Using Fear to Silence Opposition

Most Israelis believe that an ongoing state of emergency is justified, and that a large conscript and reservist military will help to keep them safe from surrounding enemies,the very enemies who desire to annihilateIsrael and “push us into the sea”.
While Palestinians have lived in the region for centuries before the establishment of the Jewish state in 1948, the collective memory of most Jewish Israelis fails to acknowledge what actually transpired in those fateful years of the war and immediately after it when hundreds of villages were systematically wiped off the map. Israel, however, which was created as a safe haven, is considered worldwide as the land of the Jews.


Today it is still a little known fact that 20% of the population of Israel is in fact not Jewish, but is Muslim or Christian, or identifies with another religion. These various religions, naturally, celebrate different holidays. Since Israel considers itself  a Jewish state Jewish holidays are celebrated by way of national holidays.
Every spring Israel observes three national holidays which in fact define the essence of the Zionist nation. They are Holocaust Remembrance Day, Memorial Day to Fallen Soldiers, and Independence Day. One holiday reminds us of the horrors of the Holocaust. The next week we pay homage to fallen soldiers and victims of terrorism. The next day, immediately following Memorial Day, is Israel’s Independence Day, and for my Palestinian friends and colleagues it is Nakba Day, commemorating the day of their catastrophe, a memorial day which is not included on Israel’s official calendar.These memorial days are very difficult, with endless grief for many.

Nationwide they are emotionally charged, focusing as they do on the many victims, the great suffering and loss of life during the Holocaust, and on the fallen Jewish soldiers who died so the Jewish State could exist. At the same time they also project the possibility of more victimization in the future.


On April 26, 2009,one day before Israel's Memorial Day for Fallen Soldiers, in a well publicized act which exploited the day's emotionaland charged character, Israeli police dramatically raided the homes of six of our activists and took themfor interrogation. At the same time they confiscated our activists’personal computers, and, in some cases, also those belonging to these activists' family members. The detained activists werelater released on bail but their personal computers remain impounded for 30 days. During the two weeks that followed, the police summoned ten additional activists for interrogation, but with much less fanfare and media coverage.


New Profile’s activists were accused of inciting against conscription, calling young people to refuse to serve in the military, which is considered an act of treason. This attempt to delegitimize and incriminate New Profile amounts to no less than a declaration of war on youth as rising numbers of young Jewish Israelis, as well as members of the Druze minority who are also subject to conscription, find themselves unable or unwilling to accept the over-used Israeli dictate: "We have no other choice", and thus choose to refuse to do military service.


It would seem that the investigation into New Profile was initiated because of a concern amongst government officials and the defense establishment about the growing trend of draft evasion. Already in July 2007 Defense Minister Ehud Barak and then Chief of Staff Gabi Ashkenazi declared publicly that they would fight this trend.
But clearly, it was not really New Profile that they were worried about. New Profile is a nonprofit organization with no more than 60 active members at any given moment. It is just that we seemed an easy and visible scapegoat through which the authorities hoped to plant fear and intimidate future draft resisters.


Although the criminal investigation subjected us to new and very difficult challenges as a movement, we decided to actively investigate the investigationas an act of resistance. Our feministapproach to activism was what inspired this response,and this is how we were able to claim a sense of involvement;by discussing, analyzing, and documenting the events,and riding out all media coverage, good and bad.Our decision to meet the challenge of the criminal investigation by conducting our own counter-investigation added a wholly new and extremely valuable dimension to the experience.


Today, even though New Profilefulfils all legal requirements for NGOs, and our status has been approved by the Israeli High Court of Justice, we are subject to continued harassment, in particular by members of the Knesset who are identified with extreme right wing nationalist factions.


It is easy to feel confused by public life in Israel because it is riddled with ambiguities The Israeli daily newspaper Haaretz is a good example of this. It reflects the relatively small population of Israeli progressives and liberals that forms its readership, because it does here and there publish articles that are critical of mainstream militarist policies and of the occupation, thus creating an illusion of progressiveness.  But concerning  the opinions of the radical left, they are not represented, and this amounts to a policy of silencing.


For many of us silencing also occurs in our closest circles. Often it is difficult for us to find a safe space for dialog and discussion even within our own homes and with our families. We are discredited: we are told we are hypersensitive and over-reacting, at best.  At worst we are perceived as not having an inkling of an idea of what is "really" going on and what "really" matters. And what is really going on and what really matters is that “they want to drive us into the sea” and “only know the language of power”.


One recent example of how fear seriously affects our judgment isthe fact that, during the recent uprising in Egypt, most Israeli opinions were loyally in favor of Mubarak, whereas the rest of the world ecstatically cheered on a revolution. At a time when we are privileged to be witness to a historic phenomenon, Israeli politicians speak in fear of the threat to Israel’s existence.


Today the same official Israeli rhetoric regarding Iran and a nuclear threat to Israel, which is meant to promote mass panic amongst the citizens and Jews in the Diaspora, is being used to mobilize across the board.


Fear is used against us as a tool in order to achieve compliance and reverence. This, among other things, is militarism. Fear promotes ignorance and sustains it. As Israelis we secure national identity or international standing by “othering” and playing the blame game. It is them, not us. We have no partners for peace. The blame game is designed to leave little room for dialog, forgiveness, or accountability.


I believe it is crucially important to create awareness within the international community of what is going on in Israel.I also believe that our youth is our salvation. As Israeli law offers virtually no provision for conscientious objection, young people have found their own way to vote with their feet. Today, despite the ongoing draft, more than half of all eligible Israelis no longer serve or complete their obligatory service in the military. I for one am the proud parent of four sons who refused to do military service.