Is Israel an Occupying Power?

Israel’s presence in the West Bank, or Judea and Samaria, has a laundry list of labels, many of which have been built on historical assumptions and modern ideas. At the top of this list is one word that has been capitalized on by the Palestinian cause, political left, and anti-Israeli groups for decades: Occupation. In this episode, we seek to thoroughly understand how “Israeli Occupation” came to be synonymous with the call for Palestinian statehood and what this means for peace between Jews and Arabs. 

Enduring understandings are available in the PDF version of the educational resources.

  • Review
  • Discussion
  • Activities
  • Reflection
  • Further Learning
  1. Many in the international diplomatic community define Israeli occupation as the continued Israeli military presence in lands taken over by Israel after the Six-Day War like the West Bank. Other groups like the BDS movement, don’t specify which area of Israel is “occupied”, implying the occupation refers to the entirety of the State of Israel. Others, including the Israeli foreign ministry, argue that there is no occupation at all (and that the West Bank / Judea and Samaria are “disputed territory rather than occupied”). What are the implications of different groups defining occupation in different ways?
  2. Regarding the definition of “occupation”, Micah Goodman, the author of Catch 67 (p. 104) writes:“On the one hand, the territories are not stolen land that came under Israel’s control by immoral means, so they are not in themselves occupied. On the other, as we have seen, Israel imposes a military rule on a Palestinian population that has no say over the state’s decisions, so the Palestinians are a nation that lives under occupation. The conclusion is that the territories are not occupied, but the Palestinian people are.”

    How do you interpret this definition and what message does it send? Do you agree with this definition or would you change it and if so how?

  3. Words create reality and Israelis and Palestinians are constantly fighting a war of words. Is the West Bank / Judea and Samaria occupied, disputed or liberated? This is similar to other questions about Israel’s history. Should Israel’s 1948 war be known as the War of Independence or the Nakba (catastrophe), and does this language influence conversations and policy decisions? How can the use of the word “occupation” impact the conflict, international diplomacy and public opinion surrounding the conflict?
  4. Micah Goodman writes that the Israeli right fears that withdrawing from the West Bank will bring a security disaster as it will shrink to indefensible proportions. At the same time, the Israeli left fears that staying in the West Bank will bring a demographic disaster as its Jewish majority is in danger. Where do you fall on this debate and why? Can you understand why this debate can be so emotional and complex?
  1. There are a variety of solutions that have been suggested to “solve” the Israeli-Palestinian conflict including the two-state solution, one-state solution, confederation and many others. In small groups, assign your students different possible solutions to the conflict. Each group should present why their pre-assigned solution is the best possible solution to the conflict.
  2. Article 42 of the Hague Regulations states:“territory is considered occupied when it is placed under the hostile army.

    Some view Israel’s presence in the West Bank/Judea and Samaria as an occupation due to this definition. However, many have difficulty thinking of Israel’s military presence in the West Bank / Judea and Samaria as an occupation due to multiple historical and legal reasons. International Law Professor Eugene Kontorovich argues:

    These are not occupied territories. These are territories over which Israel has sovereign claims. There are many examples in the world of cases where a nation has sovereignty, but it provides a different kind of governing arrangement. In our case, at the moment, it’s military rule. One example is American Samoa. There, they have their own administration, but without independence. The residents don’t have citizenship, and they can’t vote in U.S. elections even if they move to New York. The Palestinians have the right to vote in Palestinian elections, and self-government.”

    Research both perspectives and prepare a verdict to the question “Is Israel an occupying power”?

  3. Micah Goodman, the author of Catch 67 developed “eight steps to shrink the Israeli-Palestinian Conflict”. In small groups, read his article here and after discussing the ideas in your group, determine which is the best idea and why you think it would help to shrink the conflict. Additional question to ponder: Is it better to try to “shrink” or “solve” the conflict?
  4. A well-known “Pro-Palestinian” chant is “from the river to the sea, Palestine will be free”. Many in the Jewish community interpret this as a chant calling for the eradication of Israel. Read the following two explanations of this chant and discuss what message you think this chant sends.
  5. Many pro-Palestinian movements utilize the following map to try and show Palestinian loss of land from 1947 to the present. Analyze this map and then watch this video. How do you feel about this map? Do you think it is an honest or dishonest map? Can you understand why an image like this would be used amongst pro-Palestinian activists?
  6. Play our Kahoot about “Is Israel an Occupying Power?”!
  1. When learning about the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, it’s important to look at both Israeli and Palestinian experiences and sources. Read the following article and answer the following questions:
    • How do you deal with history vs. narrative?
    • How can two people look at the same political issue and see it differently? What influences that?
    • Do you think less of someone who sees political issues differently than you do? Why or why not?
    • How can your life experiences influence your perspective on specific issues?
  2. How do you feel when you hear the term “occupation”? What thoughts does it conjure up for you? Why do you think it’s such a contentious term?
  3. Put yourself in the shoes of an Israeli your age. How would it make you feel to be referred to as an occupier due to your national origin? Also, put yourself in the shoes of a Palestinian your age. How would you view Israelis, as occupiers, neighbors or something else?

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