The Cover-up Theater of the Occupation

After 50 years, one of the occupation's new innovations is doing things out in the open

Israeli soldiers block the entrance to the Hebron's Jewish neighborhood, in the West Bank, September 18, 2016.

Justice Minister Ayelet Shaked recently declared that Breaking the Silence’s spokesperson was either a liar or a criminal. If he falsely confessed to beating a Palestinian, he’s a liar. If he spoke the truth, then he’s a criminal. However, Shaked elegantly neglected to raise a third option, which is the heart of the matter – that she and the other leaders of Israel’s justice system are either liars or criminals.

Indeed, when Shaked declares that the Israeli army investigates and handles “cases of violence,” she is not speaking the truth. The minister didn’t invent anything new in this regard. The military justice system, from the criminal investigation department through the military advocate general to the military courts, routinely waters down and covers up cases of injury, abuse and killing of thousands of Palestinians. That is how it’s been since the beginning of the occupation, how it’s been during the tenure of the current justice minister, and how it will probably be in the future. The army spokesperson waves around the few exceptions to this rule to lend credibility to this sophisticated system of cover-up.

However, the force of the lie – and the force of the crime – go much deeper. The Israeli justice system doesn’t see a problem with most of the reasons why Palestinians living under Israeli control are subjected to violence, dispossession and abuse. As far as generations of Supreme Court judges, justice ministers, attorneys general and military advocates general are concerned, the nature of Israeli policy – which embodies organized state violence that is wielded openly against Palestinians – is completely normative.

Stealing land, a declared policy of collective punishment, extended administrative detention, the aerial bombing of homes with their occupants inside – none of these acts were or will be investigated, because they do not formally violate any order or policy. They are the order and the policy. The people who bear responsibility for such acts are not officers or rank-and-file soldiers in Hebron, but rather the leaders of the state.

All the cynical chatter about Dean Issacharoff, spokesman of Breaking the Silence, is a useful way for Shaked and her crowd to divert attention from the main point, similar to the way the country was in a stir for a full year over another soldier – one Elor Azaria – without the real question being asked even once: Why is an Israeli soldier policing a civilian Palestinian population in Hebron?

The only thing new about the current diversion is that it’s being done out in the open. Until recently, the theater of cover-up worked the usual way, with the criminal investigation division and military advocate general giving their stamp of approval to the rotten fruit growing out of Israel’s military control over a civilian population. However, that didn’t suffice for Shaked this time; instead, she decided to pull the strings of the marionettes in the State Prosecutor’s Office to reach her political goal. This isn’t just a theater of the cover-up, it’s a chance to bash the traitors at home.

Doing things out in the open may be one of the occupation’s few innovations in these, its mature years, because there really is no need for a Regulation Law in order to steal Palestinian land, nor is there a need for the “Norms Law,” which Shaked is advancing to reward the settlers – but not their neighbors – with the delights of Israeli law, nor is there a need to persecute a particular soldier to go on covering it all up without a care. However, after 50 years, Israel wants more – to put the occupation on stage, with less and less investment in attempts to provide a veneer of legality or even basic decency for the Israeli regime of domination over the Palestinian people.

The result of this putting the occupation on stage can be one of two things – either a public celebration of Israel’s ability to go on like this without significant opposition from home or effective response from abroad, or it will be the beginning of the end of the occupation, which will become more and more exposed in all its crudeness and ugliness, which are its true face. The choice is in our hands.

Hagai El-Ad is the executive director of B’Tselem.