Intimidation and Interrogation in Tel Aviv

My computer, today, is still at Tel Aviv police headquarters where it stayed after my two-hour interrogation last week. I am not given, I believe, to conspiracy thinking but the thought crossed my mind, comically rather, whether I’d ever written anything unkind about my neighbor or his family.

This morning, when I brought my girl to school, the neighbour on our left just came out of his house. We greeted each other. I have known for years that he does something vague “in computers” and has lived abroad, doing something vague in diplomatic service.

Following the “raid” on our house by two non-uniformed policemen, Miki and Eytan, at 7:15,  last week, just as I was helping our daughter to get dressed for school, it occurred to me that our house, in a regular, boring suburb, is actually surrounded by “security” related individuals and organizations. On the left, there’s D., whom I just mentioned, and on the right it’s Y. who has a fairly senior job in the military industries and stopped being friendly once he understood our family were leftists. Very near is the ugly “duplex” – an ungainly two-family house which after standing empty for years was recently let to a nameless firm. Its windows are still as shuttered as they were during the empty times, and its front yard remains a garbage strewn desert as before – but casually dressed young men carrying various types of briefcases and rucksacks come in and out. It is common knowledge by now that this is what they locally call a “shoo-shoo house”: the army’s secret services use civilian property, everybody knows that. Nobody asked or informed us. At the bottom of the road is a huge, pastoral looking area – disenchantingly protected by electronic fencing and a number of forbidding guard dogs. This no-go park belongs, again, to Israel’s military industries: they develop explosives here – underground. At times our buildings shake with the impact. Much has been said and agitated about the way these underground adventures have affected our environment – there are fearful rumors about cancer incidence. Meanwhile work has not stopped.

I’ve often thought and spoken about these things, one way or another. For instance during the recent attack of the Israeli army on Gaza, when the Israeli public was told about the cruelty of Hamas who presumably placed themselves squarely among Gaza’s civilian population.
But this morning, in the context, now, of my own and my friends’ recent interrogations I thought specifically about the more subtle work of intimidation, delegitimization, social ostracizing.

An Israeli feminist antimilitarist group and registered non-profit organization, New Profile, the group of which I am a member, is these days subject to an unprecedented attack carried out by means of the state and the police. New Profile addresses itself to Israeli society. It is our aim to raise public consciousness to what militarism is and how it affects civic society. We also give moral and legal support and information to young people who contact us having decided not to enlist in the military. This is information about the army’s own accepted and legal routes toward exemption. Typically, such information is not part of the eye-catching display in my son’s former high school. On that poster the various army units vie to win the favors of the not-yet recruits with promises of their various “challenges”. Across the entrance hall, facing it in sinister unselfawareness, the national flag gives permanent honor to a list of former pupils who lost their lives in military service.

I am 52 years old, I work as a freelance translator and writer. I was born and raised in Amsterdam, the Netherlands. My partner teaches psychology at the university, and works as a psychotherapist. I have two children and live in a small town north of Tel Aviv.

It is simple: even if you are as convinced as I am of being innocent, of being on the right side of the law; even if you have nothing to hide – now the police has picked you up as if you belonged to a dangerous underground network, now you have been interrogated by a man whose questions were formulated and asked as if you were a felon, now your computer has been confiscated as if it carries texts that encode a national threat. Words you and your friends formulated thoughtfully are stated back to you in a flat, accusing voice: you realize they are a half or quarter sentence that fails, even grammatically, to articulate what they accuse you of. But their ineptness is not what worries you – it is the arrogance that allows them this deep, enraged misreading. No wonder that nearly a week afterwards your “surrounded” position in the street flashes out at you. If you were given to such sentiments you would feel alone in the street, horribly alone.

Intimidation, I am learning these days, is when you find that the law can turn against you: This does not come as a surprise to me: I live in a security-dominated country in which Palestinian citizens already live under a different interpretation and dispensation of the same law that still mostly protects someone like me. But now that I have been interrogated by a man called Amichai (literally: “My people live”) my knowledge has an added dimension: It takes a while into  my interrogator’s list of questions until I figure out that this exchange is not conducted under the usual rules of conversation, of civilian communication. Nothing in my life has prepared me for this: every word I say not only freezes immediately (later I’ll have to sign the protocol and it feels as though I sign my words away, cut their lifeline) – it can and may well be used against me. In view of the misreading I mentioned before, I stand warned: even grammar stops counting here.

Painfully, in Israel citizens are trained not to ask certain questions. This is what New Profile tries to open up to public consciousness. Questions about cancer incidence in your neighbourhood (“Our army is the most moral army in the world.”, “a people’s army”), questions about class, ethnicity and gender, and their interrelations with conflict and the abuse of power – the way these categories are blindly assumed to “order” the world, so that “the world” can then order you efficiently, without entering undue discussion or soul-searching.

On the day after our brief detentions (some eight fellow New Profile members were subjected to the same treatment, and even today, as I am writing this, another member of New Profile is being examined at police headquarters), a friend, a successful academic, and non-activist dropped in and told me that she was delighted with the “progress” her newly enlisted son was making in the army. Only two weeks into a military service he was not at all sure he could cope with. On the eve of the national holiday, the new conscripts, who were all hoping to go home for a short break, had been lined up by their commander. Though they would soon be dismissed, he said there was just one little problem: two volunteers were needed to stay behind in camp. My friend was pleased because her son was one of the volunteers. Her self-centered, messy, irresponsible adolescent had undergone a sea-change in two weeks. “The army,” she says, “is what will straighten him out. And you know what, he came home, because it turned out to be a test, this thing about volunteering!”

My heart and head ache for all of us. The machine works efficiently and fast, even on intelligent, privileged middle class boys. Capable, educated mothers are gratefully applauding it for teaching their children to become adults and law abiding citizens. The workings of authority and order make short shrift with doubt, reflection, and personal vulnerability.

Israel, as Hannah Arendt envisioned at the state’s inception, has condemned itself to being (in) a state of perennial, iron fear.

MIRJAM HADAR MEERSCHWAM is a writer and translator in Israel. He can be reached at: mirjam.hadar@gmail.com


More articles by:
Weekend Edition
March 16, 2018
Friday - Sunday
Michael Uhl
The Tip of the Iceberg: My Lai Fifty Years On
Bruce E. Levine
School Shootings: Who to Listen to Instead of Mainstream Shrinks
Mel Goodman
Caveat Emptor: MSNBC and CNN Use CIA Apologists for False Commentary
Paul Street
The Obama Presidency Gets Some Early High Historiography
Kathy Deacon
Me, My Parents and Red Scares Long Gone
Jeffrey St. Clair
Roaming Charges: Rexless Abandon
Andrew Levine
Good Enemies Are Hard To Find: Therefore Worry
Jim Kavanagh
What to Expect From a Trump / Kim Summit
Ron Jacobs
Trump and His Tariffs
Joshua Frank
Drenched in Crude: It’s an Oil Free For All, But That’s Not a New Thing
Gary Leupp
What If There Was No Collusion?
Matthew Stevenson
Why Vietnam Still Matters: Bernard Fall Dies on the Street Without Joy
Robert Fantina
Bad to Worse: Tillerson, Pompeo and Haspel
Brian Cloughley
Be Prepared, Iran, Because They Want to Destroy You
Richard Moser
What is Organizing?
Scott McLarty
Working Americans Need Independent Politics
Rohullah Naderi
American Gun Violence From an Afghan Perspective
Sharmini Peries - Michael Hudson
Why Trump’s Tariff Travesty Will Not Re-Industrialize the US
Ted Rall
Democrats Should Run on Impeachment
Robert Fisk
Will We Ever See Al Jazeera’s Investigation Into the Israel Lobby?
Kristine Mattis
Superunknown: Scientific Integrity Within the Academic and Media Industrial Complexes
John W. Whitehead
Say No to “Hardening” the Schools with Zero Tolerance Policies and Gun-Toting Cops
Edward Hunt
UN: US Attack On Syrian Civilians Violated International Law
Barbara Nimri Aziz
Iraq Outside History
Wilfred Burchett
Vietnam Will Win: The Long Hard Road
Victor Grossman
Germany: New Faces, Old Policies
Medea Benjamin - Nicolas J. S. Davies
The Iraq Death Toll 15 Years After the US Invasion
Binoy Kampmark
Amazon’s Initiative: Digital Assistants, Home Surveillance and Data
Chuck Collins
Business Leaders Agree: Inequality Hurts The Bottom Line
Jill Richardson
What We Talk About When We Talk About “Free Trade”
Eric Lerner – Jay Arena
A Spark to a Wider Fire: Movement Against Immigrant Detention in New Jersey
Negin Owliaei
Teachers Deserve a Raise: Here’s How to Fund It
Kollibri terre Sonnenblume
What to Do at the End of the World? Interview with Climate Crisis Activist, Kevin Hester
Kevin Proescholdt
Secretary of Interior Ryan Zinke Attacks America’s Wilderness
Franklin Lamb
Syrian War Crimes Tribunals Around the Corner
Beth Porter
Clean Energy is Calling. Will Your Phone Company Answer?
George Ochenski
Zinke on the Hot Seat Again and Again
Lance Olsen
Somebody’s Going to Extremes
Robert Koehler
Breaking the Ice
Pepe Escobar
The Myth of a Neo-Imperial China
Graham Peebles
Time for Political Change and Unity in Ethiopia
Terry Simons
10 American Myths “Refutiated”*
Thomas Knapp
Some Questions from the Edge of Immortality
Louis Proyect
The 2018 Socially Relevant Film Festival
David Yearsley
Keaton’s “The General” and the Pernicious Myths of the Heroic South