A Time for Jeremiah

“Hanna Siniora, editor-in-chief of the East Jerusalem daily Al Fajr…was questioned for five hours about his recent call for Palestinians to boycott Israeli cigarettes and soft drinks—which gained little support—and released on a $1,300 bond.”

—Jonathan C. Randal,
The Washington Post, January 15

A civilized society cannot reasonably be asked to grant the ruled a sovereign right to throw rocks at their rulers. But can a society long feel assured of its civility once it has taken to arresting men who did no worse than urge the ruled not to buy the coffin nails and bellywashers sold them by their rulers?

Israel need not apologize if it is no longer as concerned to be a light unto the nations as of old. Its problem is distinctly more intimate: it is ceasing to be a light unto itself. Harsh treatment of violent extremists is repression, which is unattractive but has some show of excuse. Harsh treatment of moderates is oppression, which is far more unattractive and without a plausible excuse.

Hanna Siniora has been a moderate. Israel now thinks him a danger to the peace. It did not think him such five years ago. Something has changed. Perhaps it is Israel that has been changed in the course of the conduct that has finally carried it to the logical, which is almost always the wrong, conclusion that every conspicuous Palestinian who objects, however peaceably, to twenty-one years of occupation is a danger.

Or perhaps Hanna Siniora has changed and arrived at a sympathy with extremism that he could not have imagined before now. In that case what could have changed him except the events of two decades when all available options belonged exclusively to the conquerors?

Israel did not take over the West Bank and Gaza in 1967 with the slightest notion of being there in 1988. Now its occupation has settled into a condition of at least semipermanence; and the West Bank’s identification as Judea and Samaria, which used to be the slogan of a political sect, has of late emerged as a quasi-official designation. The West Bank, one suspects, is managed now pretty much as it was then, with the difference, all but inevitable for occupations, of the occupier being more morose, more callous, and infinitely more alienated from the occupied.

The Israelis have frozen themselves with their situation and engraved it with every appearance of inalterability. But people are not inalterable; you can put off the process of changing your situation, but you cannot escape the process that this postponement works upon you. There is a look that comes upon a soldier’s face when he frisks an Arab laborer for the 175th time and it is not the look of the human in company he thinks quite as human as himself.

The voice Israel now raises from the isolation of its beleaguerment at the United Nations strikingly defines the difference of what it is becoming from what it used to be. When Israel…

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