The Fine Print

The occupation has become old, and with it the protests against it. This was evident last Friday at an event human rights organizations and Peace Now had organized at Tel Aviv Port. There were pretty women in sandals with grey hair, elderly men who marched slowly in youthful tank tops, and a woman who surrounded herself by symbolic barbed wire. At that very same moment, the children, in their 30s, squabbled over every free table at the Basel Street cafes. As they see it, taking a political stance, or for that matter protesting, is a waste of time. The children of the soldiers who fought in the 1967 war were already born to be occupiers. In a world in which there are occupiers and the occupied, it is of course better to be an occupier. In the end, after all, one gets used to it, and last Friday really was a nice, warm day.

The event at the port was just one of many to mark the 40th anniversary of the occupation. The occupation? Somewhat oddly, most of the events held this week related to the occupation. Not to the return to the land of the patriarchs, nor to the liberation of parts of the homeland. Somebody in the nationalist department was negligent, or perhaps simply didn't pay attention to the date. Forty years is a long time in the life of a human being, long enough to wonder whether the anniversary is worth celebrating, or whether to just let it be. This week they left the war aside and talked about the occupation. And in so doing they forget (or they hadn't been born yet) the great hope there had been and that has since faded.

In his book "State's Witness," Igal Sarna describes a family outing to the territories back when a family outing to the territories was not like a nighttime walk in Harlem. "Huge expanses of an unknown land opened up to us," he writes. Forty years is a long time. Forty years ago people gave victory albums from the war as bar mitzvah presents, 10 years later the albums were discarded in the streets, and now they are considered collectors' items. Like the victory albums, words and slogans have come and gone from the dictionary of public discourse. Sarna recalls the slogan "a liberated territory will not be returned" (it rhymes in Hebrew), coined by the veteran politician Eliezer Shostak, and also "even an unavoidable occupation is a corrupting occupation," written by the young Amos Oz. How remote the bitter argument over "liberated territories" or "occupied territories" looks today. Only a few people spoke about the occupation itself. The word "occupation" was hardly even mentioned at the conference to mark the event that was held at the Metzudat David Hotel in Jerusalem.

The conference's title did not mention the great victory, but rather consisted of a single line from United Nations Security Council Resolution 242, passed in the wake of the war, a phrase that talks about the right of the states that were involved in the fighting "to live in peace within secure and recognized boundaries free from threats or acts of force." And who doesn't want to live in recognized and secure borders? The respect accorded to this resolution did indeed come belatedly (Eitan Bentzur, a former director general of the Foreign Ministry, said at the conference that the resolution has never been formally accepted by the government of Israel). But even so, at the conference it was treated like an infant in its cradle. Even though the infant is 40 years old and not very developed, according to one interpretation Resolution 242 resembles the official permission the world has given us so our occupation will be not only just but also legal, and in any case moral.

It is inconceivable that such a document is out there in the world without an attendant expert, and indeed, as though 40 years hadn't elapsed, suddenly the expert on 242 reappears from the depths of oblivion: Professor Yehuda Blum, the former Israeli ambassador to the United Nations. Yes, that same Blum with the mustache. Blum with that same lawyerly pedantry that almost borders on insanity, for the fateful miniscule details in provisions and sub-provisions based on which the world will stand or fall.

Blum examines the fundamental differences between withdrawal from "the territories," a phrase found in various documents, and withdrawal from "territory," found only in Resolution 242, which is a whole world of difference. Blum, the lawyer, sets forth his case before a non-existing court. He shows up with his file of provisions ignored by the world, which continues to judge us only by what it sees in the press and on television. Blum is trying to prove that the world required us to withdraw from "territory," not from "the territories." If the world accepts his interpretation, the way is open to us to carry on, to expel, to uproot and to block. And if the world refuses to accept this? In any case, what is important is what the Jews do and not what the gentiles think. Furthermore, be UN resolutions what they may, there are situations that are irreversible.

The one who will turn Blum's formalism into a joke is none other than another former ambassador to the United Nations, Benjamin Netanyahu, now a Likud MK and leader of the opposition. A reasonable 10 minutes late, Netanyahu entered the hall short of breath, puffed out his forelock and gave his usual performance, with the chin tucked in, displaying his importance, and with the hands set to the sides in a measured way.

The text is routine: "The media and academia are trying to transform the great victory into a defeat." And: "The Palestinians? What do they have to complain about? After all, they have full and independent control over their sewage and their property taxes." And also: "Yes, there is room for optimism even though our situation, of course, has never been so bad." And so on. In fact when he goes over to English, the wild genie that is bottled up in Netanyahu escapes. The question he is answering deals with the Golan Heights. "What is a peace agreement with Syria worth?" he shouts. "A piece of paper!" No more than that. And Professor Blum, the man who devoted his life to pieces of paper like that, sits there embarrassed at his round table with the bottles of juice and plays with his pen.

The audience loves Netanyahu. This is a typical Jerusalemite audience. A lot of ties and a lot more skullcaps. The heading "Israel's Right to Secure Borders" also serves the most extreme of leftists, and it was to some extent able to blur the conference's political orientation. Most of the participants had served in right-wing governments (Zalman Shoval, Meir Rosenne, Dore Gold), and in the extreme leftist slot the organizers placed former Major General Uzi ("It's necessary to go into Gaza now") Dayan and Deputy Defense Minister Ephraim ("The Israel Defense Forces have to be stationed along the Jordan") Sneh. But the true expression of the relationship between the little Israel before the war and the one after can be seen as we leave the hotel where the conference was held. A vast desert of Jerusalem stone suddenly spreads before the eye of the observer. Architect Moshe Safdie planned it and contractor Alfred Akirov built it. An arrogant and insensitive memorial to stone paths and luxury apartments that are sold for millions to tenants who don't live there, a memorial that takes care to hide the wall and turn its rear end to the Old City.