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Is It Even Possible to Vote Against Israeli Occupation?

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In the latest news to come out of this already-strange Israeli election, the Jewish Press stated on Sunday that the ballots for the upcoming election will be printed in Karnei Shomron by Yisrapot, an Israeli settlement in the West Bank considered illegal under international law. The pro-settler writer at that publication claimed that leftists who want to “stay true” to the boycott should therefore avoid the ballots on March 17 — with a specific barb aimed at the Meretz leader Zahava Gal-On.

What is interesting — and to me, as an anti-occupation Jew, terrifying — is the way this contract shows just how entwined Israel is in its occupation of the West Bank, and how “normal” the settlements have become in Israeli administration.

First, the fact that this contract was awarded to a settlement company shows how entrenched Israeli rule over the West Bank is. The system allows for ballots to be printed in an area not technically part of the state; what’s more, it signals that there is no desire to end the occupation anytime soon. In a way, the simple act of printing the ballots is a political act: it indirectly declares governance over the area.

For Palestinians who cannot vote in the elections, it also adds insult to injury: the ballots allowing Israelis a choice in their state’s rule over another people will be printed on land that that people did not choose to have occupied.

Other state policies are reflected too. As Sara Hirschhorn pointed out, this tendency also reflects the “suburbanization” of the settlements: Karnei Shomron and Ma’ale Adumim are basically allowed to exist like any other Israeli industrial town. The entire structure of violent occupation, checkpoints and rule over the Palestinian population, of course, supports this fact. The fact that the infrastructure to print millions of ballots for the Israeli election even exists in Karnei Shomron reflects Israeli planning policy and how it is designed to normalize the occupation.

In some ways, this announcement also reflects the sheer level of symbiosis between “Israel proper” and the West Bank settlements. Tenders for a mostly “Israel proper” vote are issued for settlement companies to complete, and no distinction is made between the settlements and Israeli towns.

For those of us — myself included — who try to boycott the settlements, this incident also shows how omnipresent the settlements are in the Israeli economy: from ballots to organic vegetables, the settlements have a place everywhere — and a full boycott becomes difficult, if not impossible.

In a way, though, this presents quite an irony for Meretz and Joint Arab List voters: their vote against the occupation will be registered on ballots produced by it. While the Jewish Press writer interprets this as proof of the impossibility of the boycott, I find it darkly humorous. If Meretz and the Arab List enjoy greater success in these elections — which they very well may — it will be, a tiny bit, on the back of the occupation they oppose.

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