No Democracy For the Oppressed

Average Israelis can no longer play the "dumb" card anymore. The lame excuse of "Oh really? I didn’t know," just doesn’t fly. Why? Because, barring the (rightful) rants of Palestinians there are rising international voices that are telling the terrible truths about this conflict. What’s more, against the grain of Israel’s core, there are Israelis who can no longer stay silent, who feel responsible for what their country does, like any responsible citizen should.

No, the excuse of ignorance is completely unacceptable, even as the establishment of Israel fights tooth and nail to keep the growing voices of protest down. But when a proud Israeli whose only "sin" is to support her fellow Israelis who speak their opinion, is duly fired from her job like Naomi Chazan was, this proves that truths are being told, even in Israel.

It is becoming increasingly unfathomable to think anyone would consider Israel as a full-fledged democracy anymore. Too much evidence points to the contrary. Perhaps for its Jewish citizens it is as much of a democracy as possible, but like the Americans say, "The buck stops here."

The latest discharge of Naomi Chazan from her decade-old columnist position in the Israeli daily The Jerusalem Post is just one of many examples of how Israel only embraces true democratic values when those values fall in line with its own ideologies. The funny thing is that Chazan is hardly anti-Israel or anti-Zionist. Once a Knesset member representing Meretz and now president of the New Israel Fund, Chazan is merely a critic of some of Israel’s ways. The fact that NIF was accused of funding several organizations that supposedly aided the charges against Israel in the Goldstone report, prompted, not only a vicious ad run in the Jerusalem Post depicting Chazan as a horned dragon being slain by Israel founder Theodor Herzel, but also landed her jobless through a single email sent to her while overseas.

If only the evidence stopped at Chazan, one would chalk the incident up to bad judgment or kowtowing to right-wing bullies. However, it is a trend, albeit a disturbing one, that repeatedly points to Israel as a country with little or no tolerance for any ideas that show the slightest sign of criticism of the state, or worse, that show any sort of compassion for the Palestinians.

This applies to Israelis, such as the likes of Haaretz journalist Amira Hass, or Jews of other nationalities, such as Norman Finkelstein and Richard Falk. Criticizing Israel is just not tolerated and can result in personal harassment or in the case of foreigners, an entry ban at Israel’s borders.

However, how can anyone look away from the reality on the ground? The occupation is ubiquitous, invasive and oppressive at every turn. For the average Israeli, it is difficult not to see how oppressive it actually is and once they do see, they have a moral obligation to speak out.

In Jerusalem on February 14, hundreds of Jewish settlers marched through the walled city, holding up large Israeli flags and loudspeakers blaring Hebrew songs. The march, which proceeded largely through Palestinian quarters, was provocative enough given the type of people involved. Young, hostile settlers – many of them armed – were singing, dancing and chanting what seemed to us incomprehensible gibberish, totally indifferent to the fact that others in the city took offense at their very presence. However, what was even worse was the fact that Israeli police and soldiers had cordoned off the main streets to Palestinians until the settler party had passed. Palestinians carrying bags and babies, little children holding tightly to their footballs lest they fall beyond the police barricade and men nonchalantly smoking cigarettes, waited patiently for the narrow roads to open so they could just go home. Meanwhile, the celebrating settlers would occasionally look across the barricades at us Palestinians and raise their fists in what could only be a defiant sign of self-proclaimed superiority. We, the oppressed, could do nothing but turn away. Not only were these settlers and the soldiers who protected them indifferent to the fact that people’s lives had been put on hold without warning but they were basking in the assurance that this was possible only because they were Jewish Israelis.

This is no democracy for all, that’s for sure. The growing group of Israeli soldiers who refuse to serve in the occupied Palestinian territories know this for a fact and have been duly punished for it. Hundreds of soldiers to date have been imprisoned for refusing to serve in Palestinian areas. These soldiers are Israeli and say they would do anything to protect their country. Any soldier in a democratic country would say the same. However, occupation runs contrary to democracy as does oppression and racism.

This is why Israelis, Americans and anyone else for that matter can no longer use the excuse of "not knowing" to justify their support for Israel’s occupation of Palestinians. Israel cannot be called a free democratic country as long as it continues to subjugate Palestinians to its military control. In the face of global calls for democratization, let this one truth be heard: there is nothing democratic about oppression.