by Heidi Basch
Is it possible that, for the Israeli government, the benefits of peace do not outweigh the costs of occupation?
Is it possible that Israel’s decision-makers consider expansion of settlements and continued brutality and humiliation of Palestinians in the public and private spheres of life preferable to a just peace resulting in an acceptable Palestinian state to the Palestinians? If so, why does the Israeli government continue to arrange peace talks and negotiations? And if it is true that the government of Israel has no intention to participate in result-yielding negotiations with Palestinian leaders and the international community, the occupation will never end. Unless, en masse, the Israeli public realizes that the status quo is unacceptable and must change immediately.
After attending “What Kinds of Borders?” an event hosted by Israel-Palestine Center for Research and Information (IPCRI), at the Ambassador Hotel in East Jerusalem on Monday, October 7, 2007, these are some of the thoughts running through my mind.
IPCRI’s Robin Twite moderated presentations offered by Prof. David Newman, a political geographer from Ben Gurion University and Hadash Party Member of Knesset, Dr. Hana Swaid on the location, function and significance of present and future borders between Israel and Palestine. Each speaker offered his expertise from his professional experience in academia for Newman, and in politics for Swaid, to generate discussion on this critical issue to the Palestine-Israel conflict.
Newman posed the questions: What is a border? What can it be? What should it be? How does it help or hinder the free movement of people in the world and more specifically in this region? The territory question has always been the same, said Newman. How do we divide a small piece of territory between two distinct national peoples? For Newman, the answer to this question remains elusive but urgently pressing.
Contrary to the greater global trend toward "borderlessness," in this part of the world it is necessary to construct borders, Newman advised. Eventually, borders established between Israel and Palestine can be used as bridges instead of barriers — economically, socially and culturally — similar to the European Union, for example. Perhaps, after two or three generations of nonviolence enclaves may become possible within these entities. For now, however, compact and contiguous lines are vital to the borders of both Israel and Palestine. Thus, settlements within in Palestine are unfeasible, stated Newman.
Speaking with an insider’s knowledge of Knesset debates and discussions, Swaid called for an immediate end to the occupation with the establishment of borders as a secondary goal. The current political situation created by the Kadima-led Israeli government will not allow real decisions to be arrived at in the peace process, said Swaid. Moreover, the division between Hamas and Fateh in Gaza and the West Bank renders the Palestinian governing powers incapable of making decisions and implementing them, claimed Swaid. Most importantly, Swaid noted the cessation of the occupation as the most vital issue to address because it is in all parties’ interests to end it.
I believe that parallel to a process of creating physical borders and delineating two viable states, Israel and Palestine, a border between morality and immorality needs to be established within the greater Israeli public. There has to be a line that the Israeli public must realize it has crossed by its silence, its inattention and its willingness to dehumanize an entire Palestinian people via prolonged military occupation. Once having accepted that this border has been crossed, the Israeli public must also recognize that this border is in fact permeable, not sealed, and there are steps to be taken toward a more humane reality. What steps can the Israeli people take to cross back over the border between humanism and brutalism? How can it influence the Israeli government to implement policy that helps the State end such an oppressive, debilitating regime?
Indisputably, Israelis have suffered tremendously throughout the years from violence and the psychological fatigue and damage that living in fear of one’s neighbor, perceived or actual, incurs upon a society’s well-being. However, one thing is inarguable, as indicated by the sustained occupation: Israel has the upper hand in infrastructure, stability and the very fact that it is an established state. Israel has the power to continue the violence. Israel also has the power to create peace. It is in the hands of the Israeli public to broker this peace. The Israeli public has to be willing to admit its faults and set boundaries for its government — boundaries that will prevent the government from following its inclination to continue an unjust, inhumane occupation.