Sharon, who was then Israel’s prime minister, told fellow members of the Likud party in 2003 that a political solution to the conflict with the Palestinians was necessary because “the idea that we can continue holding under occupation — and it is occupation, you might not like this word, but it’s really an occupation — to hold 3.5 million Palestinians under occupation is, in my opinion, a very bad thing for us and for them.”
“It cannot continue forever,” Sharon added. “Do you want to stay forever in Jenin, in Nablus, in Ramallah, in Bethlehem? I don’t think that’s right.”
Of course, Ariel Sharon was eventually succeeded as Israel’s leader by the man who sat silently to his right during that news conference, Benjamin Netanyahu, and the current Israeli prime minister has led the way in making a very opposite case: that the territories Israel conquered in 1967 are not occupied at all. Netanyahu recently told members of his party that speaking of describing lands that have either been annexed by Israel or will remain under its control forever as “‘the occupation,’ is nonsense.”
While right-wing Israelis prefer to say that the land where they rule a Palestinian population that is denied basic civil rights is contested, the occupation is a fact under international law, and is routinely referred to that way left-wing Israelis.
So what explains the skittishness of the American political establishment, both Democrat and Republican, to be as candid about using the word occupation now as Israel’s ultranationalist leader was in 2003? That question has been particularly evident since the election of a handful of young Democrats — Representatives Rashida Tlaib of Michigan, Ilhan Omar of Minnesota and Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez of New York — openly critical of the occupation, unafarid to call it what it is, and supportive of measures to end it, like the Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions movement. All three Congresswomen have been attacked by Republicans and members of their own party for denouncing the occupation as a humanitarian and moral outrage akin to Jim Crow segregation in the United States or apartheid in South Africa.
Their outspoken support for Palestinian rights — which reflects a growing unease among young American progressives with unconditional support for an increasingly far-right Israel — has even prompted a new group,