Contrary to conventional wisdom, national security (in the traditional sense of defense from threats such as war, bombings and terrorist attacks on Israel as a collective) is by no means the most important security concern of Israeli citizens. For over a decade, as numerous surveys repeatedly confirm, other security matters far outdistance national security in the minds of most residents of the country. This —human security — package includes socioeconomic security, international security, personal security and psychological security issues. Until recently, the two sets of security questions have been separated on the assumption that national security relates to external defense and human security to domestic affairs. But, increasingly, the two are becoming intertwined. The ongoing conflict between Israel and its neighbors is gradually impinging on the sense of overall security of its citizenry, requiring much more vigorous treatment in any peace negotiations and subsequent agreements.
By far the greatest source of ongoing insecurity for individual Israelis is economic. Economic security — the likelihood of having a stable income and sufficient resources to maintain one’s standard of living — is the central preoccupation for the bulk of the population. In fact, 58% of Israelis polled in October 2013 by the monthly Peace Index reported that the socioeconomic challenge was uppermost in their minds (in contrast to 28% who pointed to military security and 12% who gave equal weight to both sets of concerns). For women, Russian-speakers, Arab citizens of Israel and residents of the periphery the percentages are even higher as the struggle to make ends meet induces constant anxiety and uncertainty. Clearly, although on the surface the social justice protest of 2011 appears to be petering out, for most Israelis its root causes are very much alive.
During the past six months, this distress has become closely linked to Israel’s position in the international community. The question of global security, heretofore a function of Israeli policies in the region in general and vis-à-vis the Palestinians in particular, has taken on an economic twist. The European Union’s decision to withhold funding to Israeli institutions and individuals operating beyond the Green Line is viewed by 67% of the public as endangering Israel economically and by 49% as adversely affecting Israel’s international standing (according to the Peace Index of August 2013). Last month, the broader issue of sanctions against Israel was surveyed by the same pollsters, with 49% of a representative sample of the Israeli population claiming that Israel could “manage” economically under such circumstances, and 46% expressing uncertainty or extreme doubt that Israel would not be hurt should wider sanctions be applied.
Despite the uproar that ensued after Yair Lapid’s statement a couple of weeks ago that “Israel faces an economic crisis if the peace talks fail,” few Israelis share the bravado voiced by his detractors. Indeed, the close connection between the successful completion of the current negotiations with the Palestinians and the economic security of Israelis has been internalized by many.
Socioeconomic strains, compounded by external pressures, have also had an enormous effect on personal security. Nary has a day passed recently without several incidents of random street shootings (twenty yet unsolved underworld assassinations have been recorded during the past four months alone), hair-raising tales of violence in schools and numerous stories of appalling domestic and sexual abuse. Indeed, street violence of one form or another appears to open every news broadcast and has even taken over the cultural airwaves. Some words from an Israel Vibration rap song convey the fears of many Israelis: “Brothers killing brothers/ You can see it every day/ Ten million screaming voices/ Hollering from the valley below/ Just because of a strife/ One draw a knife/ Start chase each other/ Just to take a life/ Violence in the streets/ One million running feet trying to get away from this outrageous gunplay”.
To be sure, the National Violence Index compiled by the Ministry of Internal Security shows a drop in complaints to the police since 2004. But it also highlights a rise in reports to social welfare institutions and to rape crisis centers. The Ministry of Education, which compiles data on violence in the schools, has not released full figures, but some studies are indicative. Fifty-six percent of teachers in Israel claim that they are subjected to verbal violence, 30% have experienced physical violence and 38% have been victims of vandalism.
The figures on domestic violence and violence against women are even more disconcerting. The 2013 report of the Rape Crisis Centers and WIZO claims that 200,000 women and 600,000 children have been subjected to violence in their homes. Forty thousand complaints on sexual violence were filed in 2012, and the police received 72 complaints daily during the course of 2013. Fifty-five percent of these instances of sexual abuse involve girls under the age of seventeen.
The prevailing sense of personal insecurity has not been allayed by the police, who have displayed a glaring inability to deal with the most egregious cases of criminal violence — let alone with the more routine aspects of maintaining the rule of law. The ease with which weapons can be procured (another function of the ongoing conflict) has further exacerbated the situation. While these failures are debated in the media, trust in law enforcement agencies is plummeting.
The psychological security of Israelis is, consequently, precarious at best. For several years now, when asked how Israel is doing, barely 9.5% of respondents (according to the latest Democracy Index published by the Israel Democracy Institute) rate the situation as very good; while a further 25.7% think that it is quite good. A plurality of those surveyed (41.1%) assesses the situation as “so-so” and 21.6% as quite bad or very bad. Once again, Arab citizens, peripheral groups and women (as demonstrated in the Women’s Security Index of 2012) are more disaffected than their more well-to-do cohorts.
The low measure of human security — economic, international, personal and psychological — experienced by many Israelis can no longer be artificially detached from questions of national security. The connection between the two is by now inexorable. Limiting negotiations to narrow aspects of national security fails to take into account these broader, human, components of security — thus reducing their relevance to the daily lives of the majority of Israelis (and, for that matter, Palestinians). By expanding the definition of security to incorporate the concerns of citizens on both sides, it may be possible to substantially broaden the constituency for peace and significantly increase its overall appeal. Human security is, after all, the ultimate goal of national security.