Garrison State, Garrison Mentality
My visit to Israel (Tel Aviv, Haifa, Jerusalem and in the occupied territories) coincided with the announcement of the formation of the National Unity government of Hamas and Fatah. The immediate response of Israel and the US is breathtaking in its arrogant audacity and moral dishonesty. They took refuge behind the shameful demands of the Quartet of the EU, US, UN and Russia (those demands were initially drawn up in the US state department) that the new government must renounce violence, abide by previous Israel-Palestine agreements, and recognize Israel’s right to exist. Israel maintains the longest running illegal military occupation of modern history sustained by the most overt and institutionalised forms of routinised brutality and violence but it is the occupied that is being called upon to renounce violence not the occupier!
Israel has been the principal culprit in violating the Oslo Accords – repeatedly and illegally expanding its settlements in the occupied territories (OT) -- as well as violating innumerable UN resolutions including Resolution 194 about the return of Palestinian refugees, which it had to accept in order to become a member of the UN in the first place. Yet Israel seeks to shift blame for the failure of the Oslo agreements onto the Palestinian leadership and portray them as ‘unreasonable’ when it should now be obvious to anyone that those Accords were basically Israel’s way of partially subcontracting the occupation to the Fatah controlled Palestinian National Authority, and for giving time to Israel to carry out more land grabs in the OT, i.e., create new “facts on the ground” that they then demand (with US acquiescence) must be accepted as the new basis for further ‘peace’ negotiations.
Israel demands recognition from the very people whom it ethnically cleansed in 1948 in order to come into existence but will itself never apologize for having carried out that ethnic cleansing! That apology, in fact, is the crucial-symbolic-political meaning of the Palestinian demand for Israel to recognize the right of return of refugees. The demographic issue of where Palestinians will actually return is by contrast a minor and easily negotiable one. The irony is that the PLO in the Oslo Accords did recognize Israel’s right to exist but only got recognition of itself as the legitimate representative authority for Palestinians. It never got formal recognition of the Palestinian right to a genuinely independent and truly viable territorial state on the basis of 1967 borders, a prospect which the illegal Apartheid Wall is now in the process of permanently destroying. Recognition of Israel by the PLO gave away its most important diplomatic asset in return for what has turned out to be a total disaster for Palestinians.
Hamas, very sensibly, is not about to make the same mistake reserving such recognition for final-status talks when proper justice is done to Palestinians. It has rightly asked – which Israel is it being asked to recognize? One that will territorially confine itself to 1967 borders or the one today demanding much more than that but still not specifying the limits of its territorial greed? The ugly political-diplomatic game today being orchestrated by the Israel-US axis, and being implicitly or explicitly endorsed by a host of countries from Europe to Russia to China to India, is to squeeze ever more concessions from a suffering Palestinian people whose plight is now of little consequence to most of the world. Nevertheless, Israel, the most powerful military force in the region, and backed by the most militarily powerful country in the world, goes on and on about how its existence is threatened.
What has always intrigued me was how and why Israelis from top to bottom (with the exception of a small minority) could be so brutal, uncaring and unashamed about what their country was doing? My visit gave me the answer. Israel is a garrison state with a garrison mentality. Israelis see themselves as victims because there are powerful forces (mainly internal but also external) that help create, sustain and embellish the myth about the perpetual victimhood of Israel and Jews. A state constructed on the principle that it alone provides a safe haven for Jews can only justify its brutality and oppression of resident non-Jews, i.e., the Palestinians in the OT and those having Israeli citizenship, on the grounds that they are actually or potentially the dangerous ‘enemy’ that must be controlled, subordinated and monitored. This psychological inversion of the position of victimizers and victims is founded on various structures. Compulsory military conscription of Israeli youth (so evident on weekend trains) and the presence of armed guards at malls and railway stations in Tel Aviv and other cities is not a vital security necessity. But it is absolutely vital for sustaining the belief that Israel is constantly under siege. Nearly every Israeli Jew will have or will know some family whose relatives, distant or near, have been injured or killed in wars and military actions overwhelming, of course of its own making, but that is besides the point.
Any possibility that co-existence of Jews and Palestinians in the same small territory might lead to the kind of human interaction that could counter this myth is eliminated by the establishment of structures that essentially segregate ordinary life between Jews and Palestinians. President Carter has belatedly recognized that Israel is an apartheid state and has received huge flak for this accurate characterization. But he is referring to what Israel is doing in the OT. Less known is how makes ‘Israeli Arabs’ second class citizens. Israel unlike South Africa does not practice petty apartheid, i.e., segregation in public places such as restaurants, toilets, buses, benches, etc. It does it in the areas of life that really count. Over 90% of the land is state owned and though historically stolen from the Palestinians, cannot be even leased to them! There are all kinds of statutes giving preferential treatment to Jews in health, education, public housing and employment. There can be no political participation by any party that rejects the Zionist character (its Jewish identity) and wishes to change Israel into a secular state. No party if it wants to exist can dare accuse such a religiously exclusivist state of being anti-democratic.
In the government education system Palestinians and Jews go to separate primary and secondary schools with separate curriculums and separate languages of instruction (Arabic and Hebrew) but with overall government control over what is taught. Palestinian teachers teach Hebrew but few Jews learn or teach Arabic. Indeed, although over 40% of Jews may be Arabs, most of them seek to ‘de-Arabise’ themselves (deny, demean, decry their cultural heritage) in order to ‘properly’ fit into Israeli society. But the history course in schools is the same and reflects the desperate need to deny or greatly dilute its pre-Zionist past just as Pakistani education must dilute/deny its pre-Islamic past. And like Pakistan and its negligent treatment of historical heritage sites like Mohenjodaro/Harrapa, Israeli authorities at the municipal (e.g. in Haifa) and central levels have neglected, even decimated, beautiful and historical Ottoman and Arab architectural buildings and sites in order to ‘judaize’ the country. It is only the enormously strong oral tradition that still enables Palestinian families to hand down their history of the ethnic cleansing of 1948 and of the pre-1948 reality to succeeding generations.
An edited version of this article by The Telegraph (Calcutta)