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The many prices of occupation
Gila Svirsky, Israel
May 28, 2002
In June, we mark 35 years of the Israeli occupation of "the territories"—
the West Bank, Gaza Strip, east Jerusalem, and the Golan Heights.
Volumes and volumes have already been written about the price paid by
Palestinians under occupation—the death of loved ones, lifelong
injuries, irreplaceable property loss, traumatized youngsters, and so much
heartache that will not be expunged for generations after the occupation
(inevitably) comes to an end.
But the occupation has been destructive to Israeli society as well, and
not only in terms of the tragedy of lives lost through terrorism or
military service. "Occupation corrupts", we say in Israel, with reference
to the moral deterioration of our society as a result of being the
oppressor of others. But there are additional ways that the occupation
has taken its toll in Israel:
* The troubled economy: Israel is currently in a grave economic
crisis—deep recession, severe unemployment (currently 10%), increasing
poverty, widening socio-economic gaps;
* Under-funded social and environmental programs: Cutbacks in the
education of our children, healthcare, the special needs of the elderly
and disabled, rational planning for water use, development of public
* Threats to democratic norms and values: The abrogation of freedom
of speech, media censorship and self-censorship, open expressions of
racism against Arabs, dehumanization of the other; and
* The spillover of violence into Israeli society—the high rate of
violence among schoolchildren, increased crimes of violence, and violence
directed against women.
This list could easily be expanded: What about the unbearable ease of
pulling a trigger? Last week, a security guard at the door to a Tel-Aviv
disco who discerned a car being driven erratically toward him pulled his
revolver and shot the driver dead before he could plow into the club with
a cargo of explosive devices. Clearly the guard is a hero. But what if
that driver had simply been drunk?
The next day, a soldier shot (but fortunately did not kill) a retarded man
(Israeli) who looked like he may have been wearing an explosive belt under
his unseasonably heavy coat and did not understand the demand to undo the
buttons. And a mother and her 12-year old daughter (Palestinian) were
shot dead last week because they were running away from an exploding
device, and therefore assumed (incorrectly) to have placed it.
In the coming weeks, Israeli peace and human rights organizations will be
marking this sad anniversary—35 years of occupation—with a plethora of
protests and demonstrations. Some will raise their voices about the social
and economic burdens of occupation resulting from the massive hemorrhage
of Israeli resources and energy. Others will count the thousands dead,
the tens of thousands maimed, the hundreds of thousands with hearts frozen
by trauma and hatred.
Join us in the coming days as we call upon you for solidarity.
The many prices of occupation are unbearable, and increasingly so. Anyone
who cherishes Israel or Palestine, or the innocent children who are
growing up here, will do their utmost to bring this tragedy to an end.
Gila Svirsky is an Israeli peace and human rights activist.