Tonight (Monday), Israel will begin celebrating its 65th Independence Day. As on every Independence Day – and many other holidays besides this – the Palestinians in the West Bank will be under closure. You know, that short message at the end of the radio newsflash, which nobody pays attention to anymore, saying a closure was declared until the end of the holiday.
In the last 20 years, independence and closure went hand in hand. A rather large announcement about what Israelis are expected to do during the holiday, and a short, laconic, obligatory announcement that the right to movement of a few millions humans was restricted. We’ve grown accustomed to it. Nobody notices it anymore.
Officially, Israel has been independent for 65 years, ever since he read that declaration. In his diary, he wrote drily that “At four PM, Jewish independence was announced, and the state was created. Its fate is in the hands of the security forces.” Years later, he would say that “everyone went out to dance, I did not dance.” He knew Israel would have to live on its sword.
Nineteen years later, during the Six Day War, Israel won a Pyrrhic victory. It was a great victory, so great that 46 years later, we are still trying to untangle the fruits of that victory, to no avail. After another war, we made peace with Egypt, and after we agreed to talk to the Palestinians, we made peace with Jordan, as well.
But since June 1967, several weeks after that Independence Day, Israel ceased to be independent. It became the enslaver of millions of Palestinians – in the West Bank and the Gaza Strip – and the enslaver is never free. He always fears the enslaved, and slowly yet irrevocably he enslaves himself to the need to keep holding the enslaved.
The IDF’s victory in 1967 was its last great victory. A year later, in the Battle of Karama, where it engaged Palestinian and Jordanian forces, it suffered its first defeat. The Yom Kippur War was a tactical victory – one hell of a tactical victory, one of the greatest in history – but a strategic defeat. Israel lost over a thousand men trying to hold on to Sinai, and following the war it gave the peninsula up. Since then, the IDF went from defeat to defeat. The reason is simple: It basically ran out of regular armies to fight with. It had to contend with popular resistance. You can’t win in this sort of fight, not without a price our mind and conscience are no longer willing to pay. The IDF has, slowly yet irrevocably, become an occupation army, an army of garrison troops who put down insurrections. This carried a price when it had to face other armies, real armies.
Every enslaving force, from the Spartans and their Helots through the American South and its nightmares of a slave insurrection and ending with the French in Vietnam and Algiers, is haunted by what the enslaved will do to it, should they break free. The result is the tightening of the noose around the neck of the enslaved, accompanied by the increase of the fears of the enslaver. To the latter’s defense it must be said that his fears often show him to have a moral sense: He knows his actions are unjust, and, believing in justice, he knows he shall have to pay for them. All his actions are intended to delay this day of reckoning.
And so, as time passes, the enslaved twists the image of the enslaver. He invades his dreams, turning them into nightmares. He is there, yet not there, always. Every decision, even if he goes unmentioned, accounts for him. To the point the freedom of the enslaver, his ability to celebrate, to relax, is directly related to making certain the enslaved is tightly chained. To the point where he looks at the mirror and can no longer recognize himself. To the point where the prisoner and the jailer are chained to each other, unable to go free.
And there are excuses. Always there are excuses. There’s no choice. What happens if. So much blood has been spilled, how can we say it was spilled in vain. But in the end, the fact is clear: Israel ceased to be independent in 1967. It tied itself to the territories, and can no longer remember how to unbind the ties. Yet if wants to return to its better self, if it wants to become a model society and not a barracks society, it must free itself and the Palestinians.
The process will not be painless, but it is essential. In the future, it will hurt more, not less. If we truly want a country which “will be based on freedom, justice and peace as envisaged by the prophets of Israel; will ensure complete equality of social and political rights to all its inhabitants irrespective of religion, race or sex,” then we must make certain that when next we celebrate our independence, we can tell ourselves that this independence is not dependent on a closure, on the violating of the independence of another people.
The writers of the Declaration of Independence had the courage to write “we appeal – in the very midst of the onslaught launched against us now for months – to the Arab inhabitants of the State of Israel to preserve peace and participate in the building of the State on the basis of full and equal citizenship and due representation in all its provisional and permanent institutions. We extend our hand to all neighboring states and their peoples in an offer of peace and good neighborliness, and appeal to them to establish bonds of cooperation and mutual help with the sovereign Jewish people settled in its own land. The State of Israel is prepared to do its share in a common effort for the advancement of the entire Middle East.” Those words were written at the lowest ebb of the Independence War, the costliest of Israel’s wars, where 6,000 soldiers and civilians were killed.
It is time we restore ourselves to this courage, that we shed off the fear which eats at us, a fear which is the result of being enslavers, and take our fate back in our hands.
Let us move towards an independent Israel.