If Israel does not see its stake in addressing the core issues of Palestinian freedom, it will find itself in a situation similar to South Africa before the fall of the apartheid regime.
( Waging Nonviolence ) – Until Oct. 7, the Israeli state managed to maintain an “enlightened” and democratic facade among Western powers and media. Amid decades of military control over the Palestinian people, the continued entrenchment of the apartheid system, and a founding story of Palestinian displacement and dispossession, Israeli society has been perceived in the liberal international arena as part of the Western family of nations. It has been known and celebrated for its thriving hi-tech industry, pride parades, a successful academy, a respected legal system, art festivals and more. Politicians have engaged in political processes for the sake of the process itself — and even paid lip service to addressing the military occupation in the West Bank and the growing settler movement.
These halfhearted approaches were once enough to keep international liberal allies at bay, to ensure that the Palestinian issue remains a secondary issue, rather than a core challenge to the Israeli political project. Hamas, in its criminal and horrifying ways, managed to shatter this illusion of normality. The era of managing or “shrinking” the conflict is over. The Israeli state’s liberal allies and the world media are forced to face the terrible images from the cursed Saturday, then the unprecedented Israeli attacks in their force and humanitarian consequences in the Gaza Strip, along with the accompanying state and settler violence in the West Bank and the repression of political activism within the 1948 borders.
These visuals have transformed Israel’s image from a society that has a certain “nuisance” in its backyard to a place where war and serious human rights violations are among its core characteristics. More than that: Unlike the (large majority of the) Jewish public in Israel, to which the Israeli media confirms time and time again the absolute righteousness of its vengeful and destructive path, governments and millions of people across the world now understand who is the occupying side, and therefore who bears the greatest responsibility for stopping the violence.
The “day after” this war ends, Israeli society will face not only a collective trauma and an economic crisis, but also ever-increasing international alienation. In many arenas, doubts will be cast and strengthened about our basic values as a society as long as we continue to rule over the Palestinian people, kill, displace, repress and starve millions through ongoing state policies and attacks. If in the past the opposition to normalization with Israeli society and actors was the domain of radical and relatively marginal elements, in the near future it will be the international mainstream. The brutal rogue war that followed the cursed Sabbath accelerated historical processes of sharp criticisms of Israeli occupation and apartheid systems.
Under these conditions, an Israeli political initiative to immediately end military control in the West Bank and the Gaza Strip is of the utmost necessity. While opportunities for the necessary, longer-term agreement are stunted because there remain significant issues concerning the Israeli regime within ‘48 borders — such as the Palestinian right of return and the definition of the state as Jewish — addressing the military rule is a critical intermediate step. There is a partner for an agreement based on a Palestinian state within the borders in exchange for a long-term ceasefire. Jewish Israelis need to see our stake in changing the political situation and addressing the core issues of Palestinian freedom. Otherwise, before long, we will find ourselves in a situation similar to South Africa before the fall of the apartheid regime: an isolated society, devoid of spirit and morality, based on a sense of victimhood until the bitter end.
The main obstacle for the immediate step being described is the settlement movement, enabled by the Israeli government and funded by “charities” and individuals across the world, particularly in the United States. From this point of view, the breaking point regarding the Israeli March of Folly across the green line is getting closer. As someone who served in the settlements (and then refused and was sent to the military jail), the discussions about their security value sound to me like conversations between people who are living in a fantasy world. What is the connection between the settlement of civilians in an area under military rule and security? If anything, they constitute a security burden.
In terms of Israeli public opinion, it is important to remember that a vast majority of the Israeli public did not oppose the evacuation of settlements as part of the peace agreement with Egypt or the disengagement plan in Gaza, including a traditional right-wing public that votes for Likud. In addition to that, many of the settlements in the West Bank were established on economic grounds, rather than ideological motives. It is likely that a significant number of people who live beyond the green line as “housing improvers” will move within ‘48 borders in exchange for compensation and adequate housing.
Israeli society will stand in the coming years at a historic crossroads. The settlement movement has no problem dragging us all into a kind of modern Masada — since according to their method the divine promise to the land outweighs any rational consideration such as a stable economy and functioning public systems, not to mention universal democratic values such as human rights, justice and peace. But the majority of the public does not support these messianic nonsense, and it is time to give it practical expression. Striving to end military control over the Palestinian people — even one that involves conflict with the settlement movement — is the most significant challenge we will face in the coming decade.