Israel has decided to alter its methods of upholding the occupation, replacing a politics of life, which aimed to secure the existence and livelihood of the Palestinian inhabitants, with a politics of death.
On June 8, 1967, just a few hours after the Israeli military captured Jerusalem’s Temple Mount, Haram al Sharif, Defense Minister Moshe Dayan visited the site. Noticing that troops had hung an Israeli flag on the cap of the Al-Aqsa shrine, Dayan asked one of the soldiers to remove it, adding that displaying the Israeli national symbol for all to see was an unnecessarily provocative act.
Those who have visited the Occupied Territories in the past years have no doubt noticed Israeli flags fluttering over almost every building Israel occupies as well as above every Jewish settlement. Ariel Sharon’s highly publicized visit to the Al-Aqsa compound in September 2000 – an act that served as the trigger for the second Intifada – could be considered the final step in a process that has ultimately undone Dayan’s strategic legacy of trying to normalize the occupation by concealing Israel’s presence. “Don’t rule them,” Dayan once said, “let them lead their own lives.”
Another significant change that has transpired over the past 41 years involves the Israeli government’s relationship to trees, the symbol of life. If in 1968 Israel helped Palestinians in the Gaza Strip plant some 618,000 trees and provided farmers with improved varieties of seeds for vegetables and field crops, during the first three years of the second Intifada Israel destroyed more than ten percent of Gaza’s agricultural land and uprooted over 226,000 trees.
The appearance and proliferation of the flag on the one hand, and the razing of trees on the other, signify a fundamental transformation in Israel’s attempts to control the occupied Palestinian inhabitants. It appears as if Israel decided to alter its methods of upholding the occupation, replacing a politics of life, which aimed to secure the existence and livelihood of the Palestinian inhabitants, with a politics of death.
This shift manifests itself in numerous ways. During the occupation’s first decade, for example, Israel tried to decrease Palestinian unemployment in order to manage the population, but following the new millennium it intentionally produced unemployment in the Occupied Territories. Israel provided immunization for cattle and poultry during the first years after the 1967, but in 2008 it created conditions that prevented people from receiving immunization.
Changes like these clearly reflect the radical transformation in the repertoires of violence deployed in the Occupied Territories. Whereas an estimated 650 Palestinians were killed in the West Bank and Gaza Strip during the first two decades following the 1967 War, during the six-year period between 2001 and 2007, Israel has, on average, killed more than 650 Palestinians per year.
The number of Israelis killed in this conflict has significantly increased as well, and this is not coincidental. Whereas during the thirteen-year period between December 1987 and September 2000, 422 Israeli were killed by Palestinians, during the six-year period from the eruption of the second intifada until the end of 2006, 1,019 Israelis were killed.
Commentators do not usually attempt to make sense of such changes, and, when they do, they almost always underscore the policy choices of the Israeli government or the decisions made by the different Palestinian political factions. Such an approach, while often helpful, elides the significant impact of the occupation’s guiding principle.
By the occupation’s guiding principle, I mean the distinction Israel has made between the land it occupied and the people who inhabit the land. Levi Eshkol, Israel’s prime minister in 1967, clearly articulated this distinction during a Labor Party meeting that took place just three months after the war. Discussing the consequences of Israel’s military victory, he turned to Golda Meir, who was then the party’s general secretary, and said: “I understand… you covet the dowry, but not the bride.” One cannot fully understand the occupation and the reason it has become more violent without taking into account the separation between the dowry (i.e., the land that Israel occupied in June 1967) and the bride (the Palestinian population). This principle is the propelling force behind the massive settlement project, the by-pass roads, the expropriation of Palestinian water and the erection of the separation barrier deep inside Palestinian territory. And it is precisely these latter Israeli actions that have precipitated the intensification of violence in the Occupied Territories and, one might even argue, the rise of Hamas.
The occupation’s guiding principle has consequently produced the very conditions that are now impeding a peace agreement based on the two-state solution. Recognizing the full ramifications of this principle is crucial since it allows us to see beyond the smoke screen of political proclamations and statements, and to improve our understanding of why the acrimonious conflict has developed in the way that it has. Just as importantly, the principle sheds light on how the conflict can be resolved, since the key to reaching a just and peaceful solution involves reuniting the Palestinian people and their land and offering them full sovereignty over the land. So long as the guiding principle is ignored, blood will continue to be spilled.
Neve Gordon teaches politics at Ben-Gurion University, Israel. For information about his book, Israel’s Occupation, and more www.israelsoccupation.info