If Israeli Jews Were the Conquered Ones...

There would be no occupation, because there would no longer be two peoples in this land.

Alexander Yakobson
Alexander Yakobson
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Members of Hamas stand behind a barrier erected to seal off the site of an Israeli air strike in Gaza City last week.
Members of Hamas stand behind a barrier erected to seal off the site of an Israeli air strike in Gaza City last week. Credit: AFP
Alexander Yakobson
Alexander Yakobson

Haaretz columnist Sayed Kashua asks Israeli Jews to imagine a situation in which they were the weak and conquered party. “Sometimes I wonder whether, if the Palestinians were capable of invading homes in Israel, of sending in soldiers to wrest people out of their beds in front of their families … what would things look like then? Who would behave a little more humanely in that case?”

That’s actually a very important, if hypothetical question. But the one who asks it has to be prepared to hear an honest answer. Kashua apparently believes that Israeli Jews’ apathy to Palestinian suffering stems from the fact that they never ask themselves what would happen if the roles were reversed. But I think just the opposite is true: This apathy is to a great extent the result of dwelling on this question too much. Because the answer the Jewish public gives itself when it imagines a military defeat and Arab conquest is that in such a case there will no longer be two peoples in this land.

Even among those who vehemently oppose and reject the Israeli occupation, only a few have any illusions regarding what an Arab occupation would be like. For this reason there is no point in asking what a mass house-to-house search would look like in the event three Palestinian teenagers had been kidnapped by a Jewish underground.

The prevailing assumption is that if Israel would be defeated and conquered, the conquest would not lead to the establishment of a lengthy occupation regime, but to what is sung in the Hebrew video clip that recently appeared on the website of Hamas’ military wing: “Two parts, one will be returned/to its land of origin, if only it so desires/and the fool/who is stubborn/is fated/to end up beneath the dust.” The only question is what the proportion will be between the two parts.

And when an Israeli Jew today ponders the internal disputes raging in the surrounding Arab world – and face it, there is no Israeli citizen, Jew or Arab, who doesn’t do this – there is no reason for him to be optimistic. We have to remember that in all those disputes, neither side sees the other as a foreign implant in the region or a colonialist invader. The situation here is different.

Moreover, when a Jewish Israeli remembers what the Hamas takeover of Gaza looked like – even though in regional terms it was exemplary in its moderation – there’s no reason for optimism, either. If the Israeli right would defeat the Israeli left in a civil war and the leftists would flee for their lives to Gaza the way Fatah people fled to Israel, maybe then there would be a place to seriously ask “who would act in a more humane manner.”

Is there in the entire Middle East an Arab fighter who wouldn’t prefer, if he could choose, to fall into the hands of the Israelis rather than into the hands of a rival Arab faction? In any case, that’s what the Fatah fighters of Gaza did, as well as the Fatah men in Jordan during Black September over 40 years ago. It’s hard to believe that this is in any way news to Kashua, who has been writing many honest, pointed, and courageous things about the Arab world. It’s too bad that just when he is inviting the Jews to display honesty and courage, those traits seemed to have abandoned him.

None of this in any way contravenes the need to end the occupation and divide the land between the two peoples. That’s the just and proper thing to do, and is in Israel’s ultimate interest. Because if Israel ends up defeated in this conflict, it’s safe to assume that it won’t be a military defeat, but a diplomatic defeat that will result in the establishment of one state between the river and the sea. Such a state won’t be Israel. What’s ironic is that those who seek to impose this defeat on Israel call themselves the “national camp.”

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