The Israel Method? Actually That’s a Euphemism.

What do all these French pundits calling for “Israeli Methods” against terrorism really want? Reading between the lines, Sylvain Cypel in Orient XXI sees nostalgia for the good old days of the savage violence of the colonial era.

The July 14 attack in Nice that took the lives of 86 people and injured another 434 naturally raises questions about preventing such appalling events. In its aftermath, there were numerous references to the “Israeli Model.” Not perhaps an all-out campaign, but a persistent refrain that was heard all over.

The day after the attack, RTL radio carried a long interview with Israel’s ambassador in France. And the libertarian publication Contrepoints made a specialty out of promoting “Israeli solutions.” First it carried a long interview with Corrine Sqauer of the Jerusalem Institute for Market Studies, about the ins and outs of the “Israeli Method.” Three days later, it got right to the point: “The Fight Against Terrorism: Using the Israeli Model?” with the subtitle “In the new age of terrorism, do we need new security techniques”?

On July 18, the weekly L’Express told us: “Why Israel is a Model For the Fight Against Terrorism.” Soon, Harold Hauzy, the communications director for Prime Minister Manuel Valls was enthusing on Twitter about a France 2 television feature on how Israel prepares its population to deal with terrorism. Then we had former French minister of Defense, Herve Morin, hoping to “Israel-ize our security.” At that point, on July 22, the Israeli embassy published a neat little brochure entitled, “The Israeli Example in the Face of the Terrorist Menace,” which openly displayed its satisfaction that French media was finally becoming aware of the problem the home country faced, as well as Israel’s expertise therein. More recently, the onetime anti-terrorist judge Marc Tevidic told the [leftist]magazine Marianne that “in the face of terrorism we must take on Israeli reflexes.”

First of all, we should recognize that the Israelis indeed have very long experience in this field. They are such champions of the fight against terrorism! Even before May 1948, Jewish settlers were confronting it, and the creation of the state of Israel that year would change nothing: one hundred years of fighting terrorism has still not won them victory. With periods of much higher and lower intensity, the Israeli “model” has coexisted with what it systematically designates “terrorism”—originally calling it Arab terrorism and then Palestinian terrorism–basically without a pause since the 1920s. To the point that no Israeli “expert” today even bothers proposing a method to “defeat” terror. It’s merely a question of how best to control it.

The first lesson of the Israeli “model” is that “terrorism”-a category which allows no further political distinctions-is something like having malaria. It is an illness that comes back again and again; it can be more or less treated but never cured, and you have to live with it ad vitam aeternam, at least for now. The lessons we draw from all the literature of the “Israeli anti-terrorist model” are invariably the same:

A) Terrorism is a uniform phenomenon, identical in all places and all circumstances. The Islamic State organization [ISIS], Palestinian Hamas, the Fatah of yesteryear, Al-Qaeda, the Shi’ite Hezbollah, etc.: all tossed into the same category of “terrorist,” and as Prime Minister Manuel Valls would say, best not to bother considering the differences since “to explain is to excuse.”

B) Terrorism is not the product of a specific and temporary set of circumstances, but is a permanent feature, which we must learn to live with as best as we can.

C) The “fight against terrorism” is a technical problem, and only that. If we adopt the right method and we have the appropriate resources, it can be suppressed, if not permanently, at least in large part.
Of course none of the propagandists of the Israeli “Method” ever doubt the legitimacy of what the Israeli state does. Generally, they never even ask the question. When forced to respond, they inevitably justify its methods: you can’t fight a war without breaking some eggs.

Frequently then, for commentators, the so-called Israeli “model” seems to come down to the “implication” of civil society alongside the forces of order in the struggle, and society’s readiness to accept restrictions on its liberties in order to fight terrorism. The L’Express article cited previously is typical: “The Israeli counter-terrorism policy relies simultaneously on a defensive strategy (security zones, barriers, military checkpoints) and an offensive strategy (infiltration, preventive arrest, targeted assassinations).” Further, “the awareness and the resilience of the general public are a powerful asset,” explains an Israeli “expert” to the weekly, boasting of the “culture of responsibility” of the country’s population.

There is a striking absence of in the middle of all this description: the Palestinians. The state of total submission and dependence that is imposed on a whole people is the key element of Israel’s anti-terrorism policy, but is simultaneously the very reason that terrorism continually recurs. To fight against ‘terrorism’ –in other words against any propensity, terroristic or not, for this people to rebel against its oppression—Israel unceasingly violates international law.

Thus the method, systematically applied by the Israeli army, of destroying the homes of the families of terrorists: a method of collective punishment strictly prohibited by the Geneva Convention, but one which started being carried out right at the beginning of the occupation of the Palestinian territories, in June of 1967. Never mind that these punishments are pure vengeance: they have never prevented a single young Palestinian, especially one whose own family has been victimized, from becoming involved in terrorism. Likewise assassinations, targeted or not, which are a potent fertilizer to grow more young men to launch themselves into “armed actions,” which will in large part be fruitless given the vast disparities of power.

And likewise torture, which was put into practice from the start of the 1967 occupation and has since been used massively, particularly in the secret military intelligence prison, Camp 1391, where even Israeli parliamentary deputies were forbidden to enter. Torture continues to be practiced on a smaller scale, according to the public Committee on Torture in Israel, and has never completely ceased.

And finally the famous “administrative detentions.” They are authorized by the “Defense (Emergency) Regulations,” inherited directly from the British army, which governed with them right up until its forces were withdrawn in 1948.The new Israeli state immediately added the British Emergency Regulations to its security arsenal. Against all norms of international law, they permit-among other things-the detention of any person, not only without trial, but above all without any specific charges or time limits. All that is needed is that a judge periodically reauthorize the detention, something which Israeli judges always do.

In short, a Guantanamo that will not say its name. Starting in 1948, these rules were first applied against Israeli Arab citizens suspected of supporting the Palestinian cause, and then massively expanded after 1967 for use against the Palestinians of the occupied territories […] Over the nearly 50 years of occupation, the Israeli human rights organization B’tselem estimates that some 800,000 Palestinians have been arrested at one time or another, tens of thousands of them held in administrative detention for anywhere from six months to five years or more. Some activists have been through it several times.

The fight against terrorism encompasses a series of measures that disrupt Palestinian society, most spectacularly the ‘separation wall’ (ruled illegal at The Hague), and the innumerable measures that disturb the daily life and activities of the Palestinians. In extreme moments, the entire population is treated as terrorists. During the second intifada, as part of the ‘anti-terrorist’ Operation Ramparts in April of 2002, in one swoop the Israeli army detained tens of thousands of Palestinian men between the age of 14 and 45 for ‘verifications.’

Thus the Israeli antiterrorist “model” is more than merely some airport security measures expanded to cover public places, nor just the public’s voluntary acceptance of some restrictions on freedom (Jewish Israeli that is, since the Palestinian Israelis are themselves the objects of an altogether more strict degree of security measures). This model fits into what the Israeli-American anthropologist Jeff Halper calls the “matrix of the occupation”: a carefully thought-out system, sophisticated and continuously improved, which is intended to keep an entire population in a situation of dependence and powerlessness. Political powerlessness to destroy its national ambitions, as well as the powerlessness to lead a normal everyday life.

A model that in fact considerably encourages the desperation and terrorism that it is supposed to contain. This has been quite obvious in the recent so called ‘Intifada of the Knives,’ in which young Palestinians, driven crazy by their humiliation, throw themselves at the soldiers and settlers nearby, armed with knives, scissors or screwdrivers.

So when these French pundits go on about the Israeli model, they need to be explicit. Do they want detention camps to intern “suspects” at will, without charge? And who exactly would be the population in France targeted by this Israeli ‘Method?’ Do they want to put the so-called “troubled” neighborhoods under the “norms” that the Israelis impose on Palestinians who have been occupied for fifty years? Military patrols, curfews, prohibitions on using roads reserved for non-Palestinians, refusal to issue construction permits and the like? Are we talking about systematically destroying the houses of terrorists, putting their families out on the street? Do we want to bring back torture as a legitimate method in this new “war on terrorism” that our government is engaged in?

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Palestinian prisoner. Photo CC: Montecruz Foto.

The truth is that during its ‘war’ Israel has used methods that were long been practiced by other countries, in particular colonial powers. Detentions without explanation, charges or trial for indeterminate periods were everyday measures of Britain’s ‘antiterrorist policy’ throughout its empire, like other emergency measures of this ilk. In Palestine before 1948 the victims were primarily Palestinians. But these practices were used against the Zionist Yishov as well. A future Israeli prime minister, Yitzhak Shamir, then labeled a terrorist by the British occupation forces for his activities with an armed group [the Lehi, or Stern Gang]was himself deported to Eritrea under the “Emergency Regulations.” The same rules later used by Israel to deport thousands of Palestinians.

As for torture and other illegal modes of action, they too were practiced by plenty of others before Israel put them into practice. On that level, our own country has no need to go out and copy the “Israeli method.”

The French past, particularly in Algeria, a place likewise teeming with appalling “terrorists” seeking their independence, is more than sufficient. In fact the French past itself served as an example for the Israeli occupation forces. The Gillo Pontecorvo film The Battle of Algiers, which evoked the confrontation (torture included) between the French paratroopers and the so-called fellagas, as the soldiers referred to the Algerian independence fighters, was shown in Israeli officer schools to illustrate the antiterrorist fight in urban settings…

In short, if we are going to re-legitimze colonial methods of repression, we might as well just come out and say it. No need to refer to Israel: the French past serves perfectly well.

Sylvain Cypel Translated from French by International Boulevard