There is no Israeli whose presence in the West Bank is neutral. Civilian or armed, soldier or woman settler, resident of a quality-of-life settlement or a nearby outpost, MahsomWatch activist or guest at a settlement, Bezek worker or client at a Palestinian garage. All of them, all of us, are in this Palestinian territory, in the West Bank, because our state occupied it in 1967.
The presence of every Israeli in the West Bank is based on a regime of privilege that developed out of that primary act of occupation. We have the privilege of hiking in Palestinian areas to our heart’s content, of buying subsidized housing for Jews only on the lands of Bethlehem, of raising cherries and grapes in the wadis of Hebron, of quarrying on the mountain slopes, of driving on roads whose land was expropriated from the indigenous inhabitants for public use.
The Palestinians, in contrast to us, not only are not allowed to move from Hebron to Tel Aviv, because they like the sea, for example; they are not even allowed to visit the lands and homes their family owned before 1948, nor are they allowed to tour Galilee and visit relatives. The regime of travel permits that has been in place since 1991 deprives all Palestinians of the right to freedom of movement in Israel while the system of roadblocks limits their movement in their own territories.
The right to travel the land is a basic human right, and like any right, when it is not universal, it is a mutilated right, that is, it becomes a privilege. That is a fact, even if most Israelis repress or ignore it. Our presence in the Palestinian territories, which is based on military and political superiority, is therefore violent and arrogant by its very nature, even when it is expressed in pleasant ways, like cultivating gardens in settlements or taking a pre-Shabbat hike.