On my first trip to the West Bank, I was struck with a strange sense of familiarity. I left my apartment in Jerusalem and set off driving south, passing Bethlehem on my left and Israeli settlement blocks on my right. Driving through the Occupied West Bank, I stopped at an Israeli petrol station, just like the ones in my neighbourhood. I stopped at an Israeli national grocery chain and was almost apprehended by Israeli traffic police for speeding as I rejoined the well-maintained road. Despite the fact that I was in the middle of Occupied Palestinian Territory, I felt as though I was still in Israel and, according to the Israeli legal system, I was.
On the surface, every sector of Israeli society, except religious settlers and the military establishment, understand the occupation to be an ephemeral security measure necessary only in the absence of a peace agreement with the Palestinians. Likewise, many in the international community, especially American Jews, believe that Israel is desperately working towards a two-state solution which will finally end Israel’s colonial project in the West Bank and Gaza. Yet, the reality on the ground is markedly different.
Settlements continue to grow despite the attention they receive in the media. New immigrants from the United States, France and South Africa as well as Israelis from Tel Aviv pour into the steady supply of homes over the 1948 Green Line in search of a modest house with a garden at a reasonable price.
New settlers are only part of the Israeli mosaic in the West Bank. Israel’s economy is deeply entrenched beyond the Green Line. Recently, the Israeli Supreme Court ruled that Israeli companies could extract natural minerals from the rich land of the West Bank. The main water aquifers which supply thriving Tel Aviv and Haifa are found under the mountain top city settlement of Ariel. The captive economy of Palestine is a central and lucrative focal point for Israeli exports.
Given this entrenchment of infrastructure, the cornerstone of Israeli society, the army, is symbiotically connected to the West Bank. Israel’s famed conscription is maintained at such high levels, in part, to allow for a constant supply of soldiers needed to patrol the dark corners in between the hills of the West Bank.
Israel’s massive military industry, almost unrivalled throughout the world and known to provide the latest “combat tested” equipment, ranging from drones to tear gas canisters, uses the West Bank as a research and design laboratory. Without the West Bank and its hundreds of Palestinian villages, which double as elaborate training grounds, the industry would surely suffer.
The current Israeli parliament, controlled by an aggressive pro-Settler majority which enjoys enormous popularity in Israeli opinion polls, is busy ensuring that criticism of Israel’s slow annexation of the West Bank is quickly silenced. New laws, like the recently passed anti-boycott legislation that makes nonviolent calls for boycotts of Israel by Israeli civilians a civil crime, have completely erased the Green Line. Human rights organisations which attempt to document Israel’s routine violations on the ground are also targeted with harsh funding laws and vile attacks on the evening Israeli news programmes.
When social justice protests erupted in the centre of Tel Aviv’s cafe-lined streets, all discussion of the occupation or even its economic impact was discredited as political. The time to talk about the social rights for Israelis is now, the protesters claimed, and discussion of the occupation is merely exhausted political banter. Despite the desire of some to draw a connection between social justice and an end to the occupation, Tel Aviv residents, by and large, rubber stamped the occupation. Without a doubt, the social justice protesters, ballooning at times to 500,000 people, demonstrated that there is no longer a large segment of Israeli society that is willing to demand an end to Israel’s occupation of the West Bank.