The lie we were told about the Air Force's bombing of the Nusseirat refugee camp has very long tentacles. These tentacles start from the very highest echelons and do not skip over any sector of Israeli society. Their roots are planted deep in the territories, fed by the poison of the occupation.
Without lies, it would be impossible to talk about peace with the Palestinians for 36 years while at the same time seizing more and more Palestinian land. Without lies, it would be impossible to claim that there is no partner for the road map, while at the same time injecting more and more money into outposts that the road map calls for dismantling. Without lies, it would be impossible to promise "painful concessions" in exchange for peace, while at the same time terming people who concluded such an agreement "traitors."
Politicians who lie for the sake of ideology or political interests are nothing out of the ordinary. Yitzhak Shamir declared openly that "it is permissible to lie for the sake of the Land of Israel." When George W. Bush began his war on Iraq, he and the politicians who surround him flooded the American public with falsehoods. The problem is that in Israel, lying has become the norm among the working levels of the army, the legal establishment and the diplomatic corps. Lying has become a way of life for commanders and soldiers, lawyers and clerks, most of whom are far from having right-wing views and many of whom loathe the occupation.
While the politicians lie in order to perpetuate the occupation, the workers learn to lie in order to justify it. Israel Defense Forces soldiers have become used to seeing settlers prepare a road to yet another outpost in the morning, and then hearing on the radio in the evening that the defense minister and the prime minister "vehemently deny" the existence of any new outposts. So what do they do? They say (perhaps even to themselves) that this is a "security road."
Members of the Shin Bet security service know that not every Palestinian who was executed without trial was truly a "ticking bomb." They have become used to "cutting corners" and to living with the lie. Analysts understand that it is impossible to defeat a people fighting for its land and that there is no basis for the claim that there is no Palestinian partner for a fair division of the land. But they have learned that it does not pay to tell the leaders the truth.
There was great danger in the occupation even in the days when the four former Shin Bet chiefs were an inseparable part of it. But the view looks different from the other side. When Ami Ayalon and his colleagues were inside, they served the occupation. And in the nature of things, in order to justify the evils that are an inseparable part of ruling another nation by force, they also did not always adhere strictly to the truth.
Psychologist Arye Reshef, a former commander of the IDF's pilot training course who today researches the psychology of moral behavior, cites endless studies that show that very few people are immune to moral backsliding in situations that compel them to act in defiance of their basic values.
Gideon Kunda of Tel Aviv University, who researched the organizational culture of high-tech companies, writes that "through the desire to bind the worker and his soul to the organization's interest, organizations engage in constant brainwashing of their workers." Kunda quotes a manager who spoke of a culture of generally accepted lies: "If you want the project, you have to lie."
A pressurized situation or environment can drag individuals into acts even more severe than distorting the truth. A "normative" young man who testified at the Kafr Kassem trial in the 1960s (in which a group of Border Police were convicted of having shot and killed civilians who went out to work in their fields not knowing that a curfew had been imposed), said: "If I had been told that it would help the country to shoot at a kibbutz, I would also have done it." Psychologists who ran simulations of prison situations stopped them soon after they began when students who were asked to play the jailers demonstrated intolerable cruelty toward their "prisoner" colleagues.
The soldiers who harden their hearts at roadblocks, the pilots who loose bombs in the middle of cities, the attorneys who whitewash and the spokesmen who lie are not people who lack moral values. Most are merely victims of the situation created by the occupation.
But moral roadblocks know no borders. A moral roadblock removed from occupied Gaza will ultimately also come down in Tel Aviv.
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