Jewish memory and the occupation

It seems to be a peculiarity of the Jewish-Israeli mind that it can remember promises that God made over 5,000 years ago but not the (perhaps insignificant) fact that Israel occupied the Palestinian territories in 1967.

We have remarkable, almost palpable, memories of the Holocaust, but when it comes to the Palestinians we can’t remember as far back as two weeks ago.

Take, for example, the current round of butchery, which, if you ask nine out of 10 Israelis, began when Hamas started firing rockets at Israel a little over a week ago in an unprovoked and totally irrational attack. That and nothing else, is the background.

As for the Israeli military rampage through the West Bank that preceded the rockets, which was publicly proclaimed by Israel as a bid to cripple Hamas and its infrastructure in the West Bank … what rampage? Either it never happened or it had nothing to do with the rockets. So what’s the relevance?

This memory oddity (to describe it as selective would be to infer intent, which I would never do) is key to understanding contemporary Israel; the John Kerrys of the world ignore it at their peril. Rather than filling their Middle East teams with diplomats and whizz-kid international relations graduates, they need a bunch of shrinks and neuro-somethings-or-other. We have a brain problem here.

The degree to which most Israelis have managed to forget the occupation – have simply erased it from their consciousness – is truly remarkable. Mention the word “occupation” to them and they look at you blankly, often accompanied by sentences along the lines of, “why are you discussing history when they’re firing rockets at us?”

Raise the subject of the occupation at a social gathering and eyes immediately loll back in their sockets, as if to say “who the hell is this parvenu? Doesn’t he understand that there are things one simply doesn’t talk about it polite company?” Even among educated and supposedly cosmopolitan Israelis, talking about the occupation is terribly infra dig.

If the occupation occupies any place at all in the collective memory, it is on a dusty shelf alongside the War of Independence (but don’t mention the Nakba) and the Six Day War. Something that happened in the distant past, whatever you may think of it – and history, of course, can’t be rewritten.

To many Israelis, questioning the occupation is vaguely akin to Holocaust denial– except that the Holocaust still has a direct impact on our lives, while the occupation has no impact whatsoever. It’s not only that attempting to debate the subject defies reason, it’s also distasteful. It indicates a vulgar radicalism that clear-headed, feet-on-the-ground Israelis deplore.

The occupation has disappeared in the mists of time. It’s relevance to what is going on here daily is zero. Attributing the Hamas rocket fire to the occupation makes as little sense to the average Israeli as attributing it to Brazil’s pathetic showing in the World Cup. Other than a vague convergence of timing, there’s absolutely no connection.

Over a year ago, I blogged about what I described as “Israel’s post-occupation politics.” Referring to the election that was about to take place, I wrote:

“Even before a vote has been cast, it is clear that the 2013 poll will be Israel’s first post-occupation election. The first election since 1967 in which the fate of the Palestinian territories occupied in the Six Day War will not be a major issue – either for the politicians or for the bulk of the electorate. For many Israelis on the right and in the center of the political spectrum, the fate of the territories has already been decided – if only by default. It is no longer a key issue.”

Eighteen months of Nafali Bennett and Yair Lapid have only confirmed that conclusion. The occupation may still loom large in the minds of Obama, Kerry and Ban Ki-moon, but we Israelis are a lot smarter than they are. They’re still bogged down in the past, while we’ve moved on. We no longer do the kova tembel and the hora – and we no longer do the occupation. Times have changed, bro.

Our dedication to Israeli schnorr means we have to play along with the Obamas and Kerrys, of course, and even, if absolutely necessary, engage in sham negotiations with Palestinians who we’d much rather forget about. But that, unfortunately, is a fact of life when you have a sugar-daddy. So, we open our legs and think of the flag. Prostitution is in the eyes of God – and we know where He stands.

From the Israeli perspective, there is no occupation, which means that there is no territory to be negotiated over – and therefore no two-state solution. We have not yet figured out what to do with the Palestinians, but for that there’s God, the Israeli Air Force and the ravages of time. Having succeeded excellently in forgetting the occupation, we’ll manage to forget the Palestinians as well.