Opinion

Young Israelis Don't Protest Anymore

A whole generation of persecutors and violators is watching what’s happening in this country, but they’re keeping their hands in their pockets

A drawing of a stick-figure soldier carrying a blag flag bearing a smiley face.
Eran Wolkowski

So university students are organizing a protest against the racism in Afula, the northern town that the new city council pledged to preserve as a Jewish city? Or maybe a rally against the death penalty for terrorists?

I’ll hazard a guess: students won’t hold any rallies – not against racism, the “cultural-loyalty bill” or any issue anywhere. Students demonstrate only in America and Europe. Not in Israel. Not against the attorney general and not against corruption. Maybe against the carnage on the highways?

Why aren’t we hearing 20- and 30-year-olds speak out about what’s happening here? Because it doesn’t interest them. They’re the fruit of 70 years of education that we’re reaping now. The parents of these students are alumni of the education system of the state’s early years. We’re reaping the indifference, resignation and lack of confidence in our ability to change things, all of which were planted in school and in the army.

Tell them a black flag flutters over the racist display in Afula and they won’t understand what you’re talking about. They no longer distinguish between moral and immoral, only between the desired national interest and the spurned moral argument. Racism in Afula is a desired national feature, and anyone raising a black flag over it is a leftist and a traitor. Such a person used to be called a bleeding heart.

No black flags will fly over Afula because the statement “a black flag hovering over an illegal order” has been erased. I haven’t heard of one case where such a flag was hoisted, even though illegal orders and immoral ones abound. In the absence of black flags, the state sells technology to murderers and cozies up to tyrants. Everything is legal. It’s legal in Afula as in the Knesset. Ministers signed something, legislators passed laws and lawyers approved it all. It’s legal but it stinks, with a black flag waving over it.

Black flags gather dust in warehouses. After 51 years of the occupation the colors have faded; there’s only a faded black flag there in many hues of gray. Soldiers don’t think about black flags when chasing children in the West Bank. It’s not only orders that drive them, it’s what they’ve absorbed at home, at school and in the media.

A black flag should be waving over the arrest of Palestinian children and their shackling and interrogation without their parents present, but times have changed and new routines have become entrenched. The orders are illegal but alas no black flags.

If there were any, no one would raise them. The lessons soldiers learn while chasing and beating children won’t be left behind when they’re discharged from the army. They’ll carry them home to their families, to work and on the roads.

They’ll beat women, children and anyone taking their parking spot. School has taught them to respect force, the checkpoints have taught them to use it and the media has taught them to remain silent. This is how a state’s infrastructure is created in which silence is a blessing and protest has no voice.

Does the impact of education acquired at school and in the army have an expiration date? Ask the female soldiers who three years ago did an invasive search on a Palestinian woman. Maybe they avoided indictment only because they were obeying orders (a bitter scent of unpleasant memories is associated with that argument). Maybe they wouldn’t have been in that situation if they’d known that a black flag flew over that order.

Where are they now? Maybe they’re studying, working or traveling. Maybe they’re married and have children. They’re the hands that did the dirty work in silence. The Palestinian woman was obviously humiliated, but how did that humiliation affect those carrying it out? What kind of wives are they now? What kind of mothers? Is it right to saddle 18-year-old girls with the responsibility of interpreting orders? The answer is a resounding yes.

An 18-year-old is responsible for her actions. Someone who is told to poke around in the private parts of a Palestinian woman hasn’t come to the army with a clean slate. She has come prepared. The home shaped her, the school educated her and her friends prepared her for treating the Palestinian woman as a suspicious object, not as a woman. She didn’t see the black flag fluttering over the order, she never said “sorry, I can’t do that.”

She could and she did, humiliating that woman. Her training as someone inflicting humiliation will accompany her all her life. She’ll use it as a weapon against husbands, children and employers. She’s not alone. A whole generation of persecutors and violators is watching what’s happening in this country, but they’re keeping their hands in their pockets.

This generation silently laid its neck on the chopping block of the cultural-loyalty bill and will do the same with the bill on drafting the ultra-Orthodox and the “Gideon Sa’ar bill” limiting the president’s choice in naming a person to form a government after an election.

And it will be the same with the bill on appointing legal advisers in government ministries, and with the bill calling for the death penalty for terrorists. Watch how this generation responds to these bills today and you’ll see what the country will look like tomorrow.