By Gideon Levy, Published in Haaretz
The public discourse in Israel has momentarily awoken from its slumber. "To give or not to give," that is the Shakespearean question - "to make concessions" or "not to make concessions." It is good that initial signs of life in the Israeli public have emerged. It was worth going to Annapolis if only for this reason - but this discourse is baseless and distorted. Israel is not being asked "to give" anything to the Palestinians; it is only being asked to return - to return their stolen land and restore their trampled self-respect, along with their fundamental human rights and humanity. This is the primary core issue, the only one worthy of the title, and no one talks about it anymore.
No one is talking about morality anymore. Justice is also an archaic concept, a taboo that has deliberately been erased from all negotiations. Two and a half million people - farmers, merchants, lawyers, drivers, daydreaming teenage girls, love-smitten men, old people, women, children and combatants using violent means for a just cause - have all been living under a brutal boot for 40 years. Meanwhile, in our cafes and living rooms the conversation is over giving or not giving.
Lawyers, philosophers, writers, lecturers, intellectuals and rabbis, who are looked upon for basic knowledge about moral precepts, participate in this distorted discourse. What will they tell their children - after the occupation finally becomes a nightmare of the past - about the period in which they wielded influence? What will they say about their role in this? Israeli students stand at checkpoints as part of their army reserve duty, brutally deciding the fate of people, and then some rush off to lectures on ethics at university, forgetting what they did the previous day and what is being done in their names every single day. Intellectuals publish petitions, "to make concessions" or "not to make concessions," diverting attention from the core issue. There are stormy debates about corruption - whether Prime Minister Ehud Olmert is corrupt and how the Supreme Court is being undermined. But there is no discussion of the ultimate question: Isn't the occupation the greatest and most terrible corruption to have taken root here, overshadowing everything else?
Security officials are terrified about what would happen if we removed a checkpoint or released prisoners, like the whites in South Africa who whipped up a frenzy of fear about the "great slaughter" that would ensue if blacks were granted their rights. But these are not legitimate questions: The incarceration must be ended and the myriad of political prisoners should be released unconditionally. Just as a thief cannot present demands - neither preconditions nor any other terms - to the owner of the property he has robbed, Israel cannot present demands to the other side as long as the situation remains as it is.
Security? We must defend ourselves by defensive means. Those who do not believe that the only security we will enjoy will come from ending the occupation and from peace can entrench themselves in the army, and behind walls and fences. But we have no right to do what we are doing: Just as no one would conceive of killing the residents of an entire neighborhood, to harass and incarcerate it because of a few criminals living there, there is no justification for abusing an entire people in the name of our security. The question of whether ending the occupation would threaten or strengthen Israel's security is irrelevant. There are not, and cannot be, any preconditions for restoring justice.
No one will discuss this at Annapolis. Even if the real core issues were raised, they would focus on secondary questions - borders, Jerusalem and even refugees. But that would be escaping the main issue. After 40 years, one might have expected that the real core issue would finally be raised for honest and bold discussion: Does Israel have the moral right to continue the occupation? The world should have asked this long ago. The Palestinians should have focused only on this. And above all, we, who bear the guilt, should have been terribly troubled by the answer to this question.