In the end, the unsustainability of warehousing Palestinians will force the hand of the international community. The Israeli government, so strong it does not know when to stop, will lead us to that moment.
By Jeff Halper
The kidnapping and killing of the three Israeli youths in the West Bank has unleashed a military operation marking the end of the Israeli occupation. The term “occupation” designates a temporary military situation resolvable only through negotiations. If that is were case, then it could be argued that Israel’s occupation over the West Bank, East Jerusalem and Gaza (not to mention the Golan Heights) lasted only a decade, during the dithering rule of Labor.
From 1977, when the Begin/Sharon government announced that “Judea and Samaria” would be considered integral parts of the Land/State of Israel, when it formally annexed East Jerusalem and the Golan Heights and began its campaign of systematically eliminating any two-state solution through massive settlement building, “occupation” gave way to something else. In fact, Israel denied it even had an occupation – that “something else” in Israeli parlance was merely the “administration” of a “disputed” territory.
Hence the Fourth Geneva Convention did not apply, Israel had not violated any international laws forbidding Occupying Powers from unilaterally changing the status of Occupied Territories and the Palestinians, defined as Protected People for whose well-being Israel is accountable, were left unprotected. Indeed, after the death of Arafat in 2004, if not before, Israel ushered in yet another variation of occupation: joint Israeli-Palestinian occupation rooted in an American-trained Palestinian Authority militia acting as Israel’s policeman.
And so it is with the killing of the three that we are about to enter yet another new and terrible phase of post-occupation, warehousing, a step beyond apartheid. After their land has been expropriated and 96 percent of the Palestinians confined to dozens of tiny islands on less than 40 percent of the Occupied Territories – i.e., 40 percent of 22 percent of their homeland – after 30,000 of their homes have been demolished and an entire population exposed to impoverishment and, in Gaza, conditions bordering on starvation, after negotiations have ended permanently and settlements have reached their critical, irreversible mass, warehousing is about to begin. The good news is: as violent and oppressive as Israel’s campaign of warehousing is likely to be (though strong international pressure may avert the worst measures), it will lead in short order to the complete collapse of Israeli rule and, if we are ready with an inclusive alternative, will open the way to new possibilities of a just peace not available today.
The term “warehousing” comes out of the world of America’s prisons. The U.S. has 4.4 percent of the world’s population and 25 percent of its prisoners. They are inmates, wards of the state, whose status is fixed and who have, for all purposes, disappeared. No one cares what happens to them (prison reform will not get you elected to Congress), and their rights are respected only in the breach. And when they “riot” – for we use non-political language to describe the doings of these less-than people – the prison guards have every right and duty to suppress them. No negotiations. They are not a “side,” just subjects to be managed, to be “warehoused,” forever if they prove to be recalcitrant.
This expresses precisely the way Israel views the Palestinians. It has never recognized the existence of the Palestinian people or their national rights of self-determination, and even in the brightest days of Oslo only recognized the PLO as a negotiating partner. Israel has never officially declared its acceptance of a two-state solution, certainly not one requiring it to withdraw completely from to the Green Line. Not considering them a genuine and equal “side” with whom to negotiate, it has merely made “generous offers” which they could either take or leave. Indeed, since the days of Ehud Barak Israel has claimed that it has no “partner for peace,” meaning that its policy decisions are made unilaterally.
The two-state solution buried forever under the settlement blocs, Israel is mopping up: the prison cells of Areas A and B have been prepared, and now the prison authorities have to convey to the prisoners the reality and hopelessness of their situation. Submit and you will live; resist and you will die. That is precisely the message of Operation Brother’s Keeper, which was only waiting for a pretext provided by the kidnapping.
Yet the powerless have one effective instrument at their disposal. They can say “no.” The Palestinian Authority comes close to being an occupying power in its own right. Israel’s take-over of Ramallah during its latest “operation” was carried out with the active cooperation of Palestinian security forces, and Palestinians often speak of living under two occupations. Whether it resigns or merely collapses under the weight of its own lack of credibility, it is hard to see how the PA can survive both the humiliation and the formal role of collaborator forced upon it by Israel, which it will be if it stays in power with no meaningful political process.
Here is where the collapse comes in – and the final resolution of the conflict. With no PA to perpetuate the fiction of “two sides” engaged in negotiations, Israel will unilaterally annex the main settlement blocs, half the West Bank, but will ultimately be forced to reoccupy the Palestinian cities and Gaza. (Avigdor Liberman, Israel’s foreign minister, has been urging the conquest of Gaza since the kidnappings took place.) Or vice versa, it doesn’t matter. What we will be left with, finally, is open-ended warehousing, the raw, naked imprisonment of an entire people. Israel thinks that’s a good thing. It believes it can imprison a people and get away with it. It can “win.” Such is its faith in the protection afforded by the American Congress and its usefulness as one of the world’s major purveyors of arms and security.
But here is where Israel misreads the political map. If left solely to governments, Israel could certainly prevail, for they merely manage conflicts rather than resolve them. But the Palestinian issue has assumed the proportions of the anti-apartheid struggle. And as in that struggle, the international civil society of political and activist groups, human rights organizations, trade unions, churches, students, intellectuals and an ever-more critical public opinion has grown in strength to the point where governments cannot ignore it. The Israeli-Palestinian conflict is not merely a spat between two local groups; it has become a global conflict that disrupts and destabilizes the entire international system, the inflammable Middle East in particular. In the end, the unsustainability of warehousing Palestinians will force the hand of the international community.
When that happens in the not-too-distant future, possibilities for a truly just resolution of the conflict will emerge offering alternatives not available today – the possibility of a single democratic, bi-national state being at the fore. The Israeli government, so strong it does not know when to stop, will lead us to that moment. It will not be a partner in achieving a just peace, however. It will be up to us ultimately, the people, to formulate what a just resolution would be, and push it to fruition. The moment is coming. The question is, will we be ready to seize it?
Jeff Halper is the Director of the Israeli Committee Against House Demolitions. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.