“A state ruling a hostile population of 1.5 to 2 million foreigners would necessarily become a secret-police state, with all that this implies for education, free speech and democratic institutions,” Leibowitz wrote in 1968.
And yet, we return to our original premise: why is the current atmosphere any different than the years and decades past? People have been declaring Leibowitz’s prophesy fulfilled for over four decades now. Maybe there has been no dramatic turn for the worse. Maybe we are simply witnessing the latest dip in the depressing trajectory we’ve been following since June 6, 1967 — or, as many Palestinians would argue, since May 15, 1948.
At the end of the day it doesn’t really matter. Soon Israeli Right will celebrate 50 years since the occupation began, while multiple generations of Israelis and Palestinians will have never known a political system that treats all of its subjects equally. Institutional psychology teaches us that institutions are inherently averse to change, that their natural state is fighting to preserve the status quo. In Israel, that means fighting to maintain the occupation, fighting to retain military control over the West Bank, to some extent over the Gaza Strip, and on a number of levels, over the Palestinian people themselves.
After 50 years, it is only natural to perceive anything that challenges the occupation and Jewish political supremacy, the status quo Israel’s government is fighting to preserve, as a threat to the regime. And in the popular lexicon of contemporary Israeli political thought, a threat to the current Israeli regime is a threat to the Jewish people. And that, although it may not be articulated quite in those terms, is where human rights and anti-occupation activists find themselves today.
Remembering the context
The important thing to remember, and this becomes exponentially more difficult as it becomes more personal, is that Israeli human rights and anti-occupation activists are not the ones who most need and deserve the world’s attention here. Israeli human rights activists are not under attack not because of who they are or what they believe in, they are under attack because work threatens the occupation.
And while the political atmosphere in Israel is becoming increasingly hostile to the politics of left-wing Israelis, Palestinians living under Israeli military rule have not had freedom of expression for five decades. They do not have the rights of assembly, of free speech, to vote, to enter or leave their country, to move about freely within that country, to conduct trade, to live with their chosen spouses.