No Talking, Dammit!

“Police arrested magic
And magic went with them
For magic loves the hungry”

–Leonard Cohen

The Israeli Police have set themselves up to become the laughingstock of the world. Look what they’ve done:

It was a pinpoint maneuver, timed for maximum impact just before the nation’s Memorial Day, designed to intimidate unarmed civilian idealists whose alleged crime is to steadfastly challenge the wisdom of the ruling military mindset in this country (by seeking to “civil-ize” it). New Profile is a movement founded mainly by women. It has been run for a decade in a fluid, egalitarian, non-hierarchical manner as a partnership of all its activists. No chain of command! Wow! Insufferable!

The morning of April 26, 2009, police arrived at the homes of five of the activists to confiscate their computers, arrest the audacious perpetrators of free speech, and generally throw their Official Police Weight around. Reportedly they had search warrants (does that make it better, or worse?).

Two of these five alleged free-speech perps are older professional women. The suspects were charged (with Promoting Mass Sanity?), duly interrogated and finally, after several hours, released on bail… (here comes the part the police may blush to admit later) – on condition that they not talk to other women in the movement for an entire month! No phone calls, emails, or meetings! No talking, dammit!

Ladies and gentlemen, think about it: No talking? Is this realistic? Is it even achievable? Women talk together; it’s what we do. – A whole month??

Consider who these New Profile women are and what they actually do.

New Profile women work very closely together and have done for years. They devote long hours to their shared mission, as volunteers. So what’s it all about, this work? Many Israeli youngsters are deeply troubled about being forcibly conscripted into an army of occupation that rules brutally over 3.5 million disenfranchised neighbors. But an Israeli teen with doubts about the army cannot always talk to Mom and Dad. Too often, Mom and Dad have bought into the prevailing mindset that views the neighbors as a permanent existential threat and hence military service as an unfortunate necessity. The comprehensive brainwashing that begins in preschool is viewed as normal. Young Israelis who reject it may simply choose to emigrate, and legions have done so; but not everyone has somewhere to go.

Meantime, the reality of serving in an army of conquest, routinely stomping on the human rights of others – that reality drives many conscripts to go AWOL or even contemplate suicide. This sort of thing is probably more prevalent than we realize, since the army, for obvious reasons, prefers to keep the lid on.

New Profile evolved to counter that reality with dialogue groups, presentations, exhibitions, one-on-one counseling, printed literature, a web site, etc. All of that is designed to provide an internationally accepted human rights context for the dilemmas faced by IDF conscripts– a countervailing voice to the dominant military madness. As a force for suicide prevention alone, the New Profile activists are quite possibly saving dozens of young lives a month. They should get a medal!

Consider this: Is a society on a permanent war footing really the sort of home that Jews fleeing pogroms in Europe were seeking in Palestine? Is the success of Israeli militarism so without flaws that no public debate on its merits is indicated? Is the long-term viability of Israel’s current relationship with the neighbors really so reassuring that no one is allowed to say “Hey – the emperor looks naked”?

Alas, there is nothing historically novel about the highest echelons of a country’s government, abetted by a vicious smear campaign in many of its major media, choosing to frame critical free speech as treason. But the idea that adult women, united in a conscientious struggle to bring some balance to their country’s worldview, are going to refrain from talking to each other for an entire month? That’s a new one!

On the other hand, perhaps the police know it’s impossible and unenforceable. Maybe that precise stipulation was made so as to have a handy excuse to revoke these women’s bail and incarcerate them, whenever the police see fit (“You women were TALKING TOGETHER again! Subversive!”). Maybe, on second thought, it’s not such a laughing matter.

But there’s one more thing to consider here. When a bunch of official enforcers try to bully a sisterhood of courageous women into submission, the women tend to become more determined, not less.

Power is only sustainable long-term when you parcel it out, as the women of New Profile know very well. They walk their talk very consistently. However long it takes to see real change around here, I know who I’m betting on.

DEB REICH, a mother of two, is a writer and translator in Israel & Palestine. She can be contacted at debmail AT alum.barnard.edu


More articles by:

Deb Reich is a writer and translator living in Israel/Palestine, based in Jerusalem and Abu Ghosh, and the author of No More Enemies (2011). 

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