Tuesday, June 16, 2009

Is the Occupation Corrupting?

In a Blogpost about President Obama's Cairo Speech, Dr. Orit Kamir is arguing for the usual Left Wing solution to the Israeli Palestinian problem (dismantling settlements, evacuating the West Bank, creating an Independant Palestinian state, etc), but also to change the Israeli "occupation mentality" so to speak, to "cut down to size" and give up the dreams of an Empire.

The key reason for this, Kamir argues, is that the "occupation corrupts". It hurts not only those occupied, but also the occupiers. It has made Israel cruel not only "towards the Palestinians" but also in "other areas of life":

"We have learned to live with exploitation, with the suffering of others, with De-humanizing. "Foreign Workers", Women being marketed for prostitution, Poverty and huge gaps between Rich and Poor, Healthy and Sick, Fortunate and Misfortunate no longer agitate us. The occupation requires these huge walls of cement we hide behind, and we have learned to seal everything off with them".
(all translations are my own)

This is a very standard leftist line. The argument that the "Occupation is Corrupting" ("Ha Kibush Mashit") is a very old one in Israeli Political Discourse. See for example the argument that the violence of the occupation spills over to violence against women and children.

To be very clear: This is not the argument that the occupation is abusive. Not that it gets worst or that it perpetuates itself. This is the argument that the occupation is infective. That the evil ways it teached the Israeli society than effect Israeli society in other, unrelated areas.

I think this is highly unlikely.

To be sure, the occupation is corrupting in the sense that "power corrupts, and absolute power corrupts absolutely". The occupation has created interest groups committed to to maintaining it. Israel has lorded over the Palestinians and regularly abuses its power in making life difficult for them. Soldiers actions in check points are rarely models of courtesy, to say the least. IDF soldiers who kill palestinians are hardly punnished.

But has the occupation worsened Israeli society as a whole? This has often be asserted, but I've never seen it documented in any way. Many of the so-called brutalizations have been around long before the occupation (Operation Cast Lead, which Kamir criticizes, was no worse and probably better than many of the actions taken in the 1950s as retaliation against Palestinian violence). Other involve changes that took over Israeli society and usually aped American development. The spread of Capitalistic mentality and the wearing down of solidarity are also partially a natural response of the coming of age of the Israelis who were born after the birth of Israel, and who lacked the founding generations' ideological commitments.

In short, to the extent that the trends in Israeli society which Kamir laments emerged after the occupation, blaming them on the occupation is a case of the post hoc ergo propter hoc fallacy.

I find the argument that the "occupation corrupts" troubling for two reasons.

First, it argues for inaction. If the occupation corrupts, than ending the occupation would solve, or at least ameliorate, Israel's social problems. The expectation that solving the Israeli-Palestinian conflict would significently improve Israeli society is naive. It also implicitly calls for inaction against social justice in the Israeli society: If the source of the illness is with the occupation, treating the "manifestations" of the problem wouldn't do the trick.

Even worse, the argument that the occupation corrupts strikes me as pretentious, patronizing and hypocritical. The Israelis are not the victim of the occupation. The Palestinians are. The idea that we suffer from it reminds me of Robert E. Lee's position on slavery:

In this enlightened age, there are few I believe, but what will acknowledge, that slavery as an institution, is a moral & political evil in any Country. It is useless to expatiate on its disadvantages. I think it however a greater evil to the white man than to the black race, & while my feelings are strongly enlisted in behalf of the latter, my sympathies are more strong for the former.

Ending the Occupation of the Palestinian territories will be good for Israel's long term security and peace. It would also be good for Palestinians. It is not, however, a cure for the problems of Israeli school violence or women tariffiking.

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