You can drive from Jaffa to the Dead Sea without realising you’re deep into an occupied territory. Perhaps you won’t spot a single Palestinian although they are the vast majority of the area’s population.
Think about where the hundreds of thousands of Palestinians went? Surely, a population that large would be visible on every turn in your trip. The sad truth is that we’re here, but have been increasingly pushed into little enclaves so Jewish Israelis can build luxury homes and swimming pools on top of our hills and over our olive-tree orchards. We were gradually and systematically moved out of sight both physically and visually to clear the horizon for a group of Jewish settlers, many of them born in the United States and Europe.
On those empty roads, you’ll have to drive for a while before coming across a single Israeli army (IDF) post. On first impression, you wonder if the occupation actually exists. But contrary to the common belief, seeing – or rather unseeing – is not at all believing. The irony is that the sporadic IDF existence along those roads signifies a tighter, more cruel occupation. Palestinians are basically contained within residential centres, and the largest bulks of the IDF, the immediately visible ones, are stationed just outside those centres. Much of the space outside is mainly dedicated to those yellow-plated cars (Israeli cars) and the few lucky Palestinians who obtained a travel permit to drive across their own land. For many of us, as anxious and infuriated the decision of annexation has made us, it barely came as a surprise. The IDF has been tightening its grip on the West Bank since 1967. This is technically a de facto annexation.
Perceiving the land ‘annexed’ will remove all the legal and moral considerations attached to it. This will make the next ethnic cleansing highly plausible. The mere discussion of annexation proves to us what we’ve been saying for nearly a quarter of a century.
The Israeli governments have never been serious about relinquishing the Occupied Territories. Formalising annexation will strip Israel of the idea that the occupation is a temporary thing. This for decades allowed the country to get away with the continuous violation of Palestinian human rights. The questions of legitimacy and security will be more difficult to answer then.
Annexation is definitely a fateful choice for Israel. The existential danger it poses to the future Palestinian state cannot be understated. But this is not be a Palestinian problem only, it’ll also cut deep into Israel’s soul.
A ‘fateful choice’ is what politicians make driven by their internal logic, and one that can eventually backfire and lead to hurting the country’s moral or even physical foundation. The annexation will ignite the spark of wide-spread violence, possibly a third Intifada.
We Palestinians have been suffering revolutionary fatigue for some time now, but with annexation what’s at stake is a lot more than political inconvenience, it’s our very survival. Any eruption of violence might not happen straight away, but the build-up will inevitably lead to one. It’s only instinctive and natural.
Quite possibly, Israel will be counting on this fatigue to go head with with the annexation unhindered. But it will fail (and already is failing) to see the destructive potential that lurks behind desperation and hopelessness – as it had failed to anticipate the eruption of the First and Second Intifadas.
When Abbas threatened to hand over the key to Israel should the annexation take place, some Israeli commentators described it as a collective suicide. Again, Israel continues to underestimate the power of hopelessness. We’d say, let it be. Let Abbas give Israel the key. If Israel wants to perpetuate (or as they say, ‘manage’) the occupation, at least it can have the decency to do so while being responsible for the occupied.
The consensus among most Palestinians nowadays is that the Oslo indulgence must come to an end. Oslo allowed Israel to be an occupying power but without being physically, financially, or logistically responsible.
Even more unfortunate, Oslo created a surreal situation where the occupied were forced to protect the security of the occupier from, well, themselves. That’s a five-star occupation, if you ask me.
As ironic as it sounds, there are now Palestinians who reminisce about the time when the IDF soldiers roamed our streets. It isn’t about missing the occupation, but merely an escapist false perception of a time when the occupation seemed ‘benign.’ Of course, no occupation is benign. But where we stand, every bad will look good once engulfed by something worse. Today, Israel’s boots on the grounds were replaced by a remote-control occupation, more robotic and detached, and therefore a lot more callous and sterile. With the annexation plan being put into high gear, today feels (and is) a lot worse than the bad yesterday.
With the annexation in place, Israel will be faced by yet another dilemma. The so-called democracy which Israelis repeatedly gloated about will be in crisis.
A significant portion of the Palestinian population will be under Israel’s direct rule. Given Israel’s constant emphasis on the ‘Jewish character’ of the state and the fear of Palestinian demographic threat, Israel will have limited choices. Either to grant those Palestinians Israeli citizenship and pave the way toward a binational state – or deny them citizenship and formalise the apartheid. The impact of either choice, to quote Paul Taylor from Politico, would be corrosive to the soul of Israel itself and on diaspora Jews worldview, many of whom see their fate linked to the Israeli state and Zionism.
When it comes to Israel, it’s never about colonial greed only. Israel, as a collective, comes with a heavy psychological baggage. The country built much of its modern identity on historical traumas and through trauma it justified living by the sword and in a constant state of melancholia and fear.
Annexation can also be understood as a misguided way to heal the country’s historical wounds, and Jewish wounds too. In the academic discourse, a ‘chosen trauma’ – the Holocaust in Israel’s case – can only be resolved through what Turkish psychologist Vamik Volkan calls ‘chosen glory.’ By annexing Palestinian land, many Israelis, especially on the right, fantasise about the ancient kingdoms of Judea. They try to heal their trauma and the humiliation that came with it by recreating their imagined past. Simply put, part of the reason Israel annexes Palestinian lands is to fulfil its fantasies about a lost glory.
Every nation has mythos, no doubt. But not every nation’s mythos are a continuous indulgence at the expense of everyone else. No history in existence, no matter how accurate or far-fetched, justifies apartheid.
In the end, let’s stay in the present and once again think about the Palestinians whom you won’t see on your way to the Dead Sea. We might not be instantly visible, but please remember we’re still here, alive and kicking. There’s a Palestinian saying that goes:
“After the flood, only the native pebbles remain in the wadi.”
Annexation or not, we like to think: Israel is the flood, and we’re the pebbles.