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Zionism and the occupation - Israel and the Palestinians
August 1, 2005

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Part of : Zionism and Israel - Issues and Answers FAQ

Doesn't the Occupation Prove that Zionism is Evil and Expansionist?

No country has ever had its legitimacy called into question because it occupied the lands of another country. Nobody believes the United States should be destroyed because it is occupying Iraq, or that Iraq should be destroyed because it occupied Kuwait. This strange argument is applied only to Israel,  and along with it, the legal non-sequitor, "illegal occupation." Occupation of territory after a war, and in the absence of a peace agreement,  is not illegal under international law.

Nobody should live under occupation. The current occupation is not the result of "Zionism" but of the refusal of Arab Palestinians to live in peace with Israel. It is complicated by the beliefs of some Israelis in "Greater Israel," which was not a part of mainstream historical  Zionist ideology and does not have consensus support of all Zionists.

In the view of most Israeli Zionists, the occupation is not a part of Zionist ideology. The issue was joined when former Israeli Prime Minister Ariel Sharon proposed unilateral Israeli withdrawal from the Gaza strip. Extremists of both sides forecast the end of Zionism. It was nothing of the sort. Israel withdrew, Zionism remained intact. Palestinian terrorists continued an unrelenting barrage of rocket fire on peaceful towns and kibbutzim inside Green line Israel, though no Israeli troops or settlers were in Gaza any longer. Anti-Zionists continued to decry the "Israeli occupation" and ignore the suffering of Israeli civilians.

When someone says "End the occupation," ask them what lands are occupied in their view. For many years,  the Arabs of Palestine claimed that all of Israel is "occupied" Palestine. For a brief time, it seemed that the PNA had given up these claims. However,  the Palestinian Authority presents maps that show "Palestine" as all of Israel. Palestinian Chairman Mahmoud Abbas insists that "peace" must include the right of Palestinian refugees to return en masse to Israel, which would destroy its role a national home for the Jews. Abbas represents the moderate view.  The Palestinian areas are currently ruled by the Hamas movement, whose  charter claims that all of Palestine is a holy waqf (religious endowment) given to the Muslims by Allah. At the end of days, proclaims the charter, Muslims will murder all the Jews. Meanwhile, they will be satisfied to do away with the Jews in Palestine.

Cartoon: Where is the occupation? Israel and the Hamas

 Nick Anderson, The Louisville Courier-Journal December 9, 2001

We can show that the violence is not about the occupation, because the conflict did not begin in 1967, when the occupation began, and anti-Zionism and Arab objections to the existence of Israel did not begin then either. All of the ills that have befallen the Arabs of Palestine result in large part from their refusal to allow Jewish settlement in their midst. Violent opposition began with the riots and massacres of the 1920s, and continued in the 1948 war of independence. Despite the opposition of Palestinian Arabs, the Jews of Palestine built a state, and because of the war, the Arabs of Palestine were deprived of their own chance for self determination. Their opposition to Israel was expressed as Palestinian Arab nationalism in the formation of the Fatah and the PLO, well before 1967. These organizations aimed to destroy all of Israel, "occupied" by the "Zionist entity." Given that position, it was hardly likely that Israel could negotiate peace with the Arabs of Palestine.

Gamal Nasser closed the straits of Tiran and threatened to annihilate Israel in 1967.  The PLO declared that their goal was to evict every Jew who had entered Israel after 1917.  Jordanian guns fired continuously on Jerusalem and other parts of Israel despite warnings to stay out of the conflict.  Israel was forced to defend itself. The territories were conquered primarily as "hostages for peace." This was an Israeli government decision, and it was repeated often and openly in public speeches by Israeli officials in the summer of 1967. However,  it soon became apparent that there would be no peace negotiations. At the Khartoum conference, the Arab states vowed, "no peace, no negotiations, no recognition." In their 1968 covenant, the PLO vowed to "liberate" all of "Palestine" - including Israel. 

Until 1967, the West Bank was part of Jordan and Gaza was administered by Egypt. Israel did not prevent the Palestinians from forming a state, but they did not do so. The 1949 armistice borders were never recognized by any Arab state. They were meant to be the basis of peace talks, not permanent borders, but the peace talks never happened.  In international law, an occupied territory is territory of another sovereign that has been conquered in war. Jordan renounced its claims to the West Bank, and Egypt never claimed the Gaza strip as part of its territory. The Palestinians do not have a state, and have said they do not want a state with interim borders. Therefore the legal status of these territories as "occupied" is dubious. Eugene Rostow explained:

The West Bank and the Gaza Strip were never parts of Jordan, and Jordan's attempt to annex the West Bank was not generally recognized and has now been abandoned. The two parcels of land are parts of the Mandate that have not yet been allocated to Jordan, to Israel, or to any other state, and are a legitimate subject for discussion. (Eugene Rostow, The New Republic, October 21, 1991. " Resolved: are the settlements legal? Israeli West Bank policies")

International law distinguishes between  "aggressive conquest" and territorial disputes arising after a war of self-defense. Former US State Department Legal Advisor Stephen Schwebel, later head of the International Court of Justice in the Hague, wrote in 1970 regarding Israel's case:

Where the prior holder of territory had seized that territory unlawfully, the state which subsequently takes that territory in the lawful exercise of self-defense has, against that prior holder, better title.

Julius Stone wrote:

Because the Jordanian entry onto the West Bank and East Jerusalem in 1948 was an unlawful invasion and an aggression, the principle ex iniuria non oritur ius beclouded even Jordan's limited status of belligerent occupant. Her purported annexation was invalid on that account, as well as because it violated the freezing provisions of the Armistice Agreement. Conversely Israel's standing in East Jerusalem after her lawful entry in the course of self-defence certainly displaced Jordan's unlawful possession.

Once this position is reached, and it is remembered that neither Jordan nor any other state is a sovereign reversioner entitled to re-enter the West Bank, the legal standing of Israel takes on new aspects. She becomes then a state in lawful control of territory in respect of which no other state can show better (or, indeed, any) legal title. The general principles of international law applicable to such a situation, moreover, are well-established. The International Court of Justice, when called upon to adjudicate in territorial disputes, for instance in the Minquires and Echrehos case between the United Kingdom and France, proceeded "to appraise the relative strength of the opposing claims to sovereignty". Since title to territory is thus based on a claim not of absolute but only of relative validity, the result seems decisive in East Jerusalem. No other state having a legal claim even equal to that of Israel under the unconditional cease-fire agreement of 1967 and the rule of uti possidetis, this relative superiority of title would seem to assimilate Israel's possession under international law to an absolute title, valid erga omnes...

The most succinct statement of this position is in Professor Stephen Schwebel’s What Weight to Conquest? published in 1970, before he entered U.S. government service. He points out that the answer to that question in terms of international law, after the Charter’s prohibitions of the use of force, makes necessary a vital distinction "between aggressive conquest and defensive conquest, between the taking of territory legally held and the taking of territory illegally held":

"Those distinctions may be summarized as follows:

a) A state acting in lawful exercise of its right of self-defence may seize and occupy foreign territory as long as such seizure and occupation are necessary to its self-defence.
b) As a condition of its withdrawal from such territory, that state may require the institution of security measures reasonably designed to ensure that that territory shall not again be used to mount a threat or use force against it of such a nature as to justify exercise of self-defence.
c) Where the prior holder of the territory had seized that territory unlawfully, the state which subsequently takes that territory in the lawful exercise of self-defense has, against that prior holder, better title."

If the territories are not occupied under international law, then Israeli settlements in those territories are not illegal. Nonetheless, without necessarily relinquishing moral and historical claims, many Zionists have come to recognize that another people live in Gaza and the West Bank. The Arabs of Palestine have declared themselves to be a nation, just as we Jews recognized our own nationhood in the Zionist movement. Most Zionists now recognize that we must take cognizance of Palestinian national aspirations. However, at the same time, and by the same logic, the Arabs of Palestine and their supporters must honor the Jewish right to self determination.

The occupation was for many years relatively benign.  Palestinian Arabs worked in Israeli towns and Israelis visited Arab towns. There was no "Apartheid" and the checkpoints were usually a formality.

A part of the Zionist public believed that the newly conquered territories should be part of Israel. They included areas  that had held Jewish communities for many years, as well as holy places of the Jewish religion such as the wailing wall in Jerusalem, the tomb of Rachel near Bethlehem, and the tomb of Abraham in Hebron. They included areas such as Gush Etzion, Atarot and the old city of Jerusalem, where Jewish communities had been ethnically cleansed and expelled or forced to flee in 1948. Nonetheless, initially, the majority consensus in Israel was that most, or all of these territories would be returned in return for a genuine peace offer.

As the years passed, attitudes hardened. In 1975, the UN passed the infamous "Zionism is Racism" resolution. Israeli political sentiment veered to the right in reaction, and the Labor government was forced to allow the founding of Elon Moreh. In 1977, the rightist Likud party came to power. They believed in the cause of Greater Israel, and they gave settlement expansion a big boost. However, even the leader of the Likud, Ariel Sharon, has come to understand that it is wrong to rule over another people.

Optimism over a reasonable solution that would allow self-determination for both sides was born in the Oslo accords. Unfortunately, though the PLO officially renounced violence in the Oslo accords, Palestinian Arab extremist organizations began a series of lethal terror attacks, forcing Israel to institute a harsh regime of checkpoints, and to build "Jews only" bypass roads to Jewish settlements. In 2000, the negotiations broke down and the Palestinian Arabs resorted to terror attacks and suicide bombings in Israeli cities. At one point, there were 130 Israeli casualties in a single week. To control the bombings, Israel stepped up the regime of checkpoints and is building a security fence. These measures undoubtedly cause regrettable hardship to the Palestinians. However, they were implemented reluctantly. They are not the result of an "apartheid" ideology, as critics claim, nor are they attempts to "ethnically cleanse" Palestinians. They are security measures implemented with the greatest reluctance. In particular, the security fence contradicts the "Greater Israel" ideology and is certainly not a product of radical Zionism.

The occupation is more benign than its critics would have you believe. The "evils of the occupation" have been deliberately exaggerated by Palestinians and enemies of Israel. Officials of the Palestinian Authority spread false rumors that Israel was injecting Palestinian children with AIDs and distributing poisoned candies, that Israel had dumped radioactive waste in the West Bank, that Israel was irradiating Palestinians and giving them cancer at checkpoints, and that Israel had killed over 500 Palestinians in Jenin in operation "Defensive Wall." Several anti-Zionist writers insisted that the Israeli government is engaged in a diabolical plot to ethnically cleanse the Palestinians of Gaza and the West Bank, offering no proof at all. None of these rumors and announcements have any truth to them. They are part of a propaganda war aimed at justifying terrorism and extremist demands.

Ami Isseroff


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