Opinion

Israel Is Mobilizing Its Occupation Skills to Fight Coronavirus

A photo of Dr. Zvi Bar'el.
Zvi Bar'el
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Israeli police forces wearing protective gear in the ultra-Orthodox neighborhood of Mea She'arim, JErusalem, April 6, 2020.
Israeli police forces wearing protective gear in the ultra-Orthodox neighborhood of Mea She'arim, Jerusalem, April 6, 2020. Credit: Ohad Zwigenberg
A photo of Dr. Zvi Bar'el.
Zvi Bar'el

Just like Benjamin Netanyahu promised, Israel has come up with a solution to the coronavirus. Even though it’s not a groundbreaking vaccine or a drug for curing patients, being “only” a means for preventing the spread of the virus, it’s still quite a lot. The IDF has entered the fray, and now all will be well.

The IDF is doing what it’s learned to do over the last 53 years – how to occupy. First it took Bnei Brak. Subsequently, it may also take over Mea Shearim, and on Wednesday it locked down over the entire country. Let the defense ministry win, demands Defense Minister Naftali Bennett, give us your elderly, your infants, your ultra-Orthodox and the quarantine refusers. Actually, give us all your citizens and the army will do the rest. The army knows where and how to set up roadblocks, to check identification papers in order to verify the address of “illegal” Jewish residents trying to infiltrate into forbidden territory; the army has also rushed to hand out to its soldiers a handbook of phrases and basic commands in Yiddish, just like soldiers at roadblocks in the territories have one in Arabic. Later, when hotels fill up with COVID-19 patients, perhaps the army will use its trucks to transport the residents of retirement homes to the Holot detention center in the Negev to achieve total isolation.

The holy trinity - composed of the Mossad, responsible for supplying equipment “borrowed” from around the world, the Shin Bet security service, which has the largest database in Israel so it can locate the whereabouts of every single person, and the IDF, which imposes a military administration on the ground - is sovereign, at the moment, acting under the authority of the 1945 emergency defense regulations. This is but a temporary measure, which one hopes will not last for decades.

When the coronavirus outbreak subsides, the soldiers will return to their barracks and civilian bodies will resume their roles, but for now it’s important to create an illusion of security and of having someone in charge, which IDF involvement provides. Senior officers are interviewed on TV, relating the moving experiences they have, telling of the gratitude expressed by the occupied population, with soldiers meticulously checking the contents of food packages they prepare and deliver to every family, with the ultra-Orthodox suddenly adopting soldiers, their women offering cake instead of throwing dirty diapers at them. The rest of the population is satisfied that the heavy taxes they’ve been paying for the IDF’s upkeep is bearing such wonderful fruit. After all, it’s better for our sons fight on the Bnei Brak front than on the Gaza border, or in Lebanon.

How easy it is to be swept up in the sense of security induced by the army’s intervention in managing the state’s internal affairs. It’s so natural that Israel’s military prowess be used against the biological terror of the coronavirus, when there is such deep frustration over the incompetence of the ministries of health, labor and social services, as well as that of the prime minister, making it seem that the IDF is the logical way out of the morass of this country’s ills. After all, what do we care who takes care of the coronavirus problem as long as we believe there is someone in chargeBut here lies the bluff and the dangerous deception.

The IDF has no experience in handling epidemics, faulty as civilian bodies may be. The army is also blind to economic, social or democratic factors. Its ability to impose a lockdown or distribute food is also an ability to disrupt a delivery of medical treatment, obviating the responsibility of relevant government departments. Indeed, at a time in which coronavirus seems to beg for a free hand to issue any twisted regulation, and an unrestrained release of funds this brings, with the political squabbling over prestige and ego, a military administration seems like the requisite solution. It’s not democratic? It violates the constitution? To hell with that, we have corona to worry about. Everything is permissible. And once we’ve used the army to vanquish corona, we could use its services to disperse demonstrations or arrest regime opponents. Hope you’ve had an easy, pleasant and kosher curfew.

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