After more than half a century of occupation, most Israelis can no longer imagine themselves in the place of the Palestinians. But if we cannot imagine what it is like to live under occupation, we must at least confront its brutal reality.
Under an apartheid regime, it makes no sense to ask the white what he would do in the place of the black. To imagine the the tables turned has become impossible.
Twenty years ago, in March 1998, the head of the Labor Party Ehud Barak was asked by Haaretz journalist Gideon Levy what he would do were he a young Palestinian living under occupation. “If I were a Palestinian of the right age, I would, at some point, join one of the terrorist groups,” Barak answered.
Today, not only is it difficult to imagine a Jewish Israeli politician making a similar statement; the question itself sounds imaginary. Can we imagine ourselves as Palestinians? What a strange idea. If there is one thing 50 years of brutal military rule over another people has seared into the Israeli consciousness, it is that there is one law for us, and another for Palestinians — that our destinies as human beings were meant to be different.
When you consistently and systematically abuse the Other for decades, this separation of consciousness becomes a kind of survival mechanism. The fact that we cannot imagine ourselves in the place of those living in Gaza — for example, subject to a siege that forces one to live a life of suffering and extreme poverty — allows us to carry on without pangs of guilt.
This mechanism works not only in the more extreme cases such as Gaza, but perhaps even better when it comes to what we have learned to call “the routine of occupation.”