Noam Chayut: Israeli occupation is neither moral nor legitimate


In 1979, the year I was born, the Israeli occupation of Gaza and the West Bank was 12 years old. I was 10 during the first Palestinian uprising, when my father and his comrades in a reserve unit forced innocent Palestinians out of their homes and shops and, as a form of collective punishment, sent them to clean the streets of graffiti opposing Israeli occupation.

When I joined the army, the 30th anniversary of occupation was being "celebrated", and three years later, as a young officer, I was sent with my soldiers to confront the second intifada. In one month of riots we killed a hundred Palestinians and many more were wounded by live ammunition.

We were told that our goal was "to sear into the consciousness of Palestinian civil society that terrorism doesn't pay." To achieve this, we were to "demonstrate our presence". This meant entering Palestinian residential areas at any time, day or night, throwing stun grenades, shooting in the air or at water tanks, throwing tear gas grenades, creating noise and fear. For the very same reason, we committed revenge attacks such as demolishing the homes of terrorists' families, or killing random Palestinian policemen (armed or unarmed): an eye for an eye, a tooth for a tooth. If militants attacked a road, we would close it to Palestinian traffic; if stones were thrown at cars on a road, we would place an indefinite curfew on the closest village.

The Israeli military regime over the Palestinian population is now in its 45th year, and while Palestinian violence has dramatically declined, Israeli soldiers still testify about being assigned to "disrupt the day-to-day routine" in Palestinian areas to create in the local community the feeling of "being constantly pursued".

It is still unclear what the Palestinian leadership will propose to the UN tomorrow, beyond recognition of a Palestinian state within the 1967 borders. We don't know if, or how, the outcome of any vote will be felt on the ground. However, testimonies from more than 750 former Israeli soldiers and officers who have served in the Occupied Territories over the past decade, make one thing clear: from the point of view of the Israeli army, the occupation is not a temporary means of controlling the population. There is no end to it in sight.

Those who oppose the recognition of a Palestinian state cling to a false belief that Israel's occupation is temporary, its aim to create political space for democratic rule in a future Palestine. This belief is what makes the occupation morally tolerable. Because if an occupation is a permanent one, it can only be illegitimate, not just because the ruler is foreign, but because controlling people via coercion and military orders is immoral.

Even if we accept that a 44-year-long occupation is still temporary in a 63-year-old state; if we ignore the reality of hundreds of thousands of Israeli Jews settled in Palestinian territories, or the existence of two separate and unequal legal regimes imposed on the two ethnic groups in the same small piece of land, it is hard to remain optimistic about Israel's intentions to evacuate, when we hear its soldiers' reports to Breaking The Silence, an NGO which collects their testimonies.

We should accept the fact that the army does not intend to withdraw from the Occupied Territories, and that the status quo is the Israeli government's plan for the future. We should take the Israeli Minister of Foreign Affairs – who lives in a settlement on Palestinian land – at face value when he declares there won't be peace even in 50 years.

When security and prosperity continue to flourish for "us", while liberty and freedom are continually withheld from "them", it is difficult to think of any other non-violent action the Palestinian leadership can take besides seeking international support for ending the Israeli occupation.

The writer is a former Israeli army officer and member of 'Breaking The Silence', an NGO which gathers and publishes testimony from soldiers and works in partnership with Christian Aid to expose the realities of Israel's occupation of the Palestinian territories

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