Wednesday, May 16, 2007

Peace Evolves Into a Four Letter Word

When did peace become such a vile word in Israel? Peace, defined as a state of harmony, the absence of hostility, undoubtedly seems like a desirable state of affairs. But the mere mention of the word has been expunged from public discourse. Growing up as a teenager in the shadow of Yitzhak Rabin’s assassination, I still recall going to massive protests that expounded the demand for peace. The protests were always within in the context of some ongoing bi-national dialogue, but the underlying message in the protests was that Israel demands a resolution that will ultimately bear peace with our neighbors. No one was so naïve as to believe that a secure and just peace could easily be achieved but at least there was an ambition to improve the status quo of mutual bloodshed and fear. Nowadays in Israel, it seems that the ambition to change things has shriveled in apathetic impotence. Following the implosion of dialogues marked by the insurrection of the second Palestinian intifida and the ascent of Ariel Sharon to power, the noble desire for peace was replaced by the pragmatic demand for security. Now, as Israel languishes in a vacuum of competent leadership, even security is forgotten and the public only asks for a bit of stability. Alas, our inept leaders offer us just that, by refusing to acknowledge diplomatic overtures by Syria and refusing to sincerely discuss the future of the peace process with moderate Arab leaders, the politicians are promising us the stable state of preparation for the next fight. Accomplishing peace is a complex and arduous process but it is apparent that Israel has simply given up on trying. History shows us that it took Europe centuries to realize that there might be an alternative to solving their bickering on the battlefields and so too here it will be an exhausting process. I believe that if we really want to expedite this process, we must first internalize that Israel is not a blip on the radar of history and realize that peace is the only way to reverse our collective decay. I hope not to sound like a self-righteous utopian fart, I understand that ponderings about peace seem pretentious but only by considering today how we want this country to be tomorrow, regardless of the sacrifices, then can we look forward to true stability, security and, yes, even peace. To sum it up in the words of John Lennon, which seem more relevant today then ever: “If everyone demanded peace instead of another television set, then there'd be peace.”

Monday, May 14, 2007

Should Democracy Be Afraid Of The Internet

To state the obvious – the internet has been a paramount contribution to democracy. By allowing anybody with the ability of clicking a platform to express their views, regardless of status, education or political inclination, the internet is the essence of popular democracy. Accessing the tapestry of opinions by examining reader comments on online media sources enables us to monitor the pulse of the public. Reader comments to news topics in a small country like Israel offer viable microcosms of the national mood. Ironically, this mechanism of democracy has illuminated the grave threat that democratic institutions are always facing.

News agencies recently released this footage of a reserve IDF solider assaulting a left wing activist, after the latter attempted to remove a military barrier. Although it is not pleasant to witness Israeli soldiers manhandle Israeli citizens, it hardly qualifies as a scandal. Israel is too embroiled in a deeper ethical quagmire following 40 years of systematic occupation to grow incensed over violence towards protesters in a military zone. But the outpouring of solidarity with the soldier in the reader response unabashedly crossed the line between display of approval to a dangerous cry of undemocratic vengeance. Responses from the readership included truly revolting opinions of hate towards the leftist protesters: "It's a shame the soldiers didn't open fire on those terrorists" – "IDF did not beat those punks enough" -- "Send all the left wingers to Gaza" etc. etc.

Unfortunately, violence is the tool that a soldier is trained to utilize. I do not know if the measure of violence used against the protesters was legitimate in light of their violations. Violence was exercised against protesters violating military orders during settlement evacuations and I will give the benefit of the doubt that a certain degree of violence was necessary to restrain the protesters. But the online responses which categorized the left wing as traitors deserving a beating and encouraging IDF to inflict further pain on the "terrorists" is disconcerting and frankly, it reeks of fascism. The majority of the public has already decreed all Palestinians are deserving of their misery and the military wrath. If this reaction is an indication of public opinion, then the increasingly marginalized left might be next to sow its own destruction by actively opposing occupation policy. Is Israeli democracy strong enough to fight such loathsome hatred of those unwilling to reconcile with the consensus?

Sunday, May 13, 2007

Enemy Within

An overwhelming cloud of desperation lingers over Israel in recent days. Although this nation is experienced in overcoming personal and national adversity, the current mood of the state is rooted in wholly different circumstances. The citizens of Israel could always prevail in the face of ongoing war, terrorism, economic hardships because it was possible to console ourselves that we are not responsible for creating these difficulties. An enemy always stood to blame for our difficulties – the Palestinians, the Egyptians, Arabs in general. The omnipresence of a collective enemy also facilitated our ability to unite in solidarity and defiantly march on. A public outcry of frustration has become resonant following the publication of the Winograd report, which basically labeled all levels of government (and most levels of military) incompetent in leading the nation into a doomed war. The distress following the realization of Israel fallibility is compounded by the continual unveiling of public corruption, absolute mistrust of government, the decimation of the welfare state, widening social gaps, predictions of a looming war. All this is accompanied with a general state of apathy in all sectors of society. Mired in turmoil Israelis looking for the collective enemy to bond them together will discover only a mirror, reflecting our weary society, standing before them.

This police surveillance tape recording of a motorcyclist lying in the middle of a junction, as over thirty vehicles swerve to avoid the body, seems to be emblematic of the ills of our society. It reflects the crack in our national character that has kept us united for so long. Yes, we Israelis are abrasive, impatient, verbally violent, morally flexible and lack table manners but we take comfort that an underlying sympathy of joint struggle ties us together. This explicit display of disregard serves as a gruesome warning of the path this state is wandering down. The cardinal virtue of the founding ideology of Zionism – to protect and shelter any Jew from harm – has been shunned. We have evolved into an atypical modern nation, embracing individualism and competition. Rampant privatization and de-regulation are an inevitable consequence when our primary ally (don't forget Micronesia) is the U.S. However, these very same "modernizations" of Israeli economy unwillingly dismantled our idealistic basis. In a system where capital measures the individual's ability to prosper, refuge for every Jew is impractical. It does not matter if a Jew lives in poverty in the diaspora or in Israel (as over a third does).
Conflicting virtues of individual competition and Jewish collectivism are colliding. It should not surprise us that the ramifications of this collision are greedy politicians, fortification of an oligarchy devouring profits ultimately the birth of an utterly apathetic populace. No longer can we discard our burdens as creations of external entities, the enemy lies within.

Tuesday, May 08, 2007

Torture? It's the Occupation... Stupid!

A recent B'tselem report released claims that Israel (Shin Bet) employs "exceptional interrogation methods and physical pressure against Palestinian detainees" with alarming regularity. I do not want to minimize the significance of the study, but... No Shit! This should not come as a surprise to anyone. Has there ever been a viable method of repressing an occupied population that did not entail subjecting them to violence? Occupation does not succeed when you tickle the other side into submission with a feather. What do people surprised by this report reckon has been going on here for the last forty years, a bi-national pyjama party? Both the Israeli right and left need to recognize the abhorrent tools necassary to maintain an occupation. Each side must then rationalize his morality in order to establish that the ends justify the means.

Here is the link to the report: Utterly Forbidden: The Torture And Ill-Treatment Of Palestinian Detainees