Israeli Realities

Reporting (almost) daily from Israel.

Friday, September 02, 2005

Are we really free here ?

Are we free people or government property
Today I would like to explore the unique and fascinating relationship between the Israeli citizen and her government. Since Israel considers itself a "western democracy", it becomes imperative to clarify some cultural themes running deep and back to Jewish heritage, so that people outside of Israel understand how different their concept or image of Israel is, compared to its less visible realities. Generally speaking, the power of the people to influence their governments' decisions, especially in the field of foreign policies, war against terror and war, is decreasing. The new structures, where multinational corporations, that do not answer to the public, make "politics" in the good old sense, obsolete. In Israel, the case becomes even more complex.
Let us begin with some figures. Recent publication rated Israel among the first five exporters and importers of arms in the entire world. Bearing in mind that this nation consists of 5-6 million people, anyone with their right mind should draw the conclusion that besides compulsory military draft, the entire populace of Israel is serving the military at any given point. In fact, for this rating, it must follow that each and every citizen including minors and elderly, and women, is actually working twice or thrice the normal capacity, in military affairs, in order to be able to run this huge machine. Israel's army is also rated in the first ten, I suppose, or maybe five, largest armies in the world, with others such as China and India each with its billion citizens or the USA with quarter a billion.
The way Israel achieves these rates of production, commerce and military capacity, is quite a unique phenomenon which deserves attention. It also brings up the nagging question, that is, how come all those smart, educated, bright people who deal with "the problem of Israel" (mainly with regards to the gross violations of Palestinian human rights) do not realize that these figures are preposterous in terms of the burdens and requirements imposed on the Israeli people. History demonstrated in numerous instances, that when nations become heavily militaristic, the first ones to lose their freedoms and rights, are the very subjects of this regime. However, and oddly enough, the issue is never raised seriously with regards to Israel. The unanimous, unfounded and off handish, assumption is that Israelis are in cahoots with their government and that generally speaking, there is almost unanimous support to the government and the military complex. As if this is at all possible in real life. And as if Israelis are perhaps not really human, as the rest of us are. Rifts and dissent, protest and calls for help, coming from Israeli sectors/individuals (namely, Jews) are usually dismissed and absent from any serious discussion, certainly from all "alternative websites" who deal with the Middle East extensively. Moreover, any attempts (at least the few I made) to call attention to the fact that reality is far removed from the image of a tightly organized little "Star Fleet" unit, are met with aggression, as if I am trying somehow to avoid popular accountability to Israeli war crimes. As I was threatening to take the fun from all of this pseudo activity against Israel. Well, no, I was not. I was only trying to take it from the land of fantasy into reality, and this perhaps would allow for real change.
The Israeli government, in this unique case, has the same interest as those staunch critics - to maintain the illusion of a cohesive, committed and unified society, standing together in arms, to build its country and protect itself. This bizarre "cooperation" between the Israeli government and the harshest critics of Israel, in this matter, is very interesting and depressing. Both critics AND Israeli government are extremely uncomfortable, to say the least, when an Israeli challenges this image. This is one of those diabolic patterns, that we see flourishing recently in world and American politics, where rage and dissent are misplaced and are feeding the very same processes one wishes to prevent.
I want to clarify the precise processes in Israel by which people are held captive and in total control of the government, without this being written in the laws, or visible in the overt structure of the regime. In a previous post I explored the nature of censorship in Israel, the pernicious blocking of relevant information, and the structuring of the media agenda, without legal means. Americans are now more aware of how this can be done, as it has been the case there since 9-11. The same type of control, mainly by virtue of cruel capitalist economy together with a very centralized and controlled economy/bureaucracy, makes people powerless to control their lives. Education is one massive propaganda machine for the military, and recently this became visible when the government decided to launch a project called "officer for every school". Under this project, each high school in Israel will be assigned an accompanying officer who will coach the children, and prepare them, and motivate them for their military careers later. Although this is a recent project, it only brings up to the surface what has been there before.
Social, informal sanctions on dissent or challenging views, is very severe, but cannot be addressed by the letter of the law. One cannot prove social sanctions, or sue people for excommunicating her or treating them badly, to the point of despair. Since this is also a very small society, one may encounter unofficial harassment by the bureaucracy, public utilities, public services - by word of mouth.
On the other end, perks and shmoozing those who internalize military values, is amazing as well. Recent media reports showed how academia in Israel is implicated and involved in the fostering of military personnel. Promotions, positions, tenure, curriculum, grades, scholarships - are all influenced heavily in favor of military needs. A lot of money is given to academic institution to pamper cadets, retired officers, veterans, and certainly active military personnel. By "military personnel" I do not refer to soldiers only. This would be natural and quite acceptable all over the world, rather everyone making their living off military activities, manufacture, sales, intelligence, military research and science, will be pushed up the ladder in academia. None of these criteria are visible and overt, it would be hard to pin point and scrutinize this widespread phenomenon but EVERYONE knows its there. So, an Israeli citizen in their mind, if they want to live, will take part in it, one way or the other.
Israelis are also expected to "stand by" for military or paramilitary activity at any given moment in their life, here or abroad. We are always available for errands, information gathering, little favors, and even life long servitude. One is expected to comply and those who do not, are blacklisted. Those who comply willingly, are rewarded somehow. Reward can take the form of getting an easier treatment in a criminal case one is facing (perhaps not murder, but tax, zoning, fraud offenses etc.), or getting some social benefits otherwise restricted to invalids (social security payments etc.). The ways are creative and numerous to reward a good citizen.
And of course, the threat and misuse of blacklisting is also a measure of enforcing obedience.
Now, one has to bear in mind that military activity, arms manufacturing and sale, are ALWAYS dirty. One is not asked to set up a club for the elderly, but to do something wrong. And as much as a person would convince herself that they did right and patriotic duties, they are still bound by shame and guilt, which makes them more vulnerable for further recruitment. This is not freedom, and there cannot be freedom in a society which produces these amounts of military products and activities worldwide.
Now why is all of this denied, both by Israelis and foreign critics or supporters ?
Israelis deny this reality, I believe mostly because they don't know any better. Bear in mind. Most Israelis are refugees and immigrants, coming from a variety of bad regimes, some of them antisemitic and some are simply dictatorships of the worst kind. The official propaganda is very intent on showing the downside of other countries and nations and magnifying antisemitism
Despite appearances Israelis are generally not well informed and quite segregated from global information and activities. The exposure to other cultures is heavily biased and "screened" so that even those who stay abroad for a while, arrive their as if programmed to remain shut to deep influences, and regard the others as enemies are people to be used, because of their innate bad intent. Religious conditioning is not helpful here, but even secular Israelis are very suspicious of foreigners, including of Jews living abroad.
This culture has some themes of a "cult", and bearing in mind the type of education and the universal military draft, it would not be hard to create this structure. Universal draft also means that each and every citizen is registered, controlled, has to report their whereabouts always, receive a "pass" to leave Israel, report their entries, etc. It also means that high school children are already monitored for future military uses. The personal subjective experience is that of controlled actions and even behavior.
Why do foreign governments AND critics alike cooperate with the efforts of the Israeli government to market the image of a democracy and of unanimous support and allegiance ?
this is something I am not sure of, although I have my personal explanations and thoughts. I would be happy to receive ideas and feedback about this from others. Mainly, why do foreign governments allow the Israeli government to get away with this massive violation of civil rights and YET maintain the image of democracy ? Is it a cynical explanation ? Does it also have to do with antisemitic prejudices ? Is there any explanation to the fact that there are NO Israeli refugees/political asylum cases in the whole world ? And lastly, why do so called critics of Israeli and Zionist practices are so reluctant to acknowledge the reality of oppression, and why don't they crack this image by actively assisting Israel's against their government ? Last, but not least, why do the rich Jewish communities abroad, join hands with the Israeli government in oppressing the Israelis and preventing them from leaving Israel and joining western democracies ?


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