The Great Debate

Israelis are facing a moment of truth.

Dr. Moshe Dann,

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On Tuesday, June 5, four busloads of Peace Now demonstrators (about 200 people) arrived in Hebron, near Machpelah, the burial site of the Biblical patriarchs and matriarchs, to protest "the occupation."

"Jews out of Hebron!" they shouted.

Later that day, the Minerva Center for Human Rights at the Hebrew University, in cooperation with the International Committee of the Red Cross and the Konrad Adenauer Stiftung, began a three-day conference of legal experts from Israel and around the world to discuss "Reappraising the role and limits of legal discourse on occupation in the Israeli-Palestinian context." Speakers condemned "illegal settlements" and "illegal occupation."

Peace Now and other 'anti-settlement' NGO's have planned demonstrations throughout the country - on the heels of condemnations of Israel by the British academic unions and other groups in Europe. Forty years after Israel liberated/conquered/occupied Judea, Samaria and Gaza, "The West Bank," "the territories," the debate over its effects continues.

But looking at the number "40," I wondered aloud to some college students who gathered in front of their buses in the parking lot, "Why 40? Why not 60?" The Nakba (catastrophe) that Arabs refer to happened in 1948, not 1967.

"Two states for two peoples!" they shouted.

"But in Arab eyes, 'the occupation' includes Beersheba," I noted to Or, a student from Ben Gurion University in the Negev. He looked at me, puzzled, and then at Amiel, from Tel Aviv University, who nodded, "Beersheba was not included in the UN's 1947 partition plan. Or Jaffa, Acco and half the Galilee."

"And where TAU is located," added Maya. "It was an Arab village."

"And lands taken by kibbutzim," another chimed in. Our group was getting larger and the noon-time sun stronger.

"But that was war," Or replied. "We were attacked. We had to defend ourselves."

"And in 1967?" I asked.

"We had no right to take land that didn't belong to us," Amiel retorted.

"But to whom does this land belong?"

"We have to share... two states for two people," Amiel insisted.

"Is that what they want?" Side discussions fluttered around us as the questions reverberated, and the bus drivers gunned their motors, eager to leave.

After the dust had settled, literally, I looked around at the dilapidated buildings surrounding the monumental Herodian structure, the only building that remained intact from the Second Temple period, preserved through every occupation of this land and thought, 'Jews are back. After the massacre of Jews in 1929, Jews are back.' A blessing and a curse?

Some call Israel's occupation a "moral disaster" for Israeli society. Asked what this means, critics of settlements cite the "humiliation" of Arabs at roadblocks and checkpoints, and lack of sensitivity towards or concern for Arabs. But they present no social indicators to verify their conclusions.

That Israeli society is in trouble seems clear to most citizens. Blaming "the occupation" however, for loss of public confidence in the political leadership, rampant corruption, injustice and inequalities is rooted in a political agenda, not in fact. Condemning Israel for its "occupation (theft) of Palestinian land" and "persecution of Palestinians" should hardly surprise any Israeli. For decades, Israel's Left-dominated media, many NGO's and Israeli politicians have been saying the same thing.
Where do we belong and why?

Israel-bashers don't need Al-Jazeera to confirm Israel's 'oppression of Palestinians'; they can tune in Israeli TV. No one does pillorying "the settlers" better than Israeli academics and the media. It's not only Palestinians that speak about the "immorality of occupation"; Israeli pundits and even government ministers say the same thing.

Why should anyone be upset about the Brits, or anyone else condemning "Israeli occupation," calling it a "moral disaster" and advocating unilateral withdrawal in one form or another, when Israeli politicians and many "intellectuals" agree?

Israelis are facing a moment of truth: Where do we belong and why? The answer constitutes our raison d'etre and our national ethos. That debate is well worth having.