Thirty Years of Occupation

On 5 June 1967, with the outbreak of war in the Middle East, the Israeli military occupied the remainder of Mandated Palestine, the Gaza Strip, which was under Egyptian administration, and the West Bank, including East Jerusalem, which was under Jordanian control; as well as the Egyptian Sinai Peninsula and the Syrian Golan Heights. As a result of the war, approximately 350,000 Palestinians (U.N. estimates) fled, seeking refuge in neighboring Arab countries, mainly Jordan, many for the second time after being uprooted from their homes in 1948.

The 1967 war was, undoubtedly, the second most critical event in the history of the question of Palestine and the Arab-Israeli conflict. The war of June 1967 and its aftermath caused a massive shock throughout the Arab world. The defeat lead to fundamental changes in Pan-Arab nationalist thoughts and status, to an extent that forced Jamal Abdul Nasser, President of Egypt and the main figurehead of Pan-Arabism, to offer his resignation to the stunned Egyptian and Arab masses who were awaiting liberation of Palestine. The most fundamental of those changes was the weakening of the deep conviction that the liberation and restoration of Palestinian rights would be achieved, and achieved in the near future.

Specifically at the Palestinian level, the war and its aftermath lead to additional pragmatic and intellectual changes, particularly the evolution and awakening of a Palestinian national identity. This served as a great impetus for several armed political forces and movements, which waged a struggle against Israel as an alternative to the prevalent view that liberation would be achieved by the Arab regimes. The most significant of those was Fatah, the mainstream faction of the Palestine Liberation Organization (PLO), which later enacted revolutionary changes in the political program of the organization and raised Palestinian public awareness and acceptance of a pragmatic political settlement with Israel.

The opposite occurred on the Israeli side. Israel came out of the war victorious and powerful, intensifying its aggressive behavior as a result. This included the termination of the old political and propaganda discourse, established on the concept of a small, weak state threatened by an enormous Arab surrounding. The core of such behavior was Israel’s immediate implementation of expansionist policies. The first steps were taken in Jerusalem directly after the war ended, as it expanded the municipal boundaries of Jerusalem to ten times the original area and imposed Israeli law on those lands. The building of colonial settlements was also fervently initiated throughout all the occupied territories, a policy which, for a long period, was portrayed as part of Israeli security arrangements.

In reality, the Israeli settlement system, with its various dimensions, including the transfer of Israeli citizens to the occupied territories, the illegal acquisition of land, the exploitation of natural resources, the establishment of a separate life structure for the settlers and the subversion of the exercise by the Palestinian people of their rights, is a distinctive combination of classic colonialism waged on the basis of apartheid-like arrangements.

The Israeli occupation of Palestinian and Arab territories in 1967 also represented a new era of suffering for the Palestinian people under occupation. Israel pursued the most vicious repressive policies and practices against the Palestinian people, including killing, the destruction of their property, detention and imprisonment, violent interrogations and torture, deportation and humiliation. Further, Israel pursued a policy aimed at the manipulation and destruction of the economy of the occupied territory, enhancing Israeli control over it and retaining it as an auxiliary market as well as exploiting the Palestinian work force as cheap labor.

It is starkly obvious that the policies and practices carried out by Israel in the Occupied Palestinian Territory did not conform with the framework of practical arrangements of any military occupation necessary for the achievement of security for the occupying power or for the management of its affairs until a different situation is realized or a political settlement is achieved. In reality, these policies and actions constituted a predetermined and comprehensive plan to colonize the land and exploit its people and resources and to guarantee the prevention of the exercise of their legitimate rights as a people. Furthermore, Israel continued to pursue these policies and actions over the past thirty years, despite the near-unanimity of the international community against such policies, reflected in numerous Security Council resolutions and hundreds of resolutions of the General Assembly and other United Nations organs, and despite the contractual obligations of Member States in accordance with the Fourth Geneva Convention.

In this regard, it is clear that it was only possible for such illegal policies and practices to continue, virtually unabated, for thirty years due to the complacency and inability of the international community to compel Israel to comply with the resolutions of the United Nations and respect international conventions and humanitarian law, and due to the absolute protection accorded to Israel by the United States throughout the years of the occupation.

In an attempt to bring an end to this unjust situation and to rectify the consequential damages of the harsh Israeli policies and practices, the Palestinian people waged their heroic intifada, the Palestinian uprising, against the Israeli occupation. Israel responded to the uprising with the "iron fist" policy, which entailed the breaking of bones and the use of both rubber bullets and live ammunition, and various forms of collective punishment, including mass arrests, administrative detention, widespread curfews, the demolition of homes, deportations and the closure of the territories. The intifada, which took place from 1987 to 1991 in the Occupied Palestinian Territory, represented one of the most important stages of the history of the Palestinian struggle and was, undoubtedly, one of the main factors that lead to the launching of the Middle East peace process.

Following that critical period, the Palestinian people and their leadership decided to become engaged in an historic reconciliation with the Israelis. As part of their commitment in this regard, they have chosen to exert all efforts for the success of the current Middle East peace process. However, it must be made clear, that the reconciliation is bound to the recognition of the legitimate and inalienable rights of the Palestinian people, including the right to self-determination, and that the success of the peace process is therefore linked to ending the thirty years of occupation, reversing its consequences and establishing the independent Palestinian state, with East Jerusalem as its capital.