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The Price Israel Is Paying

Secondly, maintaining the status quo requires mobilization of all the country’s resources in order to maintain military preparedness against the Arab countries. The combined result is the continuous growth of the defense budget and of the total government budget. This growth forces the government and the country to mortgage the potential of Israeli society for the present and for the future, in order to cover the expenses and debts that increase from year to year as a result of this budget. This increases Israel’s dependency on economic and financial help: on the United States, on the World Bank, and on private capital. Thus Israel is mortgaged to outside interests which, in due time, will demand their price and payment.

From this state of affairs some major conclusions must be drawn regarding Israeli society. Because of the present situation, the government of Israel is unable to devote its full energies and resources to the problems whose solutions are the precondition for making Israel a modern and progressive society. It cannot adequately deal with the problems of poverty or reduce the growing gap in the standard of living and income in Israel which affects the opportunities for leading a decent life. The government is unable to make a strong effort in education, which could prevent the increase of violence, crime, and the spread of marginal ways of life now extending rapidly among youth and even adults. It is unable to concentrate on the absorption of mass immigration or engage in short- and long-range social, economic, and scientific planning upon which a modern society depends, or to cope with the problems of a technological, urban, and mass civilization.

A One-Flag Country

The government’s preoccupation with security and its inability to deal adequately with these problems is already obvious today, and the results of such neglect are already making themselves felt. Israeli society is gradually becoming anarchic and wild, showing all the symptoms of the dangers that threaten the very existence of urban and technological society in other countries.

Dayan characteristically pointed to Israel’s main problems but, nonetheless, managed to disregard the full implications of his statement when he remarked that it is impossible to hold aloft at the same time the flag of security and the flag of social reform. Yet the relations between security (as government members understand it) and social reforms hold the key to Israel’s future.

The relationship is different from Dayan’s explanation. The continuation of a full mobilization of the country’s resources for “improving Israel’s security, situation” will undermine, even in the short run, the basis of her security—the stability of her society. There can be no security for Israel without social stability and a healthy community.

Most Israelis are probably unaware of the interdependence between security and social well-being. All they recognize is that full employment and economic prosperity have accompanied the mobilization of the economy for the security sector, though at the cost of a growing inflation. However, even this prosperity distorts the economic and social structure of Israel. It changes the direction of economic development and concentrates it around the security sector alone. It causes economic and technological growth increasingly to depend on the continuation of the existing political and military situation, and draws the whole economy into an inflationary spiral.

No less grave is the problem of vested interests which are for economic reasons created among sectors of the population to keep the existing status quo and hold on the territories. These groups are to be found throughout Israeli society: construction and building contractors, owners of heavy mechanical equipment, tourist guides, land speculators, land investors, big companies and enterprises such as Netivei-Neft, and, of course, the contractors for the defense sectors and innumerable others connected with the defense system. All these tend to encourage the government to keep the territorial status quo and prevent any step that might bring about withdrawal from the territories, even if such steps would bring real peace.

Zionist Values Jettisoned

The worst consequence of holding on to the territories is perhaps the distortion that has occurred in employment as well as in the morale of the Jewish working population and in its spiritual and ethical life. A new status has been created—that of the foremen, contractors, and “patrons” who invade the territories to enlist the Palestinian inhabitants to work in Israel under their supervision. Manual work is passing over, more and more, to a class that is not Israeli—to the Arabs from the territories who do the manual and unskilled work in Israel. In a paradoxical way, there is a growing interdependency—the Israelis depending on the inhabitants of the territories; the Palestinians depending on Israel.

As a result, those values on which the Israeli society was built disappear or are steadily eroded. What is happening runs counter to the conviction and philosophy of the Zionist and pioneering generations that a country and a nation cannot be built by those who are not citizens and who do not see themselves as belonging to the nation’s society. All this is rapidly disappearing in the name of the struggle for Israel’s security.

The integration of Palestinian Arabs from the occupied territories into the very rapidly expanding Israeli economy is of course the consequence of a shortage of labor in Israel. It also fits into the pragmatic outlook of Moshe Dayan, whose policy of open bridges to Jordan, minimum interference in the national affairs of the Palestinian community, economic integration, and considerable aid for technological development and general services in the occupied territories has been highly successful.

If this program were defined as a policy of transition that looks forward to an eventual settlement with the Palestinians of the occupied territories, granting them some form of national independence and recognizing their claim for national self-determination, such a policy would be wise and beneficial for all sides. In the absence of such aims, the present pattern may be defined as a highly original method of an enlightened and intelligent colonialism that seeks to bind the Palestinians by economic interest without granting them political equality and the rights of citizens. This method may work as long as there is full employment and a shortage of labor in Israel. If this should change, the Palestinians would be the first to lose their jobs and would then be thrown back on their own economy, whose structure has been in the meantime fundamentally changed. One needs little foresight to envision the consequences.

There is a strange and demoralizing aspect of this situation. A large number of the poor and underprivileged Israelis refuse to take certain jobs because they are in the hands of the Arabs from the territories. To conserve their pride they prefer to exist in difficult circumstances on the marginal support they receive from society.

In the Name of Security

Not only the social-economic structure suffers from the policy of retaining the status quo. The erosion and distortion also influence the Israeli democratic structure, social thought, and public and civic activities in Israel. There is no doubt that at this moment all the efforts of the government and civic leaders are centered on security. In its name all differences that existed in Israeli society are disappearing. The essential differences between parties are blurring and vanishing, and a general tendency for mutual assimilation and accommodation can be observed: security, national fanaticism, and national unity, at all costs, become the common denominator. A large camp of “ayes” is created on the question of national security and, because of it, in all other matters. The problem of religion and state, the employer-employee relationship, the relationship between public and private capital—all these are now decided solely in the light of this common denominator.

In a country in which a million inhabitants and large territories are under the sole jurisdiction of the military government and in which military and undercover activities and decisions occupy an ever larger field of public authority, the range and jurisdiction of democratic decision become by necessity restricted and severely unbalanced. Yet the Israeli public accepts this situation as the price it has to pay for maintaining the status quo. Such is the situation in the Knesset and in the political parties. Such is the situation among the youth and the public at large. In the name of security most surrender, willingly and gladly, their independence of thought on matters essential to the existence of society: the quality of life, the quality of social and economic development, the quality of education—the quality of the society itself.

This weakening of social thought among public and political groups also corrupts the workers’ parties and the socialist groups in the country. It is difficult today to find a group that gives any serious and original consideration to the present and future of society and the quality of life within that society. The whole country tends to become party to the government in support of the perpetuation of the status quo. No wonder that the only opposition left is expressed in the bitterness of those who consider themselves an underprivileged and discriminated class. I refer here to the poorest sector, composed mainly of oriental Jews, immigrants from Arab countries. This opposition has no political representation and finds little outlet other than that of violence and crime and political protest based on violence. This is a new phenomenon in the country, an alarm signal pointing to a grave change in the development of Israel.

More Sacrifices

The changes in attitude I have described are only part of the greater change that is affecting the mind and spirit of Israelis. This change, typical of a society whose people have been turned into rulers who base their rule on force and who at the same time live in a state of fear and moral uneasiness, works simultaneously in many directions. It is expressed, on the one hand, in a cynical and materialistic pragmatism quickly drained of all moral values and, on the other hand, in a nationalistic righteousness which justifies the control over the inhabitants of the territories, the partial confiscation of their land, and the status of rulers and ruled.

These tendencies create a moral and intellectual isolation which resents all outside criticism and spends its spiritual energies on a mystical patriotism and messianic nationalism. Such a nationalism finds its substance in religious symbols and joins the religious camp that professes an integral and aggressive nationalism. As a result, Israel is in grave danger of historical regression, combining patriotism and religious orthodoxy in an integral tribal consciousness. Through this fusion of nationalistic and religious elements all checks and balances of rational and moral criticism may be blocked and a mentality could be created which recedes farther and farther away from a rational and humanistic tradition.

This state of mind in itself forms a grave danger to the security of Israel, since it prevents her from facing external and internal realities, from examining her real problems, including her security. Democracy in Israel is strongly rooted in the intellectual outlook as well as in the behavior of the population. It is an open society that is for the most part modern in outlook, intellectually curious, with a strong drive for change and invention. Yet though there exist in Israel many countervailing intellectual, moral, and mental habits and attitudes, in the long run the dangerous tendency I have just described will become increasingly powerful.

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