Le Monde diplomatique
URiEl Sinai/gETTY iMagES

WhO aRE ‘ThE PEOPlE’ anD WhaT iS SOCial jUSTiCE?
the regime they are protesting against. “The leaders of the movement are the main backbone of Israeli society,” said defence minister Ehud Barak. “They are the ones who, in times of emergency, will fold up their tents and enlist” (8). And, like the regime, when the protestors chant “the people want social justice”, they don’t count all the inhabitants of Israel/Palestine as part of “the people”. Apart from a few voices on the fringes, there has been no demand for an end to Israel’s biggest social injustice – the state of quasi-apartheid that separates two peoples living in a single territory. The demonstrators call themselves “apolitical”, and they don’t even mention the word “occupation”. The Israeli/Palestinian space is one of the most fragmented and discriminatory on this planet. But the segregation is not so much geographical (except in Gaza), or even based on the “Green Line” (the border after the 1948 war). Rather, it is enforced through a system of discriminatory laws, military orders and state policies. The country’s inhabitants are divided into various sub-groups, each with its own set of privileges and rights – or lack of them. Israel/Palestine has only one border, one army, one currency and one customs and value added tax department. Yet there are two separate road systems in the West Bank – one for Israeli settlers and another for the Palestinians under occupation. The system of separation walls and checkpoints makes for further divisions. Around half a million Israeli settlers – nearly 10% of Israel’s Jewish population – and 276,000 Palestinians in Jerusalem live outside the Green Line, the only border that is internationally recognised. Yet Israel’s social and economic institutions regard them as being an integral part of the country, the settlers as citizens, the Jerusalem Palestinians as “residents”. The economy of the Palestinian Authority is only a subdivision of the Israeli economy. It uses the currency of the occupier and is dependent on its monetary policy. Half of its GDP is based on goods and services that come from Israel; its imports and exports pass through Israel, which collects taxes on this trade on the undertaking – which it does not always fulfil – that it will transfer the funds to the Palestinian Authority; 14% of the Palestinian workforce in the West Bank works in Israel or its settlements. The Palestinian economy is that of a developing country: in 2010 its per capita GDP was barely $1,502 (9). Taking Israel/Palestine as a single economic entity, it accounts for only 2.45% of total GDP, but 33% of the population. But are the campers on Rothschild Boulevard concerned by these facts? An outside observer might see the tents just as a protest by the well off over the partial loss of their own privileges. The demands for social justice are clear but the rest is vague and the lack of organisation surprising. so badly that he bleeds all over; Palestinian passers-by sent to detonate suspected bombs at the top of a minaret because the military robot cannot climb the stairs; the killing of a unarmed Palestinian because he was standing on a rooftop (“Why did I shoot, you ask me today? Just out of pressure. I surrendered to the pressure of the guys,” according to one testimony). There are also the premeditated executions of unarmed Palestinian policemen in revenge for an attack on a checkpoint; the orders from a high-ranking officer on how to deal with a presumed terrorist lying wounded or dead (“You approach the corpse, you put a [gun] barrel between its teeth and shoot”); the stealing, looting or destruction of property. But “this book is not a Tsahal [army] horror show,” said Stoler. “It is the story of a generation, our generation.” In the first 30 years after the 1967 war, much of the debate within Israel centred on the occupation – the need for it, its evils – but in the last 15 years the word has almost disappeared. Israelis will talk about Judea and Samaria, or the West Bank, or just “the territories” without the “occupied”. The word “occupation” became almost taboo, not to be spoken in public. I was working on a television show and one of the guests said that violence in Israeli society was rising “because of the occupation”. My colleagues in the control room were alarmed. They pleaded with me – tell the anchorman to ask the guest to take back the word. As if it had the power to burn them. There are several reasons. The terrorist attacks of the second intifada gave the army carte blanche, in the view of the Israeli public, to “prevent terrorism”. The futile “peace

Le Monde diplomatique SEPTEMBER 2011 7

Selective indignation on the streets of Israel
Middle-class Israelis, aware they have lost social security and affordable housing, are protesting by pitching tents and demonstrating in city streets. But will they demand equality for all? For now, they seem intent only on their own lost privileges


he rising cost of rented housing in Tel Aviv drove Daphne Leef, 25, to set up a Facebook group calling for a protest camp: the average rent for a 2-3 room flat in Israel’s capital has risen by 11% in 12 months. This takes a huge bite out of incomes, well above the international average housing cost norms of 30%. Like many of her friends, Leef had been forced to leave her city centre flat without being able to find alternative accommodation. On 14 July a hundred young people – most, like Leef, from upper middle-class families – pitched tents on Rothschild Boulevard. The idea quickly spread: a week later the camp had grown to several hundred tents and 20,000 people demonstrated in the street. All over Israel, less well-off protestors joined the movement, pitching tents in public spaces. On 6 August, 300,000 people marched through Tel Aviv chanting: “The people want social justice!” After almost three decades of neoliberal economic policy, living costs are up and salaries down, the jobs market is worsening, social spending is being cut and public services are deteriorating. Israel’s welfare state – always limited and unequal – has disappeared. Israel’s economy was one of the first to subscribe to the Washington Consensus. In 1985 the national unity government put forward an Economic Stabilisation Plan to deal with the crisis of the early 1980s, when inflation reached nearly 450%. Prime minister Shimon Peres, then leader of the Labour Party, had concocted this plan with the help of finance minister Yitzhak Modai (Likud) and Michael Bruno, governor of Israel’s central bank and later chief economist at the World Bank (1). Influenced by the Reagan administration in the US, the stabilisation plan was not limited to monetary measures (a sharp devaluation of the shekel and fixed foreign exchange rates); it included public spending cuts, a freeze on wages and a weakening of workers’ rights. Adopted by the entire political spectrum –
Yael lerer is the founder of andalus Publishing, Tel aviv

except for the parties representing Israel’s Arab minority, which have only ever had minimal representation in the Knesset – neoliberal ideology has dictated the economic policy of all subsequent governments. Distinctions between left and right in political debate now only concern the Palestinian question, and even then the differences are insignificant. With a quasi-religious faith in market mechanisms, prime minister Binyamin Netanyahu has led a crusade against what was left of the welfare state: as finance minister, as head of the government and as both concurrently he has privatised many state-owned enterprises. Symbols of national pride such as the airline El Al and the telecoms company Bezeq have been sold off. Other privatisations are set to follow: the postal service, some ports, the railways and even some sectors of the armaments industry. Tax cuts favouring the richest are now the norm, with reductions in corporate tax and the highest rate of personal income tax. Netanyahu insists that making the rich richer is the only way to stimulate growth. Social inequalities are increasing sharply. Yet Israel has one of the world’s most prosperous economies. Its growth rates (4.7% in 2010) look cheeky in the global crisis. They are often attributed to the success of Israel’s technology and military industries. Israel is not only a key player in the conventional armaments market; it is also one of the world’s biggest exporters in the surveillance and homeland security sectors (2). But Israel’s accession to the Organisation for Economic Cooperation and Development (OECD) in May 2010 highlighted the fact that, in spite of having a gross domestic product worthy of a major industrial power ($29,500 per capita), its socio-economic makeup is very different from that of western Europe, with which it likes to identify. Israel’s income gaps, comparable to those in the US, are much greater than those in most European countries. The poverty rate is 19.9%, higher than in the US and three times higher than in France (7.2%). The demographic profile of poor Israelis is different from the secular Jews protesting in the streets – a new alliance between middleclass Ashkenazi and Sephardi Jews, with some support from working-class Sephardi. Threequarters of the poor belong to three groups that, with a few exceptions, have not taken part in the tent movement: Israeli Arabs (among whom 53.5% of families are living below the poverty line), ultra-orthodox Jews (56.9%) and immigrants from Ethiopia and the former Soviet Union.

Rothschild Boulevard has become a supermarket of ideas, with people defending a huge diversity of causes. individuals and organisations give talks and hold public debates, artists offer their own contributions, chefs come to prepare meals, the boulevard is littered with pamphlets
According to the OECD, life in Israel is now as expensive as in France, the UK, Canada or the Netherlands, while Israel’s minimum wage is less than half of France’s. Employers often disregard the minimum wage law altogether, since there is little political will to enforce it. In 2008 41% of workers were earning less than the minimum wage (4) and 74.4% were getting only around $2,000 a month. Precarious employment is spreading: 10% of the workforce are thought to be agency workers, half of them working in

the public sector since the government is not squeamish about using agencies that openly flout labour legislation (5). Trade union membership has fallen from 85% in the 1970s to 45% in 2000 and between 20% and 30% today. Although Israel’s life expectancy is still relatively high (79.8 years), and its advanced medicine is admired, the inequality of access to healthcare has reached alarming proportions, linked to the decline in the standard of living. Around 30% have no access to dental care; more than half of those over 65 have lost all their teeth (6). Public hospitals are finding it difficult to provide vital care to all. Mortality from type 2 diabetes – the treatment for which is not expensive – is five times higher among the poor than among the rest of the population. Mortality among Israeli Arabs is twice as high as among Israeli Jews (7). But if there is one area in which social regression is most striking, it is housing. Government policy has never been egalitarian, with Sephardi immigrants from Muslim countries being herded into cramped and overcrowded public housing, while their Ashkenazi fellows were offered loans at preferential rates to help them buy dwellings in better locations. The Israeli Arabs have rarely had access to public housing or to subsidised loans: the only time the state shows an interest in them is when it is appropriating their land to build housing estates reserved for Jews. Things have worsened since the 1980s. Although there was discrimination, social housing existed; today it is dying out. In 30 years, not a single unit has been built. The public sector’s share of rented housing provision has fallen from a quarter in 1980 (when 40% of the population lived in public rented housing) to 2% today. Many commentators are pleased to see Israelis flooding into the streets, calling for change. One might almost think the Israelis are at last joining their fellow citizens in the Arab world, demanding justice and equality, marching side by side for a better future for the whole region. But sadly it seems that most of the demonstrators have much in common with

The streets of Tel Aviv thronged with thousands of people marching in protest against the rising cost of living in August

Rothschild Boulevard has become a supermarket of ideas, with people defending a huge diversity of causes. Individuals and organisations give talks and hold public debates; artists offer their own contributions; chefs come to prepare meals; the boulevard is littered with pamphlets. The “official” website gives information on dozens of independently organised events across the country. The movement has no hierarchy or formal decision-making procedures and seem to have no official spokesman. The two poorest groups in Israeli society – the Palestinian citizens of Israel and the ultraorthodox Jews – are not really part of these chanting crowds. Do the protestors see them as deserving social justice? Their problems are clear (the housing crisis, for example, is far graver for these two groups), but are almost never mentioned by the protestors. In a tone closer to that of Europe’s xenophobes than that of the Greek or Spanish protesters, it isn’t process” became a background music, and convinced Israelis that there was no rush to solve the conflict; it made them feel the conflict was already solved because the Israelis had already agreed to give up the territories, have a two-state solution and grant self-determination to the Palestinians. Israel’s most influential columnist, Nahum Barnea, recently wrote: “The story of the territories is over.” Time Magazine ran a cover story in September 2010 titled “Why Israel Doesn’t Care About Peace” (4).

unusual to hear people complaining about the favourable treatment given to those who “don’t work and have a lot of children”. When the young take to the streets of any city, older activists are always glad. When young women lead the protest, they are doubly pleased. And convergence between people from the upper middle class (the majority of them Ashkenazi) and the lower social orders (mainly Sephardi) is encouraging. The movement has discredited 30 years of propaganda against social spending in only two weeks. And even if they are only on the sidelines, a few Arab voices have managed to make themselves heard, helping to raise at least some awareness among protesters. The movement is still formulating its demands and its understanding of “social justice”. One must hope this will include equality for all. And, since the protest has taken everyone by surprise, perhaps there may be more surprises in store. TRanSlaTED BY ChaRlES gOUlDEn rather than “terror prevention”; “appropriation and annexation” instead of “separation”; “controlling every small detail of Palestinian lives” rather than “Life Fabric” (the military term for the road system that serves the Palestinians); and “occupation” rather than “control”. “Our mission was to disrupt – this was the phrase: to disrupt and harass the lives of the citizens,” reads one of the testimonies. “This is how our mission was defined, because the terrorists are citizens, and we want to disrupt [their] activity, and the operational way to [do this] is to harass the lives of the citizens. I am sure of this.” Harassing the locals and disrupting their lives are not just carelessness or abuse but the cornerstone of Israeli occupation in the West Bank and Gaza. Avihai Stoler, who was almost three years in the Hebron area, met Israeli soldiers who had detonated explosive devices in the centre of a village “so that they will know we were here”. Stoler says a “noisy patrol”, “violent patrol”, “manifestation of presence”, “low-key activity”, “Happy Purim”, are all names for a regular type of action: to enter a village or city in force, throw shock grenades, erect makeshift checkpoints, make random house searches, remain there for hours or days “to produce a sense of being persecuted, so they will never feel at ease.” Stoler was citing his orders. Stoler and Avner Gvaryahu served in an elite unit whose activity had been measured (so they were told by a high ranking officer) by the number of dead terrorists. They are aware that people don’t want to hear what they have to say. Not a single Israeli TV crew came to their book launch, only foreign media. “My father

(1) See Naomi Klein, The Shock Doctrine: the Rise of Disaster Capitalism, Penguin, London, 2008. (2) Neve Gordon, “The Political Economy of Israel’s Homeland Security/Surveillance Industry, Working Paper III, IRSP IV”, The New Transparency Project, Kingston, Canada, April 2009. (3) “Israel, the World’s Third Biggest Weapons Exporter” (in Hebrew), Globes, Rishon LeZion, 10 October 2009; www.globes.co.il (4) Jacques Bendelac, “Average Wage and Income by Locality and by Various Economic Variables 2008”, (in Hebrew, abstract in English), National Insurance Institute, Jerusalem, October 2010. (5) Federation of Israeli Chambers of Commerce, 29 July 2010; www.chamber.org.il (6) Tuvia Horev and Jonathan Mann, “Oral and Dental Health — The Responsibility of the State towards its Citizens”, (in Hebrew) Taub Centre for Social Policy Studies in Israel, Jerusalem, July 2007. (7) “Working Today to Narrow the Gaps of Tomorrow: Goals for Decreasing Health Disparities”, (in English) Tel Aviv, April 2010; www.acri.org.il (8) “Barak backs protests, but not defense cuts”, Ynetnews. com, 9 August 2011. (9) Palestinian Central Bureau of Statistics; www.pcbs.gov.ps

‘DOn’T EVER lET ThE PalESTinianS FEEl aT EaSE’

Israel: a mission to disrupt
A new book collects hundred of testimonies from Israeli soldiers about what they did, and were expected to do, in the West Bank and Gaza in the past decade, to impose the occupation


’ll tell you when I flipped. We were in action in Gaza… We were in a trench and children got closer and threw stones. The orders were that the moment [a Palestinian] can hit you with a stone, he can hit you with a grenade... so I shot him. He was 12, or 15, something like that. I don’t think I killed him. I’m saying that … to sleep better at night. I flipped when … I talked about it with my friends [and] family: I was fucking aiming [a weapon] at someone and I shot him in the leg, in the ass. Everyone was happy, they made me a hero, they announced it in synagogue. I was in shock” (1). In his book If This Is a Man (2), Primo Levi recalls a dream he kept having in Auschwitz; later he learned that many other prisoners had the same dream. He was back home, telling his family about the horrors of Auschwitz, but nobody was listening; they left the table and
Meron Rapoport is a journalist at Haaretz, Tel aviv

went away. This was his nightmare: to tell his story and not be heard, or understood Gaza is not Auschwitz, and the Israeli soldiers whose testimonies are collected in Occupation Of The Territories are not Shoah survivors. Yet they have in common with Levi the need to tell their stories. Those around them are not interested, they feel threatened by the stories and prefer to ignore them or reinterpret them within their existing ideas of how things work in Gaza, the West Bank, behind the Wall, behind the newly reconstructed checkpoints which look more like international bordercrossing facilities than the military outposts of an occupation army. “What did you want the parents of this soldier to say to him?” says Avihai Stoler, an ex-soldier who helped to collect the testimonies for the book. “‘Don’t worry, kid, you killed a child, so what?’ The parents prefer not to understand his dilemma.” The book collects testimonies from men and women who have served in the Israeli army in the West Bank and Gaza in the last 10 years, since the beginning of the second intifada. It is the most comprehensive insider account of Israel’s modus operandi in the occupied territories – not the decisions taken in high places, just the everyday reality of Israeli military control over Palestinian homes, fields, roads, property and time, the lives and deaths of inhabitant of the West Bank and Gaza. Some 40,000-60,000 Israelis have served in combat units in the last decade (3). All are likely to have spent some time in the occupied territories (except for those in the air force or

navy). Seven hundred and fifty of them were interviewed for this book – 1%-2%. The sample is far larger than needed for an opinion poll or academic study, so it can’t be denied that this is the way things work. Shovrim Shtika (Breaking the Silence), which collected the testimonies, was founded in 2004 by some Israeli soldiers who had served in or around Hebron and wanted show Israeli society, and the world, what the occupation felt like. At first they tried to publish horror stories: photos of soldiers who cut off the heads of Palestinians killed in battle and stuck them on the barrel of their guns. But later, they understood that cases of extreme cruelty missed the point. “We are not interested in the soldier who abuses an old man at a checkpoint,” explained Michael Menkin, a founder of the group. “We are interested in the soldier who stands beside him, the ‘normal’ soldier.” Even so, the book chronicles war crimes: a mentally handicapped Palestinian beaten

‘Enter a village or city in force, throw shock grenades, erect makeshift checkpoints, make random house searches, remain there for hours or days to produce among the Palestinians a sense of being persecuted, so they will never feel at ease’
There is a military factor. Since the beginning of the second intifada, and especially since the construction of the Separation Wall, military control over the Palestinians has become more systematic and “scientific”. The book translates the military jargon, and Breaking the Silence, based on these testimonies, proposes new terminology better suited to the realities: it suggests we talk of “spreading fear among the civilian population” in the West Bank and Gaza

is second generation after the Shoah,” said Gvaryahu; “In his eyes, we are the persecuted.” But both he and Stoler are optimistic; both of them believe that eventually Israeli society will understand what is being done on its behalf and will change, because it is society that needs fixing, not the army. “I was once interviewed by a Colombian journalist”, said Stoler. “She asked me what all the fuss was about: in Colombia soldiers chop off insurgents’ heads on a daily basis and nobody pays attention. But I think Israeli society wants to be moral. This is what drives us forward; without this collective will there is no point in our action.” Israeli society was taken hostage, said Gvaryahu. The hostage takers “have an interest which is not ours, they don’t have a face, and we [had] Stockholm syndrome, we fell in love with our kidnappers. It is easy to say that the settlers are our kidnappers, the face behind the scene. I don’t think so. The only face behind the kidnapping is our own.” ORiginal TExT in EngliSh
(1) Shovrim Shtika (Breaking the Silence), Occupation of the Territories, chapter 1, testimony 45. Tel Aviv, 2010. (2) Primo Levi, If This Is a Man, Everyman, 2000. (3) Israel doesn’t release official data on its armed forces. In 2004, the International Institute for Strategic Studies estimated that there are 85,000 conscripts in the Israeli regular army. It is estimated that out of them, 10 to 15 percent combat soldiers so it is fair to assume that there are 10 to 15 thousands conscript combat soldiers. The army service is 3 years long, so every year 3 to 5 thousands combat are released from service and the same are recruited. Over a period of 10 years it is fair to assume that 40 to 60 thousands Israeli conscript soldiers served in the Occupied Territories; http://www.globalsecurity.org/military/world/israel/army.htm (4) Karl Vick, “Why Israel Doesn’t Care About Peace”, Time Magazine, 13 September 2010.

Sign up to vote on this title
UsefulNot useful