Not too long ago I was talking with a good friend and fellow member of the movement for justice and peace. I told him that it’s not the occupation itself that is pushing Diaspora youth away from Israel; it’s that they are lied to throughout their Jewish educational lives and then shocked when faced with what undoubtedly is a part of the reality here: Occupation, racism and violence.
There are some areas where other words could be more apt. You could, if you felt like it, argue that Gaza is under siege by Israel and Egypt and not occupied territory. After all, the neighboring states decide what goes in an out of Gaza, there are no settlers there anymore and the army only enters the strip on occasion. If you were so inclined, you could argue that Israel annexed the Golan Heights and even though basically no one else recognizes that annexation, it is a part of Israel because Israel says so.
You could even argue that East Jerusalem is not under occupation because it Israel annexed it too, a move that is also unrecognized by basically everyone outside of Israel. If you did decide to argue that it is not occupied you would have to find a different word for the reality that a few hundred thousand Palestinians live there as second class citizens without many rights including the right to vote in national elections. What’s that word again?
All of the above arguments could, in some dimension, lead to interesting debates and fruitful meetings of minds. To some, the term 'occupation' describes the overall experience of Palestinians in relation to Israel. Some say it doesn't say enough and some say it says too much. And despite any debate that may be going on around you right now the occupation is very real and very agreed upon as the term to use in the West Bank. It is complicated but it is occupation, and it is worth understanding why.
The United Nations General Assembly as well as the Security Council also use that term in numerous resolutions. Even the President of the United States (Israel’s best friend) used the word a short time ago.
Any way you cut it the Palestinians of the West Bank are occupied. What’s an occupation anyhow? It’s when a territory is under a hostile military’s control, but not officially taken over. Calling the occupation an occupation is not a judgment of Israeli policy. It is Israeli policy.
Of course, it isn’t that simple. As I learned the first time I took a tour with Breaking the Silence, Israelis who live and travel in the West Bank are not under occupation. They answer to Israeli law, even over the “Green Line”, but Palestinians in Areas B and C of the West Bank live under Israeli martial law and Palestinians in Area A basically do too any time Israel feels like it.
Martial law, the system of checkpoints and lack of freedom of movement, curfews, arrests, humiliation, home demolitions, assault and sometimes killing is clear and present throughout the West Bank.
Pretending that the occupation of Palestinians is not a fact on the ground here is, in fact, a lie. It is a lie that leads to shock and disgust when those who are lied to find out the truth. Instead of desperately searching for words that don’t describe reality here but may make one feel more comfortable we should be telling the truth, using the internationally recognized words that we have, so we face the reality of the occupation and end it.