That Israeli militarism is rarely discussed beyond the parameters of the “Arab-Israeli conflict” may seem perfectly natural. When the Israeli army is not engaged in an all-out assault on the Palestinian territories, it’s busy conducting lethal raids into the West Bank or sending surveillance drones to fly over eternally terrorized Gaza. So it’s easy to view the relentless infliction of suffering on Palestinians — or, on occasion, Israel’s neighbor — as its sole function.
But stubbornly limiting the geographic parameters of Israeli militarism is misleading —not only because the Israeli defense sector is extensively enmeshed in an array of global conflicts, but because the “Arab-Israeli conflict” itself is informed by an industry that has successfully escaped indictment for its role in fomenting insecurity.
Consider the current crossroads in the West Bank: Heightened clashes in the West Bank, increasing public support for armed resistance and renewed mobilization of military factions have led even cautious observers to anticipate what would be a “Third Intifada.” Israel’s gestures towards “preventing” an uprising are dubious in light of its withholding tax and tariff funds owed to the Palestinian Authority — responsible for salaries to over 150,000 public workers in the West Bank.
Since the end of 2012, public sector employees have had to survive on half-a-month’s paycheck from November, and for the lucky few, meager auxiliary sources of income. Since the Second Intifada, Israel has strategically, and selectively, employed a so-called “economic peace” with Palestinians in the West Bank; this action is a reversal of that.
The analogy of a pressure valve is fitting. Tightening the screws on Palestinians every so often, Israel deliberately catalyzes a surge in the expression of unbearable desperation within a population already just barely getting by. In this case, the accepted explanation has been that Israel punitively withheld money after an insolent PA applied for statehood at the United Nations General Assembly. But even this is too short-sighted to capture Israel’s motives.
In Israel’s Occupation, author Neve Gordon encourages observers to move beyond the tit-for-tat framework that inevitably renders a view of a static relationship between Israel and Occupied Palestine and ignores the dynamics the Occupation itself produces in its need to reorganize and maintain itself. Gordon asks readers to consider how the Occupation is continually reshaped by its own structural contradictions that are informed by a desire to, on the one hand, maintain the stability of its power, and on the other, fragment and discomfit the inhabitants of the occupied territories.
He writes, “In the first two decades [of the occupation] Israel attempted to manage the population by sustaining some form of security, while currently it controls the occupied inhabitants by producing endemic insecurity.” While his book was published in 2008, the unbridled and violent production of “insecurity” in the Palestinian Territories continues.
The International Jewish Anti-Zionist Network’s bracing new publication, “Israel’s Worldwide Role in Repression,” offers another context in which to make sense of Israeli belligerence. The pamphlet presents Palestine as a necessary laboratory — if not blatant advertising opportunity — for arms, homeland security gadgets, and models of repressive tactics that Israel peddles around the world.
By linking Israeli practices in the Palestinian Territories to Israeli business, the report offers an overdue opportunity to contextualize and understand the subject as it compiles the long history of Israel’s security and military industries’ involvement in world repression. It’s a useful review of post-colonial bloodshed and the hand of Israel throughout much of it.
As the authors point out, the information found within the report is not new, but simply absent from the hegemonic understanding of (and conversation about) Israel and Palestine, which is far too often cast as a morality play within which Israel fails to live up to its “liberal” or “democratic” values. The publication surveys how Israel’s security technology and weapons have been used around the world for the past fifty years to repress popular liberation movements and support apartheid regimes.
It serves as a compelling reminder of the ways in which human beings are exploited for profit — not only as the source of cheap labor but also as the object of repression.
Behind Sri Lanka’s ruthless counterinsurgency campaign was Israel, and behind Angola’s nearly three-decades-long civil war was Israel arming each warring faction. Israel armed Pinochet in Chile, helped El Salvador and Guatemala develop their “scorched earth” policies, and trained the Rwandan military and Hutu militias before and during the 1994 genocide. And right now, Israel is helping Brazil surveil, imprison and police its favelas while the Israeli Military Industries (IMI) constructs a $40 million prison in Argentina.
But why is this international activity a largely overlooked component of the dynamics that determine Israel’s relationship to Palestine? Why is this subject unmapped and ignored in the many blogs, essays and books earnestly devoted to documenting and exposing Israel’s aggressive policies towards non-Jewish residents who live in historic Palestine or in the diaspora?
The liberal discussion on Israel is narrowly limited to a critique of its belligerence in the Middle East and, at times, its “special relationship” with the United States. It blocks from view the significant global alliances Israel has forged with governments and regimes that are impelled to maintain unpopular rule. As a result, the issue of Israeli militarism is confined to isolated interests and events — AIPAC and its influence on US politics, assaults on and repression of Palestinians in the Occupied Territories, regional conflicts, and so on.
Compiling a list of the countless nefarious alliances Israel has made over the past sixty-five years is not merely useful to affirm the righteousness of opposing the Zionist project, but to understand that the perpetuation of injustice — in whatever form — is the life force of power the world over.