Fascinating— I have just returned from a conference at a think tank where I had been the American Scholar- in-Residence a number of years ago. The topic of the round table discussion was a book of essays posing a series of questions -“out of the box”- in an effort to move toward a peaceful settlement of the Israeli/Palestine disputes.
After an introduction to the assembled group by the two editors of the book (one clearly neutral and the other not), we heard from two of their many “experts” who had written chapters. The two experts that participated at the conference each represented one of the two sides in this ongoing war of words and rockets. One was an Israeli security expert and the second a Palestinian activist, policy coordinator, and practicing law in Palestine.
During the entire two plus hours of discussion and some questions from those who were present and those who had joined internationally by telephone, it became more apparent that those on the side of the Palestinian cause constantly referred to the Israeli “occupation” of the Palestinian’s and “their” land. Namely, by their unspoken definition: the forceful, illegal occupation of the land of another.
At times, words just floated by, and then at an odd moment my thinking about the language being employed by some of the participants in this tense setting, there was a revelation. I realized for the first time that the word “Occupation” was such a powerful, pejorative, buzz word. Especially if uttered over and over again until it becomes by mere repetition and inflection a proven fact and thus true. For those of us who lack that little nugget of history that created the word and it’s evolution in that part of the world, let me remind you of the following:
In May of 1948, when the United Nations voted for the creation of an Israeli statehood, the Arab states began their first attempt to not merely forestall but destroy the creation of what was a legally created, sovereign area, and to do so by an immediate, armed attack. Not by one country but by Arab forces from Egypt, Transjordan (Jordan), Iraq, Syria, and Lebanon. In the process, they captured East Jerusalem, including the Jewish quarter of the old City. This war lasted into 1949. Then let me skip one war and go to the third conflict, the more famous one—The Six Day War.
The Third Arab-Israeli War or the Six-Day War or the June War or the Third Arab-Israeli War was short, decisive and with a continuing contentious history –June 5–10, 1967. The famous Six-Day War witnessed the capture by the Israeli army of the Sinai Peninsula, Gaza Strip, West Bank, Old City of Jerusalem, and the Golan Heights. Prior to the start of the war, attacks conducted against Israel by Palestinian guerrilla groups based in Syria, Lebanon, and Jordan had increased, leading to high volume of Israeli reprisals. In November 1966, Israel launched an air strike on the village of Al-Samūʿ in the Jordanian West Bank that left 18 dead and 54 wounded. In April, during an air battle with Syria, the Israeli Air Force shot down six Syrian MiG fighter jets. Then in stepped the Soviet Union once again, after supplying the MiG fighter jets, with a created so-called intelligence report that indicated that Israel was planning a military campaign against Syria. Obviously, this further sharpened the tension between Israel and its not friendly Arab neighbors.
In the midst of all of the heightened tension, the Egyptian president, Gamal Abdel Nasser, had come under regional, scathing criticism by his Arab neighbors for his failure to aid Syria and Jordan against Israel; there was also increased accusation that he was hiding behind the United Nations Emergency Force (UNEF), stationed at Egypt’s border with Israel in the Sinai as a means of non-engagement. Nasser then did a 180 degree about face and mobilized Egyptian forces in the Sinai in support for Syria. On May 18th, he formally requested the removal of the neutral UNEF stationed in Egypt and on May 22nd, he closed the Gulf of Aqaba to Israeli shipping, blockading the port city of Elat in southern Israel. On May 30, King Hussein of Jordan arrived in Cairo and immediately signed a mutual defense pact with Egypt, placing Jordanian forces under Egyptian command; shortly thereafter, Iraq, too, joined the alliance.
In response to the mobilization of those who sought to terminate Israel’s existence, early on the morning of June 5, Israel staged a sudden, preemptive air assault and destroyed Egypt’s air force on the ground; later that day, it incapacitated a great deal of the Jordanian and Syrian air power. All the Arab air cover was then lost and, with it, their armies were left to a strategic and brutal attack by Israeli armed units.
The war was stopped by a United Nation’s demanded cease-fire on June 10. The international community was fearful of an Israeli march toward Cairo. At this point Israeli, units had driven Syrian forces back from the Golan Heights, taken control of the Gaza Strip and the Sinai Peninsula from Egypt and driven Jordanian forces from the West Bank. Notably, the Israelis were left in sole control of Jerusalem. And so we come to the claim of an illegal “occupation” by Israel from June 1967 to December 2014; – a total of forty-seven years that Israel has occupied certain portions of the captured land.
It is still, today, the aim of those who abhor Israel to eliminate its existence or to overrun its population with a forced flood of non-jews, namely Palestinians. The purpose is to eradicate, by one means or another, both the concept and physical existence of Israel. Today in Turkey, once a moderate state, once a temperate calm voice in the region, now chants for the death of all jews and acts as an echo of Hitler’s Nazi mantras. [As reported “On November 9, 2014, a sign [in Turkey] reading “This Location To Be Demolished” was hung on the entrance to Istanbul’s Neveh Shalom Synagogue; the synagogue has already been the target of two major terrorist attacks in which many congregants at prayer were killed and wounded.” ]
If the voice of Turkey is so stringent one need not have a great imagination to hear the voices of Israelis’ other neighbors, whose belligerency has been supported by continued armed violence all these years.
Let me digress for a moment to make an important historical point: It is now forty-seven years since the end of the Six Dar War. Those with the little knowledge of the history of World War II will know that there was a Pearl Harbor and the German invasion of all of Europe, The Bataan death march, and the concentration camps and the utter brutality of the European World War that ended in 1945. Germany and Berlin were then “occupied”. The last American occupation troops departed from Germany, when the Russian presence was terminated in 1994. That is a total of 49 years of Allied occupation of Germany; 47 years of Israeli “occupation.”
At no time during the allied occupation of Germany did the Germans shoot, bomb, and yell for the obliteration of America, France or England. Nor did they chant for the obliteration of Christianity. Nor did they support terrorism in the land of its occupiers. We did occupy Germany in the fullest sense of the word. And nobody, including the Germans, called it illegal. But, possibly more important, the individual German did not attempt to irradiate their occupiers.
Germany started the war and they lost the war. There is a penalty for that, and especially if you do not “surrender” even when “hostilities”, have been terminated.
Do I need to draw a clearer distinction between the “occupation” of Germany and the present state affairs in Israel? Let me repeat: When you start and lose and yet continue hostilities, there are consequences. You are not entitled under any international, moral or ethical rules to the return of your weapon, and you will, if you continue the hostilities, be considered to be dangerous, aggressive and at war. There is, at that moment, however long, a reason for occupation.