IMMIGRATION, INVASION, OCCUPATION, AND CONQUEST

Few and far between are polities that manage to keep the foreigner out for long. As we’ve seen from the druthers of Donald Trump and his followers, by immigration is not meant the immigrant is necessarily welcomed in her new home, but it does mean she’s being allowed in. Invasion, on the other hand, implies the would-be invader would be repelled if we have the wherewithal to do so. And by having been conquered is meant we lacked the wherewithal to do so, and have come to terms with the consequences. 

Occupation is that interlude, usually brief but not always, between invasion and conquest. What’s at issue has yet to be resolved. When it is, the occupier either leaves town or settles in. If the latter, then how long thereafter he remains the occupier, as distinct from just another citizen, is a function of the rhetoric being deployed in determining his place in the ‘new order’ his conquest has introduced.

Palestinians who were caught behind the cease-fire line in ’48 were conquered. Those caught behind the cease-fire line in ’67 are occupied. The Israelis would like to treat them as conquered, but Hamas and Hezbollah continue to have other ideas. If one’s looking for some fact of the matter, ask yourself this. If, given the means to do so, Hamas and Hezbollah would drive the Israelis out of Gaza, the West Bank, and the Golan Heights, then those territories are occupied. If, given the means to do so, they would not, then they’ve been conquered. This is because conquest is a success term. It means it’s a done deal. 

The Celts were conquered by the Normans, as were the then-indigenous peoples of the Americas by the Europeans. This is because the descendants of these then-indigenous peoples would not deport their at-one-time uninvited ‘guests’, even if they could. Though in great measure this is also because there’s as many white blood cells in them as red. So how does one deport only part of a person?

This would-we-if-we-could is, I think, as good a test as any, and better than most, for settling many of the questions that arise in both intra-national and inter-national jurisprudence. It’s not perfect, but it does some conceptual housecleaning for us. For example, it probably dismisses the claims for reparations from the descendants of slaves in America. But it settles the prison uniform issue in favour of Bobby Sands, and the rules of war governing POW’s in favour of Omar Kadr.

The downside, of course, is that it encourages performative acts that would otherwise be pointless. So, for example, Hamas has to launch the occasional missile strike across the fence into Israel in order to maintain its status as an army of resistance. The Israelis then have to retaliate, which only serves to confirm their status as an army of occupation. In these performances people get killed. But apparently declaring oneself either conquered or still just occupied doesn’t cut it. 

Neither, apparently, does declaring victory from the deck of an aircraft carrier thousands of miles from the theatre of battle. As in all matters great and small, the proof is what happens on the ground. Except that proof is often ambiguous. On one and the same street in Ulster, some Catholics were conquered while others, like Bobby Sands, were just occupied. I’ve often remarked that this is the most difficult problem in all of political philosophy. When I’ve solved it I’ll be sure to let you know.

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