The Israeli Election and the Invisible Occupation

Israelis go to the polls next Tuesday, April 09th. There are an astonishing 46 registered political parties vying for just 120 seats in the Knesset (Israeli Parliament). More than a dozen or so parties are expected to pass the national electoral threshold of 3.25% of the vote to enter parliament.

Bibi Netanyahu’s Likud Party – leading in the polls for over 18 months – now finds itself unexpectedly trailing a hastily formed new centre party alliance – called “Kahol-Levan” or “Blue-White” – lead by a troika of ex-military Generals.

Netanyahu is still favoured to lead the next government as the parties of the nationalist-right, and religious-right are all committed to supporting both the Likud and Netanyahu to lead the next government. At least six, possibly nine political parties of varying but decidedly right-wing hues are expected to enter the Knesset. Collectively they continue to hold a 10 to 15 seat-lead over any potential (Zionist) centre-left coalition.

Netanyahu already holds the Prime Ministerial record for the number of consecutive days in office, 3,648 days to be exact (as of April 1st – 2019) – a few days  shy of 10 years.

The troika of retired army Generals – all ex chiefs of the Israeli Defense Force (IDF) – are not surprisingly brandishing their security credentials in an attempt to dislodge Netanyahu from power.

In a controversial video, ostensibly designed to undercut any accusations that he is in any way a “leftist” (A political insult in Israeli politics), Benny Gantz, the leader of “Kahol-Levan” has boasted of how many Palestinians “Terrorists” he was responsible for killing (as then head of the IDF) during the most recent Israeli-Gaza war. His boastful body count – 1,364 dead Palestinians to be exact.

But it’s not security that dominates the election campaign but Bibi Netanyahu himself.  A decision by the Attorney General to recommend the indictment of Netanyahu on various corruption charges – whilst long expected – has nevertheless changed the dynamic of the election.  April 09th is shaping up to be nothing short of a national referendum on the future of “King” Bibi as he is locally known.

‘Bread and butter’ issues also feature heavily. In a ‘Times of Israel’ poll when asked which issue was the most important for the government to deal with, 46% of Israelis chose “Economic issues such as the cost of living, housing prices, employment” Some 21% opted for “Security”

Somewhat surprisingly, despite the whirlwind of charges hanging over Netanyahu just 17% plumped for “Democracy, the rule of law and corruption”.

Trailing far behind just 11% of voters chose “Relations with the Palestinians, diplomacy and the peace process”.

The Israeli “Occupation” of the West Bank entered its 52nd year in 2019. The Israeli-Palestinian conflict is never far from the news headlines, yet the “Occupation” itself remains invisible as an election story. Mainstream media coverage of the election has to date largely ignored it.

The “Occupation” is being ignored as an election story because – quite simply – the current status quo of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict is acceptable to too many Israelis.

There hasn’t been a meaningful peace process since Ehud Olmert was in power more than a decade ago. The political parties on the ‘Centre’ or the ‘Centre-Left’ generally do everything to avoid talking about the issue. The media with a few notable exceptions has generally colluded in this public indifference.

The front line of the conflict has shifted to Gaza. The “Occupation” (of the West Bank) has morphed into something altogether more abstract and intangible. For the vast majority of Israelis, its’ something that’s happening ‘over there’, somewhere else, down the road, not be seen or experienced. Suicide bombing have long ceased. Despite the near constant complaining, life is generally good for Israelis. Israelis are, according to the United Nations, amongst the happiest and healthiest people in the world.

The “Occupation” itself, including the lives of millions of Palestinians living under it, has become largely physically invisible in the lives of ordinary Israelis. ‘It’, ‘they’, simply do not impinge on Israeli life. This is an “Occupation” that is largely hidden behind walls, out of sight, kept at a safe distance.

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To talk of an invisible “Occupation” may seem somewhat perplexing to outsiders. For Israel’s many critics, the 50-year old “Occupation”, the continued denial of Palestinian statehood, the imagery of military checkpoints, separation walls, segregated roads simply define the nation.

How, one may wonder, is the “Occupation” physically or psychologically invisible when the entire country (West Bank included) is not much bigger than the US state of Vermont and smaller than the size Belgium with Israel proper at its narrowest point narrower than the length of Manhattan.

How is it invisible when earlier this year a UN Report revealed that 2018 was the worst year for Palestinian deaths and injuries in the West Bank and Gaza since the Gaza conflict of 2014. In 2018, 295 Palestinian were killed and 29,000 were injured. In the same year 15 Israelis were killed and 37 injured.

Yet despite these numbers, the “Occupation”, particularly in greater Tel Aviv (home to 4 out of 10 Israelis) remains largely unseen. This is an “Occupation” that has grown increasingly concealed through a curious mix of blissful ignorance, wilful detachment and jaded indifference. That ignorance, detachment and indifference is fed and sustained in multiple, diverse and often subtle ways.

Palestinians cities in the West Bank are completely omitted in the  daily or nightly Israeli weather maps. It’s as if all Palestinians living in the West Bank had simply vanished.

The so called “Green Line” or 1949 armistice that delineates Israel proper from the occupied West Bank has become increasingly erased. It is simply taken for granted by Israelis that it is next to impossible to understand where their country’s internationally recognized border actually lies in their country’s capital city Jerusalem. The “Green Line” is all but invisible in the geography books of Israeli school books and in the maps hanging in government offices around the country.

Even the infamous 8m (24 ft) high concrete Israeli separation barrier has in places been made to disappear. The 8m wall that surround the Palestinian city of Qallkiliya on three sides – a city of 45,000 – is concealed for Israelis whizzing past it on the motorway (In Israel proper) by dense green lush, ostensibly motorway landscape planting.

Many Israeli motorways that cut deep inside the West Bank do not allow for access to surrounding Palestinians towns and villages dotted in the landscape. Israelis are after all legally forbidden from visiting Palestinian cities in the West Bank, supposedly for their own safety, but it conveniently reinforces a collective “Out of sight – out of mind” mentality.

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Perhaps it’s not surprising, if a little unsettling, that in a recent study found two in five Israelis aged 18 to 29 believed Israel had already annexed the West Bank, presumably in the knowledge that Palestinians in the West Bank can’t vote in the Israeli parliament. It seems that the 50-year occupation is reinforcing not just its normality but, ironically, its invisibility.

The largely ignored Palestinian parties running in the election may however just refocus the minds of Israeli electorate on the reality of the “Occupation”.

There is a chance with neither the rightwing block nor the hastily formed opposition centrist alliance likely to capture a majority in parliament these Palestinian parties will hold the balance of power. Netanyahu has sought to exploit this fact to stoke up fear of a centre-left minority government dependent on Palestinian parliamentary support.

Bizarrely it has taken an Israeli TV model and Wonder Woman herself to call him out, and ask what’s so terrible about a coalition with ‘the Arabs’, after all, are they not citizens too?

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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