Repression: the Ten New Plagues

Israel’s current internal repression binge has 10 main features. Upping the ante has always been a feature of state Zionism’s armoury, but as it starts to go off the scale it will polarise opinion and alienate millions more from “the only democracy in the Middle East”. To the extent that such a democracy existed up to now, it only applied to the Jews within this “Jewish democracy”. Now they too are losing many basic rights.

“Forty years of occupation casts a dark shadow on the democratic values of Israeli society, and raises serious questions about the definition of Israel as a democratic country. The time has come—if it has not, indeed, already passed—to decide what we are going to relinquish: our occupation or our democracy. The two are irreconcilable and can no longer co-exist. ACRI, 2007 

“In Israel, there is no longer a Justice System that we believe in” (Avraham Burg, former Knesset Speaker, Chairman of the Jewish Agency and WZO April 2010)

“Over the first year of Benjamin Netanyahu’s prime ministership, Israel has slid almost inadvertently a long way down the slope that leads to McCarthyism and racism.” David Landau, Ha’aretz)

“The repression, night-time raids on private homes, arrests, arbitrary charges, long periods of “administrative detention,” travel bans, visa denials, torture and unexplained deaths that have been the lot of Palestinians in the Occupied Territories these long past decades have come into Israel with a vengeance.” (ICAHD)

“A Western style democracy means more than just one person, one vote.   It means full equality of rights regardless of religion or ethnic origin, including the right to express dissent from government policies without fear of harassment, arrest, imprisonment or death. This is not the status quo in Israel – far from it.  3.5 million Palestinians live under a 42-year long Israeli occupation in the Palestinian Territories. Inside Israel, migrants, refugees, and Israelis of all backgrounds– including Jews–are increasingly suffering the ongoing erosion of human rights.” (Jewish Voice for Peace)

1. Press gags and “Treason”

Anat Kamm, while doing her army service, copied military documents that exposed IDF murder missions (recently ruled illegal in Israel) and passed the material to a Ha’aretz journalist. She awaits trial, possibly for treason. A gagging order forbade the Israeli press even to mention her name or the fact of her arrest, and the Haaretz journalist who blew the story went into hiding abroad. The gag was broken by internet bloggers, and finally lifted in early April 2010. The Jewish Chronicle wrote: “in Israel, the press is banned from telling you about it. Remember, this is happening not in Iran, China or Myanmar” Once again the gag was used when Ameer Makhoul was arrested in May 2010, with press forbidden to report details of his detention conditions and interrogation methods.

2. Laws and arrests to stifle Human Rights watch NGOs and Israeli Arabs’ representatives

The dozens of peace and human rights groups monitoring and bearing witness to the occupation forces, the house demolitions, the treatment of prisoners, the arbitrary arrests and the assassination of Palestinian militants are to experience a crackdown against their own freedom to operate, as two new laws (Feb 2010 and April 2010) are set to create a witch-hunt hitting at their funding and legal right to exist and carry out lawful work. Their employees and members will face arrest, prosecution, fines and up to one year in jail if, for example, they fail to enumerate their sources of funding, out loud, as an opening statement at any time that they speak in public.

There had already been an ongoing escalation of assaults on Palestinian and Israeli activists and organisations opposing the Occupation. Government Ministers prepared for the new laws by accusing the human rights community of “aiming to destroy Israel” and “undermining the Zionist enterprise”  and warned them not to engage in “political activity”. Non-violent Palestinian resistance activists have long faced night-time raids and arrests. Now the full force of the law will be at the service of these attacks.

Most disturbingly, the gagging of witnesses is intended to give a green light to the occupation army, the Shin Bet and Mossad that they can step up their violence against protests and resistance and there will be no-one to speak out against it.

Another line of attack is the charge of “political espionage”, which could cover just about any phone conversation, email or internet chat with anyone from an “enemy state” that one might meet, say, at an international conference.

This charge has been levelled at Ameer Makhoul, director of Ittijah (internationally renowned network of Palestinian NGOs in Israel) who was arrested and held incommunicado (with a press gag) and is now described as an “espionage suspect” rather than “director of a charitable NGO”. Amnesty International has added its support to that of hundreds of protestors. His lawyer has said that Makhoul’s role as a prominent advocate internationally meant that the Israeli state “has enough reasons to stop his voice”. Hopefully, this disgraceful and politically motivated treatment will have the opposite effect.

While clearly the arrest was intended as a blow to the work of human rights NGOs, there is also huge concern for Makhoul himself: in a matter of three weeks his eyesight had deteriorated, he was reported to have been shackled in a stress position and was in pain, was “trembling and apathetic” and had suffered sleep and sensory deprivation: all this equates to torture or “cruel, inhuman and degrading treatment” under the UN Convention Against Torture.

Once defined as a “security detainee”, a prisoner such as Makhoul can legally to be kept in isolation, and there is no need for the interrogation to be fully recorded.

3. Thought control, collective punishment and the Nakba law

A truly Orwellian law will punish those showing “signs of mourning” on 15th May when Jewish Israel celebrates “Independence” while its 20% Arab citizens commemorate their loss, the Nakba. After abandoning a proposal for 3-year sentences for breaking of this Nakba law in case it proved hard to get through the Knesset, they are now proposing “only” to cut off the funds of local neighbourhood authorities that mark or mourn the Nakba. Hebrew radio reported that the law is intended to stop people mourning on what is Israeli Independence Day; commemorative acts are, it said, tantamount to “denying the Jewish character of Israel [and] insulting the symbols of the state”.

4. Smear campaigns

Typical is the treatment of Judge Richard Goldstone, South African author of the UN’s report into Israel’s 2009 Gaza invasion, who is the subject of a massive onslaught of accusations and petty vengeance (including an attempt to bar him from his own grandson’s bar mitzva ceremony). Now they’re trying to discredit him on the grounds of having once been part of the apartheid system, which is quite something coming from the state that armed, aided, advised and traded with apartheid South Africa when all the rest of the world was boycotting it.

Naomi Chazan, once Deputy Speaker of the Knesset and now head of a major philanthropic fund that pours millions of dollars into Israeli social projects, was portrayed on huge billboards in a cartoon image of an evil devil with horns. ” One needn’t like all of the organizations that Chazan’s New Israel Fund supports to be outraged and disgusted and frightened by the style of the campaign that was mounted against her.” David Landau, Ha’aretz.

A spin-off from character-assassination is guilt by association. If you can put it about that so-and-so is accused of contacts with Hesbollah, the next step is that all their contacts and associates become suspect too. Another attempt to isolate and demonise the opposition.

 5. Hitting at funding of human rights NGOs

 Israel’s major human rights organisations including Breaking the Silence, B’Tselem, ACRI and Yesh Din are funded by the New Israel Fund, set up in America in 1979 with a commitment to democratic change, social justice and equality, civil and human rights, religious tolerance and pluralism  -  a list of aims that is anathema to the present government. And it’s been gunning for the Fund in a big way, typically hiding behind ultra-Zionist front organisations.

One attack picked out the fact that an NIF-funded think-tank had been a co-author of a report that included a positive mention of “a bi-national state”, forcing the NIF to defend itself for such a thought having been so much as uttered within a dialogue on “Future Vision”.

Next, the ultra-Zionist Student group Im Tirtzu asserted that 92% of the criticisms in the UN’s Goldstone Report on Gaza had come from NIF-funded groups (actual figure around 1.3%, say NIF). NIF President Naomi Chazan countered that NIF were a great deal closer to the values of Israel’s founding declaration than its attackers.

All this served as a prelude to two things:

1. An attempt to put pressure, back in the USA where NIF is based and gets most of the income that’s channeled to human rights NGOs in Israel. This pressure includes getting Jewish organisations to draw up lists of acceptable (e.g. the murderous Hebron settlers) and unacceptable or blacklisted (e.g. Amnesty International, NIF and Physicians for Social Responsibility) organisations for receipt of donations. The “acceptable” list is rapidly shrinking. In the San Francisco area over 70 prominent Jewish scholars, rabbis, philanthropists and community leaders responded that the guidelines “limit debate, threaten dissent, and establish, for the first time, a litmus test for loyalty to Israel as a condition of funding.”

2. New laws at the other end of the chain, in Israel, restricting who the NGOs can receive donations from. And if the NGOs fall foul of any of these laws, it will in turn help to shut off the funds at source. A lose-lose vicious circle.

There’s only one way to break this circle before it ends up with self-censorship: a list of NGOs “proud to be banned”, appealing to the basic liberal politics of America’s overwhelmingly Democrat-voting Jewish community to fund those organisations whose susvival so far has been one of the few saving graces of Israel’s culture of blinkered denial.

6. Spying, surveillance and break-ins

 In Israel’s sophisticated surveillance regime, new laws against NGOs and the accusations of treason and anti-semitism against anyone not toeing the line open the way for more illegal break-ins and ransacking of homes and computers. ‘The deep essence of the Shin Beit work is embedded in such a break-in. This break-in is a statement, “We are the law, and above the law, and under the radar of the law, as we wish.” Or “you know it’s us, and there is nothing you can do about it. In fact, we exist in every place in your life and all the time, and do not forget this.” This break-in is terror.’ (Haggai Matar).

 7. Academic Freedom: spies in the lecture theatres

Tel Aviv University has been subjected to vehement calls for a financial boycott by long-term donors. This campaign is designed to coerce the Tel Aviv University leadership into sacking academic staff and expelling “politically wayward students”.  Over in the USA, where they once so perfected such witch-hunting that it’s been called McCarthyism ever since, there is a network of fired-up young Zionist students who’ve been told it’s their duty to report on any opinion, ideas, talking points, or unsavoury historical facts uttered  by any lecturer that are “biased” against Israel. If a lecturer is targeted, hostile spies even sign up for their courses purely to report on such “bias”: one was recently exposed when he urged other students to join his campaign to get a professor sacked.

Yuri Avneri wrote in Gush Shalom:

Jewish organizations aim at cleansing the universities of post-Zionists. They threaten to induce other donors to withhold their donations, they terrorize presidents and rectors and frighten professors and students.

Americans may be reminded of the sinister era of Senator Joseph McCarthy, who blighted the life of thousands of intellectuals and artists, pushing many of them into exile or suicide. Europeans might be reminded of the days when “Aryan” professors informed on their treasonous colleagues, and students in brown shirts threw their Jewish colleagues out of the windows.

This is only one sector of the broad offensive. One group has proudly announced that it is teaching hundreds of professional Zionists how to cleanse Wikipedia, the on-line encyclopedia, of post-Zionist items and plant Zionist ones in their stead. … 

According to our little McCarthys, even the debate is absolutely verboten. Verboten to think. Verboten to write. Strictly verboten to speak. In every university there would be Zionist overseers to receive reports about the lectures of professors, check their publications, report what they hear from students who inform on other students, and safeguard ideological purity. Much like the “politruks” — political commissars —  in the Soviet Union. Much like the cadres of the “cultural revolution” in China, when thousands of professors and other intellectuals were sent to labor camps or remote villages.

But the results of their labors may be very different from what they expect. Instead of making the term “post-Zionism” a synonym for treason, they may make the term “Zionism” a synonym for fascism, gladdening the hearts of all those around the world who preach a boycott of the “Jewish state”. When the Israeli universities are cleansed of non-conformist thinkers, it will indeed be easy to boycott them…

8. Press Freedom

 There’s been a big increase in gagging orders and journalists having to go on the run. Reporters Without Borders Annual Report found that as a result of the Gaza invasion Israel sank by 47 places to 93rd in its  world Press Freedom index, and now stands behind Kuwait (at 60th), Emirates (at 86th) and Lebanon (61st). They also found five cases of illegal arrests of journalists, and three of imprisonment, while the whole media was subject to military censorship. Within Gaza three jounralists were killed covering the fighting, and around 20 were injured. In 2008 journalist and photographer Mohammed Omer, arriving home to Gaza from London where he had gone to receive the Gellhorn Award for Journalism, was detained by Shin Bet and severely beaten. 

9. Freedom of Movement

The West is subject to hundreds of Military Orders covering every aspect of life. A new stipulates that all Palestinians in the occupied West Bank not carrying what Israel deems a valid identity card can be classified as “infiltrators”, and could face deportation or up to seven years in prison. The Israeli military order does not specify what would be accepted as valid identification.

Rights groups say it has sparked fear of arrest amongst Palestinians. Sari Bashi, the executive director of the Tel Aviv based Gisha Legal Centre for Freedom of Movement,  said the order gives a green light to Israeli soldiers to arrest Palestinians. Those most at risk are those with Gaza documents. Up to 70,000 are at risk. More families will be divided and, to avoid the 600 checkpoints where they have to show papers, will end up staying at home to avoid summary deportation. And with numerous house-searches, even that is not safe.

These powers extend over the whole area of the West Bank included the designated Palestinian Authority enclaves. They will also act as another mechanism for the annexation of East Jerusalem: by preventing people with Jerusalem or Israeli identity cards from living in the West Bank, Israel wants to fix the illegal annexation of East Jerusalem. A person who was born in East Jerusalem and is now living in Ramallah will be liable to deportation, thus demonstrating the annexed status of Jerusalem as part of another country.

The decision violates international law: Article 49 of the Fourth Geneva Convention states: “Individual or mass forcible transfers, as well as deportations of protected persons from occupied territory to the territory of the Occupying Power or to that of any other country, occupied or not, are prohibited, regardless of their motive” .

Watch this 2-minute Al Jazeera video

10. Standards

While 98% of Israelis say they believe in freedom of speech (the other 2% must be the government and their hangers-on), a recent poll found that 57.6 percent of Israelis agreed that human rights organizations that expose immoral conduct by Israel should not be allowed to operate freely. The regime’s constant self-justifications leave the populace ignorant of internationally accepted standards yet very well drilled in the twists and turns of their own argument. It seems time that Voltaire’s famous “I hate what you say but I’ll fight to the death for your right to say it” was re-written for Israeli use. Pollsters observe: “The whole subject of values is perceived as something left-wing.” 


FacebookStumbleUponTwitterGoogle BookmarksYahoo BookmarksShare

Close window