Israel’s Knesset has recently intensified its consideration and approval of numerous laws that appear to compromise the democratic nature of Israel, while strengthening the right wing’s control over various aspects of Israeli life. In light of this, Israel’s media is full of analysis and opinion pieces written by those worried by this trend. They say it will both increase discrimination against Israel’s Palestinian minority and narrow the space for freedom of expression and secular elements in Israel.
One article argued that, instead of fulfilling his promise to create two states, Israel and Palestine, Israeli Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu is pushing for two states in Israel–one secular and based in Tel Aviv and the other fundamentalist and based in Jerusalem. In another example, Haaretz co-owner and publisher Amos Schocken argued that one can easily see many similarities between Israel today and apartheid South Africa.
The main questions are, why is this happening now, and what can the outside world do about it? It is difficult to separate between Israel’s internal state of democracy, freedom of expression and human rights, on one hand, and the Israeli government and the way Israel is behaving towards Palestinians, on the other. Thus, it is easy to argue that four decades of occupation are an important factor in these internal negative developments.
One way of illustrating this linkage is to note that, for Israel to delegitimize and suppress attempts to reject and resist its occupation by the enemies of that occupation–who are not all Palestinians, but also include Israelis–means the use of repression inside Israel. Another connection is that Israel’s main tool in maintaining and consolidating its occupation, i.e., the settlements and settlers, functions politically in both Israel and the occupied territories. In fact, in recent months, "price tag" attacks have been carried out not only by settlers against Palestinians in the occupied West Bank, but also against Palestinians and Israelis in Israel. The third link is Israel’s ongoing strategy of downplaying the significance of the green line that divides Israel from occupied Palestinian land. This is actualized through Israel’s settlements and the walls and fences Israel has built inside the occupied territories, instead of in Israel.
In other words, the reality of occupation and the need to maintain it and stop resistance to it are polarizing Israel, threatening democracy and increasing racism and discrimination.
For all these reasons, and because these negative developments in Israel are part of the dynamics of occupation, friends of Israel (especially those nations, governments and organizations that have leverage over it) must try to help rescue Israeli society and democracy from the Israeli occupation of the Palestinian people. That occupation has become chronic, and consequently is creating symptoms inside Israel.