By Yitzhak Laor, Haaretz – 12 May 2010
Israelis love military secrets. Books by retired security officers, former spies and former members of the Shin Bet security service and Mossad sell well. An entire culture is built around “what it is forbidden to talk about but nevertheless we like to know.” Not merely stories from the past – for example, how the “Red Prince” (Ali Hassan Salameh of Black September ) was assassinated in Beirut in 1979 – but also the Dubai affair, which is an excellent example of the public’s lust to know, hear, see and consume news. Even the failure was of interest to the public, and the matter had moral backing. This moral backing goes well with the desire to know: “Even if we did not kill him, he deserved to die,” they said on TV.
There is one thing the public does not want to know, or perhaps “most of the public” is a more cautious expression, and we are not talking about a military secret. A survey carried out two weeks ago by the Tami Steinmetz Center for Peace Research, which was published in Haaretz, touched on the issue: The only thing the public does not want to hear about is the repression of the Palestinians. This is not a matter of keeping secrets, but of denial.
It is doubtful whether a survey is necessary. It suffices to watch the news on commercial television in order to understand that what is going on in the territories “doesn’t sell.” But the matter is more grave. What is happening in the territories is becoming taboo. Not only do people not want to know because there is something to know (otherwise people would not refuse to know ), the army is seen as the sole legitimate source of information about events in the territories.
But the army lies, to put it mildly. The language it uses to describe firing at non-violent Palestinian demonstrators is always laden with euphemisms, and the need to explain arises only when organizations like B’Tselem publish pictures in which it can be seen, for example, how settlers open fire and the army does not lift a finger. That is an example of the kind of things Israelis do not want to know about.
The territories are far away. The Palestinians live far away. This hallucination can be attributed to the walls, the separation roads, the army and the TV news. “Judea and Samaria” are close. The settlers live among us. There are photographs of them, their homes are photographed. They are in the army. They are the army. But the separation between those who are very close, who have the right to vote, weapons, rights and state financial support, and those who live at the same physical distance but must be left far away, on the other side of the walls, the fences, the roadblocks – this separation is made with the aid of the refusal to know. The denial.
Human rights organizations are persecuted – simple as that – exactly in the name of the refusal to know. “It is forbidden to know” means that it is forbidden for our consciousness to move freely among the facts, the scenes, the voices, the options. All these were supposed to comprise the awareness of the Israeli who lives five minutes from these unimaginable things – 43 years of military dictatorship over another people.
The security claims are dwarfed by the opposite claim – that the security situation is a function of the disinheriting (of the Palestinians ), the control of their natural resources and the never-ending restrictions on their way of life. But the other claim can in no way compete with the Israeli way of thinking: We are here and they are not here. The only freedom is the freedom to be and to blot out whatever casts doubt on the safety of the knowledge that denies this.
When the principal of the Ironi Aleph school in Tel Aviv wanted to take his teachers to see the roadblocks, they attacked him angrily and demanded that he be called for a hearing. The few prophesies of Karl Marx that came true included one that he wrote about in a short article in 1870: “The nation that oppresses another nation forges its own chains,” he said. There is no better historic moment to demonstrate this prophesy than the moment we are now living.