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Israel Frees Itself of the Word 'Occupation.' But What About the Actual Occupation?

B. Michael
B. Michael
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Israel's Knesset votes on extending the West Bank emergency regulations last week.
Israel's Knesset votes on extending the West Bank emergency regulations last week.Credit: Ohad Zwigenberg
B. Michael
B. Michael

Justice Minister Gideon Sa’ar was very passionate. “This is a fundamental law!” he shouted from the depths of his soul, and of course he meant the “Judea and Samaria Law” that the Knesset – in a rare moment of enlightenment – refused to pass.

A “fundamental law” he said, and only God knows what he meant. Are there fundamental laws and non-fundamental laws? It’s not clear. Maybe Sa’ar hoped that if he said “fundamental,” and not just “basic,” the audience would hear “basic” and immediately be alarmed. After all, the “basic laws” (Israel’s version of a constitution) really are something important. But maybe I’m just suspecting the innocent.

All this political passion is swirling around a law that is barely a law. Its entire purpose was to extend the validity of a few duplicitous emergency regulations that apply Israeli law to the settlers, even if they and the settlements are located outside of Israel.

And now the simple question: What are all these acrobatics for? Truly the question of a simpleton. But the answer is complicated and complex. The status of territories captured in a war can only be one of two types: either occupied territory under a military government, or territory annexed to the conquering nation. Israel does not like either of the two possibilities. It does not want to annex and be obligated to grant the captured people the rights that its citizens and residents have. And of course it doesn’t want to be considered an occupier, and suffer from the interfering annoyances of international law.

That is why Israel, with complete seriousness, claims that it is neither. It is something else. The landowner, but also released from any obligations to the natives. To maintain this bluff, a wide-scale system of fraud, lies and deception was developed. “Emergency defense regulations” (which Menachem Begin called a “Nazi law”) are an important part of this system. They both provide legality for all the acts of abomination, racism and evil, and also allow Israel to say, without blushing: I didn’t annex. I didn’t impose my law on the territory. Only here and there a few small regulations like these, because of the emergency situation.

The effort to be freed of the word “occupation” likewise requires quite impressive semantic abilities. At first, Israel spoke of “liberated territories.” But that was too much chutzpah and didn’t work. After that came the “administrated territories.” That never took hold either. And then came into the world the star that is still shining to this day: “belligerent occupation.” No more occupation, from now on just belligerent occupation.

What is the measurable difference between “belligerent occupation” and occupation? Nothing. There is no difference, not even a sliver. Not legal, not practical, not linguistic. But it sounds a lot better, friendlier, sort of educated – so it stars in what everyone says: From the idiots on the talk shows, via those who purify the abominations, all the way to the High Court of Justice.

How was “belligerent occupation” born? It’s very simple: It is just a threadbare term taken from the English, used commonly by all the bodies involved in the laws of war, and it’s meaning is simply this: occupation. So why was the word belligerent added? To help the reader differentiate between territory, cucumbers and goals: All three of them use the same Hebrew root (captured, pickled and scored) – but only one of them uses tanks.

In short, a success story. The catch is that it’s only a local success. In the big, antisemitic world, no one is buying these fairy tales – but the “base” swallows them with gusto, and that, of course, is what matters.

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