An IDF soldier casts his ballot during the recent election.
An IDF soldier casts his ballot during the recent election.

I notice quite a few people have become depressed, at least I got it in writing from one of my friends here, she’s depressed because of the results of the elections—even though no one, I assume, expected a real revolution, or that the joint Arab List would get forty percent of the vote and Meretz twenty.

So I’ll give you some more reasons to be depressed, if I may. There are 200,000 votes of soldiers which are being counted now – the results will be known tomorrow or soon after tomorrow. Usually, as in the past years, the soldiers’ votes add one or two seats to the Right-wing, and usually it is at the expense of the other camp. So very often, because of the proportions, it might take another seat, for example, from the Joint List [of Arab parties], or even from Meretz. Another piece of news that I got from a friend is that Ayelet Shaked – the secular representative of the religious party, HaBayit HaYehudi, the Jewish Home, aspires to be Minister of Home Security (also translated as Home Front Defense in the United States). And she is the person that during the war on Gaza (July and August 2014) posted an article written by a colleague of hers, who has by now died of natural causes, and he was a minister as well from the same party, and very well-liked by secular Israelis – Uri Orbach – and he wrote a post that was immediately taken away because of its content. Orbach’s article actually calls for the extermination of Arabs, families and children, because they’re so “dangerous.” She posted it on Facebook during the war itself, and she now wants to be the Minister of Home Security.

And another piece of news that I saw in Ha’aretz today is that in the breakdown of the votes of Israeli military pilots and Israeli Air Force – because they live together with their families, so they have ballots there, which are counted – about thirty-five percent voted for the Zionist camp, for Labor, which Netanyahu calls the Left-wing. But of course they are not the Left-wing. This has been the ruling party or the ruling bloc for many years before, and are predominantly pro-Labor. Thirty-three percent voted for Labor, or the Zionist camp, Twenty-five percent of those pilots voted for Likud, nine percent for Jewish Home, and Meretz got six percent. Those pilots, even though we see they are leaning more towards the Right-center bloc and not the “Right-Right bloc,” are those who execute all the Israeli orders in wars. I mean, those are the people who bombed Gaza so intensively during the last wars, and have obeyed the orders of the Israeli military command and the Israeli government. These are the people who executed orders not to distinguish, or to distinguish very poorly, between civilians and combatants.

And yet their clear inclination is not with Netanyahu. These people are more likely to be Ashkenazi, or “the White tribe” as it is now often written, or often said – people who represent generations of privileged Jews. And they arouse many bad sentiments among the other parts of Israeli society, which are not Ashkenazi, which are not “the White tribe” or seem to be part of “the White tribe,” which have not had the same privileges in housing, education, and so forth, and do not come from the aristocratic families. But the outcome is almost the same. All vote for a system that has been there for at least the last fifty years – that preserves Israeli control over the Occupied Territories, preserves everything possible to prevent a solution to evolve, to be created, to the conflict; anything to prevent a Palestinian state.

I had a talk a week ago with one of those representatives of the Ashkenazi tribe, the military tribe. I was asked to meet with a person – I can’t say their name – a commander who is going to have an important role in the West Bank. And I do this partly for my curiosity – it’s not that I think I can change much – and partly for a way to say what I think. He did not want to consult or gain information, but he said he wanted to know something about the situation in order to not make mistakes or (to find out) what good he could do. This is an officer, a commander. I said the best thing that he, and people like him – I assumed that he was not a pro-Netanyahu or pro-Likud guy — can do is just take off their uniforms – politically, openly, and resign. But of course, this was out of the question. Then I mentioned some crazy roadblocks that completely blocked the way of certain villages, and just now, I saw a piece of news that one of those that I mentioned to him is going to be removed so that the village can be opened. These are what I call my Judenrat suggestions – sorry, but this is my cynical way of portraying, sometimes, my interventions.

He did not protest what I said. I mean, he knew who he was talking to. He did not protest, he was not angry, he did not start to argue. He listened. And the main thing that I told him was: Your role is to protect the project of colonization. And you will do everything possible to – I mean, you are ordered to protect this project. It’s not protecting the Jews, it’s not protecting the security of Israel, but to protect colonization – which is not just colonization, but is about the deprivation of Palestinians of their own rights to land and water and other resources, as well as freedom of movement. And in that sense this mission of his, to protect the project of colonization, was not invented by Netanyahu, and was not invented by Likud. On the contrary, the first ones to create it were Labor. So in that sense, the system of protecting the settlements and developing them, is a pilotless plane. It is like a drone – a big drone – that works. It doesn’t need Netanyahu or Herlz. It’s there. When you look at the documents, the forms, of the main bureaucracy of the Israeli colonization project, the Civil Administration, they are forms that have been produced over the years by an army of legal experts, Arabists, and commanders. And now, it’s all digitized and you can find it online, or you can find it in books, or in print from the sixties and seventies, but it’s all the same forms, and it’s all based on military laws that were all there from the beginning – from day one after the 1967 war, that the military legal bureaucracy knew how to produce.

It’s amazing some times to see how far-sighted they were in 1967, when they had certain laws that up until today are the basis of everything. Of everything! For example, there was a law, I think from 1968, which canceled all local planning institutions in the West Bank, and transferred the planning authority to the higher echelon where only Israeli Jews in the military, and later on also settlers, are represented. So from the start, from 1968, when everyone says, “Oh, they didn’t think of annexing the occupied territory; it was still territory for bargain,” they knew how to deprive the local communities, Palestinian communities, of any planning authority. From the start, they knew how to get control of the water resources – water resources that were run by municipalities. So they put their hands on the distribution of water from the start.

So the system, this plan, has been there since 1967. That’s why we have not heard Labor, the main opposition to Likud, particularly during the last election campaign, speak against the wars that the Likud governments have launched against the Palestinians. They were part of the severe, the brutal repression of the Second Intifada. Also the First Intifada. They do not object to the wall, to the Separation Wall. They have never objected to the disconnection of Gaza from the West Bank, which, for me, is one of the main proofs of how, from the start, during the Oslo period, Israel did not mean to go forward with the project of a two-state solution, because disconnecting Gaza from the West Bank violates the basic idea of a two-state solution, which is based on Gaza, the West Bank, and the 1967 borders. And they do not really object to the settlements. They might say one thing or the other against “outposts” – against the so-called “illegal outposts,” which are not more illegal than the settlements, only they’re not “officially authorized.” But they are in favor of keeping all the big settlements intact.

So there isn’t much of a difference in the main aspects between Likud and Labor – or when it touches the core problem of our existence there – there isn’t a big difference between the Right-Right wing and the Center-Right wing in Israel, which is mistakenly called Left-wing. And indeed, Netanyahu keeps calling it Left-wing – and the Left-wing has become a monster. It’s one of the most derogatory terms you can use in Israel.

Just a month ago I went to cover a little activity of a Palestinian group to the east of Jerusalem, in Abu Dis. The Israeli Civil Administration, or, this pilotless plane, is planning to enlarge a township for Bedouins. The township has existed there since the end of the 1990s, where groups of Bedouins were forcibly expelled from their place in order to allow the expansion of Ma’ale Adumim. Now they want to expel more Bedouins, and they want to enlarge this township – which is a township in the sense of being very miserable. And there were some bulldozers of the Civil Administration and the army coming to prepare the land for starting the construction, but Palestinian activists were disrupting and protesting there for several weeks already. And I wanted to ask one of the drivers of the bulldozers a question, if he was employed by the Civil Administration. And he said, “I’m not talking to a leftist.” So a leftist is a real (monster), and he was not of “the White tribe,” of course.

And having said all that – and really, I’ll stress it again and again, the system was created by Labor, and perfected by Labor over the years, and then taken over by the Right-wing. But still, when Labor had the chance, they did not change it. And still, it is scary. And still, the results of yesterday are scary. They’re scary because what’s worse is not better—what’s worse is worse, and can lead to something even worse. To have an Ayelet Shaked as Minister of Home Security is really, really frightening. Because the one thing that you could say about Labor is that they – maybe now more than before understand there are some limits. And with the Right-wing winning in such a way, Netanyahu is winning for the third consecutive time, and for the fourth time [overall], and after much talk in the past few months that he was going to lose, or to decline dramatically, this victory is sweeter to him, and he feels stronger.

They are already promising to continue their attack on the legal system. Now, I cannot say that the Israeli legal system, judicial system, or the Israeli High Court, have intervened in a courageous way against this project of colonization – not at all. They, lately, were obliged to issue some resolutions regarding unauthorized outposts built on private land. But they never challenged the right of Israel to have enormous, huge settlements on private land that was legally – “legally” – expropriated in the 1970s, or what is called “state land,” which is as much Palestinian land as private land is. The Likud Party is the party which unleashed all kinds of racist laws or bills during the last three or four years against Arabs in Israel, against the rights of Israeli citizens. That’s where the High Court did try to stop them at a certain moment. Now, if they really break the authority of the High Court, or the dominance of the High Court, they will be freer to make progress, if I may use this term, against the rights of Arabs.

They are, in spite of their social position, talking against the elite. Netanyahu excels at talking against the elite, as if he’s not coming from the elite. So, he excels at it. Nevertheless, he really created a real plutocracy in Israel, where twenty or thirty rich families control the economy, and where workers’ rights have been eroded consistently over the years.

So it is frightening. And if my depressed friend here was a bit dismayed at my introduction, then I do think there is reason to be depressed. I thought about it…some say the Israelis are brainwashed, and I have a natural resistance to this term. They’re not stupid, they’re not going to be brainwashed so easily. So it’s not about brainwashing. The main explanation that I can give for this is that so far, under this system, this project, this pilotless plane, the Israeli Jews assume or understand that they profit from it, and that a change will affect their privileges as Jews – even those Jews who are certainly not privileged in the Israeli Jewish society. In poor cities, in poor neighborhoods, they vote for Likud. So maybe they are afraid of a big change.

This system of having the colonization project in the West Bank, not only in Israel proper, is our substitute for the withered-away welfare system. Israel had a welfare system until the 1970s or the 1980s. It had a fairly good welfare system, where education and health were services given to people regardless of their income. In many ways we had a trend of Israelis who got Nobel Prizes, especially a woman, Ada Yonath, a chemist, and she said it openly – she’s left-leaning – she said, “I would have never reached where I reached if not for the education system in the ‘50s and ‘60s,” which does not exist today. So these Israelis are now offered a substitute to the welfare system in the West Bank, because the settlements, the colonies, offer to the average Israeli an opportunity to upgrade their conditions. You go to the main settlements, like Ariel, like Ma’ale Adumim, you don’t find ideological settlers there, but you find people there who could not afford a flat, or any housing in Tel Aviv or Jerusalem or the vicinity. And now they are nearer – they have a very good system of roads which connects them to the main cities, and they get all kind of tax exemptions, etcetera. Also, this produces the control over the West Bank, and the maintenance of this situation guarantees, especially, a whole strata of Israelis who benefit directly – their career is dependent on the occupation.

And I’m speaking here about the military and the security system which develops all the expertise, based on the fact that we permanently have to contain the unrest which the occupation produces. So because there is occupation, we produce the tools to contain it, and these tools give us an important role now in the world. It’s not by accident, it’s not be coincidence, that our main export now is security expertise. It’s about $10 billion USD a year now, or something like that, and it’s been growing over the years. So there is a segment of society, the military – it’s not the majority of course, but it’s very important and crucial in Israeli society — that are going to all have positions either in politics later when they retire, or in big private companies in the corporate world. They can be hired outside to serve in armies. So there is an inherent fear in Israelis to change this situation which seems like the natural order of things. I’m trying to figure out myself, the reason why so many people vote for a party which is not only against the Arabs – this goes without saying – but to a party and coalition which is by definition against the rights of workers, against the rights of minorities, and may be only liberal in regard to the gay community.

Now these results were not a surprise to Palestinians, most of the Palestinians believe that there is no difference between Likud and Labor. That’s where I argue with them – okay, there is no difference, but also, there are the slight things that might make life now even worse. It’s very interesting what the position of Mahmoud Abbas was for the past two years. He’s not stupid, and he’s been confronting Netanyahu and this pilotless plane of colonization over the past years. And he’s very firm – Abbas is very firm that Palestinians should not fall into the trap of another so-called armed struggle. Some see him as a traitor because he’s not glorifying the armed struggle, or even tries to curtail attempts at armed struggle, and also because of his criticism of Hamas for having engaged in the wars with Israel in the last six years. But he has a logic that I think represents what I said before as well, because he knows that worse can become worse. And especially now, in the shadow of what is happening in Syria and Iraq, he fears brutalization that is irreversible, and he assumes that one should contain now all the anger and the need for revenge, and wait until maybe international circumstances are different. Unfortunately, his message is not seriously heard by people or understood, because he’s a dictator. He’s even more of a dictator than Arafat was. And because he’s very alienated from his own people. So his very logical message and mission are not well accepted among Palestinians and especially among the young generations, not that they have better solutions now. The Palestinians suffer from a very “split-body” form of politics.

In that sense, the only good thing about the elections in Israel is that the Joint Arab List showed that the people can make a decision to overcome their natural animosity, which exists between Islamist and communist, between nationalist and socialist. They understand that they are in a danger of being wiped out from the Israeli political arena and they found a way to defy this wish of the Israeli Right-wing, led by Avigdor Liberman, the immigrant. Though we are all somehow immigrants. In that sense, they might inspire the Palestinians on the other side of the Green Line. But still people are hoping all the time for change, because the Israelis, as those elections show, are not intending to change the status quo, maybe to worsen it, but not to change the status quo. The world is yet to be seen. I don’t see the world running now because of Netanyahu’s victory and cutting all relations with Israel. Or using sticks that were not used before. I think the Israeli military strategy and economic role is important enough for the West for them to digest this election. I might be mistaken.

I believe in the power of oppressed groups, any oppressed groups, to start and make a change. The situation is not the fault of oppressed groups. But these are the groups who have an interest in changing the status quo, to change the reality. And this is what has been missing in the last years. There are attempts to change it, to make Palestinians less a passive onlooker or victim of this Israeli repression but to make changes in the strategy, to start making changes in their practices, in leadership, in political structures. It needs a lot of debate and debates are not easy now. There are not many venues for open debates. The Palestinian legislative council doesn’t meet for a great reason, for Fatah would not let it meet, Abbas would not let it convene, and of course, Israel has arrested many representatives in this parliament. There is animosity between Fatah and Hamas. It seems there is a cultural war between the two segments of society. But at the same time, they are also the ones who are being threatened permanently by the Israeli project of colonization.

There are groups and thoughts that are being formed. They are still raw. It is still not being channeled into one leadership that is known and is respected. I can give you an example. There has been, for the past ten years, groups of Palestinians who constantly confront the army in villages, in the West Bank, and have demonstrations and defy the Israeli army. In some times and some places, they are working together with internationals and Israeli Jews. And yet, they are not known to the general Palestinian public. The names are not known. They are people who have been put in jail over and over again. One stupid guy with arms, with a gun, his name is more known than those people. This is a problem. The Palestinian imagination is still very much occupied by the cult of armed struggle. Because armed struggle is always done by the few, and of course, always men, or ninety-nine percent by men. There is the example of course the First Intifada. The intifadas engaged the entire population. But the results were bad so people are afraid of another bad result. People do not have confidence in their leadership, another reason why they are not engaged in popular struggle. And they don’t believe this can now bring a change. And yet the Palestinians are very rooted, and maybe this is one of the things that encourages me. I believe, I hope, as a leftist, that something will be formed that will enable Palestinians to build up a strategy that will affect the attitude of the world. Because from the Israeli society we cannot expect a change. An armed struggle is a lost cause. If people have hallucinations about an armed struggle, as Hamas has, it is because the armed struggle is a way for Hamas to consolidate its position within the Palestinian internal political front. The only thing left is to have a totally different strategy towards Israel, towards the nations of the world, to security relations with Israel, to civilian relations with Israel. But this has to come from the Palestinians of course. There are thoughts about it. It is still embryonic.

And that is where I end. It is frightening what is happening now. Because while we wait (for an alternative), there shouldn’t be another round of brutalization. And with Netanyahu in power, with such a Right-wing coalition in power, the chances for another round of brutalization are higher.


Amira Hass, for a time the only Israeli journalist living and writing from with Occupied Territories, writes a regular column in Ha’aretz, and is the author of Drinking the Sea at Gaza: Days and Nights in a Land under Siege, and Reporting from Ramallah: An Israeli Journalist in an Occupied Land. Diary of Bergen-Belsen is Hass’ mother’s diary, a unique, deeply political account of the final year inside the notorious concentration camp. Hass has written a substantial introduction and afterword which addresses the meaning of the Holocaust for Israelis and Palestinians today. In 2009 she received the Lifetime Achievement Award from the International Women’s Media Foundation.


On 18 March, Hass spoke to a crowd of approximately one hundred gathered at the Graduate Center, the content of which forms the basis of the preceding article. She spoke about the Israeli elections and what they might tell us about the direction of Israeli policy, Israeli society, the relationship between the United States and Israel, as well as the next steps in the struggle for Palestinian liberation. The event was sponsored by the GC – International Socialist Organization, with co-sponsors including Brooklyn for Peace, Haymarket Books, the Social and Political Theory Student Association (SPTSA), and the Critical Palestine Studies Association. The talk was collectively transcribed by Tahir Butt, Laura Durkay, and Erik Wallenberg.