What if There Was No Occupation?

One of the most bizarre and perhaps perplexing phenomena is occupation denial. That is the fervent denial by some of Israel’s most ardent (and delusional? disingenuous?) apologists that the Palestinian territory illegally seized during the Six-Day War (Gaza Strip, the West Bank, and East Jerusalem) is not “occupied.” The first time I ever encountered this view was in my nascent stages of consciousness about the Palestinian issue. I had stumbled upon a Facebook group set up for both “pro-Israel” and “Pro-Palestine” solidarity activists to discuss their divergent views in a single group. Being a two-stater at the time (a view I will address later in this article), I posted some typical nice sounding bullshit, the sort of thing that comes from someone with a generally liberal outlook, but still under the mistaken impression that Israel-Palestine was a military conflict between two equal sides and not a situation of oppressor and oppressed.
I don’t remember exactly what I said (the group was deleted by one of its Pro-Israel administrators who was angered by the existence of posters with divergent views–so much for dialogue), but it was something to the extent that I supported neither side, as they both had made mistakes–the Palestinians with terrorism and the Israelis with their occupation and the brutality of it, and that I hoped for a peaceful two-state solution based on 1967 borders. Almost immediately, someone responded to my post that I was clearly misinformed as there was no occupation. While I was certainly not as informed on the issue as I am now, even then I knew that someone was telling me that water wasn’t wet, the sky wasn’t blue, and that the Earth’s gravitation pull went away from the ground as opposed to towards it.

While I would love to believe that this was the online ravings of an internet crank, it is not. In fact, it is the official position of the Israeli government as confirmed by the recent Levy report. The stated reason for a lack of occupation is that Palestine was never a country, therefore it can’t occupied. However, in a video I once saw featuring an Israeli government official explaining why the Palestinian territories can’t be occupied because Palestine wasn’t a country, the only word he could find to describe the antebellum status quo of the West Bank and Gaza’s was “occupied by Egypt and Jordan.”

Thus the land captured during the Six Day War can’t be occupied territory, because prior to 1967 it wasn’t a country but- occupied territory. The lesson we should draw is just as in Richard Nixon’s mind something “isn’t illegal when the President does it” in the mind of the occupation deniers something “isn’t an occupation when Israel does it.” This level of hypocrisy leaves the extreme fringe (and quite frankly unimportant minority) amongst Israel supporters who believe in a personal deity that engages in real estate transactions and assert that a several thousand year old book with questionable historical accuracy is the best determiner of political geography in the 21st century with the stronger and more rational argument. A impressive feat, no doubt.

Ignoring the utter stupidity of the stated reasoning behind occupation denial that no one, most likely not even the people who utter such drivel, takes seriously, it is easy to see why in the short run Israel and its uncritical apologists would take this position. After all, the near unanimous opinion (the only dissenter being, of course, Israel and a handful of its most diehard supporters) is that the settlements are illegal under international law. Article 49 of the Fourth Geneva Convention states 

Individual or mass forcible transfers, as well as deportations of protected persons from occupied territory to the territory of the Occupying Power or to that of any other country, occupied or not, are prohibited, regardless of their motive

If there is no occupation, then settlements are just dandy (well no, not really, since seizure of land and the disposal of one population to benefit another is not only morally repulsive during a military occupation, but given that this is the most coherent line of reasoning attributable to occupation deniers I’ll be generous and let it slide). This means that something clearly motivates occupation deniers other than damaged reasoning skills and an inadequate understanding of international law.

However, what if we were to truly follow the logic of the “there is no occupation” line of reasoning? While settlements may be quasi-ok, what then of the other inhabitants of the non-occupied Palestinian territory, you know, the Palestinians? Aren’t they entitled to the same rights as their neighbors, the Israeli settlers? Like the right to vote, the right to freedom of mobility, the right to trial by jury in a civilian Israeli court? After all, if there is no occupation and the settlements are legal, then aren’t all residents of the West Bank (and Gaza for that matter–which is still occupied in spite of the withdrawal of settlements) living under the jurisdiction of the same state? What do we call a state that grants rights to some citizens, but not others based on the socially constructed category of radicalized identity?


While it may be humorous to point out the unintended consequences of the policies of the most ardent deniers of Palestinian human rights, the issue goes far beyond the crass opportunism of the occupation deniers. We can talk about occupation or no occupation, one state versus two states, but the simple reality is that there already is only one state. There is a mass of land that is historically unified, with two groups of people interspersed throughout. One entity also controls the entire land through its use of force (the very definition of a state). As part of its Occupation denial, Israel does not define its borders, and it doesn’t consider settlers living in the Occupied Palestinian Territory to be foreigners or expatriates. That’s why Israel gives settlers the right to vote. That is why if they commit a crime they will be tried in an Israeli court, not a Palestinian one. That is why the settlements are subject to Israeli laws, not Palestinian laws. It’s also why Israelis living in settlements can travel freely beyond the green line or why settlement products come stamped with “Made in Israel” on them.

The land of Israel-Palestine is an unified entity under the rule of one state where people are granted or denied rights based on their ethnicity and where they are born. Yes, Palestinians born within Israel’s 1967 borders are granted citizenship (though they don’t have as many rights as their Jewish counterparts), but Palestinians living within the occupied territory are not even though their neighbors living in settlements are. Such rights are not granted because in Israel, like the Jim Crow American South or Apartheid South Africa, rights are second to maintaining racial superiority.

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