This piece in Vox.com (the news site established by Ezra Klein recently), “The end of ‘both sides’: Israel’s occupation of the West Bank is indefensible” by Max Fisher, has been recommended to their email lists by two of our bloggers, M.J. Rosenberg and Lilly Rivlin. It’s a nice complement to yesterday’s post by Nathan Hersh, “The Occupation has Failed.”
. . . Dozens of Palestinians have been arrested; some estimates say 120, some nearer to 80, but all agree that it includes the entire population of middle-aged and older men who work for Hamas’s political branch (remember that they are also a political party). The military has severely restricted Palestinian movement in Hebron, forbidden residents under age 50 from leaving the country, and completely shut down all movement in or out of Gaza and the southern West Bank . . .”
Israel has presented this as necessary for its search for the kidnapped Israeli teenagers, and certainly it is true that finding kidnapped kids in a not-so-friendly city requires checkpoints and security forces. But to many Palestinians the scale of the reaction, and its severe impact on thousands of civilians, looks an awful lot like collective punishment, the practice of punishing an entire population for the crimes [of] a few individuals, which is barred by the Geneva Conventions that regulate international conflict. Many of the 100,000 Palestinians who commute to jobs in Israel have been prevented from crossing the border to get to work, much less see family on the other side of the line, and in Gaza most gas stations have had to shut down for lack of fuel imports. The flavor of collective punishment has been reinforced by Netanyahu himself, who has repeatedly insisted that all of Hamas, and even the more moderate Palestinian government led by Mahmoud Abbas, are responsible for the three kidnapping victims.
The three days of escalation are a response to the kidnappings but, in many ways, are just the long, ongoing extension of the conflict and its inexorable eye-for-an-eye logic. . . .
There has always been, and there remains, plenty of culpability to go around in this conflict, plenty of individuals and groups that squandered peace and perpetuated suffering many times over. Everyone is complicit and no one is pure. The crisis over the kidnapped students shows all this. But it is [sic] also highlights what has become perhaps the most essential truth of the Israel-Palestine conflict: for all the complexity of how it came to be and why it’s continued, for all the shared responsibility for this week’s crisis and everything that led up to it, the conflict predominantly matters for the human suffering it causes. And today the vast majority of that suffering comes from Israel’s occupation of the Palestinian territories.
Today, the suffering has become so disproportionately administered by the occupation and so disproportionately felt by Palestinians that, in a conflict famous for its complexity and its gray areas, this is an issue that looks less gray all the time: the occupation is wrong, it is the problem, and Israel is responsible. . . .
I’m about 95-98% in agreement. I hedge slightly because there surely are die-hards who will not accept peace with Israel within any boundaries. And I daresay that if there had not been a serious problem of terror attacks on Israelis even during the high point of the Oslo years under Rabin and Peres, Israel would likely have moved forward to completely end the occupation.
Yet this is a complicated history; one should not forget that the first massive terrorist event during the Oslo period was the murder of 29 Palestinians at prayer in Hebron by Baruch Goldstein, a settler and disciple of Meir Kahane. And even the despicable terror wave of Feb.-March 1996 was a reaction to the Shin Bet killing of Yihya Ayyash (the Hamas master bomb-maker); still, Netanyahu would not have been elected the first time to slow the Oslo process to a meaningless crawl if not for those horrific attacks on buses and pedestrians in Jerusalem and Tel Aviv during the 1996 election campaign. The occupation must end, but the conflict predates the Six Day War conquests, and that must end as well.