Israel Allocated the Work of the Occupation Unfairly, but That's Changing

There won’t be a critical mass for change as long as the dirty, contemptible work of maintaining the occupation isn’t divided equally among all classes of society.

Carolina Landsmann
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Israeli Border Police arrest a Palestinian youth during clashes in the Shoafat refugee camp of East Jerusalem, September 18, 2015.
Carolina Landsmann

The Border Police – which is allocated numerous soldiers – has become the most coveted corps among Israel Defense Forces recruits. That is, more recruits want to serve in the Border Police than there are slots. In economic terms, this means the value of serving in the Border Police is about to soar — the service requirements for being accepted will become stricter, and it will no longer be within many recruits’ reach. The poor will have to look for cheaper units to serve in, unless the state decides to intervene and artificially increase supply, that is, increase the need for Border Policemen.

Recent data issued by the IDF and police reflect a certain social justice. Once an assignment for “those with lower personal profiles,” as one of the Border Police commanders put it in the 1990s, who were sent to do the dirtiest work in Israel, the unit has turned into a platform for social mobility. Nowadays, combatants who drop out of training courses for pilots or other elite units come to the Border Police, said Former Border Police Commander Amos Yaakov.

“Today we recruit youngsters from every part of Israel – even from the wealthiest communities,” he said.

Yaakov believes the corps’ status will continue to improve. The numbers are not to be scoffed at. The supply and demand curve that the IDF and police show may yet reflect a future in which the best recruits are assigned to the Border Police.

The work of the occupation was and is allocated unfairly. One can say that more or less, the Ashkenazim in the elite units were given the heroic tasks, while the Mizrahim in the Border Police served as the Israeli jackboot in the occupied territories. Not only was the dirty work allocated to the lower classes, but the moral dirt that stuck to them served to justify their continued discrimination and in many cases even putting them on trial.

Elor Azaria is a case in point. Naftali Bennett states that “terrorists must be killed, not freed”; Yair Lapid clarifies, “You have to shoot to kill anyone who pulls out a knife or a screwdriver”; Bezalel Smotrich cries, “A terrorist who sets out to murder Jews, whatever his age, must not return alive”; and Gilad Erdan declares, “Every terrorist must know he won’t survive the attack he is about to commit.” Yet Azaria sits alone in the dock, his face bearing the weight of 50 ugly years of occupation. And people still wonder why his head always hangs low.

In this state of affairs, raising the market value of dirty work is an act of resistance. It’s the Border Policemen’s retaliation, an original way to break the power structure. Israeli society decided democratically to continue the occupation and imposed its maintenance on the poor, while complaining of the moral stench they emitted. Well, no more. From now on the moral stench will be sold as perfume. Let the pilot’s face carry Israel’s shame.

Before the “moral deterioration” merry-go-round catches on in the old elites’ discourse and the Palestinians are portrayed, rightly, as its main victims, it’s important to point out that they were in at the bottom of Israel’s class structure long before the Border Police green became the new white. There won’t be a critical mass for change as long as the weak links serve as the occupation contractors for the moral elites, and as long as the dirty, contemptible work of maintaining the occupation isn’t divided equally among all classes of society. It won’t come to be as long as the illusion of dividing work morally between right and left, poor and rich, Mizrahim and Ashkenazim, is maintained. From this respect, the statistics are good news.