What’s the big deal about a Knesset member acknowledging the occupation?

A Facebook post expressing shock and dismay about the occupation by new MK Adi Koll of the ‘centrist’ Yesh Atid party went viral over the weekend. Has segregation between Israelis and Palestinians become so entrenched in Israeli society that expressing empathy for Palestinians is a shocking aberration?

What's the big deal about a Knesset member acknowledging the occupation?
Palestinians wait to get through at checkpoint at the separation wall in Bethlehem [illustrative photo], (Photo: Activestills.org)
After reading MK Adi Koll’s Facebook status that Noam Sheizaf translated and posted, which has gone viral in both Hebrew and English since it came out Sunday, I paused and thought to myself: Why is this getting so much attention? What’s the big deal? Okay, a Knesset member posted a comment about how awful the situation is for a Palestinian friend of hers whom she visited in Ramallah, and how no photograph she posted could relay the dismal reality. But what’s so special about that? After all, isn’t it obvious there is an occupation here?

Obviously, the fact that Adi Koll is a member of Yair Lapid’s Yesh Atid party, which, despite being considered centrist, is essentially a pro-settlement, anti-two-state solution party, is significant. When MK Dov Khenin from the left-wing Arab-Jewish party Hadash points out the occupation, no one really cares.  When Amira Hass repeatedly reports on atrocities against Palestinians, she, along with Haaretz, is written off as spewing pro-Palestinian propaganda.

So my first instinct was that this MK is young and naive (she is 37), exposing on her official Facebook page that only now, after nearly a century of occupation and 65 years of institutionalized colonialism, is she realizing what the Israeli government is capable of. That she sounds like someone who just read David Grossman’s Yellow Wind for the first time (His 1988 Israeli best seller chronicling his travels in the West Bank every day for 40 days during the First Intifada). But I don’t know Adi Koll, have no idea what her experiences are, how long she has known her friend Amjad from Ramallah, or really anything about beyond this one Facebook status. And besides, the fact that her Facebook status got so much attention reflects less on her than the current atmosphere in Israeli society.

Many people, including several lefty friends on Facebook, commented encouragingly on her status, praising her for her courage, saying, “way to go,” and that they are “proud of her.” They expressed hope that other MKs would come out and say the same things and that Koll’s position isn’t jeopardized as a result of her doing so. (To get a sense of the contrast, a comment on the post that got 41 likes says that the photo she posted of rooftops in Ramallah is a perfect illustration of the rooftops from where Palestinians hide and shoot at Israelis.)

This outpouring of reactions struck me as amazingly sad in its sheer candor. Have we really gotten to a point where this basic assessment of reality in Israel and Palestine is what is being highlighted, sharply venerated and condemned?  The answer is yes. MK Koll’s status, which even mentions the complex issue of stone throwing and shows a tinge of the understanding that Amira Hass expressed in her controversial op-ed earlier this month, is emblematic of the deeply ingrained segregation between Israelis and Palestinians since the Oslo Accords, and specifically in the last decade, since the second Intifada and erection of the separation wall.

When Adi Koll was born in 1976, Palestinians from both the West Bank and Gaza constituted a substantial chunk of Israel’s labor force, coming in to the country for work on a daily basis. Israeli government ministers went to visit Palestinian refugee camps and villages regularly. Israelis didn’t need to either sneak in to or go on special organized tours of Ramallah or Jericho or Nablus – it was no big deal to go there. Palestinians and Israelis actually came into contact with each other much more fluidly.

By the time Adi Koll enlisted in the IDF in 1994, Palestine was divided into Areas A, B and C, and the only Israelis who Palestinians regularly came into contact with were settlers and soldiers. Ten years later, segregation between Israelis and Palestinians was cemented by the separation wall and institutionalized by Israeli legislative moves like the 2003 Citizenship Law. Ten years later, it was democratically manifested in an election that essentially made no mention of occupation or the two-state solution, voting in the most radical right-wing Knesset Israel has ever had.

So, the fact that MK Adi Koll – whose party chairman referred to all the Arab parties with whom he refused to cooperate as “Zoabiz” – has a friend in Ramallah, that she visited him and then openly and emotionally expressed her dismay at the situation, is in fact an anomaly in 2013 Israel. An aberration from the norm. Her Facebook status could have been taken right out of the 1980s – which isn’t a criticism of her, but rather a strong indication of just how much Israel has regressed. We are in a sad state of affairs when that defines the Israeli Zeitgeist.

New Knesset member visits a friend in Ramallah: ‘This is not normal’ 
Israeli occupation: You have to see it to believe it