Opinion |

Why I'm Obsessed With Israel's Occupation of the Palestinians

When talking about such a fateful issue – no other one is as fateful for Israel in the most profound sense – one cannot be anything but obsessive

Gideon Levy
Gideon Levy
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Palestinians sit in front of the separation barrier between Bethlehem and Jerusalem, January 17, 2017.
Palestinians sit in front of the separation barrier between Bethlehem and Jerusalem, January 17, 2017. Credit: Thomas Coex/AFP
Gideon Levy
Gideon Levy

The radical left also has an obsession: The occupation. No obsession is more justified since the occupation by nature is an obsessive phenomenon.

In contrast to other obsessions, those of the Zionist left, for example, being obsessed with the occupation is not a matter of running away from the core problem – it’s a matter of dealing with it. When talking about such a fateful issue – no other one is as fateful for the State of Israel in the most profound sense – one cannot be anything but obsessive.

Moreover, being obsessive is required in light of the repression of this issue by society, the media and the political system in this country. Everything is discussed here except the occupation. Thus, when talking about such a decisive matter, from which nearly everyone flees as if from fire, there is no option but to become obsessive.

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Like every obsession, it’s annoying. Unlike other annoyances, the ones relating to the occupation are almost the last signs of life of a society that’s in the throes of moral dissolution, living in extreme denial. Few societies are lying themselves to death as this one is.

But make no mistake: Before anything else, the direct and most pitiful victims of the occupation are the Palestinians, not Israelis. Left-wing Zionists take no interest in their fate. If they reach out to address the fire, it’s always tainted with the permanent sentiments of self-victimization held by Israelis: Look at what the occupation has done to us, how it’s corrupted us; one needs to end it since we want to live in a Jewish state; in the end it will blow up in our faces.

We, us, ours. The occupation is obviously causing us harm as well, but we’re not its primary victims. There’s an obligation to identify with the suffering of the Palestinians, and along with solidarity one needs to recognize the blame borne by Israelis, all of us. The international left can make do with expressing its identification with the victims, a basic human response, but the left in Israel must also take direct responsibility for the occupation, a responsibility each one of us bears by virtue of being Israeli.

But the Israeli left isn’t giving this its attention. It’s avoiding dealing with responsibility for events in 1948 and in 1967. It feels no guilt for what we’ve been doing for the last 100 years and last 50 years. Feelings of guilt are for the weak, not for left-wing Zionists, and certainly not for the right side of the spectrum.

But how can one be a conscientious Israeli and not bow one’s head before the Palestinian people? How can one not admit guilt? Not take responsibility? What Israel has been doing to Palestinians from the dawn of Zionism to this day, incessantly, is one of the greatest abuses in history. Anyone not recognizing this – and that includes most Israelis – apparently has no conscience.

Leaving aside pangs of conscience, dealing with the occupation should be occupying center stage in Israeli discourse due to its crucial impact on our daily lives and on the image of this country. Nothing defines Israel today more than the occupation, despite the achievements in developing cherry tomatoes and in the cyber world. Left-wing Zionists are trying to combat the symptoms without attacking the root cause of the disease. They deal with metastases, not the primary tumor.

The majority of the ultra-nationalist legislation of this government is aimed at consolidating and perpetuating the occupation. This applies to the culture loyalty law and the nation-state law, the Nakba law and citizenship laws, the reckless campaign against the BDS movement, the thought police at Ben-Gurion Airport, and the campaign against left-wing organizations and even against the Supreme Court – all for the purpose of entrenching the occupation and uprooting remaining pockets of resistance while laying the legal groundwork for it.

In the absence of the occupation, all these laws would be redundant. The right has won de facto, with the settlements, and it now wants a de jure victory as well. The Zionist left understands the harm in these moves and tries to oppose them. If it attains power it will shake off most of these laws, but it is not seriously planning on ending the occupation. Without this, treating metastases is hopeless. If you destroy one, another will appear.

Yes, the occupation is a nuisance and dealing with it no less so. But how can one not be obsessive about it?

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