Magazine article Tikkun

50 Years of Occupation: Working Principles for Where We Go from Here

Magazine article Tikkun

50 Years of Occupation: Working Principles for Where We Go from Here

Article excerpt

FIFTY YEARS OF Israel's Occupation of Palestinian territories is a sobering anniversary that warrants a thoughtful reassessment. Over the years, many have tried to end the Occupation and resolve the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. Strategies for ending the conflict have included diverse tactics: forging relationships on the ground between Israelis and Palestinians, listening compassionately to the concerns of both sides, criticizing Israeli government policies, or pressing for sanctions against Israel with the goal of ending its government's oppressive practices. As we take stock of these past efforts, it may be useful to identify four guiding principles that may inform our work to end the Occupation as we move forward.

1. Practice Tough Love: Avoid Both Harshness or Liberalism Toward Israel

Many strategies to end the Occupation have treated Israel either with unrelenting harshness (i.e., blaming Israel as the source of the problem) or excessive liberalism (i.e., uncritically backing Israel's actions). Neither harshness nor liberalism is an effective strategy to change behavior.

A harsh response to the Occupation might be to ban all academic and cultural contacts with all Israelis, including Israelis engaged in peace efforts. A liberal response might be to condone Israel's actions, maybe privately voicing concerns, but not wanting to make any public condemnations. A liberal response might also include deciding that Israel is doing the best it can, that it is the victim in the situation, and that the primary problem lies with the Palestinians. Neither of these responses will end the Occupation.

Campaigns like Boycott, Divest, and Sanctions (BDS), which have the goal of isolating Israel, are particularly harsh. Moreover, they can have limited effectiveness because isolating Jews from the rest of the world has been a component of anti-Semitism for hundreds of years.

For some groups, African heritage people for example, one of the core mechanisms of their oppression entailed ripping families apart, which was a systematic strategy for maintaining control. Destroying Black families is one of the unconscionable legacies of slavery in the U.S. For many Black people, fighting against the history of racism means creating opportunities to increase family connections: holding family reunions; developing a culture of taking relatives in; and calling each other, even on first meeting, brother or sister. For Jews, one of the historic mechanisms of their oppression had an opposite dynamic. While racism tore African heritage families apart, anti-Semitism forced Jews together, isolating them into ghettoes, separating them from the rest of the world. Fighting against Jewish oppression means ending the isolation of Jews from other peoples. Political movements that have the goal of isolating Israel may fail to recognize that their approach is consistent with a primary component of anti-Semitism: the isolation of Jews from the rest of the world. The inherent weakness in a strategy to effect a change in Israel's policies by punishing it through isolation fails to recognize how isolation triggers experiences of anti-Semitism, rendering Jews (or Israelis) less able to think clearly, less able to come up with fresh solutions, and ultimately less able to find ways to end the Occupation.

In the context of working to end the Occupation, tough love may be an alternative to treating Israel either harshly or liberally. Tough love in this case means adopting a broader perspective. How can we respond to Israel with compassion while at the same time requiring accountability? How do we communicate that Israel is inherently good, never deserving sole blame for the conflict, while at the same time rigorously insisting that its oppressive policies must end? Practicing tough love that steers between harshness and liberalism may allow a way forward. Organizations like T'ruah or Rabbis for Human Rights are examples of groups that are deeply connected to Israel while holding Israel accountable for human rights violations. …

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