Maxim Ghilan

Behind the Scenes in Israel





A damning indictment of the state of Israel and of its so wrongly celebrated "democracy".



Not long before the Bolshevik revolution, the Russian Tsarina expressed a wish to visit a zone of 'popular development’ which was under the direct control of Count Potiemkin, of sad memory. In fact Potiemkin had not developed the zone at all. Peasants subsisted there, as from time immemorial, in run-down villages where the pigsties were indistinguishable from the villagers' homes.
To satisfy the curiosity of Her Imperial Majesty, Count Potiemkin gave orders. In febrile haste theatre sets were erected along the road the Tsarina was to travel. Since she never alighted to inspect the development, she went away convinced that all was well. A few years later some of the peasants living behind the camouflage sets were among her executioners.

In Israel, development of the Jewish part of the country (and to a lesser extent, of the Arab part) is genuine enough. Israeli democracy, on the other hand, strongly resembles Potiemkin's villages.

The State of Israel is presented, both at home and abroad, as the embodiment of social democracy, a mixture of all that is good in capitalism and in socialism, the original, the archetypal Welfare State. This suggestion is of course, a lie.

A welfare state is one where a kind of balance has been achieved between the classes. While in a 'pure’ capitalist society (which is rare indeed) the means of production and financing are exclusively in the hands of the owners - which affects the degree of advantages and services non-owning workers of all kinds enjoy - a welfare state is one where the workers and producers can put a stranglehold on the means of production and, through periodic use of their force, make the government and the owning classes grant them more rights, advantages, power and income.

The degree of centralization in any welfare state also influences the will of the workers to obtain extra power. A bureaucratic class develops which, not being part of the capitalist establishment, creates an establishment of its own and strives to conquer what the British Labour Left has called ‘the commanding height of the economy’. This, however, is as far as the struggle for the means of production goes. And, above all, it must be remembered that in a welfare state the bureaucracy of the trade unions has a particular kind of power and privilege which the capitalist classes have not got. This being so, there is a kind of ‘democratic stabilization’ through the tug-of-war of two power groups. As long as the capitalists and the bureaucrats do not identify their separate interests, there is a polarization of interests which ensure the continuation of democracy. When these two classes do merge - often because of an overriding common enemy, belief, patriotism or ideology - then a fascist-type ‘national syndicalist’ society appears.

In Israel this has happened. Society, as we have seen, is divided into various national, or racial-ideological, groups. Israeli society is basically a settlers' society. It does not primarily concern itself with the ‘Indians' or 'Niggers' of the land. Its first priority is the creation of a united economic establishment for the Jewish Israelis. Only then does it concern itself (almost as an afterthought) with the captive Palestinians. Since 1967, when the West Bank of the Jordan, the Golan Heights, the Gaza Strip and the Sinai Peninsula came under Israeli rule, the same priority has operated in the Occupied Territories; but here more logically: these territories were taken by open force of war, so it was not ‘unnatural' that they should be arbitrarily administered by military rule; whereas during the first twenty years of Israeli’s existence, precisely similar military methods had been used on the Palestinians of Israel without any justification whatsoever.

This military rule, then, is what is hidden by the Potiemkin institution of Israel. It is not unduly cruel. It is not irrational or sadistic. It does not advocate the systematic use of cruelty for ‘practical purposes’. On the contrary, it can be beneficial for the neo-feudal society of the Palestinian villagers in Israel and the occupied Territories, and particularly for the people in the Bedawi, or Bedouin, nomad camps, For the first time the people are given medical aid, veterinary services, education, agricultural instruction, gynaecological care and even lessons in the use of modern rifles.

The trouble is that all these benefits are incidental. The true purpose of the military rule is the containment of the Palestinian outside the power structure of Jewish Israel and, by the use of both force and psychological repression, the creation of conditions by which the Palestinians will be incapable of challenging Zionist majority rule. Another, but less important, goal of military rule is agricultural expropriation.

Though the pretext for military rule is to keep the Israeli Arabs (and, since 1967, the Arabs of the Occupied Territories) quiescent and let the Jews pursue their ‘return to their land’ in an orderly fashion, the historical result of this policy has been to impede the development of a bi-national society which, in spite of the creation of the 'Jewish State' in 1948, would certainly have evolved in Israel because of the higher Palestinian birth-rate (three times as high as that of the Hebrew-speaking majority) and the difficulties of attracting more Jewish immigrants from abroad, once the first waves of Hitler's victims were saved from the European mainland between 1945 and 1952.

The desire for a "purely Jewish' society is freely admitted by the Zionist leadership, which always adds as a rider that Arabs in Israel are given 'equal but separate' opportunities for development and live in good conditions; in peace and in freedom. Unfortunately, the rigours of military rule - to all practical purposes the law of the land, as far as Arabic-speaking Israelis, both Moslem and Christian, are concerned - have repeatedly shown this rider to be untrue.

Military rule covered directly extremely large areas of Israel: the whole of the southern (Negov) area where Bedawi tribes roam; almost all northern Israel, or Galilee; and the central area called the ‘Big and Small Triangles’, which mostly consists of Arab villages. Broadly speaking only Jerusalem, Beer Sheba and the densely populated coastal and central areas of Israel, which include Tel-Aviv, Haifa, and Natanyah, are outside the control of direct military rule.

A Palestinian Israeli living in an area of military rule may be subjected to curfew. For fourteen years, tens of thousands of citizens in the central area who had, according to Zionist propaganda, 'full civil and democratic rights' were forced to enter their homes by nine o'clock in the evening and not allowed to leave them before five o'clock next morning. At times the rules were changed; the curfew ended at four in the morning but it began at 8 p.m. One can imagine the psychological effect on someone who for the first fourteen years of his life is forced to stay indoors at night, as a persecuted criminal is forced in his cell from the exercise yard. The curfew was not abolished until the spirit of the central area villagers had apparently been totally broken, and they had become what in Israel is euphemistically termed ‘non-political’. In the Gaza strip, occupied in 1967, a night curfew was still being imposed as late as March 1972.

In Israel there has been a good deal of discussion about military rule, and a lot of opposition to it. At one point in 1964 the decision to end it was almost taken; but by one vote the renewal of the British Emergency Regulations was approved.

If he wanted to leave a military area, an Arab had to get a permit; in theory this applied to the Jews too, but nobody ever asks a Jew to produce one. However, a Jew entering such an area, might be asked to show his permit, and if he was known to be a non-Zionist opponent of the regime he might be turned back. Thus, these Bantustans are visible, or rather transparent. Now you see them (when you are stamping out opposition) and now you don't (and can declare democracy to reign supreme).

The law was enforced in the invisible Bantustans through three channels: (a) the 'village elders' or Muhtars and the religious leaders, both Moslem Kadis and Christian priests; (b) the structures of military rule, assisted by an intricate net of informers and stool-pigeons who enjoy hidden or open benefits (In Lod, for instance, a 'stool-pigeon quarter' was built, exclusively inhabited by Arabs who served the military government and other hush-hush organizations. These were the only Israeli Palestinians known to have granted permits to carry hand-guns); and (c) economic rewards and sanctions, such as remission of taxes, agricultural loans, minor public posts. It is through this last channel that most of the relatively modest economic development of the 'Arab sector' in Israel has happened. Arab village society being neo-feudal, even in Israel, it is enough to help the bigger landowners, the rich and religious men quaintly called 'Notables', to ensure the obedience of most, if not all, of their villagers.

In the twenty-odd years of Israel's history, the Palestinians have never been allowed to create an independent political movement. Whenever such a movement has appeared the huge weight of military rule has been directed against it. When the group centred on the El Ard publication was established in the sixties with a clearly Arab nationalist programme, it was simply proscribed by the courts.

Any Arab who became politically active, either in the ranks of the Communist Rekah Party or as an individual defending his civil rights, was blacklisted by the military government and the Security Service (Shin Beit), which secretly control development of the non-Jewish sector - partly through the Department of Arab Affairs of the Prime Minister's Bureau; partly through the so-called Special Branch of the police; and partly through parallel organisms planted in the various civil services such as the Ministry of Posts and Communications, the Ministry of Agriculture, the Ministry of the Interior, the Ministry of Culture and Education and the Histadrut. This overall checking is systematic, regulated, and consistent with the Zionist Establishment's policy of allowing the Arabs controlled development in separate, limited and sharply delineated areas.

When elections to the Knesset are approaching, additional pressure is put on the ‘doubtful’ elements among the ‘controlled’ Arabs. The authorities let it be known that their jobs are in danger, their property may be in jeopardy, their future as students is uncertain, if they get out of line.

Up to 1969, this policy had the hoped-for effect of breaking the Palestinians’ spirit: no independent. Arab list of candidates for the Knesset not aligned with one of the Zionist groups was ever formed between the 1948 and 1969 elections.

Controlling Israeli-Palestinians in non-rural areas is a bit more difficult. There are in Israel two biggish Arab towns: Nazareth and Acre. In both, 'parallel Jewish quarters' have been created to neutralize a possible majority of Palestinian voters who might elect municipal representatives of their own, either on a nationalist or personal basis, or through the Rekah party. Nonetheless Nazareth at least twice elected a Rekah majority. Gerrymandering and the buying-off of municipal council members and officials with political advantages solved this problem. The authorities now hoped to prevent such further crises by the redrafting of the Nazareth electoral area through the inclusion of the voters of the Kiryas Nazareth (or upper town of Nazareth) constructed on the slopes of the hills above the old town inhabited by Jews.

Incidentally, the building of new housing developments is usually the joint responsibility of the Ministry of Absorption (of Jewish Immigrants) and the Ministry of Public Works, which are assisted with money supplied from other sources. The building of ‘Upper Nazareth' was however, pushed through with funds from the Ministry of Defence, whose areas of responsibility are officially war and security.

In despair, aware that they have no political outlet, either democratic or revolutionary, some Israeli Arabs tried to find a way out of their predicament in the old way of the Middle East: by religious conversion. Judaism, however, is not a proselytizing religion like Christianity or Islam. Procedural and administrative difficulties are heaped in the path of would-be converts by religious Jewish authorities, charged with examining the candidates for circumcision or - if women – conversion by ritual cleansing.
Politics, racialism and irrational beliefs are now mixed and indistinguishable. This may be the reason why the Shin Beit vetted the Arabs who wanted to become first-class Israelis, or Jews. In answer to a Parliamentary Question, Israel's Minister for Religious Affairs declared: (a) It was true that the security services examined the records of the candidates for conversion, as the police did - the first in order to establish that the prospective Jew is not a ‘security risk’ and the second to see that he has no criminal record; (b) that this procedure had been adopted at the request of ‘security sources’; (c) that some candidates had been refused conversion to Judaism because of a negative security check and that there did exist instructions to the Rabbinate to act thus, in case of a negative security check; (d) that is was ‘only natural, as when we go about a conversion the first question is always if the candidate is a honest man; and if one can take seriously his honest wish to take upon himself the faith of Israel. If he is a criminal or has a criminal record, the question arises if one should not consider this or believe what he says.' As a result of the outcry which followed the Question, and as usually happens in such cases, the official open regulations were changed and the security checks were 'abolished’. In point fact, the Shin Beit's control of who was to be converted and who was not went on.


As Israel is, in the early seventies, a developing country with a shortage of workers, the existence of an Arabic-speaking, underdeveloped proletariat is desirable; all the more so as the wages of Palestinian Israelis are often lower (if unofficially so) than those of Hebrew-speaking Israelis. The influx of Arab workers from the countryside into the towns is therefore encouraged; but it is also controlled. In the past, permits to move outside their home-zones were granted only to 'good' Arabs, not to the uppity 'political trouble-makers'. Then on the eve of the 1967 war, and following much criticism of military rule by liberal Jewish circles in Israel, the reverse system was put into practice. Henceforth the ‘good' variety of Arab could circulate freely - subject of road-searches, security checks, political bosses and informers - and positive restrictions were imposed only on trouble-makers. Some were not allowed to leave the town or village where they lived; others had to obey a sunset-to-sunrise curfew; the most ‘dangerous’ were exiled from their native town or village, often at the cost of their livelihood. Obviously, an extensive list of the trouble-makers was kept by the Shin Beit and freely consulted by Jewish employers.

This meant that no Arab agricultural worker, no artisan, no shopkeeper, no student, no accountant or lawyer or physician could afford to fall foul of the whim of military rule. Only somebody bent on economic suicide or a truly desperate man would brave the gale of Zionist displeasure in such a climate. The great mass of Arabic-speaking citizens did not want to commit such economic suicide: they were also simply glad to obtain better-paid jobs than their former agricultural occupation. Once again the mixture of the economic carrot and the stick of straightforward repression - which had already broken the spirit of the Israeli Palestinians before this phase - was put to work. Most Arabs were prepared to put up with the situation as long as they were left in peace.

The 'fringe benefits' thrown by the Hebrew-speaking Israelis, from their generally more advanced technological level, to the Arabic-speaking Palestinians really did improve their standard of living. One measure of this improvement was the rise in their numbers. Before 1948 the Arabs were the majority throughout the total area of Palestine (that is, excluding Transjordan but including the Gaza Strip and the West Bank). When in 1948 the Arab countries' attack and the Zionist riposte drove some 600,000 refugees out of Israel only 108,000 Palestinians were left inside Israel. But in March 1968 an official publication of the Ministry of Foreign Affairs gave their total number as 313,000 - some 11.8 per cent of the population of Israel, excluding the West Bank and the Gaza Strip. This rise was partly due to their higher birth-rate, even in times of stress, and partly to the relatively high standards of living they enjoyed: four times higher than any Arab community elsewhere.

Israel as a whole developed much faster than the surrounding regimes. Mortality among Israeli Palestinians fell from 20 per thousand in 1948 to 6.1 per thousand in 1965: this, in spite of the fact that the Zionist policy of discrimination still left many Arab villages, particularly in the north, without physicians or pharmacists, whereas the smallest and most isolated Jewish outposts had a well-stocked clinic, a doctor or at least a trained nurse, and an ambulance or other means of medical transport. In some Arab villages not even vaccination against smallpox was enforced. In December 1970 the Minister of Labour promised that seventeen Arab villages would get access-roads - in some three years' time. Many of these villages had no telephone connection to emergency services, although again, not a single Jewish point of colonization was without contact with the rest of the country, having either a telephone service or a wireless transmitter. All of which leads one to think how much worse things must be in the surrounding Arab countries for such a situation to be praised as an improvement.

Schooling in Arabic is provided for the inhabitants of the invisible Bantustans, but efforts are made to prevent Arab children from identifying themselves too much with the Arab culture and history of the Middle East.

On the other hand they are taught the history of Zionism and of the Jewish people throughout the world.

In Israel, as in the Arab countries, children are indoctrinated from the kindergarten. Although the Israeli educational authorities never went so far as the Egyptian educators in the Gaza strip, who between 1948 and 1966 taught under-five-year-old children anti-Semitic slogans and inculcated blood-curdling sentiments of hate, the principles of indoctrination and educational falsification do exist. Teaching posts in the Arab schools cannot be filled without the approval of the Shin Beit.

Behind all this is the attitude: ‘We have no choice, having been saddled with these unwanted Arabs'. But since the Israeli, and the Jewish culture he has inherited, are basically generous and committed to liberalism and humanism, a strange mixture of pression and unwilling help is extended to the almost 12 per cent strong minority of non-Jews. Yet the prevailing feeling is, as a humourist once put it: 'Why don't the Palestinians go back to the place from which they didn't come?’

Fewer than one per cent of all Arabs in Israel pursue higher education. Even these - numbered by the Foreign Ministry in 1968 as 350 - are obliged to go to such 'Jewish' towns as Tel-Aviv and Rehovot, or 'mixed' towns such as Haifa and Jerusalem, to complete their studies. Only in these towns do colleges exist. By the spring of 1971 nothing had come out of a proposal to establish, in the occupied territories, an Arab university under Israeli auspices. In the Jewish ones, it is very easy to prevent non-Jewish students from taking part in political organizations, or forming an efficient students' union.

Arab workers are just as effectively controlled. For many years the main trade-union organization, the Histadrut, was officially ‘The General Organization of the Hebrew Workers of the Land of Israel'. But this was changed later, when the Histadrut it found it expedient to extend its influence. In fact, Histadrut has become one of the main instruments of control over Arabic-speaking minorities, as it already was over the Hebrew-speaking majority. Histadrut activities, such as organizing leisure, distributing work, educational programmes and so on, as well as directing industry, have become a further channel for the ubiquitous agents of the Shin Beit.

Histadrut also exerts influence in another way. In Israel there was no socialized medicine till 1970, Instead there were a number of ‘sickness funds', medical insurance organizations affiliated to the different political parties and economic Zionist bodies. That of the Histadrut, simply caled Kupat Holim, or 'Sickness Fund’ is the biggest by far, covering some sixty per cent of the inhabitants of the country. Every worker or employee, Jewish or Arab, who pays dues to the Histadrut, automatically pays part of them for Medical Sick Fund services. Many villages in the Arab sector, however, have no Kupat Holim clinic. In January 1971 a law introducing compulsory sickness insurance through the existing sickness funds was introduced. It gave an absolute majority to the Histadrut on the board of the Health Insurance services and thus created further pressure on Arab and Jewish workers to join the majority Kupat Holim. There was, of course, no independent Arab sickness fund.


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