Judy Halper
Left is not a dirty word

Tel Aviv – Jenin

Image: Google maps

“Those arrested were protest leaders,” said the news anchor, referring to the detainees held in the wake Thursday evening’s demonstrations outside the homes of coalition members.

His words seemed to echo the statement, just a few days before, that “those killed were terrorists,” referring to the deaths of nine Palestinians in the “Home and Garden” operation in Jenin.

Look at the photos of Jenin – just 65 km away from Tel Aviv: Roads turned to rubble, storefronts burned. Women, children, old people fleeing this city of refugees. It doesn’t quite match the medical rhetoric. We were told the operation was “surgical,” preventing the “infection from spreading.”

Maybe I’ve read too many dystopian novels, but the phrase (which I refuse to accept just on the word of police spokesmen) – those arrested were protest leaders – is already conjuring up, in my imagination, scenes of Tel Aviv or Ramat Gan in ruins, once-ordinary people in hiding.

The protests, of course, are already “spread out of control,” and the language used to describe us, in certain circles of government is “terrorists.” Itamar Ben-Gvir is already laying the groundwork for the use of aggressive police tactics against demonstrators, and for mass arrests. When people are seriously injured or worse, they will be “leaders” who were planning insurrection.

During this new phase of protesting, Chief of Police Kobi Shabtai found that the police, as they forced protesters back, deployed water cannon and made arrests, were less popular than they had been more than half a year ago, in the first the pro-democracy protests. He found himself echoing the sentiments of deposed police chief of the Tel Aviv region, Ami Eshed: “The protesters should thank us,” he said, “for keeping them safe.”

The Knesset is about to pass a law outlawing ‘reasonableness’

Shabtai had nothing to lose but his legacy. The search for the next chief of police is on, and the new one will almost certainly be less hesitant to use force. If Ben-Gvir manages to instate one touted candidate – a right-wing ex-general – he will be able to push for the use army-style tactics against citizens. He might also increase the role of the Shabak secret service, for surveillance and intel gathering on “protest leaders.” And the creation of Ben-Gvir’s own private militia is apparently still on the table. An armed group beholden to the minister could easily swing from dealing with organized crime or preventing shootings in the West Bank to intimidating those who oppose him.

Imagine the streets of secular Israel – Tel Aviv, Haifa, Rishon Lezion – under military control.

“But that’s unreasonable!” you might say.

“May I remind you,” I’ll point out, “the Knesset is about to pass a law outlawing ‘reasonableness’.”

“There are laws!” you might splutter.

“Yes,” I’ll reply, “but the idea behind the ‘prevention of reasonableness law’ is that if the coalition doesn’t like a law, they can just change it.”

“So we are going to live in an unreasonable reality?”

“As if we already don’t. Think of Jenin. We use terminology that turns the ‘operation’ into minor surgery. Everything safely back to ‘normal.’ Except the situation between Tel Aviv and Jenin is anything but reasonable.”

Let’s face it: The road to ‘Jenin’ is not a long one, even if the way seems to us unreasonable. We’re going to have to figure out how to prevent getting dragged along on that trip, and at the same time, insist on standing up for reason.

About the Author
Judy Halper is a member of a kibbutz in the center of the country. She has worked as a dairywoman, plumber and veggie cook, and as a science writer. Today she volunteers in Na'am Arab Women in the Center and works part time for Wahat al-Salam/Neve Shalom.
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