Israel Occupation at 40. Older, not wiser

By Guest Columnist Jun 14, 2007

by Steven Salaita Men and women from all over the Southern West Bank stand in line for hours each morning on their way to work outside of Bethlehem. The Israeli occupation of Palestine is 40 years old this month. But as the crisis in the region has grown older, the political discussion surrounding it has gained little wisdom, writes Steven Salaita for RaceWire. This week the State of Israel and Zionists around the world celebrated what they call the Six-Day War, the June, 1967, invasion of Egypt, Syria, and Jordan. This led to the current Israeli occupation of Arab land: the Syrian Golan Heights and the Palestinian West Bank and Gaza Strip. Arabs, Muslims, and people of conscience use a different term: the June War or the 1967 War. This alternate description reflects a more realistic perception of things. For Arabs, the war signifies profound loss. Israel captured Egypt’s Sinai Peninsula, more than three times its size, and usurped Syrian and Palestinian land that it continues to occupy (it returned the Sinai in 1982 as stipulated by the Camp David Peace Plan). In the process of usurping Arab land, Israel created 300,000 Palestinian refugees, many of them refugees already, having been among the 700,000 Palestinians displaced upon Israel’s founding in 1948. Israel’s brutal occupation of the West Bank and Gaza Strip is the reason for the Israel-Palestine conflict. The conflict isn’t about religious acrimony or irrational hatred; it exists because one people, the Palestinians, are being colonized by the State of Israel. The Israeli occupation, like most forms of settler colonialism, involves land appropriation, home demolition, crop destruction, and resource expropriation. More important, the occupation, like all forms of settler colonialism, is racist politically and pragmatically. Israel employs an inequitable legal system in the Occupied Territories, one that privileges Jews and dispossesses Palestinians. This inequitable legal system, combined with general Israeli discourse about Palestinians as monsters and terrorists, is quintessentially racist because it stratifies Jews and Palestinians to ensure Jewish political and economic supremacy. Israel has constructed a legal framework to supplement Palestinian dispossession and denies Palestinians freedom of movement and access to civil liberties. Most Israelis fancy themselves a civilized Western beacon in a hostile Middle East. In this formulation, the Palestinians come to exemplify premodernity vis-à-vis the industrious and modern Israelis. Yet Israeli colonization embodies a type of barbarity normally assigned to the Palestinians, which saves Israelis the inconvenience of confronting the ugliness of the occupation. The racists are barbaric, but they assign barbarity to the victims of their racism. Has racism ever been enacted differently where it has existed? It is time for the Israeli occupation to end. Zionism was a bad idea 100 years ago, but at least then it reflected the type of ethnocentric and nationalistic thinking that predominated in Europe. Today, Zionism isn’t merely a bad idea; it is also savagely anachronistic. Steven Salaita is Assistant Professor of English at Virginia Tech. He is the author of three books: Anti-Arab Racism in the USA; The Holy Land in Transit; and Arab American Literary Fictions, Cultures, and Politics.