Photo: Larry StillmanMany people within the Jewish community, whose support for Israel is not in question, have watched and noted the way in which the occupation of Palestinian land has had a corrupting influence on Israel’s soul. Many Jewish Israelis are blind to the indignity and abuse on a daily basis accorded to ordinary Palestinians passing through Israeli checkpoints. They are insulated from feeling the deprivation, frustration and powerlessness in the lives of people under occupation behind a wall and out of view. But the most corrupt aspect of the occupation is the pervasive acquisition of land through the establishment of Israeli settlements throughout the West Bank.
The settler population has increased threefold from 100,000 in 1993 to over 300,000 today (plus another 200,000 in East Jerusalem) on land that, all who claim to support a two-state solution understand, is supposed to belong to a future Palestinian state.
How is it possible for Israel to credibly claim it supports the establishment of a Palestinian state, while at the same time continuing to expand its population in the West Bank?
The time has come for all those who care about Israel’s future to stop pretending that the relative calm in the current phase of the conflict is a stable endpoint. When, at some time in the not distant future, Israel has so integrated itself into the West Bank that it will be impossible to disengage, and a sober Palestinian leadership realises that a campaign for equal rights and citizenship of Israel will give them their state, what argument will Israel use to justify describing itself as a Jewish state when the majority of its population is not Jewish?
If Israel doesn’t grasp the opportunity it is being given to restart negotiations to separate Israelis and Palestinians into two states now, when will be the right time?
And if the logic of this argument is clear to everyone other than the hardline settlers and their supporters, then as broad a coalition of Israel’s supporters as possible needs to convey to Israel openly, publicly and vocally, that it needs to declare its bona fides by stopping the settlement project completely and stopping the settlement project now.
Something very important happened this year. For the first time since 1967, when Israel became the sole legal power between the Jordan and Mediterranean, more Arabic-speaking children started school than Hebrew speakers. In a mere 12 years they will be adults. As Ehud Olmert pointed out some time ago, keep on walking along this path and you will end up with Apartheid.
When Australian TV audiences see dozens of Palestinian families being forcibly evicted from their homes to be replaced within hours by stereotypical settlers, their sympathy for Israel is reduced. When official Israeli spokespeople say that Jewish Israelis can claim Jewish property in East Jerusalem, but Palestinian Arabs cannot do this “because the Palestinians started the war”, the audience’s reaction turns to revulsion.
From our vantage point, we can see and understand why support for Israel is waning. But waning support is not a treatable disease, it is a symptom of an underlying problem emanating from 42 years of occupation and a steadily reducing opportunity to disengage, because of the existence and continuing expansion of the settlements.
Supporting President Barack Obama’s call for an immediate halt to all settlement activity might not lead to a resolution of the conflict. We still need to see how seriously Palestinians themselves want a state of their own. But there needs to be a change in the dynamic of the conflict, and a halt to settlement activity is the essential first step. We show constructive support for Israel by supporting that step.
AJDS Executive
[This statement appeared in the November 2009 Edition of the AJDS Newsletter]