The New York Times
November 25, 2011
Israel’s Other Occupation


For several years, extremist West Bank settlers have conducted a campaign of low-level violence against their Palestinian neighbors — destroying property, vandalizing mosques and occasionally injuring people. Such “price tag” attacks, intended to intimidate Palestinians and make Israeli leaders pay a price for enforcing the law against settlers, have become part of the routine of conflict in occupied territory.

Now that conflict is coming home. The words "price tag" spray-painted in Hebrew on the wall of a burned mosque inside Israel’s pre-1967 borders transformed Israel’s Arab citizens into targets and tore at the all-too-delicate fabric of a shared democracy.

Indeed, the mosque burning represented the violent, visible edge of a larger change: the ethnic conflict in the West Bank is metastasizing into Israel, threatening its democracy and unraveling its society.

Now, the attitudes and methods of West Bank settlement are inevitably leaking back across a border that Israel does not even show on its maps.


Segregation, though, is intrinsically a denial of rights. The countryside throughout the Galilee region of northern Israel is dotted with a form of segregated exurb, the “community settlement.” In each of these exclusive communities, a membership committee vets prospective residents before they can buy homes.


But last April, the legislature overrode the judiciary, when the Knesset passed a law authorizing community settlements in the Galilee and Negev to reject candidates who did not fit their “social-cultural fabric.”


That law is not an isolated incident. In its current term, Knesset has sought to turn parliamentary power against democratic principles and Israel’s Arab minority. Foreign Minister Avigdor Lieberman’s far-right Yisrael Beiteinu party has led the offensive, but other legislators have joined it. Members of Tzipi Livni’s Kadima party co-wrote the community settlements law.

Another law makes it illegal to call for consumer boycotts of products from settlements. Other bills would require loyalty oaths to Israel as a Jewish and democratic state and to its flag and national anthem. They may never pass but they serve as political theater, labeling the Arab minority as disloyal.

Israel’s courts, human rights groups and large parts of the public have fought back, seeking to preserve the principle of equality and the fragile sense of a shared society. The problem they face is that Israel remains tied to the West Bank and the settlement enterprise. And the ethnic struggle cannot be kept on one side of an unmarked border.


[ Gershom Gorenberg is an Israeli journalist and historian and the author of “The Unmaking of Israel.” ]