A chilling account of how even Israeli Jews are treated if they dare buck the system. These are surely the signs of a society and state in decline.
Israel and its apologists repeatedly portray Israel as “the only democracy in the Middle East,” a uniquely democratic regime in a non-democratic region. Somehow this is supposed to make us feel more sympathetic and justify our support of it. But Israeli democracy is a myth.
In my 27 years there I belonged to the Israeli mainstream. I was Jewish, Israeli-born and secular. I was an ordinary citizen who completed her military service, the quintessential Israeli, not involved in politics or activism of any kind. I minded my own business, worried about money, work, study, my own little life. I wasn’t a “trouble-maker” by any stretch of the imagination. Anyone who met me back then, would have assumed that I agreed with the prevailing Israeli ideology. And frankly, they would have been right.
Although Israeli daily life could be frustrating, particularly dealing with the bureaucracy, we felt safe in the knowledge that annoying as they might be, our authorities would never turn against us. In fact, the thought wouldn’t even occur to us. Because I was a member of this comfortable center of Israeli society, I was also ignorant of what Israel was capable of, and of what it could mean to not belong
My first ever taste of this as yet unfamiliar “status” came around 17 years ago, when my ex-husband (also an Israeli) and I were planning to migrate to Australia, and were in the last stages of receiving our permanent residency. My ex, an engineer and a Captain in the army about to finish his contract, was told suddenly one afternoon, without explanation that he was to report to a certain location to have a little “chat” with someone from the Military Police.
Our plans to leave Israel were no secret. Leaving Israel is not a crime, and Australia was not on the list of countries that Israeli officers involved in secret military projects were prohibited from visiting or living in after the end of their service (yes, such a list exists). In any case, there was no reason for my ex-husband to suspect that this “chat” had anything to do with our plans.
He was taken to a small room and instructed to sit on a chair in the middle of the room. He was circled by a female Military Police sergeant who began by saying, “We found out that you are planning to migrate to Australia,” to which he replied “So? It’s not a secret.” She responded aggressively that he was to shut up, and that she was asking the questions. She then proceeded to ask “Why are you leaving?” and, “Does your wife know that you are planning to leave?” Apparently the military found out about our plans from the police, while we were in the process of obtaining clearance for Australian Immigration. They would have known that both of us were involved. The questions were clearly not intended to be engaged with at face value. Initially, my ex started to respond to the point, but when he realized the absurdity of the situation he became annoyed. He then told the sergeant that he did not see the point of the conversation and unless she was accusing him of something, he was leaving. When she responded aggressively again, he stood up, reminded her that he was a Captain and she a Sergeant, and left the room.
In the absence of any information about this incident, we concluded that this was an attempt to intimidate us out of leaving Israel. Of course it relied entirely on psychology because the military had neither reason nor a legal way of stopping us.
Up until the army found out that we were leaving, my husband as a career officer and myself as the “wife of,” were treated with great respect in Israeli society and in the military. We didn’t just belong, we had an honored place. The choice of a female sergeant was meant to humiliate him (I mean no offense to females but this is the culture in the Israeli military). Whoever dreamed up this intimidation attempt wanted to show my ex that his rank and status meant little if he was choosing the “wrong” path. We were angry but mostly shocked that he could be treated like this just because we wanted to leave Israel. It’s one thing to encounter the disapproval of friends and relatives in ordinary conversations. It’s quite another to be the subject of a menacing questioning by the MP. Our decision to leave apparently placed us in a new position in society, outside that comfortable mainstream. When we finally left at the end of ’91 we did so with a bitter taste in our mouths having seen a glimpse of an Israel we didn’t know.