The two items below present what I see as telling, if limited and even evasive, probes into the extent and depth of Israel’s militarization, each revealing a different manifestation of it.
The first item (truncated in the English version which omitted the passages of personal testimony from soldiers and police, included in the Hebrew original) looks at the confusing, contradictory maze of authorities in charge of the checkpoints that monitor the passage of West Bank Palestinians into Israel . Chaim Levinson erroneously calls these Green Line checkpoints, despite the placement of some of them inside the West Bank, as part of Israel ‘s ongoing drive to re-draw the Green Line to its convenience.
These highly sensitive, loaded meeting points between Israeli authorities and the stateless, non-citizen Palestinians whom they control are, Levinso says, operated under an entangled-to-non-existent chain of accountability. He lays the blame with bureaucracy and extremely faulty administration. These “checkpoints are … run by no fewer than six different agencies, and no single body coordinates their work. … Adding to the confusion … two different bodies are responsible for each checkpoint: One is in charge of operating it, while the other is responsible for security.”
Some of the bodies in question are no longer state agencies but, rather, privatized “security” contractors. Following detailed research on such contractors (published 2009; see: http://unu.edu/unupress/2009/sexedpistols.html, Chapter 9) I hold these private “security” firms, relatively new players in the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, to represent a new phase of militarization. Precisely because they serve to sow confusion and dilute transparency, they make a key contribution towards dissolving the state’s accountability for deploying organized violence. Even without them, though, “Haaretz found that none of … [the relevant state] organizations were certain who has overall responsibility for these checkpoints.” Put more bluntly, no one is certain who is responsible therefore no one is responsible.
While this may look like an exercise in logic, its practical implications have direct and horrific impacts on the thousands of lives and bodies being herded, literally, day by day, through these checkpoints. Rather than limiting or undermining the use of force wielded by the agencies in question, dissolved responsibility effectively gives them free or freer reign. Tangled bureaucracy, then, would seem to be a useful policy rather than “just” the result of inept administration.
Reign is indeed the key question arising from the second item. Whose is it? The “people’s” through our/their elected representatives? While journalist Ari Shavit insists that, “Even though Israel looks and acts like a banana republic, it is not a banana republic,” his item – in spite of itself – indicates the opposite; that militarization has already successfully destroyed the infrastructure of democracy in Israel .
More insinuation than information, more innuendo than fact, Shavit’s item sounds an apparently informed, “insider’s” opinion on what lays submerged under the iceberg-tip of a recent scandal concerning the appointment of Israel ‘s new Chief of Staff. By no means left-leaning, journalist Ari Shavit, writes that this scandal has revealed all of the following: “corruption was rampant in one of Israel’s most sensitive security establishments … some of the state’s most highly classified secrets were leaked in a reckless manner … The IDF’s arbitrary, tribal and unfair enforcement of moral norms has emptied them of content and deprived them of validity … Even when the chief of staff appeared before the General Staff at the moment of truth, he did not tell the truth, the whole truth and nothing but the truth.”
He is discussing internal Israeli and organizational affairs. If all this is true within the confines of “the tribe,” what kind of conclusions are implied regarding the army’s corruption, recklessness, arbitrary tribal morality and lies in its dealings with Palestinians.
The whole truth, Shavit claims, has not yet emerged, intimating that he himself is privy to it or to parts of it. His piece, however, pointedly avoids disclosing it, while characterizing it as terrible enough to entail a series of very serious questions once it comes to light. Questions about “the media’s zealous protection of those in power” (which possibly includes his own evasiveness in the present piece), about the “powerful military-media combine [that] gained control of the public discourse by blocking and deflecting information.” About the High Commissioner of the Police who, Shavit hints, may be implicated. About the Attorney General and the military advocate general.
Shavit, who has criticized dissent at least as often if not more so than he has censured state policies, is presenting a very serious claim. His item describes a clandestine structure of deference to an exclusive group of high-ranking (ex-)soldiers on the part of all of Israel ‘s key democratic institutions and the best part of its mainstream media. A military regime or reign in all but name, this hasn’t even required a military coup to be put in place. It has been fully normalized and legitimized by Israel ‘s continuous militarization.
Paper jam: Bureaucracy causes checkpoint chaos Confusion reigns as several agencies share responsibility for security arrangements.
By Chaim Levinson
Though a Defense Ministry unit was set up five years ago to oversee checkpoints between Israel and the West Bank , these checkpoints are still run by no fewer than six different agencies, and no single body coordinates their work, Haaretz has found.
The agencies running the checkpoints include the Israel Defense Forces, the Defense Ministry’s Crossing Administration, the Border Police and the regular police. In addition, staff work is carried out by the Counterterrorism Bureau, the Coordinator of Government Activities in the Territories, the Crossing Administration and the IDF Central Command. Haaretz found that none of these organizations were certain who has overall responsibility for these checkpoints.
Unlike checkpoints within the West Bank, which are all operated by the military or the Border Police, checkpoints on the Green Line, which separates Israel from the West Bank, deal exclusively with Palestinians seeking to enter Israel . They are positioned at every crossing from the West Bank into Israel .
The Green Line checkpoints are under the purview of the defense minister: He, together with his staff, is the one determines their location, size and operating procedures, the number of people allowed through, and so on.
In addition to the minister, three other organizations have responsibilities in this area, but are not connected to each other. The first is COGAT, headed by Brig. Gen. Eitan Dangot, who answers directly to the minister. COGAT’s main component is the Civil Administration, which answers both to Dangot and to the GOC Central Command.
The second is the Crossing Administration, which is mainly an operational body, but can occasionally influence policy. The third is the Defense Ministry’s political-security department, which deals with issues affected by the checkpoints, such as the West Bank economy.
And alongside these agencies, which fall under the Defense Ministry, is the Counterterrorism Bureau, which is part of the Prime Minister’s Office.
In 2003, the state comptroller published a report urging the development of an overall strategy for checkpoint administration. But only in 2005, when the comptroller began working on a follow-up report, did the cabinet finally decide to set up the Crossing Administration. It also decided to replace the soldiers at these checkpoints with private security companies answerable to the Defense Ministry.
The administration was formally established in July 2005, just a month before the comptroller released his follow-up report. This report attributed the delay in dealing with the problem to disagreements among the relevant ministries.
Adding to the confusion is the fact that two different bodies are responsible for each checkpoint: One is in charge of operating it, while the other is responsible for security. At the Tarqumiya checkpoint, for example, the body responsible for security is the Defense Ministry, but the actual operator is a private security contractor. In Shuafat, the organization in charge of security is the Jerusalem police, but the operator is the Border Police.
A large number of new checkpoints were set up around the outskirts of Jerusalem following the cabinet’s decision to build the separation fence. All of these fall under the purview of the Jerusalem police, which set up a special administration to deal with them.
A visit to the checkpoints around Jerusalem revealed that each organization involved sends representatives to every checkpoint. Thus military policemen stand alongside civilian security guards, Border Police officers, representatives of the special police administration and COGAT staff. A checkpoint known as the Rachel Terminal is operated by the regular police, while the nearby Wallaja checkpoint, which is closed to Palestinians, is run by the Border Police.
Just as in the years before the Yom Kippur War, today’s chief of staff wields control over several communications outlets.
By Ari Shavit
Three in-depth investigative reports by three different media outlets over the past three days painted an identical picture of reality: Boaz Harpaz was a disreputable officer. According to these reports, he was suspected in the past of leaking highly sensitive classified material, of forgery, of obscuring his tracks, of corrupt use of special military means and of defrauding the Israel Defense Forces.
IDF Chief of Staff Gabi Ashkenazi granted his protection to this shady character. Both as deputy chief of staff and as director general of the Defense Ministry, he intervened on Harpaz’s behalf and protected him. This led the army’s top brass to conclude that the two had a very strong, close relationship. It gave them the impression that it was dangerous to oppose Harpaz and best to get on his good side. Many thought this dubious officer had clout and influence in the chief of staff’s bureau.
Gidi Weitz (Haaretz ), Ronen Bergman (Yedioth Ahronoth ) and the Raviv Drucker-Ofer Shelah team (Channel 10 ) have now completed the jigsaw puzzle on which Ayala Hasson (Channel 1 ) worked courageously for months. And it is a worrisome picture.
It shows that corruption was rampant in one of Israel ‘s most sensitive security establishments. It shows that some of the state’s most highly classified secrets were leaked in a reckless manner. It shows that the IDF’s ethical standards have become selective ones. And it shows that the IDF was not always scrupulous about telling the truth.
Corruption: Personal considerations and vested interests have penetrated the IDF’s operational networks and defiled them. State secrets: An unprecedented problem of field security has developed at the heart of the national security establishment, one that could have strategic implications. Selective ethical standards: The IDF’s arbitrary, tribal and unfair enforcement of moral norms has emptied them of content and deprived them of validity. Telling the truth: Even when the chief of staff appeared before the General Staff at the moment of truth, he did not tell the truth, the whole truth and nothing but the truth.
A drama took place behind the scenes of these investigative reports’ publication. Heavy pressure was exerted on at least one journalist to refrain from publishing the truth. And this pressure was effective: The whole truth was not published.
Once again, it has been proven that it is difficult, perhaps even dangerous, to cross the chief of staff. Just as in the years before the Yom Kippur War, today’s chief of staff wields control over several communications outlets. Just as in the year before the Second Lebanon War, the chief of staff has the power to create an image of the IDF that has no connection to reality.
At the week draws to a close, this armor-plated immunity has been cracked, but it remains strong. The general public does not yet know how deep the rot runs in Lt. Gen. Ashkenazi’s kingdom.
The truth will come to light. It is not possible to fool all the people all the time. Even though Israel looks and acts like a banana republic, it is not a banana republic. It will not bury a scandal that is many times more serious than the Shin Bet affair of the 1980s or the Lavon affair of the 1950s. It will not ignore an attempt by senior officers to undermine Israeli democracy.
But when the truth does come out, trenchant questions will be asked. How could it be that even after the disengagement from Gaza and the Second Lebanon War, the “etrog syndrome” – the media’s zealous protection of those in power – continued? How could it be that even during the age of transparency, it was possible to tell the public that black is white and white is black? How could it be that in the Israel of 2010, an extremely powerful military-media combine gained control of the public discourse by blocking and deflecting information?
Personal questions will likewise be asked. Where was the military advocate general, Avichai Mendelblit? Did the police under Commissioner David Cohen and head of the investigations department Yoav Segalovich show sufficient courage? Did Attorney General Yehuda Weinstein act with neither fear nor bias? Did Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and Defense Minister Ehud Barak behave like leaders?
State Comptroller Micha Lindenstrauss is now faced with a tremendous mission. He must immediately obtain all the testimony and evidence police have gathered. He must separate the wheat from the chaff, the information from the disinformation. And when he has completed his work, he must present the public with the truth that has been hidden from it.
Only the light of day can heal the IDF of its affliction. Only the light of day can dismantle the military-media combine.