Five years ago, I visited the East Jerusalem home of a Palestinian family I’d never met. It was an attempt at dialogue — an attempt, for all of us, to meet with and better understand the other.
We were on opposing sides of an ever-expanding equation, and were supposed to be enemies. This was the working assumption upon which we were simultaneously operating and trying to smash.
That much was clear.
When I crossed the threshold, the matriarch was standing before me, arms crossed, as her older son my age beckoned me to a couch. Porcelain cups of tea steamed on a platter as a clock’s swinging pendulum marked my breaths. Click. Click. Click.
As we sat, and after I ceremoniously burnt my tongue, sipping too eagerly, we began to chat with the help of a translator.
To my great surprise, and to the surprise of my hosts, as we began the delicate task of reconciling a rift none of us had personally created, we agreed on nearly everything: the horror of violence on both sides, the desire for peace, the need for two self-determining states — for the Israeli-Palestinian conflict to end.
However, there was one thing we were unable to agree upon, one thing which remained incomprehensibe to this Palestinian family: that there were Israelis and Jews abroad (of which I was one) who sought an end to the conflict and to the occupation of Palestinian territories.
I was an anomaly. An aberration. A (welcomed) freak.
I insisted there were more like me, Jews and Israelis who not only understood the wrongness of the occupation, but who wanted to end it, who wanted peace by ending it.
They were suspicious, the mother shaking her head. The brother laughing it off, as though I had told a joke.
Of course, if I had been in their shoes, I would have laughed as well, witnessing years of ethnic cleansing and settlement construction in their neighborhood of Silwan and watching weekly images on the news of Palestinians being beaten, humiliated, evicted, killed.
I would have laughed as well.
Today, it’s been reported that a judiciary panel, headed by a former Supreme Court justice and appointed by Israel’s Prime Minister, Binyamin Netanyahu, has come to the following conclusion:
There is no Israeli occupation.
Full of delusional legal propositions long-supported by the right-wing settler bloc in Israel, the panel proposes that the State of Israel designate all settlements in the West Bank as legal and relax a slew of measures which would make Jewish settlement more convenient in this land that is not occupied.
While Israel’s Attorney General, Yehuda Weinstein, plans to reject the panel’s findings, the damage has already been done.
See, the panel was hand-picked by Netanyahu and created after intense pressure from settlement leaders, and its conclusion — that Israel is not an occupying force — represents the strengthening of the settlement bloc in Israel. And Netanyahu will almost certainly adopt some of its recommendations.
Troubling? Yes. However, even more troubling is the absolute failure of Israel’s internal mechanisms to solve the crisis of Israel’s occupation. And this report has concretized one simple fact: Israel will never solve it on its own.
Noam Sheizaf, who so often says what I am thinking, only better, writes:
Now that we found out that there is no occupation and there never was, I wonder how the great minds of the Israeli legal community would justify the two separate legal systems Israel has in the West Bank – one for 20 percent of the population (Jews) and one for the other 80 percent. If it’s not occupation, how do we call a situation in which millions of people are deprived of freedom of movement, tried in military tribunals, and don’t even have a recognized nationality or a passport? And don’t say Apartheid, because you’ll be called an anti-Semite.
This absurdity is a good opportunity to give up on the notion that the internal process in Israel will end the occupation. “The internal process” has turned the Israeli legal system into a joke, and resulted in a political system in which all mainstream parties share the same denial of reality. Israelis truly believe that there is no occupation, or that Palestinians could be made citizens of Jordan, while Israel keeps holding the territory they live in (this is the popular idea the right is pushing).
This is what I keep coming back to: Israel’s internal process alone will not end the occupation.
And then I read this week that there are others who are beginning to recognize this fact as well, and are exploring boycott options, such as a small collection of nations otherwise known as Europe:
European governments, including Britain’s, have received legal opinion from a leading international counsel who argues they would be fully within their rights to ban trade with Israeli settlements in the occupied West Bank.
The formal opinion from James Crawford, professor of international law at Cambridge University, is likely to inject fresh momentum into campaigns in the United Kingdom and elsewhere for a ban, at a time when some EU member states are examining ways of hardening their position on the imports of settlement produce.
And the Presbyterian Church’s general assembly in the U.S. voted this week to boycott all products made by Israel’s illegal settlements in the Palestinian territories:
The church resolution that passed calls for “the boycott of all Israeli products coming from the occupied Palestinian Territories” and for “all nations” to prohibit settlement imports. The resolution also singled out AHAVA, an Israeli cosmetics company that has a main factory in a West Bank settlement, and the Hadiklaim Israel Date Growers, also made in an illegal settlement. The Palestine-based Boycott National Committee recognized this victory, stating that Palestinian civil society “warmly welcomes the Presbyterian Church (USA)’s resolute vote to boycott all products from Israeli colonial settlements.”
So here I am. Just one writer, one Jew, who thinks about the Palestinian family with which I met — who thinks about them laughing when told that Israelis and Jews want to end the occupation.
I no longer want them to be able to laugh.
And I think about Israel’s inability to stop the occupation on its own, about how the only way to stop it may be for outside pressures to bear down upon the country I love.
Boycotts. Divestments. Sanctions. (BDS)
These are the tools Israel and Israeli propagandists fear greatly, for they are tools with potentially sharp teeth.
And so we come to the confession, to the coming out: as an American Jew invested deeply in Israel’s success and survival — which in turn drives my investment in stopping one of the greatest moral challenges of my generation: the occupation — I have no choice but to formally endorse and embrace BDS.
That’s a difficult statement to make, for in both my personal and professional worlds, making such a statement could bring censure.
To some Jews, I will now (wrongly) be viewed as an enemy, as anti-Semitic, as anti-Israel. Some in my community may, upon reading this, choose to withdraw. It’s happened to others.
As it is, I have long been uncertain about supporting such measures, afraid of the long-term damage a sustained BDS movement might do to Israel, and concerned about the anti-Israel motivations of segments who push to sanction Israel.
However, I know this for a fact: those who claim in Israel that there is no occupation have only one goal in mind: a single-state solution, a Jewishly-controlled Israel stretching from the Mediterranean Sea to the Jordan River.
And it’s an unworkable, unsustainable goal that will be realized — one state — unless outside forces are brought to bear.
And this post serves, minute as it is, as such a force. And if nothing else, perhaps it will inspire others who feel similarly to stand up and be counted.
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