It seems like the whole world is down on Israel these days for the invasion of Gaza. Israel, which used to be a cause celebre of the political left, is now a demon to it. Israel is painted as the evil occupier of Gaza and the West Bank and Hamas feels it’s necessary to carry out violent and cruel actions periodically against Israel not only to ultimately defeat Israel, but, in the short term, to shock the world out of its numbness and get it to force Israel to make significant concessions, whatever that would entail. But is this view of Israel as evil occupier at all accurate?
` To answer this question, it is necessary for us to determine what I have recently started calling a meaningful causal beginning. That is where do we break into the narrative of the Israeli-Palestinian crisis to create a meaningful starting point for understanding how things got so out of hand. For me, such a starting point would be the end of the Six Day War. That was when Israel ended up with pieces of territory from several different Arab countries. The two territories that are most relevant for our purposes here are the West Bank from Jordan and the Gaza Strip from Egypt. Actually, for the purposes of this discussion, we might as well include the Sinai Peninsula from Egypt. Now the truth is that after the Six Day War, Israel wanted to do what most people who end a war want to do. It wanted to make peace with the other side. But only one other country was willing to sign a peace treaty with Israel, after Israel had accumulated all these pieces of territory. And that didn’t happen until after Israel and its neighbors fought another war: the Yom Kippur War. A few years after that war, Anwar Sadat and Menachem Begin signed a peace treaty in which Sadat got the Sinai Peninsula back and Israel got peace, albeit a cold peace, from Egypt. Notably, Egypt refused to take back the Gaza Strip. Of the remaining territories, East Jerusalem and the Golan Heights were annexed by Israel even though most of the world doesn’t recognize the annexations. As for the West Bank and the Gaza Strip, the two chunks of territory that involve the Palestinians apart from East Jerusalem, these two pieces have been forced to exist in a state of limbo for the Israelis. Ariel Sharon gave the Gaza Strip back to the Palestinians, but because of the hostility of Hamas towards the Israelis, the Israelis refused to let Gaza function as a totally independent territory. Who knows what’s going to happen after the Israel – Hamas War. The West Bank has been allowed a certain amount of self-rule, but without a peace treaty, Israel continues to treat it as an occupied territory.
So, Israel has a unique situation with its neighbors. The Gaza Strip is a territory that has been partly self-administered, but one that has been partly administered by Israel, only from outside of Gaza. The West Bank is partly self-administered but partly administered by Israel from within the West Bank. Neither of these situations is recognized or accepted by the rest of the world. East Jerusalem and the Golan Heights have been integrated into Israel, but again, neither of these situations is recognized or accepted by the rest of the world. Israel has a peace treaty with Egypt, but it is a cold peace. The same is true for Jordan. And Israel and Lebanon exist in a state of cold non-peace. The truth is that Israel doesn’t have a single border with another political entity, where there is genuine warmth, genuine bonding, genuine grounding the way that countries in Europe have. And at present there is bellicose activity between Israel and Hamas in the Gaza Strip, and Israel and Hezbollah in Lebanon.
Israel’s neighbors have placed Israel in an experiential vacuum, a state of social isolation. A state of feelings of emptiness and numbness. A state of seemingly perpetual limbo. And without peace treaties, Israelis have been left with all the responsibilities of administering the occupied territories with none of the advantages of ownership. So, is it any wonder that Israelis have taken it upon themselves to informally annex pieces of land from the territories for purposes of settlement to help fill the experiential vacuum in which they have been placed? Otherwise, the state of national social isolation in which the Israelis live would be intolerable.