The Occupation

By Alon Idan
Haaretz supplement, 20/2/2015
Translated by Keren Rubinstein4336276670_40832fcf3c
‘Occupation’ is not a good word. It takes the Israeli away from reality instead of bringing him closer to it. ‘The Occupation’ has a permanent place in the Israeli hall of collective consciousness, therefore there’s no need to consider it afresh when it is heard or called out. When there’s no longer a need to rethink an uttered word, then its link with considered thought about it and its real meaning is lost; the word becomes a museum artefact, archival material.
The reason ‘occupation’ isn’t a good word is also tied up to the fact that the Occupation doesn’t describe the problems themselves, the reality, the actuality; ‘the occupation’ is the reason such problems came into being as part of that reality. The Palestinians don’t suffer from an ‘occupation’ (as someone might ‘suffer from fever’ or ‘suffers from pain’), but they do suffer from a harsh reality borne of occupation. In that sense ‘occupation’ is a word that sounds better to Israeli ears, because it plasters militaristic and strategic content onto the reality of suffering.
That is why spoken Hebrew has come to feature the word ‘Apartheid’, not so much to describe historical identification with South Africa; ‘Apartheid’ in the Israeli-Palestinian context came into being in order to rethink the words; to uproot the usual place ‘Occupation’ occupies in the air-conditioned hall of Israeli consciousness and launch ones associations to new fields of institutionalized racism.
But the problem with the word ‘Apartheid’ is clear: it is taken from a different place and a different time, so that unconsciously it takes the Israeli away from the critical sense of what is happening here and now. Furthermore, ‘Apartheid’ implies that events for which we are responsible aren’t original, but rather are a copy or a variation of something that has already happened. This is a destructive message, because there is great value in originality and singularity – even that of crimes. A copy can never cast a shadow over an original.
In order to change reality one has to struggle with the words describing it. The ability to reactivate thought about reality is critical, because every time someone is forced to rethink things, there is a chance he might want to change them; and each time he isn’t forced to think about things, but just deal with their bureaucracy – that is, the usual filing system for those words – the chance he’ll want to change things diminishes.
The most important task for those seeking to change reality, the one in which Israel has been crushing millions of people for decades, is to locate the words that will reactivate Israelis’ thought. In order to reactivate thought, bothersome words must be located; words that will accurately describe what happens in actual lives, in daily reality, words that will not suffice with a militaristic and strategic description, or with terms that have been borrowed from elsewhere.
The time has come to put away ‘occupation’ and ‘conflict’ and even ‘apartheid’ – which have been coerced into collaborating with reality. The time has come to use simple words, every day words – words that are therefore accessible. Office words, for instance. When an employee feels flattened under the weight of the boss’ boots, he says “my boss is abusing me”. Therefore ‘abuse’ is a good word. Not ‘the Israeli Occupation’ but ‘Israeli abuse’. When someone feels bad at work, he says, ‘I’m sick of it, I suffer every day’. Therefore ‘suffering’ is a good word. ‘Palestinian suffering’.
Bibi [Netanyahu’s] electrician gets along really well with the Occupation.[1] Because he gets along so well with the Occupation, Israelis are more interested in the electrician than in the Occupation. We have to make Bibi’s electrician not get along with the Occupation. He has to be made to feel that he’s abusing people and is causing others’ suffering. Bibi’s electrician won’t accept these terms, he’ll deny them, he’ll object to them. But that’s exactly what must be done to all the electricians working for Bibi [Netanyahu], and Buji [Herzog], and Tzipi [Livni], and Naftali [Bennet] – they must be made to stop connecting wires from the kitchen to the lounge room for one moment, and to scream: Us? Abusers? Where did you get that from?
We got it from the papers, we’ll tell them. From the headlines in the newspapers. There’s no occupation there. Only electricians.
[1] Translator’s note: this is a reference to one of numerous allegations of embezzlement made against the Netanyahus. The Prime Ministerial household had underhandedly continued to employ an electrician to do copious and overpriced amounts of work, despite being legally required to employ a different, un-affiliated contractor. A Likkud supporter and family friend, the electrician’s services were sought almost every weekend, including on Yom Kippur, while his charges far exceeded the PM’s household budget, paid for by the State.

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