Peoples Geography — Reclaiming space

Creating people's geographies

Avigail Abarbanel on the Israeli Police State

Avigail Abarbanel is a psychotherapist and former Israeli resident who left Israel for Australia in 1991. In The Israeli Police State, Abarbanel writes a revealing piece on the psychologically abusive and maliciously intimidatory tactics employed by the Israeli state even for people who simply want to leave; in this case, herself. Excerpted below; read in full at The Electronic Intifada (9 July 2007):

Up until the army found out that we were leaving, my husband as a career officer and myself as the “wife of,” were treated with great respect in Israeli society and in the military. We didn’t just belong, we had an honored place. The choice of a female sergeant was meant to humiliate him (I mean no offense to females but this is the culture in the Israeli military). Whoever dreamed up this intimidation attempt wanted to show my ex that his rank and status meant little if he was choosing the “wrong” path. We were angry but mostly shocked that he could be treated like this just because we wanted to leave Israel. It’s one thing to encounter the disapproval of friends and relatives in ordinary conversations. It’s quite another to be the subject of a menacing questioning by the MP. Our decision to leave apparently placed us in a new position in society, outside that comfortable mainstream. When we finally left at the end of ’91 we did so with a bitter taste in our mouths having seen a glimpse of an Israel we didn’t know.

Ask any Palestinian and they will tell you much worse stories — frankly, there is no comparison. Palestinians cannot help but be seen as outsiders, whether they are citizens of Israel or whether they are refugees in the Occupied Territories, whether they are children or adults, male or female. All Palestinians live under constant military and police surveillance. They experience nothing of the mythical Israeli democracy. “Israeli democracy” is something reserved only for the privileged and mostly ignorant elite, of which I was also a member, until I decided to leave. Palestinian citizens of Israel live under an arbitrary and brutal police state. Their dealings with Israeli bureaucracy are not just frustrating but can be outright dangerous.

The Palestinians in the Occupied Territories live under a Pinochet-like regime. They can and do disappear in the middle of the night. They are blindfolded, cuffed, beaten, humiliated, taken to unknown locations with no information given to them or their families, tortured physically and psychologically and incarcerated indefinitely, often without charges and regardless of whether they are guilty of anything. It is arbitrary and it can happen to anyone. This is a far worse version of the two incidents I described above but the basic principles are the same.

In a regime like that you don’t have to actually do anything wrong to receive this treatment. This is because it is not only designed to catch people who break the law, it is designed to be a kind of a warning, a hinted threat. It’s there to flaunt state power, show people how small and weak they are compared with the mighty state, and offer a taste of what would happen to them if they even think to go against it. In the case of the Palestinians such tactics are also designed to make daily life unbearable in order to break their spirit and intimidate them into leaving. After all, what Israel really wants is all the land but without the people, something that so many in the West still refuse to recognize.

Israel is not a nice country. It is a powerful police state founded on pathological paranoia with only a veneer of civility, carefully crafted and maintained for the consumption of those who still believe in the myth of Israeli democracy. Mainstream Israelis live in a fictional bubble that separates them from reality. If there is a democracy there, only this select group enjoys it — just like the conformist white population in old South Africa. Supporting Israel now is the same as claiming that South Africa under apartheid was an acceptable democracy. It also means abandoning the Palestinians, just like the world abandoned black South Africans (and white dissidents) for 45 long years.

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Timely Reminders

"Those who crusade, not for God in themselves, but against the devil in others, never succeed in making the world better, but leave it either as it was, or sometimes perceptibly worse than what it was, before the crusade began. By thinking primarily of evil we tend, however excellent our intentions, to create occasions for evil to manifest itself."
-- Aldous Huxley

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-- Diane DiPrima, "Rant", from Pieces of a Song.

"It is difficult
to get the news from poems
yet men die miserably every day
for lack
of what is found there"
-- William Carlos Williams, "Asphodel, That Greeny Flower"