The Occupation Has Occupied the Center

The issue highlighted by the Unit 8200 letter was less one of human rights than the fundamental issue of why the army is perpetuating the occupation.

Graduates of Unit 8200, the IDF's technological spearhead.
Moti Milrod

The first question to arise from the letter of the Unit 8200 reservists concerns not human rights, but rather a more fundamental issue: the way the army, whose very name defines it as a defensive entity, is drawn into perpetuating the occupation, with all its settlements, racism, messianism and rabbis, all in the name of “self-defense.” That is the heart of the method by which the racist-messianic right wing is taking over Israel: using Palestinian enmity and racism, and Islamic messianism, to justify racist treatment and Israel’s permanent absorption into the occupation of the territories; turning the Israel Defense Forces into the Judea and Elokim Offense Forces. And all this subordination of security to messianism is presented to the public, retroactively, as self-defense.

Human rights is not the main context in which the letter, written by civilians who perform reserve duty in Unit 8200, should be discussed. In order to protect Israel within its borders from those who would destroy it in the name of religious-messianic racism, even harsh measures can be considered. But the problem that arises from the pain of the letter’s signatories concerns not the tactic but rather the strategy, and above all the intention. To what is the defense forces subordinate? Is it permissible to use the army for the racist-messianic political project of perpetuating the occupation? To erase the border and have all of Israel absorbed into the Jewish state in the territories?

There is a similarity between the Islamic State of Iraq and Syria’s name change to the borderlessness of the Islamic State alone and Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s “Jewish State” project. He and the rabbis of incitement exploit the civilization that arose in the territories for the erasure of all boundaries and the conquest of all of Israel. There is a reason why this project leads to the delegitimization of citizens who are critical of it. After all, there are no citizens, no civilians, in the occupation. And criticism is not permitted, despite the fact that retired heads of the Shin Bet security service have expressed similar criticism. That is how norms that originated in the occupation’s treatment of the Palestinians become entrenched in the treatment of Israelis as well, who are stripped of their democratic rights.

The participation of a “left-wing” inciter such as MK Shelly Yacimovich (Labor) in this process is important. Her jingoistic response serves as a moral lesson to citizens serving in Unit 8200: Anyone who dares try to separate Israel from the occupation will become a victim of the violent incitement methods of the occupation and its settlements-based world.

Yacimovich’s venomous and inflammatory attack on the Unit 8200 reservists who expressed opposition to exploiting the principle of “defending Israel” in order to perpetuate the occupation bears examination. It is of a piece with her demand that the Labor Party not present itself as an alternative to the party in power. That is her genuine position: It would appears that Yacimovich did not accept the position of Likud, but rather went as far as the world of Naftali Bennett’s rabbis and the Kahanists of the anti-assimilation organization Lehava, who deny the left’s right to exist. Yacimovich’s stance does not collaborate with fascism, it joins its ranks. This inflammatory ultranationalist socialism cannot be interpreted.

We should pay attention to the difference between Yacimovich’s incitement and the criticism of Isaac Herzog, who defeated her in the last Labor Party primary, who as a reserve officer himself in Unit 8200 opposed the letter and the disobedience, but recognized that their complaints were legitimate. This kind of pragmatic stance by the Labor Party chairman, who seeks to put together a Knesset majority of centrists in order to put an end to the occupation, is a tactic that has potential. This, as opposed to eliminating the alternative and leading from a “left” of incitement that focuses on delegitimizing the letter’s signatories rather than discussing its contents.

The letter from the civilians serving reserve duty in Unit 8200, Yacimovich’s silencing incitement and her opposition to Labor’s potential as the ruling party can only lead those who are not right wing-racist-messianic to one conclusion: Everyone who wants to stop, at the last moment, Israel’s occupation by the occupation, must join forces. Anyone who does not join the effort will discover the universal nature of Pastor Martin Niemoller’s warning: Those who do not stop the occupation from taking control will be stopped by it. Those who do not help to build an alternative will have no alternative.