The death and funeral of Shireen Abu Akleh ought to discourage all opponents of the Israeli occupation. After all, the occupation should have suffered real damage after a famous Palestinian journalist, someone known and admired throughout the world, was killed covering it, and brutal Israeli storm troopers then disgraced her funeral procession. The sight of Israeli police striking wildly at the pallbearers with their batons as the coffin almost fell, and tearing the Palestinian flags off it in their fury, showed the world how deep the roots of violent apartheid are in Israeli society.
But despite the fears of the media and the public, which are both completely indifferent to the injustices of the occupation and concerned only with their image overseas, not a hair of the occupation’s head will be harmed by this “attack on public opinion” and the loss of the “battle over the narrative.” The impotent narrative theater doesn’t change the facts on the ground. The world won’t punish Israel as it should; interests trump moral considerations.
Israel’s international standing is incomparably stronger than South Africa’s was in its day. Neither sanctions nor boycotts will end the occupation. The United States, Germany, France and Britain, without which it’s impossible to force Israel to abandon the occupation, support its continuation de facto, aside from a thin layer of declarative opposition. The concern for Israel’s good name stems from our national ego, which thirsts for prestige and 12 points at the Eurovision contest due to our desire to receive confirmation that “we” are right and “we” are the good guys.
The “battle over the narrative” is a misleading diversion that doesn’t constitute a real strategic problem. Right now, nothing threatens the occupation – not external pressure and not internal opposition. It’s stronger than ever. Israel continues to build in the settlements and legalize outposts. There’s a solid political majority for this policy among Jewish Israelis.
But is it impossible for the occupation to suddenly collapse of its own weight, just as the Soviet empire and the Berlin Wall did, as the stock exchange did in 2008, as global routines did during the coronavirus pandemic? Is it impossible that it might fall apart suddenly, with no warning, surprising us all, like the apartheid regime fell in South Africa?
Optimists predict that Israel will become one state for two peoples, based on demographic developments that can be calculated, and that at the end of a long, bloody, hellish process, the “Jewish state” and the occupation it created will be destroyed.
But a black swan – a dramatic, unforeseen event whose effects change history – is by definition something that can’t be predicted. Had people foreseen the Holocaust, it wouldn’t have been a black swan. Had they foreseen what is happening now in Ukraine, with no end in sight, it wouldn’t have been a black swan. The same goes for the attack that toppled the World Trade Center in 2001 or the results of the Six-Day War of 1967.
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Yes, Israel is foolishly marching toward a one-state reality. But precisely because it’s possible to foresee, say, the difficulties of maintaining the occupation even after the West Bank is annexed, Israel retains great power to take the steps necessary to guarantee the occupation’s continued existence.
It’s impossible to pray for a black swan. It’s impossible to hasten its arrival. Yes, a black swan is the only realistic option for ending the occupation, but for now, the black swan isn’t coming and hasn’t even phoned. And since it’s a random event, there’s no guarantee that it ever will come.
But if anything could ever end the occupation, it could be nothing except a black swan. All the other models, the ones predicting a “diplomatic tsunami” or a negotiated solution to the conflict, have so far proven false and the logic behind them has been exposed as a red herring.
Now we can do nothing but stare at the horizon and wait for the black swan, which might arrive in our lifetime, or in the far distant future, or perhaps it will never come at all.