Occupation? What Occupation? Uri Avnery on Denial as Central to Israel’s 46th Year of Occupation of Palestine

It is deeply troubling and sad to watch not only Israelis, but also the major institutions of American Jewish life remain in complete denial of the pain caused to the Palestinian people by the continuation of Israel’s occupation and its still effective blockade of Gaza. Yet I witness a new generation of Reform, Conservative, and Orthodox rabbis who seem completely blind to the contradictions they embody when they pray for the welfare of the State of Israel and for the IDF (a separate prayer) but never the welfare of the Palestinian people over whom Israel rules. They ignore the contradictory position of Israel: occupying another people and refusing to give them citizenship or the vote inside Israel. Thus Israel and its supporters openly accept the systematic call of Torah, not only to “love the stranger as yourself” but also, as in last week’s Torah portion (shelach lecha) Numbers (Bamidbar) chapter XVI, sentences 15 and 16: “One law shall there be for you and the stranger (Other) who dwells with you—it shall be a law for all time throughout the ages. You and the stranger shall be alike before the Lord, the same ritual and the same rule shall apply to you and to the stranger who resides among you.” And in dozens of other places the Torah reminds us variants of the following command: “When you came into your land, DO NOT OPPRESS THE STRANGER (THE OTHER). REMEMBER THAT YOU WERE THE OTHER IN THE LAND OF EGYPT (that land of narrow consciousness).”

What Avnery describes below is not a forgetting, but a willful repression of one’s own awareness of how much the Jewish people are turning their back on their own conception of God when they give a nation state, ANY nation a blank check of ethical approval. This is the exact 100 percent opposite of what the Prophets did in their time. Israel can no longer claim its occupation is just temporary—not after forty-six years, and Israel refusing still to even temporarily stop building new settlements. The minimum we should be hearing from the spiritually sensitive in our religion or any other religion or non-religious Jewish institution is this demand: One person, one vote, wherever Israel is occupying or exercising power. And one law for the Jew and for the non-Jew—the very demand that we Jews made historically of all the countries in which we resided as second class citizens. And yes, religious institutions should be explicitly praying for this, and secular humanists should be demanding it of their own state and mobilizing support. AND NO, THIS IS NOT AN ISSUE JUST FOR JEWS WHILE OTHERS STAND BY AND LET THE STATUS QUO CONTINUE. PALESTINIAN SUFFERING IS AN ISSUE FOR EVERY ETHICALLY SENSITIVE PERSON ON THE PLANET.

If you feel you don’t know enough about it to engage in a conversation with a legislator or to raise it in your own congregation, read my 2012 book Embracing Israel/Palestine and you’ll get all the tools you need to be an advocate for reconciliation, plus you’ll find there a strategy to make all this possible (www.tikkun.org/eip). And we at Tikkun continue to focus on this, not because Israel is the worst human rights offender on the globe (it pales before Iran, Saudi Arabia, China, North Korea, and many other states) but because Tikkun, while equally open to non-Jews of all religions and secular humanists, is especially rooted in the Jewish tradition, and wants to defend Judaism from those who would identify it with the policies of any nation state, just as the Prophets of the bible insisted on this separation, and because we believe that Israels current policies are leading to an upsurge of anger at the Jewish people globally which may (God forbid) lead to the destruction of Israel and to a renewed assault on all Jews everywhere. It is out of love for our people, the Jewish people, that we seek allies to push Israel in a different and new direction, a direction I detail in Embracing Israel/Palestine. Rabbi Michael Lerner  RabbiLerner.tikkun@gmail.com


Uri Avnery  This article appeared originally a few days ago in Ha’aretz, Israel’s most respected daily newspaper http://www.haaretz.com/opinion/occupation-what-occupation.premium-1.528245.

June 7, 2013

Occupation? What occupation?


Every person is endowed with a certain denial mechanism they can use to avoid the shame, fear, guilt and pain involved in coping with their improper actions. Instead of facing their failure, accepting reality and dealing with it, they simply enter a state of denial.

But denial extracts a heavy price from the denier. The mental effort involved in self-deception causes serious mental harm. Someone who denies facts is declaring that he has a mental problem. He needs treatment.

For 46 years we have been in this situation. We are denying one of the most significant phenomenon of our national existence, if not the most central one: the occupation.

We can use the well-worn metaphor of the huge elephant in the room, whose presence we deny. Elephant? What elephant? Here? We tiptoe around the elephant and avert our gaze so we won’t have to look at it. After all, it doesn’t exist.

We are ruling completely over another people. This influences every sphere of our national life – our politics, our economy, our values, our military, our legal system, our culture and more. But we don’t see – and don’t want to see – what is going on only a few minutes’ drive from our homes, over the black line known as the Green Line.

We have become so accustomed to this situation that we see it as normal. But the occupation is intrinsically an abnormal, temporary situation.

Under the law of nations, an occupation is said to occur when one state conquers the area of another state during wartime and then holds it as an occupier until peace is achieved. Because of the temporary nature of an occupation, international law imposes severe restrictions on the occupying state. It is not permitted to transfer its own citizens to the occupied area, it is forbidden to build settlements there, it is forbidden to seize lands, and so on.

Israel has invented something unprecedented: eternal occupation. In 1967, because no pressure was brought to bear on Israel to return the occupied territories, Moshe Dayan came up with a brilliant idea – to continue the occupation forever. If Israel had annexed the territories, it would have been forced to grant civil rights to the occupied population. But in a state of occupation, it could maintain control without giving the conquered people any rights at all – not human rights, not civil rights and certainly not national rights. A real egg of Columbus.

We are a moral people – in our own eyes, at least. How do we resolve the contradiction between our extreme morality and our blatantly immoral circumstances? Simple: We go into denial.

“Power corrupts,” said the British statesman Lord Acton. “And absolute power corrupts absolutely.” The occupation is the most absolute power there is. It has corrupted everything good about us – it has corrupted the army that maintains the occupation, the soldiers who are forced to terrorize the civilian population every night, the government institutions that bypass the law in the dark, the courts that implement the occupation laws, and the entire country, which is violating international law every day.

If we ask ourselves what has happened to our country, we simply have to open our eyes and look at the elephant.

“He who confesses and forsakes finds mercy,” the book of Proverbs tells us. It isn’t enough to admit and recognize that a sin has been committed; we must abandon the wrong path we’ve taken. In our case, to save our souls and our state, we must forsake the occupied territories.

But before we can forsake, we must first admit and recognize that something is wrong. 


3 thoughts on “Occupation? What Occupation? Uri Avnery on Denial as Central to Israel’s 46th Year of Occupation of Palestine

  1. I am happy to see such honest questioning is occurring in Israel. I am a Catholic woman and have struggled with our church’s troubled history. It’s tough when a faith that you treasure also incorporates oppression and even justifies it, using God or Jesus as an excuse for the oppressive behavior.

    I happen to believe it’s very important for states to be secular. The use of religion as an excuse for domination over others has a terrible and bloody history. The peoples of the Middle East must find their way out of this morass.

  2. “Occupation” is one of the most misleading contemporary terms. Orthodox Jews believe that Israel was given to them by God, therefore, we can live in any part of Israel. If we only had this belief, it would not be enough, as we have believed this for thousands of years and did not live in Israel. What makes living in Yehuda and Shomron (aka the West Bank) okay is that the Jewish people won numerous wars against the Palestinians. We offered the Arabs their own portion of land in 1948, but they declined. They ganged up on us again in 1967, and we won more because of their hatred and greed. The Jewish army is the ONLY army that risks the lives of its soldiers in order not to kill Arab civilians. If the Arabs didn’t insist on blowing themselves and us up, we would not need checkpoints. By the way, Rabbi Lerner, many Palestinians do have citizenship, and are even represented in the Israeli government. Israel is by no means perfect, but to think that we ignore the suffering of the Palestinians is ignorance. Israel has been sending aid to Gaza – even when they were firing rockets on us! Arabs are treated CONSTANTLY in Israeli hospitals, without a thought. The only time we are wary of Arabs is when we’re afraif they are trying to kill us – which the Palestinian leadershi preachers to the masses and teaches the children in their schools.
    What is your solution? To give territories that we won back to the Palestinians? Oh wait, we did that with Gaza, and they have been shooting ROCKETS at us everyday. To let them learn in Israeli universities? Oh wait, they do. To let them work in Israel, as long as they don’t try to run us over with bulldozers (which happened twice in Jerusalem a few years ago)? Oh wait, we do.
    Israel is not the oppressor. We are doing what Jews have tried to do throughout the years of exile – only this time we are succeeding. We are defending ourselves and our right to live.

  3. Avneri wrote: “We are ruling completely over another people”. This statement assumes we don’t know that for 20 years we have NOT been ruling over them, they have their own parliament and their own government, they elect leaders [when their leaders do not postpone elections], that have their own school system which teaches to kill Jews, much of their expenses are funded by Israel.

    Tikkun Olam cannot start and be based upon falsehoods.

    Indeed there is a problem of denial: Avnery and others of his ilk are in denial of the fact that the Arabs do not want peace: they want to kill us. This wish did NOT start with “the occupation”. It did NOt start with the founding of the state of Israel. It did NOT start with the beginning of the Keren Kayemet buying land from the Arabs to make place for Jewish settlements. Already in the 1886s the Jews in Petah Tikva – where I live – were suddenly attacked, like later in Hebron in 1929.
    The way to peace in the Middle East is clearly stated in the Qur’an. See http://www.tabletmag.com/news-and-politics/28575/allah-is-a-zionist/ by Sheikh Abdul Hadi Palazzi, Secretary General of the Italian Muslim Assembly.

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