We explained as best we could using English and Arabic, first to the younger boy with the machine gun and then to the older boy with the machine gun, that Mr. Schechter was expecting us. If someone in the guardhouse would check with his office, Mr. Schechter would authorize our entry. The blue license plate on my host's car identified him as a Palestinian, and something about me identified me as a U.S. citizen—an American businessman with business in the West Bank.
Perhaps it was our request that struck the guards as funny. With what in any other setting would have been giggles, the guards conferred in Hebrew, first with each other and then with two more who joined them apparently to get in on the joke. No one made a move to call Mr. Schechter's office.
My host, a Palestinian businessman and the driver of our car, sat quietly and without expression. He had done this before. For several minutes the guards huddled a few yards away, occasionally glancing at us, and periodically bursting into laughter. The last time I had felt that way was 30 years before, parked in my black Chevy coupe with Nebraska plates at an A&W root beer stand in Hiawatha, Kansas, just before a fight. During my month in the West Bank, that feeling became routine.
Our appointment was with a government official at the administrative headquarters of the Israeli occupation on a hill outside Ramala. While the guards conferred, my host and I became late for our appointment. We waited politely. This was not Hiawatha.
Eventually a guard informed us in halting English that the administrative offices would soon be closed and that we should come back the next day. "But Mr. Schechter is expecting us," I insisted. "He is waiting in his office specifically to see us." I earned us another conference. My host smiled sadly.
After several more minutes, the guard returned and directed us to wait in an empty parking lot a short distance down the hill. They would contact Mr. Schechter's office and would send for us when he was ready. Of course we complied.
My host was embarrassed. The product of a culture in which guest/host responsibilities are extremely important, he was unable to ensure even the most basic common courtesies. "I'm afraid we're stuck here for awhile," he said. I asked what he meant. He explained that the guards had no intention of calling Mr. Schechter's office or of sending for us. We would wait in the parking lot a respectful length of time and then return to the guardhouse to ask permission to return the next day.
I didn't believe him, but after waiting 20 minutes, I knew he was right. We drove back to the guardhouse, apologized for the inconvenience, then drove to a phone and called Mr. Schechter. He said he did want to see us and that he would fix the problem at the gate if we would return right away.
Upon our return to the gate, no one was laughing. We had, in effect, told on the guards, and the guards were not pleased. We entered the compound and the incident ended.
That was in February 1987. I lived that way one month. Palestinians in the West Bank had been living like that, and often much worse, for nearly 20 years with no end in sight. It was an aspect of the Israeli occupation I had not expected—the senseless, relentless irritation and humiliation of the non-Jewish people of the occupied territories.
I am not an Arab, a Jew, a politician, a diplomat, or even a reporter. I am an American businessman, and I tend to see things from a management point of view. Regardless of any position one may hold concerning the right of Israel to occupy the territories or the wisdom of the occupation, the occupation itself has been so badly managed that the interests of both Jews and Palestinians have been seriously and irreparably harmed.
Much has been written about ancient animosities, cultural and religious barriers, and the historical development of the sad status quo. Since my return from the West Bank I have studied these matters, and while the history is not unimportant, the dominant fact of life in the West Bank today is the pathetically poor management of the military occupation and its civil administration.
Like all bad management, the problem starts at the top—in this case, in the Knesset itself. Because of the way political representation is structured in Israel, a nearly impossible coalition of diverse political interests is required to establish policy on anything approaching a controversial political issue. On issues of major controversy, such as adopting a national constitution or long-range objectives for the occupied territories, political paralysis prevents any direction at all.
Freely expressed Israeli opinion on the fate of the Palestinians covers the full range, from thoughtful concern for individual human rights to a fanatical commitment to the death or departure of everyone not Jewish. Popular objectives for the military occupation vary accordingly.
Official objectives could be to make life so miserable that most Palestinians will eventually leave the occupied territories; or to so irritate and exploit them that their inevitable resistance will create the excuse to destroy them by military action; or to maintain military control over the occupied territories, while gradually reducing hostilities by humane treatment, wise governance, fair economic policy, symbiotic business relationships, and eventual civil self-government.
While each of these and other policy options enjoys vocal support and opposition from diverse segments of the Israeli population, no policy has sufficient support to serve as a guide for managing the occupation. Lacking objectives by which their success or failure can be judged, the occupation forces and civil administration operate in a policy vacuum, focusing only upon the process and never upon its purposes.
Individual soldiers and civil administration workers fill this vacuum by substituting for official policy their own feelings and opinions. Lacking official purpose, each individual carries out his job in a manner meant to advance the occupation's objectives as defined by the individual. So, one soldier apologizes for the inconvenience of the roadblock, while another humiliates a father in front of his adolescent son.
The occupation's lack of long-range purpose, its extended tenure, and its sloppy management have furnished the opportunity for economic exploitation of Palestinians—both officially by the Israeli government and unofficially, even illegally, by private commercial interests. As a result, business relations between Israelis and Palestinians, potentially a source of cooperation, have become a cause of conflict and resentment.
Approximately 100,000 Palestinian workers commute daily to jobs in Israel. As is the case with Israeli workers, a percentage is deducted from their wages and retained by the Israeli government. For Israeli workers, this money is deposited with the National Insurance Institute and, in part, is used to fund old age, disability, and unemployment benefits. The money deducted from Palestinian workers' paychecks is, in contrast, retained by the Treasury.
The occupation also furnishes a source of cheap labor for jobs not wanted by Israeli workers. In spite of official policy to the contrary, most Palestinians employed in Israel work longer hours for less than half the monthly pay of an Israeli worker doing the same job, according to reports by the West Bank Database Project, an affiliate of the American Enterprise Institute that is funded by the Rockefeller and Ford foundations.
While nearly a fourth of Israel's water resources originate from within the occupied territories, Palestinian farmers pay four times more for irrigation water than their Israeli counterparts. Israeli farmers dump surplus production on the Palestinian market, but the reverse is strictly banned. And tariffs give Israeli products sold in the occupied territories a 60 percent price advantage over competing goods from abroad.
Then there is the land itself. By way of a complex network of laws, rules, and judicial procedures that have evolved into a bureaucratic routine, more than half of the total West Bank land area had by 1985 already been officially converted to Israeli ownership—national, communal, or individual.
Unofficially, some individual Israelis have found it impossible to resist the widespread opportunity created by mismanagement for illegal exploitation of Palestinians by private commercial interests. In 1985, for example, a scandal was exposed involving fraudulent purchases of land in the occupied territories, illegal campaign contributions in exchange for land-use permits, and outright bribes of government officials.
Two decades of mismanaged occupation have systematically increased the traditional hostility between Palestinians and Israelis to an unbearable level. And with no end in sight, growing resistance by the Palestinian people was clearly inevitable. Within the context of the present hostility, ultimate solutions now seem impossible. And within the context of the present hostility, they probably are.
Every proposed "ultimate solution" to the problem of the occupied territories shares with the others one common feature—all are impossible for one reason or another. The Israelis are not going to kill or remove the majority of Palestinians living in the occupied territories, and the Palestinians, regardless of tactics or allies, are not going to win independence by military force, terrorism, or civil disobedience.
An advanced degree in military science isn't needed to understand why few Israelis seriously consider giving up military control over the occupied territories, especially the West Bank. A look at the map tells the military story. Hydrological surveys tell the rest. Right or wrong, Israel isn't likely to give up the West Bank, and even the suggestion is probably naive.
Political assimilation of Palestinian citizens into Israel's fledgling democracy might be a solution, except for two facts: Mutual hostility makes it impractical. And, within about 30 years, Palestinian voters would constitute the majority.
Finally, there are the various versions of the bureaucratic solution—basically, let's form a committee. Hold a peace conference. Let a consortium of nations run the West Bank. Or, let Israel retain military control but let Jordan take charge of civil affairs.
But the issue is not who occupies the occupied territories. Most Palestinians I spoke with had little enthusiasm for a mere changing of the guard, and the prospect of rule by committee held similar appeal. The issue is how and how long the territories shall be occupied.
Every probable future includes large numbers of Israelis living in close proximity with large numbers of Palestinians, interdependent in many, many ways. Each holds the power to poison the other's future, and each holds the power to ensure the other's freedom. In spite of this interdependence and potential for symbiosis, two decades of mismanaged occupation have created hostilities so intense that solutions are now impossible.
While some may argue that the conduct of Palestinians during the occupation is as much to blame as Israeli mismanagement, the fact remains that this is an Israeli occupation, and Israel is responsible. Unilaterally, Israel has officially exploited the population in its charge and has unofficially allowed their economic exploitation, routine harassment, and senseless humiliation. It could not have continued forever.
Just as unilaterally, Israel can replace bad management with better management, unfair economic policies with fair economic policies, and can generally take steps to end both official and unofficial exploitation and harassment of the Palestinian people. Soldiers can be better selected for occupation duty. The land grab can be reversed. Radical settlers with their own agendas for the future of the territories can be relocated to Israel or otherwise isolated from the Palestinian population. No international peace conference, no consortium of nations, is required to reverse the course of the Israeli occupation and, we may hope, its effects.
Fair, humane, and competent management of the military occupation and its civil administration is, of course, not an ultimate solution. It is, however, a prerequisite.
Jack L. Stout is president of the The Fourth Party Inc., a Miami-based company that sets up private ambulance services for cities.