I asked my grandchildren, high school graduates and not the worst of students, what the concept of the Green Line means to them. They looked confused, adding that they may have learned about it in school but they must have forgotten. And the fact is that there’s no reason to be surprised, since this is an archaic concept that there’s no point in thinking about any longer.
But the Green Line has become lost to us not only as a territorial concept, but also as the line that separates government activities characteristic of the rule of the military occupation in the territories, and government activities in the presumably democratic State of Israel. The work methods of the occupation government seem to be slowly permeating, perhaps due to habit, ease and convenience, from the territories to Israel – as though they were a single governmental unit.
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One of the characteristics of the occupation regime in the territories is that its subjects have become transparent. Their humanity has been stolen from them and their human dignity taken from them, along with their basic individual rights. They are subject to decrees that cause severe harm to their routines and their livelihood – decrees that land on them from above without their participation, without the possibility of appeal, without any need to explain their logic and with indifference to their consequences.
It’s enough that the military governor has been persuaded that something is required in order to safeguard security. Some of the practices common in this government system are regular surveillance by the Shin Bet security service of the entire population, and the gathering of personal and intimate information, profoundly undermining privacy, without the need for oversight; a ban against demonstrations and protests and the silencing of freedom of expression; entering homes without a court order in order to carry out a search or with some other excuse, and arrests without a reason and without a review by the courts; arbitrary severance of farmers from their land and a malicious blow to the livelihood of others; closures, sieges and checkpoints that constitute a daily tool for enforcement and control.
Anyone with eyes cannot fail to notice these characteristics during the war against COVID-19. The role of the civil establishment, which was supposed to fight the pandemic, is gradually being taken over by a military system supported by huge budgets for carrying out its mission. For the purpose of identifying the sources of infection Shin Bet is given authority to track down Israeli citizens, and Home Front Command, which proved to be effective at breaking chains of infection and constructing the testing system, is also responsible for setting up quarantine hotels.
Border Patrol fighters are reinforcing the police in its enforcement activities. Soldiers doing compulsory service stood armed at checkpoints in Bnei Brak and distributed food and medicine to those in need. Citizens returning from abroad were led against their will by soldiers to quarantine hotels, while their dignity and civil rights in a democratic country were ignored. Only after a few days of strikes and protests did the government allow them to return to quarantine in their own homes, and life goes on.
The battle over the right to demonstrate is a prolonged struggle whose end is unknown, and in any case, treating demonstrators like disease spreaders and anarchists marks them as potentially dangerous to the public order. Demonstrators complain about phenomena that they dub “kidnapping by the police”: being detained for no reason, being put into police vehicles ostensibly to be brought to the police station only to be let out at some unidentified site, all the while proper detention procedures are completely ignored.
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Complaints about false arrests are not examined, and only the court provides support to those who turn to it. The decrees being imposed on Israel’s population, including decrees that cause a loss of livelihoods and damage to physical and mental health, are decided on at the last moment before they come into effect – not always accompanied by a reasonable explanation as to their need, and without providing sufficient opportunities to prepare for them.
And above all, the government is imposing decrees like a military governor, in a cabinet whose proceedings are secret and in the absence of an effective and functioning Knesset to review and supervise the functioning of the government. There is an increasing sense among Israeli citizens that due to the circumstances they have turned into subjects who must obey. The striving for effectiveness in the war against COVID-19 and the militarization creeping into the civil establishment easily turn into a control over human beings that resembles the control of the population in the occupied territories.
And you ask what’s the problem with the fact that the people’s army is being called on to do its part for the national mission? And the answer is that the Israel Defense Forces is now replacing the civilian emergency, health and welfare systems, which have been dried up or eliminated or that have collapsed over the years, and now lack budgets and manpower.
And beyond the question of the success of the “military campaign,” we should also ask: Shouldn’t the huge budgets allocated to the Home Front Command to reinforce the civilian institutions have been earmarked to rehabilitate them and to prepare them for the health battles that will follow this one? And shouldn’t the budgets have been earmarked for reorganizing the job market, so that they won’t once again use soldiers doing compulsory service for tasks that have a direct consequence for the economy – and which in ordinary times are performed by civilians, including civil servants, subject to the conditions of their employment and to supervision?
And we should also ask, what is the obligation to obey that applies to the citizen in the face of a military officer who gives them an order and uses force against them? And how does a citizen feel when confronting a military man and the course of appeal is hidden from them? These are only a few of the questions arising from the very existence of a “civilian military administration” in a sick democracy. These are questions that citizens who fear they are being transformed from citizens to subjects who are obligated to obey must ask themselves.
The above is not intended to undermine in any way the proper appreciation for those doing the work, who were called to the flag in the absence of sufficient civilian systems, or the honor of leaders who believed that for lack of choice this is the right way to fight the virus. My intention is to note processes of militarization, characteristics of a government lacking oversight, and dangerous mindsets on the verge of dehumanization – and to wonder about their purpose.
Israeli society for the most part is not interested in what is happening in the territories and in the fate of those living there. Many good people will probably say that the comparison is not relevant, certainly not during these difficult times. But anyone who knows and can see cannot help but think about how easily a population becomes transparent and human beings become subjects whose individual rights are de facto unprotected – and how a government that is used to compel is in danger of operating in its own country using methods it is accustomed to exercising outside of it. And anyone who can see would also do well to think about the immediate dangers posed by the occupation to Israeli democracy.
The writer was the deputy attorney general and is a member of the international council of the New Israel Fund and of Yesh Din – Volunteers for Human Rights.