In this blog, I write about a fund-raising video produced by Israeli human rights NGO B’Tselem in the context of their practice of giving video cameras to Palestinians the human rights abuses entailed by occupation. Even though the video avoids sensationalism, it falls into a sentimentality that is tension with its usual “raw” aesthetic.
For most Jewish Israelis, ‘peace’ means ‘security’. According to this mainstream ‘securitatist’ orientation (as Israeli sociologist Baruch Kimmerling put it in his 2001 book The Invention and Decline of Israeliness: State, Society, and the Military) ‘peace’ means that Israel will be secure when both the state and its citizens will not be subject to attack by their enemies. Any image or notion of peace connotes security, as peace entails the end of hostilities. The Israeli sense of ‘peace-as-security’ also refers to security guarantees and arrangements, in the form of territorial boundaries that provide strategic depth or advantage (such as the Jordan River), or the demilitarization of the proposed Palestinian state.
Yet, the very meaning and purpose of peace is undermined and obstructed by ‘peace-as-security’ as pursued in Israeli policy. Israeli political scientist Galia Golan argued this point in her paper, ‘Transformations of Conflict: Breakthroughs and Failures in Israeli Peace Efforts’, which she presented to the 29th Annual Association for Israel Studies Conference, June 24-26, 2013, at UCLA. In light of an underlying assumption that the other side, ‘the Arabs’ will never make peace with Israel because they do not accept Israel’s legitimacy, Israeli leaders have aimed not for peace but for ‘security’ in the sense of the optimal conditions for fighting the next war. ‘Peace-as-security’ is not peace at all, but an obstacle and alternative to peace. Successive Israeli governments distrust all but the most dramatic of Arab moves to peace, such as President Sadat’s visit to Israel in 1977. When there are peace negotiations, or, (as at present under US secretary of state John Kerry’s guidance) negotiations about negotiations, Israeli diplomats stick to the self-defeating ‘security first’ formula. As a result, Israelis get neither peace nor long-term security.
Prioritization of ‘security’ also turns into a doctrine whereby every political position of Israeli governments in the context of the conflict with Palestinians is framed in terms of ‘security’. The separation barrier is the most obvious current example of security as a doctrine. For Israel governments, the Israeli Supreme Court, and most of the Jewish Israeli public, the barrier is the ‘security fence’ which prevents terror attacks on Israeli citizens. For Palestinians, and Israeli peace activists such as Combatants for Peace (who offer educational tours of areas around the barrier), it is both a means to dispossess Palestinians of the land on which the wall is built and part of a whole network of walls, fences, gates, checkpoints and travel permits that separates them from each other, their land, and vital economic and civil services. In this and similar cases, Israeli ‘security’ concerns appear cynical, undermining the governments’ case that Israeli anxieties about security are genuine, rather than veiled efforts to perpetuate occupation.
Sometimes, however, it’s not a question of cynicism but outright silliness. Two weeks ago, on June 22nd, the 19th annual Palestinian children’s theatre festival was due to open in the El Hakawati theatre in East Jerusalem. But (as reported by Amira Hass in Ha’aretz), the director of the theatre, Mohammed Halayka, was summoned for questioning by what he said was the Shin Bet security service. Then the Israeli Public Security Minister Yitzhak Aharonovitch issued an order closing the theatre for eight days beginning on the scheduled first day of the festival, on the grounds that the event would be held ‘under the auspices of or sponsored by the Palestinian Authority’, which would contravene an Israeli law passed as part of the Oslo peace process. The law is designed to rebut Palestinian claims to East Jerusalem, which Israel annexed unilaterally following the 1967 war. It’s a matter of sovereignty, not security.
Aharonovitch’s move also exposes the silliness of the security doctrine. There have been several Israeli as well as Palestinian protests against the theatre closure, including a petition signed by many Israeli actors, playwrights and directors (as reported by Haggai Matar on the +972 blog). On Thursday, June 27th, a theatrical protest was held, a carnival of colour, masks, music, movement, and a wonderful spoken word poetry performance by Moriel Rothman. Perhaps the best response, however, has come in the form of a Facebook page ‘Puppets4All’, on which many Israeli and other performers have posted pictures of themselves and a puppet or two with a sign reading ‘I too am a security threat’. All of which leaves Minister Aharonovitch looking not only like a version of scrooge (children’s theatre? – bah humbug!) but also like a ‘total muppet’. If Israel’s security doctrine sees danger in these puppets, then that only proves that the danger is in the eye of the beholder. It’s well passed time for Israel’s leaders – and publics – to see that actual peace is the best – the only – security.