One day Israeli citizen Akaky Akakievich woke up and discovered he was under a gag order. As in the absurd city of St. Petersburg during the days of Gogol, which groaned under the burden of a tyrannical czarist bureaucracy - and in which it was reasonable for a man's nose to go for a ride in a carriage wearing the uniform of a high official, or to be baked in a loaf of bread to be eaten by an anonymous barber - in Tel Aviv it seems reasonable today for the complete opposite to occur: A person can disappear into the earth by dint of a gag order, but the end of his nose will continue to pop up on every Web site and to chirp on Twitter and Facebook, a nameless tip of a nose that is so anonymous that it becomes famous.
We turn on the television in the evening and the news presenter, with a poker face, announces a story from the realm of national security about which nothing can be said because it is under a gag order. Then a very senior judge comes on the air, protesting the gag order on a story about which nothing can be said because it is under a gag order for reasons of national security. On the radio the next day, pairs and trios of journalists and intellectuals conduct serious discussions about the affair, about which - as mentioned - nothing can be said. But one of them has a brilliant idea: He is convinced that all the tumult surrounding the gag order is a well-planned maneuver by the attorney hired by that same Akaky Akakievich (a fake name, used temporarily instead of the name that is barred from publication), before he is swallowed up by the earth by dint of the gag order.
Let's go back for a moment to the beginning: In this country many people disappear unnaturally all the time for reasons of national security, with not even the tips of their noses continuing to stick out and arouse people's curiosity. These banal, vanishing people are usually called Palestinians. It is permissable to kill them, to arrest them and to imprison them, and almost nobody cares. In other words, Akaky Akakievich should be grateful that someone even noticed that he is missing, and that because of said gag order, his name cannot be uttered. Had his name been Ahmed Ahmedayevitz, no Tweeter would have chirped and no blogger would have wondered how it is possible, in the middle of 21st-century Tel Aviv, for a person to be swallowed up so suddenly by the earth.
That can and does happen when the bureaucracy - at one time a czarist one, but now the Israeli security bureaucracy - reaches the most absurd stage of its existence. There are so many people involved in preserving the security of the state that we're confused about the proportion of those who are truly safeguarding the state from its external enemies, as compared to those who are safeguarding the state from the inside - i.e., against negative thoughts that are liable to crop up in the heads of its citizens regarding the effectiveness of those who are safeguarding security.
A gag order achieves two goals at once: It both prevents the citizens from receiving superfluous information that is liable to make them have negative thoughts, and it sows suspicion in the heart of every person that if he doesn't behave properly, he too will be doomed to evaporate metaphorically, with his name and memory swallowed up by the earth.
There are so many people safeguarding the security of this country, that everyone who enters it is first of all suspected of having done something improper. Why on earth has this guy come to visit? Maybe he's a spy? And anyone who leaves is also suspect: What's the matter? Things are so bad here that he's anxious to leave? Open his suitcases immediately!
In East Germany things became so absurd that they summoned people for interrogation, and after they left, they collected in a jar the smell that their buttocks had left on the chair. In the minds of bureaucrats with a persecution complex, every absurd idea suddenly becomes logical. In the case of the affair at hand, they buried someone's name in a sealed jar but, as mentioned, allowed the tip of his nose to protrude a little so that the curious could sniff him out.
Experience teaches that affairs of this sort that are hushed up usually end up with the security bureaucracy being revealed in all its disgrace - or becoming a joke. That was the case with the famous "stinking affair," which gave rise to the joke about Israel's first prime minister David Ben-Gurion, who started (or stopped) standing on his head so people wouldn't see his stinking affair.
A less important but no less amusing affair came to my attention as editor of the Haaretz culture and literature supplement. The Shin Bet security service arrested an activist from the Bat Ayin settlers' underground, and it turned out that one of the methods of torture it used to bore him to death, and thus break his spirit, was to read him the pages of the supplement I edited!
At least, I now say to myself, if I violated the gag order regarding the story that I've written about here, and if I'm arrested and tortured in the cellars of the Shin Bet, the torture I suffer will be entirely my own responsibility.
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