Return Stolen Land
Last update-12:42 26/11/2007

Demands of a thief
ByGideon Levy

The public discourse in Israel has momentarily awoken from
its slumber. “To give or not to give,” that is the
Shakespearean question – “to make concessions” or “not to
make concessions.” It is good that initial signs of life in the
Israeli public have emerged. It was worth going to Annapolis
if only for this reason – but this discourse is baseless and
distorted. Israel is not being asked “to give” anything to the
Palestinians; it is only being asked to return – to return their
stolen land and restore their trampled self-respect, along
with their fundamental human rights and humanity. This is the
primary core issue, the only one worthy of the title, and no
one talks about it anymore.

No one is talking about morality anymore. Justice is also an
archaic concept, a taboo that has deliberately been erased
from all negotiations. Two and a half million people – farmers,
merchants, lawyers, drivers, daydreaming teenage girls,
love-smitten men, old people, women, children and
combatants using violent means for a just cause – have all
been living under a brutal boot for 40 years. Meanwhile, in
our cafes and living rooms the conversation is over giving or
not giving.

Lawyers, philosophers, writers, lecturers, intellectuals and
rabbis, who are looked upon for basic knowledge about moral
precepts, participate in this distorted discourse. What will
they tell their children – after the occupation finally becomes
a nightmare of the past – about the period in which they
wielded influence? What will they say about their role in this?
Israeli students stand at checkpoints as part of their army
reserve duty, brutally deciding the fate of people, and then
some rush off to lectures on ethics at university, forgetting
what they did the previous day and what is being done in
their names every single day. Intellectuals publish petitions,
“to make concessions” or “not to make concessions,”
diverting attention from the core issue. There are stormy
debates about corruption – whether Prime Minister Ehud
Olmert is corrupt and how the Supreme Court is being
undermined. But there is no discussion of the ultimate
question: Isn’t the occupation the greatest and most terrible
corruption to have taken root here, overshadowing
everything else?

Security officials are terrified about what would happen if we
removed a checkpoint or released prisoners, like the whites
in South Africa who whipped up a frenzy of fear about the
“great slaughter” that would ensue if blacks were granted
their rights. But these are not legitimate questions: The
incarceration must be ended and the myriad of political
prisoners should be released unconditionally. Just as a thief
cannot present demands – neither preconditions nor any
other terms – to the owner of the property he has robbed,
Israel cannot present demands to the other side as long as
the situation remains as it is.

Security? We must defend ourselves by defensive means.
Those who do not believe that the only security we will enjoy
will come from ending the occupation and from peace can
entrench themselves in the army, and behind walls and
fences. But we have no right to do what we are doing: Just as
no one would conceive of killing the residents of an entire
neighborhood, to harass and incarcerate it because of a few
criminals living there, there is no justification for abusing an
entire people in the name of our security. The question of
whether ending the occupation would threaten or strengthen
Israel’s security is irrelevant. There are not, and cannot be,
any preconditions for restoring justice.

No one will discuss this at Annapolis. Even if the real core
issues were raised, they would focus on secondary questions
– borders, Jerusalem and even refugees. But that would be
escaping the main issue. After 40 years, one might have
expected that the real core issue would finally be raised for
honest and bold discussion: Does Israel have the moral right
to continue the occupation? The world should have asked
this long ago. The Palestinians should have focused only on
this. And above all, we, who bear the guilt, should have been
terribly troubled by the answer to this question.


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