Occupation of Palestinians hurts Israel

A festering military occupation may end up doing more harm to the occupier than to the occupied. Since 1967, Israel has held tenaciously to the occupied Palestinian territories and to the Syrian Golan Heights.

The 1967 war suddenly made Israel a regional super power. But this sudden change occurred before Israel had matured in the process of state-building. Israel has not yet been able to integrate its Jewish character with its democratic principles; it has no formally proclaimed clear borders. Israel is too busy fighting with Arabs to pay full attention to serious unresolved issues of its identity. The current Israeli news about Ultra-Orthodox Jews of European origin objecting fiercely to their children’s required attendance of schools with Jews of Arab descent is symptomatic of the dormant and explosive issue of Jewish identity.

The 1967 occupation changed Israel from a society that had been creatively busy in building a liberal democracy to one that tries the impossible to rationalize and secure the occupation. This occupation prevents the birth of a Palestinian state, deprives the two neighboring states of Syria and Lebanon from reclaiming lost land and provokes the entire region.

On at least seven accounts Israel is expected by the international community to modify its position: prolonging a military occupation, expanding settlements, building an intrusive wall of separation, annexing territories, maintaining the Gaza siege, launching devastating pre-emptive wars and starting the regional nuclear race. One wonders if Israel is gradually falling into perilous political self isolation through an occupation which it cannot, and should not, sustain.

Despite its highly controversial occupation of vast foreign land, Israel remains an example of a liberal democracy in a region that is largely authoritarian. But an open-ended and worsening occupation could lead Israel into a hodge-podge society with various standards of human rights.

Israel seems to forget that it is a small country surrounded by a vast Arab region. It is not well known that nearly half of the current citizens of Israel have Arab roots. A significant section of Israel’s population is composed of Arab Jews who migrated from Arab countries. And there are many Palestinians who stayed on land which became part of the state of Israel in 1948.

The Jews who migrated from the Arab world to Israel in the early stage of state formation constituted the majority of the population. In later decades, the European Ashkenazi sector of the population became the majority in Israel proper.

Middle Eastern Jews are part of the “Sephardic” community; Jews with Western backgrounds are known as the “Ashkenazis”. Palestinian Israelis are known as “Arab Israelis”. Cultural backgrounds have strong political relevance in many newly formed states. The Sephardic community speaks some Arabic, in addition to Hebrew, the national language. The Sephardis love Middle East food and enjoy other aspects of the past, such as Arabic music. However, on the whole, many have a cultural amnesia of their Arab background. The Brooklyn-based scholar David Shasha has written extensively on Ashkenazi dominance in Israeli life and politics. Shasha explains that in seeking rapid and superficial modernity, the Sephardi Jews have suppressed their Arab cultural roots and identified too strongly with the powerful Western side of Israel.

On the other hand, Palestinian Israelis speak Arabic at home and Hebrew in school and the workplace. Combined, these two contrasting ethno-religious minorities, who are roughly equal in size, constitute more than three million citizens. Unfortunately, these two minority communities are alienated from one another and mutually suspicious.

People with Arab roots constitute the majority of the population of the area between the Jordan River and the Mediterranean Sea. Thus, the Ashkenazi Jews have actually now become a cultural-minority in post 1967 Israel. The Ashkenazi subculture represents nearly a third of the population between the River and the Sea, three out of eleven million residents.

Israel has a problem which cannot be ignored for too long. The Arab population will increase within Israel proper and in the occupied areas. The Palestinians have finally discovered the power of nonviolent resistance. This discovery alone will give the Palestinians what they have lacked for a long time: moral power in the face of brutal force. If only Hamas could appropriate this time-tested resistance model.

The world is increasingly questioning the occupation and its consequences. The US government is now desperate to find a way to maintain its close alliance with Israel and live up to its commitment to justice and to better relations with the Muslim world.

Even mainline Jewish writers, like Peter Beinart, the former editor of the New Republic, have recently turned critical of Israel’s current government. Beinart expressed concern that the American Jewish community has failed to pressure Israel to make peace and explained why the young generation of American Jews is gradually losing interest in Zionism. For more on this article, see The Failure of the American Jewish Establishment inThe New York Review of Books, May 18.

The current Flotilla crisis has brought additional burden unto Israel; the siege on Gaza is partially lifted and the word is out that Israel’s current government is risk-prone.

Will Israel sober up in time and terminate an occupation which degrades the occupier and hurts the occupied?

Comments go to Grubeiz@comcast.net

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About Dr. Ghassan Michel Rubeiz

Dr. Ghassan Michel Rubeiz is a Lebanese-American Middle East analyst with special interest in political sociology, social justice and democracy. He is a former professor of social work and psychology. He was Secretary of the Geneva-based World Council of Churches for the Middle East during the eighties and early nineties. He also served Eastern Europe for six years from the Geneva office of Christian Children’s Fund. Between 2000 and 2005, he was the Washington Liaison Director of CCF. He is now focused on public speaking and writing on the Middle East. Over the last five years, he has contributed a series of articles to the Christian Science Monitor online edition, the Lebanese Daily Star and the Arab American News. Currently, Rubeiz is writing regularly from his home office in Palm Beach Gardens, Florida. His special interest is in politics and religion and in promotion of Arab American understanding. His maintains his personal blog at www.aldikkani.blogspot.com.

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