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Israel’s Endgame: Warehousing Palestinians

Jeff Halper Jul 16

Both the blatantly disproportionate response to the kidnapping and killing of three Israeli boys in June and, as I write in mid-July, the all-out air strikes on Gaza have been cast by Israel as military operations: Operations Brothers’ Keeper and Operation Protective Edge. Neither had anything to do with the operations’ purported triggers, the search for the boys or rocket fire from Gaza. 

Palestinian cities supposedly enjoying extra-territorial status were invaded in Operation Brothers’ Keeper, more than 2,000 homes were ransacked, some 700 people arrested. Who knows as yet the devastation wrought on Gaza — as The Indypendent goes to press, close to 200 are dead in more than 1,300 airstrikes, mostly civilians according to reports; deafening around-the-clock bombing of communities by American-supplied F-15 and artillery from the ground and sea that amounts to collective torture; Israel’s foreign minister calling for cutting off all electricity and water amid threats to completely obliterate Gaza’s infrastructure; and the prospect of almost two million people being permanently imprisoned, reduced to bare existence just this side of starvation. 

What is clear is that the military operations had a purpose of their own, that they would have been launched regardless, that they were merely waiting for a pretext. They had to come because the vacuum left by Secretary of State John Kerry’s failed peace process initiative had to be filled. 

In fact, the end of the Kerry initiative marked the culmination of a decades-old campaign, systematic and deliberate, of eliminating the two-state solution. From the start, in 1967, successive Israeli governments officially denied that there even was an occupation, claiming that since the Palestinians had never had a state of their own they had no national claim to the land. The Labor Party denied the very applicability of the Fourth Geneva Convention that protects civilian populations finding themselves under hostile rule with no means of self-defense — and which had been formulated specifically with the intent of providing the protection denied to Jews during the Holocaust. It therefore embarked on a project of establishing settlements, now numbering some 200, in clear violation of international law that prohibits an occupying power from moving its civilian population into an occupied territory. 

Later governments fragmented the Palestinian territories into tiny and impoverished enclaves, imposed the economic closure and impediments to Palestinian movement of these past 21 years and initiated the construction of the West Bank barrier, the apartheid wall.

It has now fallen to Netanyahu to kill the two-state solution once and for all. The first step was to decisively end Kerry’s initiative and any that might follow it. Netanyahu did this by raising his demands to intolerable levels. He declared that the Palestinians must relinquish their own national narrative and civil rights by recognizing Israel as a Jewish state, and he held to the position that Israel would permanently retain East Jerusalem, the Jordan Valley and Israel’s main settlement blocs (about a third of the West Bank), as well as the water and natural gas resources, the country’s electro-magnetic sphere (communications) and all of its airspace. 

He left the Palestinians with less than a Bantustan, non-viable and non-sovereign, a prison composed of the 70 islands of Areas A and B of the West Bank, ghettos in “east” Jerusalem, tightly contained enclaves within Israel and the cage which is Gaza — half the population of the land between the Mediterranean and the Jordan River confined to dozens of islands on 15 percent of historic Palestine.

The end of the political process, futile as it may have been, triggered the collapse of the status quo as we have known it for the past 47 years. It set in motion a series of events that will confront us with two stark alternatives regarding Israel and Palestine: either the permanent warehousing of an entire population or the emergence of a single democratic state.

Operations Brothers’ Keeper and Protective Edge represent the imposition of a warehousing regime, of outright imprisonment of an entire people. The seemingly blind and atavistic destruction and hatred unleashed on the Palestinians in these operations is not merely yet another “round of violence” in an interminable struggle. It is the declaration of a new political reality. The message is clear, unilateral and final: This country has been Judaized and it is now the Land of Israel in the process of being incorporated into the state of Israel. 

Warehousing is worse than apartheid. It does not even pretend to find a political framework for “separate development,” it simply jails the oppressed and robs them of all their collective and individual rights. It is the ultimate form of oppression before actual genocide, and in that it robs a people of its identity, its land, its culture and the ability to reproduce itself, it is a form of cultural genocide that can lead to worse. This is what Israel has left the Palestinians, this is the meaning of the bombing of Gaza, the terrorizing of the West Bank and the ongoing destruction of Bedouin and Palestinian homes within Israel.

Assuming that apartheid and warehousing are absolutely unacceptable “solutions” and, indeed, are ultimately unsustainable, generating even more violence and conflict in the volatile Middle East, Israel has in fact left us with only one workable, just and lasting way out: a single democratic state in Palestine/Israel that guarantees the individual and collective rights of all its citizens. This is what we must now struggle for. 

Jeff Halper is the director of the Israeli Committee Against House Demolitions (ICAHD). This article was adapted from an earlier version that appeared at mondoweiss.net.