Opinion |

We Are All Herzogs, We Are All Occupiers

Michael Sfard
Michael Sfard
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An Israeli soldier argues with Palestinian demonstrators during a protest against Israeli settlements in the occupied West Bank, Monday.
An Israeli soldier argues with Palestinian demonstrators during a protest against Israeli settlements in the occupied West Bank, Monday.Credit: RANEEN SAWAFTA/ REUTERS
Michael Sfard
Michael Sfard

The baby who was born the day that Maj. Gen. Chaim Herzog signed a proclamation declaring pompously that “the Israel Defense Forces entered the region today and assumed control, security and public order” celebrated his 55th birthday this week.

As the newborn drew his first breaths and his mother gave him his first caressing human touch, the general was swaying, drunk on a dizzying power trip: “All authority of government, legislation, appointment and administration pertaining to the region or its residents will now be exclusively in my hands and will be exercised only by me or by any person appointed therefore by me or acting on my behalf,” he declared.

And lest there be any doubt about his omnipotence, about his being a sole ruler with no restrictions in the territory that his/our forces had just conquered, he established that any legal obligation to consult or receive authorization from others for appointments or legislation "hereby void.” Yitzhak Rabin’s famous “I will decide, I will navigate” – the occupation version.

The first Palestinian baby of the occupation was born into the dictatorship of Maj. Gen. Chaim Herzog, who went on to become Israel’s sixth president; his son Isaac now serves as the 11th.

From the very first day of this baby’s life – we’ll call him Abd, “servant” in Arabic - though not like Abdullah, meaning 'servant of God' in Arabic, and more like Abd-Israel – Herzog Sr. demonstrated his authority over him, his parents and the hundreds of thousands of his people living in the occupied territory: “I hereby declare,” he announced in the second part of the proclamation, which sent military jeeps to patrol the streets of Palestinian cities on June 7, 1967, “a curfew throughout the region.” And for those with poor reading comprehension, he added: “No one shall leave his home at any time during the day or the night.”

Our Abd was born into a tyrannical occupation and has lived in it his entire life. He has never experienced a single minute of freedom, one second of sovereignty.

In the years after his birth, his first ruler, Herzog, established his successful law firm with his partners Michael Fox and Yaakov Neeman, advanced a political career that culminated in the Knesset electing him president of the Jewish state, pardoned Shin Bet security service agents who had tortured Palestinian detainees and perjured themselves in court, and who three times commuted the life prison term of a member of the Jewish terrorist underground who had murdered Palestinian university students, and attempted to murder the mayors of West Bank Palestinian cities and Palestinian bus passengers.

In these years, the course of Abd’s life was dictated by an absence of civil rights as a result of living under the Israeli occupation and his subordination to Herzog and his successors.

It was they who decided what would happen to his family’s lands, whether he would get a permit to build a home, and if he could travel abroad for vacation or studies. And it was they who prohibited all political activity, defined any criticism of the government as incitement, jailed tens of thousands of Palestinians – some of them without trial – and even outlawed human rights organizations, classifying them as terrorist organizations.

In his teenage years, Abd saw how the landscape of his homeland changed completely. He saw how hundreds of thousands of acres of farmland were expropriated and new communities with alien, European architecture took over the space.

He watched the arrival of new residents, who brought with them a mentality of being lords of the land and who received from “the Herzogs” everything that had been taken from his family and his community: land, water, natural resources, participation in decision-making and, of course, dignity.

Half a million settlers and two intifadas later, Herzog Jr. began his presidency by visiting the Har Bracha settlement, where he inaugurated an ulpana – a religious girls’ high school – and lit Hanukkah candles at the site where a Jewish physician massacred Muslim worshipers, the Tomb of the Patriarchs in Hebron. He did not visit Abd, and did not inaugurate anything in his village.

So don’t say Ben-Gvir and Smotrich, say Herzog. From Chaim Herzog to Isaac Herzog, it is the Israeli establishment, not its fringes, that expropriates land, builds settlements, re-engineers the demographics of the occupied territory, brutally throttles all opposition to its rule, including nonviolent resistance, and inflicts disaster on Abd and his people.

The Herzogs may not be deluded messianists, but even through the Cambridge-inflected Irish accent, they exude Jewish supremacy in their deeds. They (we) may not hang the picture of the Hebron murderer in our living rooms, but we are the effective occupiers and dispossessors, not they.

So while not all of us are Ben-Gvirs, we are all Herzogs. And besides, Itamar Ben-Gvir and Bezalel Smotrich are our legitimate children, fruit of the tree that we all poisoned. To focus on them is to blame the stone and absolve the person who threw it.

Abd is 55. He lives in a full apartheid state that all of us, we Israelis, created, including those who consider themselves very distant from the crazies in Hebron. The Israelis who work in high-tech, who march in Pride parades, and each and every lawyer at Herzog, Fox & Neeman – we all impose the curfew on Abd.

We all divert all of his land’s natural resources to his settler neighbors at his expense, merely because he is a Palestinian, and they are Jews. We are all signatories to a government whose institutions are designed to serve its Jewish neighbors and that subjugate him for this end, only because he is Palestinian, and they are Jewish.

We have all created a system with one separate and distinct law for settlers, who also help write it, only because he is a Palestinian, and they are Jews. Will he be forced to live out the rest of his days like this? That depends almost entirely on us.

Welcome to the 56th year.

Michael Sfard is a lawyer who represents one of the Palestinian human rights organizations that Israel outlawed as a terrorist organization, as mentioned above.

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