Strangely, Israeli security typically requires land cleansed of Palestinians

by Yaniv Reich on January 15, 2010

There have been a couple excellent op-eds in the Israeli press recently, which examine the social psychological structures that allow Israelis to accept their little apartheid regime.

Here I want to summarize one of them, by the journalist Yitzhak Laor in Ha’aretz. First, he describes Israeli reactions to the recent High Court injunction to desegregate highway 443, one of the West Bank’s main highways. The panoply of responses to this ruling has ranged from concerns about increasing congestion on other Israeli highways to statements about “security”. An examination of these security arguments leads Laor to an uncomfortable conclusion:

Route 443 is a better example of the wide gap between Israelis’ self-image and the value of Israel and its arguments in the eyes of the international community. No propaganda campaign based on the cry “Gevalt, they’re killing us” can save the occupation from the understanding that this is not a dispute about Jewish existence. Either way, Israel does not know how to defend this existence without groaning that “the spider of the settlements is proving burdensome, please help us handle it so we can continue settling everywhere, including in East Jerusalem.”

What does Israeli logic say about Route 443 and barring Palestinians from using it for years, in the best traditions of apartheid? (Which is flourishing here but which we are not permitted to call by that name.) Logic dictates that we need this road because it shortens the distance to Jerusalem and eases congestion on Highway 1. But because this efficient road passes through occupied territory, and has done so for 42 years – a temporary occupation, of course (here, in the script, the Supreme Court justices call for a wink) – it endangers the lives of Israelis. This is because the inhabitants of the occupied territory don’t like the idea of their land being used without their permission.

Therefore, for our convenience, we have to prevent Palestinian drivers from using the road. Here, too, the Israeli argument ranges from arrogant fury, as in “Who are you tell us how to defend the lives of our children?” to “After all, we do want to see two states for two peoples, etc.” And as always, an examination of the argument reveals that what the Israelis call security, even when they are speaking absolutely sincerely, is not security but ownership of land cleansed of Arabs.

This is a very honest bit of introspection here. Are Israelis ready to justify absolutely anything in the name of security? To cite just one example, how is it conceivably construed as security that the government funds and protects Jewish ultranationalists as they steal Palestinian land, build their alien communities, and use them as a base from which to launch pogroms against local Palestinians?

The removal of Arabs from territories inhabited by Israelis has always been described as “security.” Anyone who carefully reads the debates about the military government in Arab-populated areas in the 1950s and ’60s will see that even in the most penetrating documents written in its defense, security arguments are linked to preventing Arab farmers from entering the land in question. (This is why the military government in Haifa, Jaffa, Acre, Ramle and Lod, in which Jews were settled, was abolished quickly, and the Arabs there bunched together in remote neighborhoods, whereas in the rural areas the military government was retained until 1967.)

Whatever the nature of the solution, from the Israeli point of view it always entails the removal of Arabs from areas where Jews live.

Over the years, Israelis have learned to see any territory in which there are Arabs as endangering their security. To guard against them it is permitted to remove them, or fence them in, or settle in their midst, and then to protect the settlers from the danger to their security, namely the Arabs around them. Thus the barbaric wall that runs “almost” along the Green Line is perceived by Israelis as a security need; it’s there to protect the security of [the settlements] Hashmonaim C, Maccabim D, Modi’in Ilit or Beit El. And for their convenience why should we care about the plight of the subjects of the occupation in [the Palestinian villages of] Bil’in, Na’alin or Bani Saleh?

Because anything can be justified in the Israeli mind on the basis of security, we become very upset when the outside world fails to understand why we must steal that newest bit of the West Bank or East Jerusalem. ‘Do they not understand the fact that we are under attack?’ is the common non-sequitur. Laor concludes that the real issue is not one of security, but one of convenience granted through the acquisition of more land and more water.

Our domestic consensus makes no sense to anyone outside Israel; it’s seen merely as a national inability to see the sand running out in the hourglass.

This is how we have arrived at the ludicrous conduct of the Netanyahu-Barak government toward the Palestinian Authority. The two-state solution was a gift the Palestinians offered Israel in the spirit of what Israel has always demanded: “You over there, we over here.” But that’s not what Israel really wants. Because if you have already conceded that, why shouldn’t you concede more and more until you disappear completely behind the walls of your ghetto?

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