A short while back, IDF reservist Eden Abergil caused a controversy by celebrating her IDF service by posting a happy picture of herself on Facebook with bound and blindfolded Palestinian prisoners.
Today, a barbaric video showed up on YouTube, going Abergil one better. A male IDF soldier belly dances around a bound and blindfolded Palestinian woman.
The video is appalling. As with Abergil, the IDF has launched an investigation, though unlike the Abergil case, these soldiers appear to be on active duty and, thus, are subject to disciplinary measures by the army.
Whatever comes of such an investigation may mollify the critics, particularly the Israeli ones (and there are many, not only from the left, who are revolted by such behavior), but it will not solve the problem. There’s really no way it can.
In my work I’ve come to meet and get to know many soldiers, from several countries (most, of course, either Israeli or American), both active ones and veterans. I know that most soldiers do not behave this way. But it is clear, from every war, conflict, police action and occupation that there are always some soldiers who do.
Israelis are no different, but there is something that is different about this dynamic. It is that these soldiers are the products of a militarized society which has been holding millions of people under military occupation, with no rights of citizenship, for over 43 years. That has a long term effect on both occupier and occupied.
These soldiers are young men and women, who are the second or even third generation of occupiers. They have been raised in a culture that, as is natural for an occupying power, both dominates the Palestinians and also fears them. That fear is not limited to terrorists, but extends to the very existence of the Palestinians, and their legacy of dispossession.
Of course, the belly-dancing soldier and Eden Abergil are not typical (though they are also certainly not the most extreme, as you can see here, for example). But just read the testimonies gathered by the group called Shovrim Shtika (Breaking the Silence), made up entirely of Israeli reservists who served in the Occupied Territories. Or read B’Tselem’s reports. Or take a walk through Hebron, near the closed off Shuhada Street. Or just go through a checkpoint.
It’s not that Israelis are any different than anyone else, nor are soldiers different from other people. Rather, this is the effect of holding another people under occupation. It is what happens when you train young men and women who are barely out of high school to be soldiers who must learn how to risk their lives and use violence to obtain military objectives or to defend themselves.
Some number of those young people get drunk with their power over others and act like this soldier and Abergil. But all are affected by being part of an army whose main activity is not defense but policing an occupation.
I am not going to argue that Israel should end its occupation for its own sake. That argument has been made, and it’s valid and important.
But it also has a downside. It glosses over the most important reason Israel needs to end its occupation of millions of Palestinians; it’s the same reason that continuing the occupation has such a corrupting influence on Israelis and Israeli society.
The occupation is simply wrong. There is no way around the fact that depriving millions of people of their freedom is unethical.
Israel, of course, has very real security needs, and those needs can justify actions that would otherwise be immoral or illegal. One may argue, as I certainly would, that freeing the Palestinians from occupation would dramatically reduce, rather than enhance, such security threats. But that, like the counter-argument, is purely speculative at this point.
The trouble is that after 43 years Israel has become accustomed to addressing its security needs through the occupation, and, despite the fact that most of its citizens want the occupation to end, the government is far from zealous in trying to make that happen.
The settlement enterprise surely makes ending the occupation much more difficult politically for Israel. But meanwhile, those same settlements make the occupation — which would need to be oppressive in any case as any occupation must be — all the more restrictive and, yes, violent.
A conscientious Israeli leader should say that the occupation should end because it is harming Israel. It harms Israel’s standing in the world; the cost of occupation and settlements is a serious drain on the Israeli economy; it creates diplomatic problems. But we need to ask why does it have those effects?
Because it is fundamentally wrong to deprive millions of people of their freedom, and ultimately, that is why Israel must end the occupation. As long as it doesn’t, the sort of corruption taking root in Israel, and manifesting itself in the xenophobia of Avigdor Lieberman and the abusive behavior of the soldier in the latest video, will spread—because ongoing immoral actions breed more and more shocking immediate ones.
Thanks for this.
I’m confused about what writing you are doing is getting posted on the Meretz-USA website.
For example, is there a reason for Meretz-USA not to post your critique of ATFP’s recent actions and agreement with MJ Rosenberg (http://palestinenote.com/blogs/blogs/archive/2010/09/30/mj-rosenberg-vs-atfp.aspx)
which runs counter to Ralph’s defense of ATFP?
As you’ll see on the upper-right-hand side of the page, the Meretz USA blog includes 13 different contributors – some of whom post more frequently, while others do so less often.
Like our other bloggers, Mitchell posts his own writings – they do not ‘get posted’ by anyone else; and they’re certainly not pre-approved by any central body. So it’s Mitchell’s decision what he chooses to post on this blog, and what elsewhere, though personally I would have been delighted if he’d have posted his thoughtful piece on ATFP on the Meretz USA blog.
Overall, our blog is intended to be a platform for discussion of issues related to Israel and the American Jewish community by people who care about Israel, peace, human rights, democracy, religious pluralism, social justice, etc.
As befits such a conversation, you’ll find varying nuances, differing perspectives and even contradictory conclusions here. This is exactly as it should be – so there would be no problem at all in having our blog offer varying takes on a particular issue. We welcome it, as long as the dialogue is conducted with tolerance and respect.
Thank you for you question,
Ted has been helpful in providing the link to Mitchell’s commentary on the ATFP’s meeting with TIP. Mitchell’s analysis is thoughtful, nuanced and respectful in his disagreement with the ATFP’s decision to meet with TIP.
Dare I hope that it serve as an instructive model for Ted on how to disagree in a civil and constructive manner?
Thanks for your clarification.
However, I would expect that you are the person who can provide clarity on Meretz-USA’s position on this issue.
What is Meretz-USA’s relationship with ATFP (a Washington-based group that is condemned by many Palestinians and supporters of Palestinian rights)?
How do you feel about ATFP’s collaboration with The Israel Project, a group which, as MJ Rosenberg points out, has made many bigoted statements about Palestinians and whose commitment to any form of co-existance on the basis of equality must therefore be seriously questioned?
Since you’re asking me as a representative of Meretz USA, I will say that we’ve cooperated with ATFP on occasion in the past, maintain cordial relations with the organization today, and look forward to working together in the future, when appropriate, based on a shared commitment to a negotiated two-state solution to the Israel-Palestine conflict. We’ve issued no position on the question of ATFP’s dialogue with The Israel Project, or any other organization, nor do I expect us to do so.
I have several thoughts on the issue, which I might blog about separately as an individual commentator, but since you’ve asked about the formal Meretz USA position, I don’t want to mix up the two here.
As Ron said, I do choose which of my pieces to post on Meretz USA’s blog. My criteria are my own and I want to be really clear that neither Ron nor anyone else from Meretz USA has put any restrictions or guidelines on what I put up here whatsoever. It’s completely up to me.
Palestine Note, which also does carry my writings, is a blog aggregator and they simply put up the pieces they pick from my blog, The Third Way, which you can find at http://mitchellplitnick.com. But I have not yet written an original piece for P-Note. The pieces I post are linked at my blog, but only appear in full here–again, because that’s the way I chose to do it.
I also would stress, since it helps me be free in what I do choose to post here, that I am not a representative in any sense of Meretz USA, and I’m glad, Ted, that you realized right away that my view on any matter, the ATFP issue or any other, may or may not be the same as Meretz’s.
Thanks for reading!