At the opening of the Knesset winter session nearly a year ago, when Benjamin Netanyahu called the opposition and the media “sourpusses” and accused them of hypocrisy, he touched on an important point.
“When sourpusses talk, you hear conversations like, ‘Isn’t the situation here horrible and terrible? Isn’t everything falling apart? By the way, did you order tickets to London or Berlin?’ They’re sour, and they fly off, complain – and go shopping,” quipped Netanyahu to denigrate his opponents. He also commented on the statistic that irks opponents of the occupation like a scratch on their eyeglasses: Israel’s high ranking in the UN World Happiness Report.
But it’s not a scratch, it’s the Green Line. Like Israeli democracy, Israeli happiness also cuts across the Green Line. Unlike the victim, who’s trapped by the reality of his political situation, the Israeli enjoys the privilege of moving freely in and out of the political situation (subject to the limits of military service). People who want to protest the injustice of the occupation protest, those who want to go on vacation go on vacation. The Palestinian, in contrast, can’t take a break from the political prison he’s submerged in. It’s the Green Line that has enabled this split for the Israelis.
The fight that Netanyahu has waged against a Palestinian state for decades, his attempts to undermine the very possibility of dividing the land into two states and the avarice for land in the West Bank’s Area C fuel an aspiration to erase the Green Line. But Netanyahu and supporters of annexation don’t understand that without the Green Line – even if it’s imaginary, marking the eventual option of a separation into two states – it will no longer be possible to divide the Israeli consciousness.
The political narrative that preserves the Green Line is the one of occupation, and the solution that comes with it is the two-state one, precisely the narrative that the Israeli right seeks to bury.
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Habayit Hayehudi chief Naftali Bennett often says, “We changed the discourse from two states to imposing sovereignty.” But he doesn’t understand that this change only means that the discourse criticizing Israel has been diverted from “Israeli occupation” to “Israeli apartheid.” Maybe a people can’t conquer its own land – as Bennett and the right like to argue – but it surely can impose an apartheid regime in its own territory. Israelis won’t be able to escape the Israeli apartheid in their consciousness.
Only the occupation discourse manages to preserve the distinction between Israel and the occupied territories, between the reality in Israel and the reality in the territories. It’s no coincidence that the line also divides what is still somehow considered legitimate resistance – a boycott against settlement products – and what is illegitimate – a boycott of Israel as the BDS movement does it.
But the right doesn’t get that the distinction between Israel and the territories has been its most effective tool to continue the occupation because it has let it preserve in its consciousness the two-state solution on the diplomatic horizon.
Without Israelis’ self-image as democrats, the game of “being sour and flying off, complaining and going shopping” is over. Without it, members of the opposition would have no choice but to force political change, or – if they can – leave Israel, or at least save their children.
Teenager Ahed Tamimi told The Guardian after her release from prison that she’s “not the victim of the occupation. The Jew or the settler child who carries a rifle at the age of 15, they are the victims of the occupation,” the brave girl explained. “For me, I am capable of distinguishing between right and wrong. But not him. His view is clouded. His heart is filled with hatred and scorn against the Palestinians. He is the victim, not me.”
Golda Meir allegedly once said, “We will perhaps in time be able to forgive the Arabs for killing our sons, but it will be harder for us to forgive them for having forced us to kill their sons.”
This quote has become prophetic. Tamimi’s statement casts a different light on that comment. “The experience of being arrested was really hard,” she said of her eight months in prison. But she added that this experience “added value to my life.” It’s interesting to consider which feeling of value Israelis around Tamimi’s age have.