I sometimes mention in conversation “the occupation” and many people seem offended by this term, so I’d like to talk about it. Not to offend people but rather to clarify my meaning, define my terms, and through my explanation, answer some recurring objections I hear when I talk about it.
I’m going to try to avoid talking legalities and theory as much as possible and stick more to real daily life.
First I’d like to talk some history and this map will be a helpful reference.
In 1948 Israel won it’s war of independence and declared its borders in what used to be the British Mandate of Palestine. In the above map these borders are colored in yellow. The Arabs that resided within those borders got full Israeli citizenship, including voting rights, right from the get-go. This can be seen in the First Knesset with the Arab party “Democratic List of Nazareth” that won 2 seats and the party Maki, the Israeli Communist Party, that got 4 seats of which one was an Arab.
Then in 1967 the Six Day War happened. As a result of the war Israel expanded it’s rule from the previous ‘48 borders until the Jordan River from the Jordanian front, the Sinai Desert and The Gaza Strip from the Egyptian front, and the Golan Heights from the Syrians. In the map this expansion is colored in tan.
What happened to these conquered lands?
The Sinai was returned to Egypt in the Israeli-Egypt peace deal in 1978.
Gaza is subject of an entire article that I won’t touch now.
The Golan was (all but formally) annexed in 1981 and the Arab residents were given the option to request full Israeli citizenship which, if granted, includes the full right to vote in Israeli Parliamentary elections.
East Jerusalem was part of the West Bank that Israel captured during the Six Day War in ’67. Palestinians that were in East Jerusalem right after ‘67 were counted and given Jerusalem Residency. They were not given Israeli citizenship. Their Jerusalem residency gives them the right to vote in Jerusalem Municipal elections but not in Israeli Parliamentary elections.
Their residency gives them rights to freely enter Israel, basic infrastructure such as water, electricity, sewage, public transportation, zoning, parks, medical clinics, schooling facilities, and others. Unfortunately many Palestinian Jerusalem residents are not provided with many of these rights as seen here.
As an example from the above link, although Jerusalem is 39% Palestinian there are only 10 municipal pre-kindergartens in Palestinian neighborhoods compared to the Jewish areas that have 193 municipal pre-kindergartens.
Another much spoken about issue is the issue of zoning. According to this article: of 3,238 building permits granted in Jerusalem only 188 were granted in Arab Neighborhoods. That means that 92.7% of building permits went to 61% of the population. The ramifications of this is that if an East Jerusalemite wants or needs to move out of their parents house, they are forced to build illegally and run the risk of having their house demolished by Israel. So far 2,000 houses have been demolished and there are 10,000 outstanding demolition orders. Source.
East Jerusalemites, though, do have the right to request Israeli citizenship. Just the same, Israel has the right to deny these requests. As an example, in 2012-2013 Reuters reports that 1434 East Jerusalemites requested citizenship of which only 189 were granted. In addition to the many conditions to receive citizenship, the state also holds the right to strip residents of their Jerusalem Residency status which between 1967 and 2014 Israel has done to 14,481 Palestinians (source).
So Sinai we returned, Gaza I’m not discussing at the moment, The Golan residents we gave citizenship, East Jerusalem we discussed, but what did we do with the rest of The West Bank?
The West Bank
The Palestinians that were residing in the West Bank before and after the Six Day war did not get Israeli citizenship nor did they get any status like the Palestinians of East Jerusalem. They were not given any right to vote in the Knesset nor were they given any democratic rights that all citizens and residents of Israel are granted.
West Bank residents are subject to military rule under the IDF by an Israeli governing body that governs Palestinians living in the West Bank. This governing body is called the “civil administration”.
This Civil Administration, also known as Coordinator of Government Activities in The Territories (or COGAT), is now the reigning power in The West Bank.
Let me take a step back and repeat in other words: Palestinians are ruled by an administration that they cannot and did not vote for. This administration is not democratic in the way it’s “rulers” are picked nor is it democratic in the rights that it gives over the people it rules.
I’d like to delve a bit into what it means that the West Bank Palestinians don’t live with democratic rights.
At the root is the governing body, Israel’s Civil Administration, that is not a body chosen by the people it rules over. That is pretty much the definition of undemocratic, but what ramifications does this have daily?
I figured a good way to find out what it means to live under military rule daily is to ask some friends of mine that are Palestinian West Bank residents.
The first thing one mentioned was the checkpoints. That if he wants to go from one Palestinian city to another there can be, in his words, 2 or 3 checkpoints on the way. This is a known issue that a ride that’s a short distance away can take hours for Palestinians due to checkpoints and circuitous routes to avoid settlements.
Another friend said that they aren’t allowed on their olive fields except during olive harvest season where they are allowed to harvest their olives at certain IDF designated times and dates.
Last but not least, they both said they’re afraid of being out at night in the city they live in. They both said (separately) that there are nightly arrests all over the city by The IDF and they’re afraid of being caught in the middle of one while they’re walking in the streets and being shot at by an Israeli Soldier.
We hold democracy dear because if the people choose who’s in power, the person in power always has to act in the interest of the people. Why do we do this? Because we’ve learned from history that those in power who can abuse it, usually do. So democracy comes and holds back abuses of power. In The West Bank, though, this is not the case. The people have no power nor control over the people that weild power over them.
The Palestinian Authority
There is one more thing I’d like to address before wrapping up and that’s the Palestinian Authority (PA). I’ve heard it stated that Palestinians in the West Bank do have sovereignty and their government is the PA headed by Mahmoud Abbas.
It is true that they have their own government but it’s a government that doesn’t have full control. Their power is limited and they don’t have full sovereignty over the land they “rule”. They have no control over their borders or the surrounding land.
For example, the PA doesn’t have any control of the land in Area C in the West Bank which is essentially all the open space and totals 60% of the land. Here’s a map and some interesting and more technical information.
How does this effect people on the streets? Lack of space means no city growth, no new villages, no space for factories, industrial zones, or waste treatment facilities. No space for farming or access to farms that a Palestinian already owns.
In addition to land, you can see the PA’s lack of control and sovereignty in the ability Israel retains to impose curfews on Palestinian cities and villages.
Another example is that Israel can cut off Palestinian villages and cities and block entry and exit. Here’s a recent example of when Israel excercised this.
Having the PA doesn’t solve the issues my friends spoke about such as the IDF raids in cities that the PA is supposed to have sovereignty over, not having access to their own olive fields, and the general freedom of movement (be it curfews, checkpoints, or temporary road/city/village closures).
Is this what a sovereign government looks like? The PA was created 20 years ago as a 5 year interim government and Israel retained and retains control over many daily walks of life of Palestinians.
Now let me make the important differentiation between Israel within it’s ‘48 borders and it’s ‘67 borders, and this is the crux.
Israel within it’s 1948 borders is a full-fledged democracy. It’s Jews, Muslims, Christians, and any other religion enjoy full freedom of religion. Discrimination against non-Jews definitely exists, but that doesn’t mean ‘48 Israel isn’t a democracy.
It’s this Israel that we talk about and we are proud of. It’s this Israel that has Arab valedictorians, Arab IDF recruits, Arab members of Knesset, Arab scientists, Arab supreme court justices, Arab officers, and the list goes on.
“Israel” within it’s 1967 borders is very different than the previous truly democratic ’48 Israel. 1967 Israel has an entire chunk, the West Bank, that is NOT democratic. It’s an area that has millions of people without any rights to vote for the people that rule over them.
And that’s what I mean by “occupation”.
 This is seen here where the Israeli Ministry of Foreign Affairs says that Israel extended “Israeli law, jurisdiction and administration”. The word ‘annex’ is not used. In fact, Israel foughts against the usage of that word. See Abba Eban’s quote to the UN here