Pouring Out Our Wrath

Our freedom is the imprisonment of others. That’s how a normal nation became a nation of prison wardens.

Yitzhak Laor
Yitzhak Laor
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Palestinian prisoners at Israel's Megiddo Prison.
Palestinian prisoners at the Megiddo Prison.Credit: Itzik Ben-Malki
Yitzhak Laor
Yitzhak Laor

The Israelis are not bad people, no worse than others, but for 46 years they have sat down to the holiday table after hearing the news, “With the onset of the holiday, a total closure has been imposed on the territories,” whose logic is: “Our freedom = their oppression.” Language, an effective collaborator, helps normalize the ongoing scandal: a “temporary” military regime that is expanding and settling in.

Let’s put aside the question of how the legal status of the territories is defined, or how Israel’s control over them is justified. The mechanism of control is what creates the oppressor, with the help of constant infusion of colonialist logic into our consciousness.

For example, what is the meaning of the government’s sanctions against the Palestinian Authority? You are turning to the United Nations regarding your freedom, that’s why we are suffocating you more, because we are the ones who decide what you are allowed and not allowed to do about your freedom. We are strong, and we are allowed to break into your homes, to spread out over your land and your water. And all that is part of the normal situation, of “negotiations.” And it will go on and on. Our television commentators, dressed in their blazers and omniscience, were born into this, and even when they retire in their old age it will go on. That’s the normalization process. Everything is “temporary” and everything is permanent.

Sometimes a little scandal that has yet to be normalized erupts. Settlers set military equipment on fire. The soldiers were helpless, they didn’t fire their weapons, the public is told, and good that they didn’t. The Shin Bet, they hint to us, does not torture settlers to get them to sign a confession, to convict and imprison them, and good that they don’t. And the settlers were also careful not to beat the soldiers.

Such are the rules of grammar: A Jew cannot be arrested without trial, the law of habeus corpus is valid here, beating is forbidden, torture is forbidden. On the Arab corpus, it’s permitted. They are imprisoned, without a problem, for years in nonsensical procedures, on confessions extorted by force, they are closed behind walls — let them push their way to the fences to make a living, to be healed, to live, to be dependent on us. Here in these rules the consensus is engraved, broader and deeper and more hidden than we like to think, occasionally, in times of scandal such as Yitzhar. At all other times, the entire nation, the one that is celebrating its freedom this evening, lives untroubled with the hidden wall of apartheid: Jewish freedom is engraved on the Arab body.

There is no greater opportunity for infusing the poison of “their forfeited body” than the repeated debates on the issue of prisoner releases. The voice is the voice of the blazers from television, but the logic is that of the Shin Bet. The full-up prisons make our supremacy clear to every Palestinian prisoner and to every family: We have prisoners of yours, you have no prisoners of ours. The prisoner is in our hands, it’s easy to extort him, and every prisoner has a family too. And in return for every visit to prison – of children visiting their fathers, mothers visiting their sons, women visiting their husbands – we can extort more Quislings, tighten our control further. Your bodies are literally in our hands.

And if we are forced to release some, we’ll do so only in the dead of night. And their joy will only prove that they don’t see our innocent blood. We despise them, say the blazers, the blood on our hands can’t be seen in any case, because the eye doesn’t see itself, not even among the blazer-clad commentators. Their job is to talk about justice (“the worst murderers”), about the rule of law (“sovereignty,” “extortion”), about suffering (after interviews with the families of the victims), and they are in charge of turning prisoner release days into stains of disgrace on our history: “the Jibril exchange,” “the Tennenbaum exchange,” “the Shalit exchange.” Every release of prisoners is evil, or the lesser of two evils.

Meanwhile, the prisons are packed in, our soldiers lay siege to the villages, Gaza is surrounded by fences. Our freedom is the imprisonment of others. That’s how a normal nation became a nation of prison wardens. Perhaps even sadder: For hundreds of years, the Jew called out to his God at the Passover table, “Pour out Thy wrath upon the nations.” The Israeli rose in rank, pours out the wrath himself, plays God, collects prisoners. Africans too. Greater Israel is being redeemed.

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