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Every person is endowed with a certain denial mechanism they can use to avoid the shame, fear, guilt and pain involved in coping with their improper actions. Instead of facing their failure, accepting reality and dealing with it, they simply enter a state of denial.
But denial extracts a heavy price from the denier. The mental effort involved in self-deception causes serious mental harm. Someone who denies facts is declaring that he has a mental problem. He needs treatment.
For 46 years we have been in this situation. We are denying one of the most significant phenomenon of our national existence, if not the most central one: the occupation.
We can use the well-worn metaphor of the huge elephant in the room, whose presence we deny. Elephant? What elephant? Here? We tiptoe around the elephant and avert our gaze so we won’t have to look at it. After all, it doesn’t exist.
We are ruling completely over another people. This influences every sphere of our national life – our politics, our economy, our values, our military, our legal system, our culture and more. But we don’t see – and don’t want to see – what is going on only a few minutes’ drive from our homes, over the black line known as the Green Line.
We have become so accustomed to this situation that we see it as normal. But the occupation is intrinsically an abnormal, temporary situation.
Under the law of nations, an occupation is said to occur when one state conquers the area of another state during wartime and then holds it as an occupier until peace is achieved. Because of the temporary nature of an occupation, international law imposes severe restrictions on the occupying state. It is not permitted to transfer its own citizens to the occupied area, it is forbidden to build settlements there, it is forbidden to seize lands, and so on.
Israel has invented something unprecedented: eternal occupation. In 1967, because no pressure was brought to bear on Israel to return the occupied territories, Moshe Dayan came up with a brilliant idea – to continue the occupation forever. If Israel had annexed the territories, it would have been forced to grant civil rights to the occupied population. But in a state of occupation, it could maintain control without giving the conquered people any rights at all – not human rights, not civil rights and certainly not national rights. A real egg of Columbus.
We are a moral people – in our own eyes, at least. How do we resolve the contradiction between our extreme morality and our blatantly immoral circumstances? Simple: We go into denial.
“Power corrupts,” said the British statesman Lord Acton. “And absolute power corrupts absolutely.” The occupation is the most absolute power there is. It has corrupted everything good about us – it has corrupted the army that maintains the occupation, the soldiers who are forced to terrorize the civilian population every night, the government institutions that bypass the law in the dark, the courts that implement the occupation laws, and the entire country, which is violating international law every day.
If we ask ourselves what has happened to our country, we simply have to open our eyes and look at the elephant.
“He who confesses and forsakes finds mercy,” the book of Proverbs tells us. It isn’t enough to admit and recognize that a sin has been committed; we must abandon the wrong path we’ve taken. In our case, to save our souls and our state, we must forsake the occupied territories.
But before we can forsake, we must first admit and recognize that something is wrong.
URI AVNERY is an Israeli writer and peace activist with Gush Shalom. He is a contributor to CounterPunch’s book The Politics of Anti-Semitism.