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The Only Democracy? » Discrimination » What “looks and acts like a banana republic? “

What “looks and acts like a banana republic? “

By Rela Mazali

Two recently published items present what I see as telling, if limited and even evasive, probes into the extent and depth of Israel’s militarization, each revealing a different manifestation of it.

The first (truncated in the English version which omitted the passages of personal testimony from soldiers and police, included in the Hebrew original) looks at the confusing, contradictory maze of authorities in charge of the checkpoints that monitor the passage of West Bank Palestinians into Israel. Chaim Levinson erroneously calls these Green Line checkpoints, despite the placement of some of them inside the West Bank, as part of Israel’s ongoing drive to re-draw the Green Line to its convenience. These highly sensitive, loaded meeting points between Israeli authorities and the stateless, non-citizen Palestinians whom they control are, Levinson says, operated under an entangled-to-non-existent chain of accountability. He lays the blame with bureaucracy and extremely faulty administration.

These “checkpoints are … run by no fewer than six different agencies, and no single body coordinates their work. … Adding to the confusion … two different bodies are responsible for each checkpoint: One is in charge of operating it, while the other is responsible for security.”

Some of the bodies in question are no longer state agencies but, rather, privatized “security” contractors. Following detailed research on such contractors, [see Chapter 9],  I hold these private “security” firms, relatively new players in the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, to represent a new phase of militarization. Precisely because they serve to sow confusion and dilute transparency, they make a key contribution towards dissolving the state’s accountability for deploying organized violence. Even without them, though, “Haaretz found that none of … [the relevant state] organizations were certain who has overall responsibility for these checkpoints.” Put more bluntly, no one is certain who is responsible therefore no one is responsible. While this may look like an exercise in logic, its practical implications have direct and horrific impacts on the thousands of lives and bodies being herded, literally, day by day, through these checkpoints. Rather than limiting or undermining the use of force wielded by the agencies in question, dissolved responsibility effectively gives them free or freer reign. Tangled bureaucracy, then, would seem to be a useful policy rather than “just” the result of inept administration.

Reign is indeed the key question arising from the second item. Whose is it? The “people’s” through our/their elected representatives? While journalist Ari Shavit insists that, “Even though Israel looks and acts like a banana republic, it is not a banana republic,” his item – in spite of itself – indicates the opposite; that militarization has already successfully destroyed the infrastructure of democracy in Israel.

More insinuation than information, more innuendo than fact, Shavit’s item sounds an apparently informed, “insider’s” opinion on what lays submerged under the iceberg-tip of a recent scandal concerning the appointment of Israel’s new Chief of Staff. By no means left-leaning, journalist Ari Shavit, writes that this scandal has revealed all of the following:

corruption was rampant in one of Israel’s most sensitive security establishments … some of the state’s most highly classified secrets were leaked in a reckless manner … The IDF’s arbitrary, tribal and unfair enforcement of moral norms has emptied them of content and deprived them of validity … Even when the chief of staff appeared before the General Staff at the moment of truth, he did not tell the truth, the whole truth and nothing but the truth.”

He is discussing internal Israeli and organizational affairs. If all this is true within the confines of “the tribe,” what kind of conclusions are implied regarding the army’s corruption, recklessness, arbitrary tribal morality and lies in its dealings with Palestinians.

The whole truth, Shavit claims, has not yet emerged, intimating that he himself is privy to it or to parts of it. His piece, however, pointedly avoids disclosing it, while characterizing it as terrible enough to entail a series of very serious questions once it comes to light. Questions about “the media’s zealous protection of those in power” (which possibly includes his own evasiveness in the present piece), about the “powerful military-media combine [that] gained control of the public discourse by blocking and deflecting information.” About the High Commissioner of the Police who, Shavit hints, may be implicated. About the Attorney General and the military advocate general.

Shavit, who has criticized dissent at least as often if not more so than he has censured state policies, is presenting a very serious claim. His item describes a clandestine structure of deference to an exclusive group of high-ranking (ex-)soldiers on the part of all of Israel’s key democratic institutions and the best part of its mainstream media. A military regime or reign in all but name, this hasn’t even required a military coup to be put in place. It has been fully normalized and legitimized by Israel’s continuous militarization.

Written by

Rela Mazali is an author, an independent researcher, and a feminist peace activist from Israel. Active since 1980 in efforts to end Israel’s occupation, and a founding and active member of New Profile. She was one of eight women from Israel nominated for the 2005 Nobel Peace Prize by the Swiss-based One-thousand Peacewomen project. She initiated and took part in creating the 1993 documentary "Testimonies", on Israeli soldiers' actions in the first Palestinian Intifada, and served on the Jury of Conscience at the concluding session of the World Tribunal on Iraq (2005). Maps of Women’s Goings & Stayings (Stanford University Press, 2001), her interrogation of women's spatial existence, was described by reviewers as one of the best among recent "narratives in space and time, by women about women for women", a "daring departure from the conventions of being, telling, writing, and knowing". Her recently published study, "The Gun on the Kitchen Table: The Sexist Subtext of Private Policing in Israel," (in: Farr, Myrttinen & Schnabel eds., Sexed Pistols: The Gendered Impacts of Small Arms and Light Weapons, 2009, UN Univ. Press, Tokyo) closely scrutinizes Israel's domestic 'security guard' industry.

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