The Morality of Occupation

Lessons from the post-WWII era for today's Israel.

Flickr_-_Israel_Defense_Forces_-_The_IDF_Honors_Its_ReservistsThe occupation of West Germany by the United States, Great Britain and France lasted a full decade, whereas East Germany essentially remained a Soviet satellite throughout the Cold War. Only in 1990, with the momentous fall of the Berlin Wall and reunification of the country on October 3rd of that year, did the occupation of Germany formally end.

During World War II, the Nazis laid siege to much of the globe, resulting in tens of millions dead, including the mass extermination of much of European Jewry. Nazi ideology posed a barbarian threat to the civilized world, which had first to be crushed on the battle field and thereafter contained.

The occupation of Germany post-1945 was thus unequivocally necessary, and indisputably moral.

Israel's occupation of the West Bank is analogously moral, rooted profoundly in a defensive necessity, juxtaposed to the need to contain a doctrine equally toxic to Nazism.

Israel has been devastated by Palestinian terror and continues to face an existential threat from a hostile population, which, on the whole, inculcates its youth with a rabid strain of anti-Semitism; a potent mixture of Islamic fundamentalism and Nazism, originally expounded by the Palestinian "godfather," Grand Mufti of Jerusalem during WWII and Hitler collaborator Haj Amin al-Husseini.

Seven decades later, the demagoguery of this ideology continues to inform and permeate the foundation of Palestinian nationalism.

Nonetheless, Israel's occupation is demonized incessantly.

This is attributable to the concerted -- and heretofore successful -- propaganda war of the Jewish state's detractors aimed at distorting Israel's implementation of legitimate security measures in the West Bank -- measures that would be employed by any other nation under similar circumstances -- thereby attempting to turn Israel into an international pariah.

Nor has Israel adequately defended its own cause by having already ceded various territories captured in 1967, all the while expressing a willingness to forfeit additional areas to the Palestinians. This has effectively undermined Israel's rightful presence in territories legally acquired in a defensive war, and to which the Jewish People held title to in accordance with the British Mandate.

Most significantly, Israel's retreat has transformed what should be universally regarded as a moral issue into a geo-political one, a process which has eroded the "high ground" enjoyed by the country in the immediate aftermath of the Six Day War.

The deterioration of Israel's standing has been fueled by the misrepresentation of another of its policies in the West Bank; namely, settlement construction.

Most of the international community vilifies Israeli building across the Green Line (commonly referred to as the "1967 border," but which in fact constitutes the 1949 armistice line that marked an end to the fighting during Israel's War of Independence)  as a form of expansionism, reflective of a morally-corrupt occupation. The reality, however, is that the construction of settlements was implemented as a security policy following the 1967 war; and, then, only after Israeli peace overtures were rebuffed by the Arab world.

Israel attempted to return the territories captured in 1967 to those very Arab nations which had just attempted to destroy her. The Arab response came in the form of the now-infamous Khartoum Resolution, commonly referred to as the "three NOs": "No peace with Israel, no recognition of Israel, no negotiations with it."

Only when it was apparent that the West Bank and Gaza would remain under its control, did Israel's left-of-center government begin constructing settlements, with the primary aim of buffering the country's main population centers from future attack.

Security, not "land-grabbing," was the impetus for building.

While construction across the Green Line has since become increasingly driven by ideological factors, Israeli governments have consistently shown a readiness to uproot settlements in the pursuit of peace; both from the Sinai as part of the 1979 treaty with Egypt and unilaterally from the Gaza Strip in 2005.

For his part, Binyamin Netanyahu agreed, during his first premiership, to relinquish control over Hebron, burial place of the Jewish Patriarchs, to the Palestinians. His implementation in 2010 of a 10-month construction moratorium in the West Bank, as well as the current de facto building freeze in East Jerusalem, proves his commitment to peace trumps ideology.

The global fixation on settlements has obscured the fact that the Israel Defence Forces (IDF) would nevertheless be required to maintain a presence across the Green Line even in the absence of Jewish communities there.

Memory is short, and the regularity with which, barely a decade ago, hundreds of Israeli civilians were blown to pieces simply while riding the bus to work or sipping coffee in a Tel Aviv cafe has faded from international discourse, and hence from public consciousness.

It was not until Operation Defensive Shield in 2002 that the IDF, out of sheer necessity, dismantled the terrorist infrastructure in the West Bank, from which the bloodbath had been spawned. In conjunction with the construction of the security barrier, the Palestinian suicide bomber is now, for all intents and purposes, quiescent; a relative calm that prevails as the direct result of Israel's ongoing measures of control and containment. As Palestinian society has not moderated since the Second Intifada, any IDF withdrawal to the indefensible pre-1967 lines would undoubtedly see the immediate resumption of the terror of yesteryear.

The precedents are Lebanon (Hezbollah), Gaza (Hamas), and, increasingly, the Sinai (al Qaeda-linked jihadists) too.

Further retreat would thus spell a death sentence for Israelis-men, women and children alike-who would invariably find themselves under renewed attack. The implementation of such a policy would therefore be inherently amoral. And while the occupation does indeed restrict Palestinians, it is an ethically superior recourse than the alternative; namely, the deaths of innocents.

In the interim, Palestinians maintain sufficient autonomy, if they so desired, to foster a new culture of tolerance that preaches and nurtures co-existence, as well as benefit from ample international aid to allow for the creation of basic institutions of state; together which, constitute prerequisites to ending the conflict, and, by corollary, the occupation.

It is imperative that the international community be reminded of the underlying reason for Israel's ongoing military presence across the Green Line. This is especially important now, given the absence of a Palestinian negotiating partner, amidst increasing calls for further unilateral Israeli withdrawals.

The argument is sound, rational and unequivocally defensible: The occupation is a moral imperative that saves lives.