This column deals with the occupation, namely Israel’s control over the West Bank, which is an area west of the Jordan River. It was controlled by the Hashemite Kingdom of Jordan between 1949 and 1967. Jordan declared war on Israel in June 1967 and was defeated. Israel then took control of the West Bank.
Full disclosure: This column is written by someone who has a passionate love for Israel. Its proclamation of independence (1948) established the principles on which the country was founded, including: “The State of Israel will promote the development of the country for the benefit of all its inhabitants; will be based on the precepts of freedom, justice and peace taught by the Hebrew prophets; will maintain the full social and political equality of all its citizens without distinction of race, creed or sex…”.
Within its own internationally recognized borders, Israel has largely respected these principles.
I also love my Jewish religion, which includes teachings against the oppression of others.
I have been to Israel five times, as a kibbutz worker, university student and just a tourist. Three of those times Israel was at war. Although I didn’t experience anything like a typical Israeli family, I suffered artillery shelling and a terrorist bomb exploded in the university library building while I was studying there. Our whole family was in Israel when suicide bombers (actually homicides) blew up crowded buses and restaurants. About 1,000 Israeli civilians were murdered during this reign of terror.
Because of my love for Israel, my Jewish religion and my experiences, this column is painful to write. However, as the prophet Isaiah said, “For Zion’s sake I will not be silent…”
Tragically, the occupation destroys the moral foundation of the Jewish and democratic state that Israel has sacrificed so much to build and defend.
I am not naive. Some Israeli military presence in the West Bank is necessary. Israel cannot allow the West Bank to become another Gaza, launching rocket attacks against Israeli citizens. However, abuses against Palestinians there are not necessary for Israel’s security.
Here is a short list of Israel’s abusive behavior during the occupation: There are two sets of laws, one for Israelis and one for Palestinians. Israel built Jewish settlements in the West Bank, often on land expropriated from Palestinian Arabs. The Jewish population of the colonies is now about 475,000. Water resources have been allocated by Israel largely in favor of Jewish settlements over neighboring Palestinian communities.
Following a list of unjustifiable reasons, Israel destroys Palestinian homes and other structures. Jewish settlers attack Palestinians and their property with impunity. The Israeli army and police offer little protection to Palestinians. Palestinians are subjected to humiliating searches without any apparent provocation. Movement between Palestinian communities can be blocked at any time, for any reason or even for no reason at all.
The United States works with governments around the world that do things far worse than the occupation. This is the geopolitical reality. That said, our government, caring for both Israel and the Palestinians, can help end the occupation.
Here is what I suggest:
1. The United States should continue to provide Israel with the weapons it needs to defend itself against countries that wish to destroy it. Currently, the annual cost of these weapons, approximately $3.8 billion, is borne by US taxpayers. This financial support must be reduced or removed from the amount Israel spends each year to fund settlements and maintain oppressive control over Palestinian residents of the West Bank.
Americans should help Israel defend itself but not indirectly subsidize the occupation. Furthermore, if Israel faces a higher financial cost for the occupation, it could become more sensitive to the legitimate rights of Palestinians.
2. President Biden is planning a trip to the Middle East in July. One of the main goals is to encourage regional defense cooperation between Israel, Saudi Arabia and several Arab states in the Persian Gulf to deter a common threat from Iran. These are positive developments, especially as Iran moves ever closer to building an atomic bomb.
The United States recently upgraded its diplomatic office in Jerusalem for relations with the Palestinians and President Biden is notably planning a meeting in the West Bank during his visit. These are also positive steps.
The trip is also an opportunity for Biden to tell Israel that he must end the expansion of settlements and the destruction of Palestinian homes. These actions must be taken immediately and definitively. In addition, the United States should make it clear that it opposes Israel’s annexation of any territory in the West Bank. Israel has ignored polite diplomatic communications in the past. Biden needs to speak loudly and publicly now.
It is important to note that I condemn the actions of those Palestinian leaders who encouraged the killing of Israeli citizens and rejected land for peace proposals that certainly seemed reasonable to objective observers. I support the national rights of the Palestinian people to a viable and independent Palestinian state. Due to lack of space, these topics could not be covered in today’s column.
Chief Rabbi Hillel taught us 2,000 years ago: “Do not do to others what would be heinous if done to you. It is the Torah in its entirety. Everything else is commentary…” If Israel does not live up to this teaching, and the principles of its own Proclamation of Independence, everything else is tragedy.
Richard Fein holds a Master of Arts in Political Science and an MBA in Economics. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.