Put “the occupation” on the table, says Judge Davis
South African Judge Dennis Davis believes it’s essential to put Israel’s “occupation of the West Bank” on the table to find a solution to this no-win situation.
He was speaking at a Jewish Democratic Initiative event to mark 55 years since Israel miraculously won the Six-Day War and “chose not to annex the territory gained, but rather occupy it”.
Thus began the occupation of the areas known as the West Bank and Gaza, according to Davis. Israel withdrew from Gaza in 2005, but “the occupation of the West Bank” remains in place. This state of limbo prolongs the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, resulting in loss of life on both sides.
“The great tragedy of the Jewish world today is that discussing the occupation has become a rarity,” said Davis. “The Jewish tradition of debate can be seen in the Talmud, where both majority and minority opinions are recorded. But we no longer do that. We consider no opinion other than ours. On Pesach, we explore the great notion of freedom, and yet we don’t have the freedom to engage. To stay silent or shut down debate is destructive to our tradition itself.
“The dominant perspective since 1967 has been the objective of the two-state solution,” Davis said. “This was a central platform in every election, and then [late] Prime Minister Yitzhak Rabin decided to move it along at a dramatic rate. The Oslo Accords was that major attempt. But then Rabin was murdered, and whether Oslo had merit or not, the debate essentially ended.
“Fast forward to today, and for a long time, the debate has been off the table in a significant way,” said Davis. In the past, there was will from Israelis and Jews in the diaspora to push for a two-state solution. But “there’s almost no political traction for that position in Israel today”, he said. This had led to a feeling of “utter hopelessness” as the status quo continues.
The “solution” for both the Netanyahu and Bennett governments is simply to continue the status quo. However, this could lead to a minority ruling over a majority, which would mean that Israel would no longer be a democratic state.
Then there’s the possibility of “resurrecting the two-state solution”, which, he feels, is more and more like a distant dream at this point, or a train that has already left the station.
Finally, there’s the possibility of a one-state solution, Davis said. This would mean the end of a Jewish state, and is unfathomable to most Jews. Davis questioned if two peoples who had so much bloodshed between them could live together. Others point out that this kind of bloodshed could continue or even worsen in a binational state.
Because all these possibilities are complex and painful, Davis said it was vital that Jewish communities “discussed the occupation, its effect on Israel,” if it was going to end, and if so, how. “We need to confront it head on. There’s a huge amount to be done [to get to the point where the situation can be resolved],” he said.
Davis lamented the lack of leadership on both sides of the conflict. He also felt that the Holocaust “damaged the Jewish psyche”, making Jewry defensive and encouraging it to view the world from a place of fear. While this is understandable, he feels that the lessons of the Holocaust should be “a force for good” and the Jewish values of “justice and compassion” should be central to Israel and Jews in the diaspora.
“We have a right to be there, and Israel is crucial to the Jewish world, but we can’t oppress others,” Davis said. “This idea isn’t alien to the Jewish tradition.”