50 Years of Occupation

  • Middle East Policy

    Middle East Policy has been one of the world’s most cited publications on the region since its inception in 1982, and our Breaking Analysis series makes high-quality, diverse analysis available to a broader audience.

Views from the Region

June 16, 2017

Last week marked the fiftieth anniversary of the 6-Day War, which saw Israel gain control over the Sinai, the Golan Heights, Gaza, the West Bank and East Jerusalem. Interestingly, the anniversary was characterized mostly by silence in the Arab press, while Israeli commentators continued to debate the merits of the ongoing occupation and the impact it has had on the Israeli society.


In an official statement published on the Palestinian website Wafa, the Palestinian Foreign Ministry has characterized the Israeli occupation as “50 years of injustice and denial”: “The Israeli military occupation has established itself as a colonial regime founded and maintained by the policy of displacement and replacement. Israel’s insatiable desire for territorial expansion and its insistence on denying the existence of the Palestinian people as well as its refusal to recognize the national, historic, and cultural rights of Palestinians to their homeland have made of this occupation a belligerent colonial regime that defies international law with impunity…. The Israeli occupation of Palestine permeates all aspects of Palestinian life. It is a regime designed to oppress the Palestinian people, strip them of their land and natural resources, and deny them their basic human rights. This occupation is a cruel system of injustice predicated on the racist notion that one people’s prosperity and strength must come from the subjugation and oppression of another people, whose rights, prosperity, and future are at the mercy of their occupier.”

Criticism of the occupation of Palestinian territory has also come from within Israel, with Yedioth Ahronoth’s Sami Michael concerned that the occupation has diverted precious resources and has morally corrupted the state of Israel: “We have poured millions into the settlements over the past 50 years at the expense of Israeli taxpayers, and especially at the expense of nurturing development towns and villages, poor neighborhoods and impoverished populations, including the elderly people who poured their hearts into building this country. The fruit of prosperity borne by this lost and deprived generation is now enjoyed by several thousand people who have become the masters of our fate…. The occupation has deprived the State of Israel of the possibility to lead its life with sovereign borders. By turning occupied territories into ‘Israeli,’ we are denying the Palestinians the protection and immunity granted by international law to occupied people. We are violating basic human rights…. Every occupation is a crime according to humane, universal and democratic values. The moral corruption in Israeli society is reflected in the perpetuating the occupation, whose advocates have no problem using shameful incitement, intimidation and threats to that end.”

The Palestinian news site Ma’an News highlights the work of Israeli human rights group B’Tselem, and their assessment of the negative impact the occupation has had on the Israelis, let alone the Palestinian people: “Israeli human rights group B’Tselem meanwhile denounced the long-term consequences of decades of occupation on generations of Israelis and Palestinians. ‘It is a reality in which a third and fourth generation of Palestinians don’t know what it’s like to live free; and a third and fourth generation of Israelis don’t know what it’s like not to be occupiers,’ B’Tselem wrote on Friday. ‘It is a reality that no matter how you tilt your head at it means that Israel cannot be called democratic.’… ‘The occupation doesn’t really affect us in our day-to-day lives as Israeli citizens: we created a law enforcement system that ensures that none of those responsible for the continued occupation or its attendant human rights violations will be held accountable,’ the Israeli NGO said. ‘The effort to achieve a different future here is not only a pressing moral task, lives depend on it. Working together we trust that we will yet see the realization of a different future, one based on liberty, equality and human rights’.”

A similar argument is made by Jessica Montell, who, in a recent op-ed for the Jerusalem Post, admitted to the “ambivalence” that many Jews feel over the “ugly reality” of the occupation: “Many Jews face the fiftieth anniversary of the Six Day War with ambivalence. Those who lived through it remember the joy of Israel’s decisive victory. Yet for most Jews, that is ancient history and the legacy of that war is much more polarizing. Some celebrate the return to the biblical heartlands of the Jewish people, but many others are aware that Israeli presence in those lands comes at a very high price…. For years, Israel explained the contradiction of a democracy maintaining military rule over millions of people who are not part of the democracy by arguing that the situation was temporary. The fiftieth year calls into question this definition…. Today Israel has one of the most powerful militaries in the world, and peace treaties with two of the neighbors it fought in 1967. Yet some argue that the threat posed by Israel’s continued rule over the Palestinians endangers Israel’s future no less than hostile armies massing on our borders. We are in danger of losing either the Jewish or the democratic character of the state, Israel’s very raison d’etre.”

For Times of Israel’s Naomi Chazan, the anniversary calls for a “reset” on how Israelis approach the resolution of the decades-long occupation and conflict with the Palestinian people: “The most pertinent question is the one least addressed during this commemorative outpouring: how can Israel extricate itself from the debilitating cycle of constant motion without foundational resolution?… First, the time has come to recognize the need to proactively restart the quest for an end to the conflict…. Second, any serious initiative implies that Israelis reconnect with the issues on a variety of levels…. More tellingly, most Israelis don’t have the faintest idea what life in the West Bank under Israeli overrule looks like. So, too, is a reexamination of the language used to describe Israel’s presence in the West Bank. Replacing the term occupation with, at best, ‘administered’ or ‘disputed’ territories, or, officially, by ‘Judea and Samaria’ or ‘liberated’ territories may buttress certain (often messianic) aspirations…. Israelis have the choice of persisting in a paralyzing passivity or taking matters into their own hands. The opportunity for a restart based on reconnecting with Palestinians, reshaping the nature of Israeli-Palestinian interactions and redesigning just and lasting solutions exists.”

Across the Arab world, many continue to reflect glumly on the swift nature of the Israeli victory in 1967. Marwan Asman argues in this Gulf News op-ed that the Arab defeat must be studied and understood if regional relations are to move forward: “The 1967 war stands out as a sore thumb in the history of Israeli-Arab relations. In just six days, the West Bank and Gaza Strip fell, Jerusalem was occupied and shortly after annexed, the Sinai Peninsula was taken and the Golan Heights captured by Israel…. the short war that put Israel in the driving seat to dictate the unfolding of events in the region and to pussyfoot on important issues, like the peace process, and to send Arabs, Palestinians and other countries across the world on a wild-goose chase about its ultraism for peace negotiations — something to which it finds the flimsiest of excuses to get out of. That is why Arabs need to study the June War of 1967 to be able come out with a meaningful methodical paradigm for their losses. They need to study it to be able to deal with an enemy that has no interest in peace but must be brought to the negotiating table to avoid the slippery-slope of another devastating war.”

Finally, Jordan Times’s Ramzy Baroud reflects on the pernicious consequences of conflict to issue a call for a quick and peaceful resolution of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict: “On June 7, 1967, when Israel’s prime minister at the time, Levi Eshkol, learned that Jerusalem was captured, he uttered his famous quote: ‘We’ve been given a good dowry, but it comes with a bride we don’t like.’ The ‘dowry’ being Jerusalem, of course, and the ‘bride’ being the Palestinian people…. The land is shared by two people, but under entirely different rules. Jews are governed through a democratic system almost exclusively tailored for them, and Palestinians subsist under an apartheid regime designed to keep them marginalized, occupied and oppressed. Fifty years later, it is crystal clear that military solutions have failed, and that apartheid can only contribute to further strife, bring more pain and misery, but never true peace. The 1967 war teaches that war is never the answer and that a shared future is possible when we all understand that violent occupation can never bring a just peace. Only co-existence, based on equal rights for both peoples, will.”



  • Middle East Policy

    Middle East Policy has been one of the world’s most cited publications on the region since its inception in 1982, and our Breaking Analysis series makes high-quality, diverse analysis available to a broader audience.

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