The Violent Nature of Israeli Occupation

Foreign military occupation is, by definition, a form of international armed conflict resulting from the belligerent acquisition of territory outside of the recognized sovereign domain of the occupying power. Article 42 of the Hague Regulations of 1907 states that, “Territory is considered occupied when it is actually placed under the authority of the hostile army.” Israel’s occupation of Palestine demonstrates, however, that an occupying power is always hostile. And indeed, the primary lesson learned over the past seven decades of conflict in the Middle East is that there is no such thing as a benign or compassionate occupation, regardless of the identity of the occupied party, or that of the occupying power.

Tragically, the Israeli military regime in control of the occupied Palestinian territories has survived in part because of the bias and indifference of the international community, which has failed to prioritize a just and peaceful resolution to the Palestinian-Israeli conflict for a multitude of regional and international reasons. This has conferred a sense of permanency on the occupation and resulted in an endless, self-perpetuating cycle of violence that has victimized innocent civilians on all sides of the conflict, with serious economic and national security implications for the international community.

Recent confrontations in occupied Jerusalem and the rest of the occupied West Bank signal a significant rise in violence and counterviolence, which has prompted international expressions of concern that seem to have little impact on the escalating disruption of daily lives in the region. Last weekend, for example, at the end of the Jewish holiday of Sukkot, four Palestinians were killed in clashes with Israeli troops and 50 people were arrested in Jerusalem and in surrounding Palestinian villages and towns.

Israel then resorted to its standard practice of collective punishment by imposing a total closure of border crossings to the West Bank and the Gaza Strip, and allowing Israeli colonial settlers to rampage against civilians unimpeded. However, Israel’s clampdown has led to a visible uptick in violence, despite Israeli military claims of successful raids against Palestinian militants and peaceful protesters.

This wave of violent clashes is by no means a series of isolated incidents. Indeed, according to BBC News, “At least 100 Palestinians have been killed in the occupied West Bank and East Jerusalem this year amid a massive increase in Israeli military raids.” And according to the UN Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs,  “So far, 2022, is the highest year for Palestinian fatalities in the West Bank, compared to the same period in the previous 16 years.” Meanwhile, the widespread violence in the Jerusalem area has been described as “the fiercest unrest in the contested city in months.” Are these recurrent waves of violence inevitable and why are they not diminishing in response to Israel’s coercive crackdown? 

It Is the Occupation, Stupid

First, the tendency of political analysts focusing on protracted conflicts, such as that between Israel and Palestine, is to become numb in the face of the persistent display of agony, suffering, and despair among the occupied people and the ever-growing moral corruption emanating from the hardened policies and violent practices of the occupier. Occupation in Palestine indeed encompasses a daily vicious cycle of abuse and the denial of fundamental rights, and continues to fester, particularly in the absence of a political horizon for the settlement of the underlying conflict and the bringing about of an effective end to the subjugation of one population by another for political reasons.

The Israeli defense establishment has evidently failed to understand after its 55 years of military occupation of the remaining parts of historic Palestine the advice of former UN Special Rapporteur Michael Lynk, who stated that violence begets violence, and that increased violence by an occupying power necessarily promotes more violent resistance on the part of the occupied. Like all other occupied peoples throughout history, Palestinians insist on exercising their right to resist what they deem as an illegal foreign occupation. That is exactly what has been unfolding on the streets of East Jerusalem, Nablus, Hebron, and Jenin in recent weeks, and it is guaranteed to endure as long as Israel continues to illegally occupy Palestinian territory.

The Language of Force

Second, any objective analysis of Israel’s Zionist mindset and its policies toward the Palestinians must note with concern the adamant and longstanding Israeli belief that it is justified in its use of force when it comes to managing its conflict with the Palestinians. Even at the inception of the Zionist enterprise in Palestine, Israel’s founders espoused the condescending psychological fabrication that the Palestinians “only understand the language of force.”

That fabrication eventually evolved into an Israeli military strategy based on the excessive use of force to keep the Palestinians at bay and to prevent them from resisting permanent occupation by Israel. Haifa-born psychiatrist Jay Y. Gonen quoted a memorable Hebrew saying often heard after the 1967 War that, “Perhaps there is no choice but to bleed the ‘Arabushim’ [a derogatory term for Arabs] every few years.” This racist and offensive language and mindset unfortunately still governs much of Israel’s occupation.

“No Legitimate Partner” in Palestine

Third, and most relevant at this stage of the Palestinian-Israeli conflict, is the inability or unwillingness of most Israelis to accept any legitimate national claims by Palestinians in the historic land of Palestine. The number of Jewish Israelis who view the Palestinians as legitimate potential partners in a future political settlement continues to dwindle, and is now a miniscule percentage of Israeli society that holds little impact on current or future Israeli policies. This deeply entrenched attitude on the Israeli side contributes significantly to the radicalization of Palestinian youth, and for that matter of Israeli youth as well.

Despite Israeli Prime Minister’s Yair Lapid’s assertion before the UN General Assembly on September 22, 2022 that Israel strives for peace and that “a large majority of Israelis support the vision of this two-state solution,” recent public opinion polls in Israel indicate that only 39 percent of Israelis support a two-state solution, down from 46 percent in December 2019 and 54 percent in August 2017. And just 36 percent of Jewish Israelis think that a government that is formed after the country’s November 1 elections should attempt to work toward a two-state solution. This is precisely the negative message that is resonating in the streets and alleys of Palestinian villages and refugee camps.

No wonder, then, that President Joe Biden, who recently emphasized that the United States was one of “the earliest supporters of a two-state solution,” had to admit to his Palestinian hosts during his July 15 visit to Bethlehem that, “The ground is not ripe at this moment to restart negotiations.” What we are witnessing on the ground across the West Bank is exactly the unfortunate alternative to these supposedly unattainable negotiations.

Featured image credit: Shutterstock/Ryan Rodrick Beiler