My review of Shir Hever’s The Political Economy of Israel’s Occupation is up at the Middle East Report:
There is a latter-day tendency to see the 44-year Israeli occupation of the Palestinian territories as the organic outward growth of the Zionist idea — as though the aspiration to hold the entirety of the land, embedded in Labor Zionist doctrine, was in fact a certainty, simply waiting for time to catch up. With the occupation deepened since the 1993 Oslo accord, and the remainder of the Palestinian populace crowded into a scattering of bantustans in the West Bank and one big one in Gaza, one can understand the diffusion of this way of thinking. It appears that the Zionist drive to dominion has neared completion.
Debate about the beginnings of the Israeli state is reasonably settled in historiography if not yet in the broader public realm. The general trajectory of Israeli history, its grounding in exclusionary settler-colonialism, quite unlike the inclusionary, plantation-style variety in South Africa, emerged from trends set in motion and likely crystallized by the early twentieth century. On the occupation, however, controversy still rages. Liberals and realists, glancing hopefully at a “peace process” that has been underway for one third of Israel’s existence, cast the post-1967 occupation as evanescent and extractable, rather than tightly woven into the warp and weft of Israeli political economy and culture. Radicals depict the occupation as emanating from long-standing tendencies among Jewish settlers, always eager to relax internal social tension by further theft from the indigenous population. Similarly, critics of Israeli settler-colonialism have long split along the historical fault line marked by the year 1967. For some, the founding of the state of Israel was bloody but legitimate, and the irredentism in the Occupied Territories is a horrible deviation from the Zionist project. For others, perhaps growing in number as the occupation persists, the process of Israeli state formation was, in its origins, sin.
Attitudes are well established. Yet actual explanations of the occupation’s endurance have been thin. Shir Hever’s The Political Economy of the Occupation is an effort to supply one that goes beyond partial or flawed theories and dominant obfuscations. Hever is first concerned to total the macro-economic costs and benefits of the occupation. He warns that aggregate numbers can conceal disparities of economic power and privilege in a blur of averages, but he uses them to paint a rough-and-ready picture of the relationship between the Palestinian and Israeli “sectors,” as well as the ways in which labor and capital, demand and tariffs, coil, braid and meld, making talk of Palestinian this or Jewish that not merely muddying but misleading. Many of the relevant statistics are buried or deliberately made inaccessible by the Israeli government. Nevertheless, Hever arrives at a cautious estimate of “income” drawn from the occupation: about 39 billion shekels during the period 1970–2008. He also calculates outflows of 104 billion shekels in the form of subsidies to the settlers in the West Bank and Gaza, and 316 billion shekels in “security costs,” the currency expended to protect the settlers and subdue the restive Palestinians.
If you like this article, please subscribe.