Gershon Shafir was in Vancouver Nov. 9 to discuss some of the issues he raises in his latest book, A Half Century of Occupation. (photo from pages.ucsd.edu/~gshafir)
What does it mean to have a “permanently temporary occupation” in Israel? Gershon Shafir was in Vancouver Nov. 9 to discuss this question. A guest speaker at Simon Fraser University’s School for International Studies, Shafir is an Israeli expat, University of California, Los Angeles, sociology professor and author of the recently released book A Half Century of Occupation: Israel, Palestine and the World’s Most Intractable Conflict.
It’s the 10th book for Shafir and he wrote it specifically for the 50th anniversary of the 1967 war. The permanently temporary occupation is a difficult subject to discuss, he said.
“That’s because the existence of this phenomenon – that Israel is an occupying power – is denied. But what’s going on is an occupation and is considered to be so by the Israeli government itself when arguing in front of the country’s Supreme Court, the international community and the Palestinians that live under it.”
Shafir said the word occupation is a legal term referring to the effective control of a country on a territory over which it has no sovereignty.
“Israel’s occupation is one of the longest belligerent occupations since World War Two and it’s truly exceptional because it’s going into its third generation,” he told the Independent. “In my book, I look at the nature of the occupation, the role played by the Israeli state through settlement, and radicalization by religious settlers. I also study the feasibility of alternative solutions.”
Prior to 1948, Jewish settlement occurred in areas that were least densely populated by Palestinians, allowing the possibility of a separation between the two groups. “But religiously motivated settlers prefer to have their new settlements in the heartland of the most densely populated Palestinian areas, so the settlement process has been radicalized,” said Shafir.
In his lecture, and in more detail in his book, Shafir discussed the extent to which the occupation has transformed the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. As part of his book, he conducted a study that found the built-up area occupied by Israeli settlements is two percent of the West Bank and the demographic ratio of Israeli Jews to Palestinians is 1:7. He questions the widespread consensus that a territorial partition of Palestine and a two-state solution is no longer possible.
“I’ve carefully counted the number of settlers and the places where they reside, and I’ve subdivided settlement into different categories. What you discover is that if you remove 27,000 settlers in the West Bank, a land exchange is possible, as is a territorial partition and a Palestinian state,” he said. “People who say a two-state solution is impossible don’t sufficiently study the feasibility of a one-state solution.”
Shafir added that he’s not advocating a political position in his findings. On the contrary, he’s just suggesting that, based on his research, a two-state solution is still feasible. “Let’s not give up on that idea too soon, because we don’t know what we’ll be walking into,” he advised.
The lecture at SFU was part of a book tour in which Shafir spoke on university campuses in Boston, Seattle, New York and Los Angeles. Shafir comes to this topic with years of pedigree. He was president of the Association for Israel Studies in 2001-2003, and the books he’s authored include Land, Labor and the Origins of the Israeli-Palestinian Conflict, 1882-1914, Being Israeli: The Dynamics of Multiple Citizenship (co-authored with Yoav Peled), which won the Middle Eastern Studies Association’s Albert Hourani Award in 2002, and Struggle and Survival in Palestine/Israel, a collection of life histories, which he co-edited with Mark LeVine.
Lauren Kramer, an award-winning writer and editor, lives in Richmond. To read her work online, visit laurenkramer.net.