’s office are the main offices of Israel’s largest banks. Every one of them, without exception, provides mortgages and makes a profit from construction on the stolen land in the West Bank. Nearby are the offices of the high-tech companies that support themselves by selling components used in equipment that controls the Palestinian population. Tel Aviv University, where pilots and Shin Bet personnel study and which engages in army-sponsored academic research in the territories, is there too.

To all these can be added the half-million Israelis who live in the settlements, many of them non-religious but looking for quality of life, who have been pushed to the colonialist suburbs because of the scandalously high housing prices in Israel proper. We can also mention all those building their homes from stone quarried in the West Bank in violation of international law, those who drink the water pumped from the mountain aquifer under the Palestinians’ feet, or those who buy wine from the vineyards on the outposts.

Quite a few people benefit from the captive market because of the restrictions imposed on Palestinians merchants, or the cheap labor of workers dependent on Israel for their livelihood. Indeed, the silent majority is too busy to pay attention to what the religious-settler avant-garde is doing out there, beyond the mountains of darkness.

Misgav’s narrative, which is characteristic of the Zionist left wing, ignores not only the evidence of the silent majority’s collaboration in the settlement enterprise, but also the fact that long before Lapid and Bennett made their pact, governments that were led by, or were partners with Labor (and of course Likud), including governments headed by Yitzhak Rabin, established settlements and encouraged Israelis to live in them. He mentions the parties “to the right of Hatnuah and Meretz” that fawned on the settlers. He does not mention the large public that elected them or that serve their policy in the army.

The story that places all the blame on the settlers helps shift blame and responsibility from the folly in which we are all partners, whether the source of that folly is in 1967 or 1948, in what Misgav calls a “promising point of departure” for the country. The story helps to ignore the resemblance between the settlements in the West Bank and the kibbutzim in the north, or isolated farms in the Negev. It’s a convenient, lulling story that describes a world where the majority just needs to wake up from fifty years of accursed sleep and reclaim the country for itself.

The story that acknowledges that we all profit from the occupation, more painful and terrible as it is, is not being told so that we can beat ourselves up: It is being told so that we can recognize the economic infrastructure on which our society’s foundations rest, so that those who truly wish to end the military control over thousands of subjects deprived of their rights will acknowledge the need to change this military-economic infrastructure from the ground up.

The writer is a journalist and blogger.

A part of the separation barrier near Bethlehem.Credit: Nir Kafri

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