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Is Israel going against civil war?

Israel maintains the conflict with Palestine – because the country needs the conflict to exist. The less visible divide between the Jews is becoming very deep.


Something strange is happening to the chiefs of Israel's internal security service Shin Bet after they retire. The security service is, by definition, a cornerstone of the Israeli occupation. It is admired by (Jewish) Israelis, feared by Palestinians, and respected by professional security experts worldwide. The occupation could not have existed without it.
And this is the paradox: When the chiefs of this security service step down, they suddenly become advocates of peace. Why?

It really is logical. The Shin Bet agents are the only people in the establishment who have direct and daily contact with the Palestinian reality. They interrogate Palestinian suspects, torture them and try to make them informants. They gather information, they need it in the remotest parts of Palestinian society. They know more about the Palestinians than anyone else in Israel (and maybe even in Palestine).
The smart ones among them also reflect a part around what they find out. They come to conclusions that are often unavailable to politicians: that we are facing a Palestinian nation, that this nation will not disappear; that the Palestinians want their own state and that the only solution to the conflict is a Palestinian state next to Israel.

For here comes another strange phenomenon: When the Shin Bet chiefs step down, they become one by one outspoken advocates for the so-called two-state solution. The same happens with the chiefs of Mossad, Israel's external intelligence service: Their most important task is to fight against Arabs in general, and the Palestinians in particular. But as they leave office, they become advocates for the two-state solution, completely across the prime minister and government policy.

Everyone who works in these two secret services are, well, secret. Everyone except the bosses. (That's my merit, by the way. When I was a member of the Knesset, I came up with a bill that the names of the chiefs of the service should be made public. that the names of the chiefs should be made public.) A while ago, Israeli television showed a documentary called The Doorkeepers, where all the former bosses from Shin Bet and Mossad who were still alive were asked how they think the conflict could be resolved. All advocated – with varying intensity – peace based on the two-state solution. Everyone agreed that there will be no peace unless the Palestinians get their own nation state.

At this time, Tamir Pardo was the head of Mossad, and could not openly express his own opinions. But from the beginning of 2016 he was again a private person. Now he has opened his mouth in public for the first time.

As the name suggests, Pardo is a Sephardic Jew, born 63 years ago in Jerusalem. His family came from Turkey, where many Jews sought refuge after the deportation from Spain 525 years ago. So he does not belong to the "Ashkenazi elite", who are so despised in the "Oriental" part of Jewish-Israeli society.

Pardo's main point was a warning: Israel is approaching a civil war situation. We're not there yet, he said, but we're definitely on our way there. This is according to Pardo the main threat to Israel now. In fact, he claimed that this was the only remaining danger.

This statement means that the recently departed Mossad commander sees no military threat to Israel – neither from Iran, ISIS nor anyone else. This is a direct challenge to the main argument in Netanyahu's policy: that Israel is surrounded by dangerous enemies and deadly threats. But Pardo sees a far greater danger: the divide within Israel's Jewish community. We don't have civil war yet. But "we're definitely on our way".

Civil war between whom? The most common answer is: between "right" and "left". As I have pointed out before, right and left in Israel does not mean the same as in the rest of the world. In England, France and the United States, the divide between right and left applies to social and economic affairs. In Israel, of course, we also have many socio-economic problems, but the divide between "left" and "right" in Israel applies almost exclusively to peace and occupation. If one wants an end to the occupation and peace with the Palestinians, one is "leftist". If you want annexation of the occupied areas and expansion of the settlements, you are "right-oriented".

But I suspect Pardo is talking about a much deeper divide, without mentioning it directly: the divide between European ("Ashkenazi") and "Oriental" ("Mizrahim") Jews. The Sephardic ("Spanish") environment to which Pardo belongs is considered as belonging to the Oriental.
What makes this split so potentially dangerous, explaining Pardo's stern warning, is that an overwhelming majority of Oriental Jews are "right-wing", nationalist, and at least mildly religious, while the majority of Ashkenazi Jews are "left-wing", more peace-oriented and secular. As Ashkenazi Jews are generally also socially and economically better off than the Oriental, this distinction goes very deep.

At the time Pardo was born (1953), those of us who were already aware of this beginning divide could comfort us that it was surely a transient phase. This kind of dispute is understandable after mass immigration, but the "crucible" does the job, cases of marriage contribute, and after a generation or two, the whole problem will disappear.

Well, that didn't happen. On the contrary, the split only goes deeper and deeper. We see clearer and clearer signs of hatred from both sides. The public vocabulary is full of disgust. Politicians, especially right-wingers, base their careers on sectarian calls for illegal acts, and are led by the biggest provocateur of them all, Netanyahu.

Pardo's main point was a warning: Israel is approaching a civil war situation.

Marriage does not help. What happens is that sons and daughters of mixed couples usually choose one side or the other – preferably the extremes.

An almost comical symptom is that the Right, who (with brief interruptions) has been in power since 1977, still behaves as a repressed minority and blames the "old elites" for all the problems they face. This is not completely ridiculous, because the "old elites" are still over-represented in the economy, in the media, in the courtrooms and in the arts.
Mutual resistance is growing. Pardo himself is a disturbing example: His warning did not stir a storm. It went almost unnoticed – a brief glimpse of the TV news, a small note far out in the newspapers, and that was it. Because there is no need to get excited, is it?

A symptom that may have frightened Pardo, is that the one unifying force for the Jews in the country – the army – is also a victim of the divide. The Israeli army was born long before Israel itself, in the underground movement in the time before independence, and was based on the socialist Askhenazi kibbutz. Traces of this past can still be seen in the upper layers. The generals are mainly Ashkenazi Jews.

This may be an explanation for the somewhat bizarre fact that the army, 43 years after the last real war (Jom Kippur War in 1973) and 49 years after the army became a largely colonial police force, is still more moderate than the political establishment.

But a new army is emerging from below – an army where many lower officers join the kippa, an army whose new recruits grew up in homes similar to the home where Elor Azariya grew up, and who was educated in the nationalist Israeli school system that created Elor Azariya.
The military trial against Azariya continues to rip Israel for two, many months after it began, and months before it will end with a sentencing. Many will remember that Azariya is the sergeant who shot and killed a seriously injured Arab attacker who was already lying helpless on the ground.

Day after day this case continues to upset the country. Army leadership is threatened by what is beginning to resemble an insurgency. The new Minister of Defense, settler Avigdor Lieberman, supports the soldier openly, while Benjamin Netanyahu as usual is a political coward and supports both sides.
This trial has long since ceased to deal with morality or disciplinary matters, and has become part of the deep divide in Israeli society. The image of the childish-looking killer, with his mother sitting right behind him in the courtroom as she pats him on the head, has become the symbol of the menacing civil war Pardo is talking about.

Many Israelis have started talking about "two Jewish communities" in Israel – some even talk about "two Jewish people" within the Israeli Jewish nation. What ties them together? The conflict, of course. The occupation. The persistent state of war.
Yitzhak Frankenthal, a father who has lost his child and who is a bauta in the Israeli peace movement, has found an enlightening formula: It is not the case that the Israeli-Arab conflict has been forced upon Israel. In fact, the opposite is true: Israel maintains the conflict – because the country needs the conflict to exist.
This may also explain the endless occupation. It also fits well with Pardo's theory of the approaching civil war. Only the feeling of unity – created by the conflict – can prevent it. The conflict – or the peace.

Avnery is a former member of the Knesset, and a regular commentator in Ny Tid.
Commentator in Ny Tid. Avnery is a former member of the Knesset in Israel. Israeli journalist and peace activist (born 1923).

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