by Deborah Guterman
Three years ago in Montreal, I sat with a friend at a local fast food joint for dinner. We were discussing the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. As a Jewish girl from an apolitical family with a love for fiction, not news, I mostly listened. We spoke of the controversy over an IDF recruitment campaign taking place at Concordia University. In 2002, the university attracted international attention when a group of students rioted against a scheduled visit of former Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu. Concordia University, home to a large percentage of Arab and Muslim students, is often affectionately and not so affectionately referred to as Gaza U.
Despite a lack of familiarity with the conflict, I felt an instinctive need to defend Israel. “But it’s just a national army seeking to recruit new soldiers. It is any nation’s prerogative to build up its defense forces,” I said. “No,” my friend replied. “It’s different: The IDF is an army of occupation.”
An army of occupation
. I was struck by his words and the gravity with which he pronounced them. Yes, I knew some Israeli history and yes, I had heard of the Occupied Territories, but the term had never made an impact on me. What did it mean to be occupied? I wondered.
Today, to me, the term occupation
is not one devoid of meaning. Today, it is a term that connotes the ability of one nation to systematically expropriate the territory of another. It is a term through which Palestinian territory has been transformed into eleven enclosed Bantustans. A term by which agricultural land (the livelihood of many) is razed under the catchall idea of security. A term by which Israeli taxpayer dollars directly and indirectly fund settlers who abuse, subjugate, humiliate, spit on, and often occupy the homes of their Palestinian neighbors without consequence. It is part of a political logic that condones the construction of a segregated road network. A logic by which the Palestinians of Jerusalem are, one by one, stripped of their right to live on the land on which they were born. An occupation supported by a military establishment able to act with impunity.
For those who do not experience it first hand, then, occupation
continues to exist as an abstract idea, and as such, a tolerated characteristic of a war between two nations.
When I first began to study Middle Eastern and Israeli history, I remember feeling betrayed by assumptions I had never thought to question. My Jewish education had instilled in me a sense of the moral superiority of those of my community; a community in which tzedakah
– charity and, more fundamentally, justice – was a core principle. It had never occurred to me that Jews too could adhere to the premises of realpolitik – could attack, could rape, could pillage. War is war and men are men after all.
In high school history, we were told that the Arab-Israeli conflict was one over land. Today, I feel differently. The Arab-Israeli conflict is one not about land, but about one’s rights and obligations. If one subscribes to the philosophy that politics are truly Hobbesian in nature; that security and prosperity is a zero-sum game; that Jewish interests can only be guaranteed at the expense of Palestinian wellbeing; then the Israeli enterprise in the Occupied Territories is one that is justifiable. To me, the Arab-Israeli conflict is one not about land, but about one’s rights and obligations to his fellow man. Thus, if one believes, as I was taught to believe, that we are moral beings with obligations to our neighbors, then the Israeli campaign in the Occupied Territories is nothing more than despicable and misguided.