The greatest threat to Israel’s security today is neither ISIS nor Iran, but its own occupation of Palestine.
This is a theory that has been gaining steam in defense communities in Israel and the West, especially since the release of the 2012 documentary The Gatekeepers. In the documentary, six former directors of Shin Bet, Israel’s equivalent of the FBI — hardly peace-loving, why-can’t-we-all-get-along hippies — make this argument. And the evidence supports their claims.
On the most basic level, the occupation and the consistent human rights abuses that accompany it continue to alienate Israel from its Western democratic allies. This is best seen in Europe. Staunch anti-Zionist Jeremy Corbyn now heads the UK’s Labour Party, Sweden and the Vatican have recognized Palestinian statehood (as has the EU “in principle”) and the European Parliament voted in September to label all products originating in Israeli settlements in the West Bank and other Occupied Territories (a nod to the global boycott, divestment and sanctions [BDS] movement, which has called for such goods to be boycotted).
This reaction is consistent with the international response to apartheid and human rights violations committed by the states of South Africa and Rhodesia in the mid-late 20th century. Today, even the American public’s support of Israel is waning — especially in the younger generation, as a Pew Research Center poll indicated during the war in Gaza last summer: 29 percent of young Americans blamed Israel more for the invasion, whereas only 21 percent said Hamas was more responsible.
Unfortunately, much of this occupation-inspired anti-Israel and anti-Zionist sentiment in the west is turned into anti-Semitism. Correlating with the 2014 invasion of Gaza, anti-Jewish rhetoric and attacks spiked in Europe, especially in Germany and France. Globally, anti-Semitic violence increased by 38 percent last year, and the numbers of Jews leaving Europe for Israel surged as well.
However, due to the occupation, even Israel is no longer safe for Jews. A recent wave of unrest resulted in the stabbing of 10 Israelis by Palestinians in October, and the killing of more than 68 Palestinians by the Israeli Defense Forces (IDF) — at least 15 of whom were not involved in any terrorist incidents. But one of the greatest dangers to Israeli Jews was other Israeli Jews.
Numerous Mizrahim, or Arab Jews, were attacked by Israeli mobs or soldiers who thought they were Palestinians. In a similar event, an Eritrean refugee was lynched by Israeli Jews who suspected him of terrorism. And a white Israeli rabbi, who heads Rabbis for Human Rights, was attacked and almost stabbed by an Israeli settler while attending an olive harvest at a Palestinian farm — one of many anti- or non-Zionist Jews to suffer such violence.
The most important way the occupation threatens Israel, however, is how it serves as the primary motive for Palestinian violence now and in the past. Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu reputes this, but in a November 1 cabinet meeting, the Israeli Chief of Military Intelligence Maj. General Herzl Halevi said that despair and frustration with Israeli actions and policies are among the reasons for the recent unrest in East Jerusalem and the West Bank.
According to Israeli newspaper Haaretz, “Three people who attended the meeting and spoke with Haaretz on the condition of anonymity, reported that Halevi said many of the young perpetrators decided to carry out attacks because they were in despair over the state of things ‘and felt they had nothing to lose.’”
Halevi is the third active-duty general to argue this in recent weeks. Testifying in court on related matters on October 22, Maj. General Nitzan Alon admitted that “Some of the motivation of the Palestinians to carry out terror attacks is due to the violence of right-wing elements in the West Bank.” At a conference on rehabilitating Gaza on October 28, Brig. General Guy Goldstein — who works on maintaining relations between the IDF and Palestinian authorities — explicitly said that the violence between Israelis and Palestinians would not end “unless there is some significant change, partly if not mostly on the diplomatic front.” There is no military solution to this problem, but only a diplomatic one.
Netanyahu, however, has vehemently disavowed such notions. The occupation is not to blame, he often says. Palestinian hatred of Jews is. To further prove this point, Netanyahu asserted on October 20 that the former Grand Mufti of Jerusalem — a Palestinian — was responsible for the Holocaust, and that Hitler had merely wanted to expel the Jews from Europe. When this comment predictably triggered outrage from Jewish groups worldwide — and even an admonition from German Chancellor Angela Merkel, whose spokesman said “We know that responsibility for this crime against humanity is German and very much our own” — Netanyahu walked it back.
Why is Netanyahu so opposed to attributing this violence to the occupation? Simply put, he doesn’t want to end the occupation.
In the days leading up to his reelection earlier this year, he famously promised that so long as he remained prime minister, there would be no Palestinian state. In a recent speech to the Knesset, he said that “We [Israel] need to control all of the territory for the foreseeable future.” He later noted that “I’m asked if we will live forever by the sword — yes.” Similarly, in late August, Israeli President Reuven Rivlin said of the Occupied West Bank that “Our right to this land is not an issue of political debate, it is a basic fact of modern Zionism.”
The Israeli government has made clear that as far as they’re concerned, the occupation of Palestine is permanent. But from an objective viewpoint, the occupation is also leading towards Israel’s downfall. In this context, where the occupation faces opposition both from those who find it morally abhorrent and those who simply have Israel’s best interests in mind, there is only one solution that will lead to genuine peace in the region.
Boycotting Israel is the sole nonviolent method with a proven history of effectiveness. The BDS movement has garnered increased support internationally in recent years, even among American Jews. In fact, Jewish American Zionists Steven Levitsky and Glen Weyl published an opinion piece in the Washington Post on October 23 where they declared their support for a boycott.
“It is thus, reluctantly but resolutely, that we are refusing to travel to Israel, boycotting products produced there and calling on our universities to divest and our elected representatives to withdraw aid to Israel,” they announced. “Until Israel seriously engages with a peace process that either establishes a sovereign Palestinian state or grants full democratic citizenship to Palestinians living in a single state, we cannot continue to subsidize governments whose actions threaten Israel’s long-term survival.”
Such a boycott has, of course, come under heavy criticism. In the days before Levitsky and Weyl’s op-ed, dozens of British artists and politicians co-signed a letter in the Guardian opposing a cultural boycott of Israel. Among the signatories was author J.K. Rowling, author of the Harry Potter series, who cited her character Albus Dumbledore in response to criticism of her decision. “Dumbledore is an academic and he believes that certain channels of communication should always remain open,” she noted.
But Rowling appears to ignore one of Dumbledore’s most famous quotes from Harry Potter and the Sorcerer’s Stone: “It takes a great deal of bravery to stand up to your enemies, but a great deal more to stand up to your friends.”
Even supporters of Israel must acknowledge that the Israeli occupation is wrong, and that it threatens Israel’s security. When your friends are doing wrong and endangering themselves, it’s your responsibility to stand up to them and demand they stop. Joining the boycott is the best way to do that.