An Occupation?

The Associated Press reports on the escalation in Gaza:

Israeli defense officials say they are prepared for a third stage of their offensive, in which ground troops would push further into Gaza, but are waiting for approval from the government.

One hopes that wherever this conflict goes, there is not a future occupation of Gaza. Such an undertaking would constitute a depressing backslide, and consume Israel in doomed political and PR machinations. However, if there really is a plan to crush Hamas, Israel should not worry about the occupation fetishists. They never stopped referring to Gaza as occupied anyway.

The term occupation has become both loaded and meaningless over the past few years. If, for example, a single American soldier shows up somewhere with an ammo belt, someone’s bound to call it an occupation. And it doesn’t even have to be on foreign soil: Cindy Sheehan accused George W. Bush of militarily occupying the state of Louisiana when the National Guard went in after Hurricane Katrina.

But the truth is, like the word preemption, occupation is itself a neutral term and relies on political context for negative or positive connotation. Thank goodness the U.S. occupied Europe in the wake of World War II. Americans helped shape the post-war wasteland into a group of free and dynamic states with whom we could collaborate throughout the second half of the 20th Century.  Similarly, the American occupation of Iraq (that ended December 4, 2007 with the approval of the Presidency Council of Iraq) was critical in enabling a decimated country to defend itself against saboteurs and rebuild.  But in 1979, when the Soviet Union went into Afghanistan with 40,000 troops and installed Babrack Karmal as president, it embarked on a (failed) occupation to pursue the nakedly immoral and unjust goal of aggressive expansionism.

If Hamas is to be toppled and Gaza occupied by Israel, surely supplanting a government that Ralph Peters today rightly describes as a “Jew-killing machine” with a temporary alternative puts that occupation on legitimate footing. As does the fact that Palestinian citizens of the occupied West Bank enjoy a host of freedoms not known to Gazans suffering under Hamas’s rule. Alas, the term sovereignty is another one that has been tortured into fitting a political agenda. And people have forgotten that sovereignty needs to be earned in order to be respected; a government that puts its citizens to use as both shields and ammunition in a war to exterminate Jews is nothing but a grotesque corruption of the idea.