The Structure of Israel’s Occupation

Israel has used Gaza as a free fire zone for 22 days and nights. Inevitably, the question arises how could Israel’s occupation become so brutal taking into account the country’s claim of being a “benign occupation power”. Neve Gordon’s book asks exactly that question. Did it happen because of decisions made by politicians or military officers or did the reasons lay in certain elements of the occupation’s structure? The author sees the latter as the main cause of the conflict. Initially, “the occupation operated according to the colonization principle” which means the administration of people’s lives, while exploiting the territories’ resources. Structural contradictions undermined the original principle and gave way in the mid-1990 to the separation principle. By separation, Gordon means “the abandonment of efforts to administer the lives of a colonized population”. This lack of interest towards peoples’ lives that is characteristic of the separation principle “accounts for the recent surge in lethal violence”.

Neve Gordon, professor for Politics and Government at the Ben-Gurion University in Be’er Sheva, has written the first comprehensive history of the Israel’s occupation of Palestinian territory since 1967. Early on, he makes it clear that the conflict started way before 1967. The struggle for land began in the late 19th century and reached its peak in 1948. One cannot understand the Israeli-Palestinian conflict “without taking into account the ethnic cleansing that took place during and after the 1948 war”. The author does not intend to reduce the conflict to the military occupation of the West Bank, Gaza Strip and East Jerusalem although his analysis concentrates on the occupation since 1967. Gordon hints at ambivalence: Israel has neither emphasized the de jure distinction nor the de facto bond between the regions, because in each case a contradiction emerges. To show to what absurdity this might lead the author asks the reader to imagine, for instance, that the Secretary of State of the United States would live permanently outside the country as several Israeli legislators and government ministers do, who live in the Occupied Palestinian Territories (OPT).

Right from the outset, Gordon mentions the differences in the methods of managing the occupation. In the early years, Israel tried to behave like a “benign occupier”. It improved the livelihood and the food basket of Palestinians, not only allowing them to work in Israel but also by planting hundreds of thousands of trees in the Gaza Strip. The Israeli political elite hoped Palestinians would get used to the occupation. According to the dictum by then Defense Minister Moshe Dayan: “Don’t rule over them, let them rather lead their own lives.” Although the methods of managing the occupation changed over time, the aims remained the same: Israel wanted only the “dowry”, not the “bride”, i.e. Israel wanted the land, but not its indigenous population. The separation not only failed but the Palestinians did not either accept the colonial rule.

According to the author Israel ruled till 1976 through the traditional (Palestinian) elite. Its power was challenged by the newly emerging economic elite, which built the nucleus of a new political and national movement. At this moment, a major shift in Israeli politics took place. Gordon calls this political shift a change from a “policy of life to a policy of death”.

The author paints a sober picture of the Oslo years. From the beginning of the occupation till the outbreak of the so-called peace process in 1993, thirty per cent of the Palestinian labour force worked in Israel proper and created an enormous wealth. Their proportion dropped to seven per cent in 1996 when Benyamin Netanyahu became Israel’s Prime Minister. The Palestinian GDP dropped by 37 per cent from 1993 to the year 2000. The Oslo years were the best of the colonial settlement project; the number of Israeli settlers doubled in the Palestinian Occupied Territories. This period also saw an economic boom in Israel. Nothing equivalent happened on the Palestinian side. None of the promises made to Palestinians materialized. “The Palestinians suffered more under Oslo than before Oslo.” The Palestinian National Authority (PNA) had neither sovereignty over the land nor over the people or their free movement. For the failure of Oslo, Gordon blames not only Israel but also the Palestinian leadership.

According to the author, the PNA was created as a tool to keep the Palestinian population under control. When it could no longer control the people, Israel changed the mechanism of control, i.e. it established some sort of “remote control” by creating checkpoints and barriers to limit and control movement and by using military drones, F-16 fighter jets, etc., for surveillance and intimidation. Up to this day, Israel has not given up any sovereignty, not even over the Gaza Strip, from where it pulled out its military forces in 2005. The Palestinians in the Gaza Strip, which is surrounded by Israeli barbed wire, still live like in a prison. Their right to leave or enter the Strip is controlled by Israel. Having no individual rights or any positive perspective whatsoever it was no surprise that the second Intifada broke out in the year 2000, so Gordon.

He explains the rising support of Hamas by the “excesses and contradictions produced by Israel’s controlling apparatus and practices” which culminated in a landslide victory of that movement in the democratic elections of January 25, 2006. The ascendancy of Hamas is not only due to its reaction to Israel’s colonial project, but is also a consequence of this project. The Islamist movement profited also from the globalization process. The author is rightly concerned over the successful consolidation of Hamas rule, because it will be “extremely tragic for all those who have fought for the establishment of a secular democracy in Palestine”.

I met Neve Gordon in the early 1990s when doing research for my book “Peace without Justice? Israel and the human rights of the Palestinians” He worked then for “Physicians for Human Rights”. Already then, he demonstrated his courage. I am not surprised that he wrote such a powerful book on Israel’s occupation, which damaged the reputation of the country, even more so by the horrific onslaught on the Gaza Strip. His review of 40 years of occupation is a must read for anybody.

Dr. LUDWIG WATZAL works a journalist and publicist in Bonn, Germany. He has written several books on Israel and Palestine. He contributed this review to PalestineChronicle.com. Contact him at: lwatzal@aol.com.


More articles by:
September 19, 2019
Richard Falk
Burning Amazonia, Denying Climate Change, Devastating Syria, Starving Yemen, and Ignoring Kashmir
Charles Pierson
With Enemies Like These, Trump Doesn’t Need Friends
Lawrence Davidson
The Sorry State of the Nobel Peace Prize
Evaggelos Vallianatos
The Scourge in the White House
Urvashi Sarkar
“Not a Blade of Grass Grew:” Living on the Edge of the Climate Crisis in the Sandarbans of West Bengal
Thomas Knapp
Trump and Netanyahu: “Mutual Defense” or Just Mutual Political Back-Scratching?
Dean Baker
Is There Any Lesser Authority Than Alan Greenspan?
Gary Leupp
Warren’s Ethnic Issue Should Not Go Away
George Ochenski
Memo to Trump: Water Runs Downhill
Jeff Cohen
What George Carlin Taught Us about Media Propaganda by Omission
Stephen Martin
The Perspicacity of Mcluhan and Panopticonic Plans of the MIC
September 18, 2019
Kenneth Surin
An Excellent Study Of The Manufactured Labour “Antisemitism Crisis”
Patrick Cockburn
The Saudi Crown Prince Plans to Make Us Forget About the Murder of Jamal Khashoggi Before the US Election
W. T. Whitney
Political Struggle and Fixing Cuba’s Economy
Ron Jacobs
Support the Climate Strike, Not a Military Strike
John Kendall Hawkins
Slouching Toward “Bethlehem”
Ted Rall
Once Again in Afghanistan, the U.S. Proves It Can’t Be Trusted
William Astore
The Ultra-Costly, Underwhelming F-35 Fighter
Dave Lindorff
Why on Earth Would the US Go to War with Iran over an Attack on Saudi Oil Refineries?
Binoy Kampmark
Doctored Admissions: the University Admissions Scandal as a Global Problem
Jeremy Corbyn
Creating a Society of Hope and Inclusion: Speech to the TUC
Zhivko Illeieff
Why You Should Care About #ShutDownDC and the Global Climate Strike  
Catherine Tumber
Land Without Bread: the Green New Deal Forsakes America’s Countryside
Liam Kennedy
Boris Johnson: Elitist Defender of Britain’s Big Banks
September 17, 2019
Mario Barrera
The Southern Strategy and Donald Trump
Robert Jensen
The Danger of Inspiration in a Time of Ecological Crisis
Dean Baker
Health Care: Premiums and Taxes
Dave Lindorff
Recalling the Hundreds of Thousands of Civilian Victims of America’s Endless ‘War on Terror’
Binoy Kampmark
Oiling for War: The Houthi Attack on Abqaiq
Susie Day
You Say You Want a Revolution: a Prison Letter to Yoko Ono
Rich Gibson
Seize Solidarity House
Laura Flanders
From Voice of America to NPR: New CEO Lansing’s Glass House
Don Fitz
What is Energy Denial?
Dan Bacher
Governor Newsom Says He Will Veto Bill Blocking Trump Rollback of Endangered Fish Species Protections
Thomas Knapp
Election 2020: Time to Stop Pretending and Start Over
W. Alejandro Sanchez
Inside the Syrian Peace Talks
Elliot Sperber
Mickey Mouse Networks
September 16, 2019
Sam Husseini
Biden Taking Iraq Lies to the Max
Paul Street
Joe Biden’s Answer to Slavery’s Legacy: Phonographs for the Poor
Paul Atwood
Why Mattis is No Hero
Jonathan Cook
Brexit Reveals Jeremy Corbyn to be the True Moderate
Jeff Mackler
Trump, Trade and China
Robert Hunziker
Fukushima’s Radioactive Water Crisis
Evaggelos Vallianatos
The Democrats and the Climate Crisis
Michael Doliner
Hot Stuff on the Afghan Peace Deal Snafu