It’s easy to forget the occupation. It’s easy not to notice it, when grasping the tip of the iceberg means arranging to have Lior Amihai, one of the talented and committed staff members at Peace Now’s Settlement Watch, drive me through the northern West Bank in the organization’s white Hyundai, painstakingly explaining the criss-crossed landscape of state appropriation amidst the interminable status quo.
It’s easy to forget about the occupation, when we pass right by the new housing units designated for the members of the Ulpana evacuation, just down the hill from their old apartments, the emerald green adhesive wrapping on the prefab walls still intact. It’s easy to forget when we manage to drive around Migron, a mere dot of a neighborhood, the illegal outpost slated for evacuation later this summer, marveling at how easy it was, with our yellow Israeli plates, to drive right in and peer at the bright plastic jungle gym anchoring the middle of the community, and the carved wooden name plates introducing visitors to the modest bungalow homes.
It’s easy to forget the occupation when we stand astride Ariel, a settlement jutting deep into the West Bank (but such an easy commute if you work in Tel Aviv!), boasting a soon-to-be-university-status college, a theatre center, and, just outside its gates, the best two-dollar falafel east of the Green Line at a stand run by Palestinians from a nearby village.
It’s easy to forget the occupation when we drive back to Tel Aviv in time for dinner (glad we had our mobile traffic application to show us the most efficient route) and get to stab black roasted eggplants topped with tangy goat cheese followed by a thick piece of dense Mediterranean white fish with salty asparagus and roasted beets and a carafe of semi-dry white wine, consumed while listening to the foamy waves hitting the beach a few meters away.
It’s easy to forget, if after an intense chocolate peanut-butter dessert -- and a few more sips of wine -- one decides to walk down Rothschild Boulevard amidst the throngs of people enjoying Tel Aviv’s White Night, the annual festival marred this year by a series of cancellations by some artists and a modest gaggle of black-clad protestors marking Black Night, a march to draw attention to the police violence against last week’s social protestors.
Peace Now’s Amihai, as articulate as he is passionate, is soft spoken and direct. He tells me that Peace Now is planning a new campaign to try to win the hearts and minds of Israelis who are increasingly being diverted by immediate -- and more winnable -- issues like housing and education. Instead, Peace Now will alert Israelis to the disproportionate resources spent on the settlers, a group that, it is easy to forget, numbers only four percent of Israel’s population.
Who has time to visit the settlements, witness the outpost evacuations, observe checkpoints where Palestinian cars enter one lane, and Israeli cars another, think about whether or not Ariel College will be granted university status, whether artists will choose to boycott its theater, and whether the falafel stand really is in Area A, or B, or C? And about that falafel: can I enjoy it, knowing that it is part of the informal infrastructure of the settlement enterprise -- essentially providing Ariel residents and those visiting them with an enjoyable meal on the cheap? On the other hand, it is owned and managed by Palestinians, so perhaps it is ethical after all. But really, who has time to work out such weighty matters?
It’s easy to forget all this when I want to make sure I get back in time for dinner and White Night / Black Night and to make sure the cheering of the outdoor soccer-watching fans in downtown Tel Aviv doesn’t keep me up so late that I don’t manage to get up early enough to enjoy a jog on the beach before meeting friends for coffee.
Two states, an independent Palestine alongside Israel and some agreeable solution to the endless settlement enterprise would be the best way to forget the occupation. But amidst all the chanting of the social protestors demanding affordable housing and better education, I’ve forgotten the old peace songs. Do they even work anymore?