Israeli journalist Amira Hass speaks before a crowd of international activists and Palestinians
The speech was thoughtful and Hass seemed to choose each word carefully. She avoided giving advice and warned more than once that she had become “an observer to Israeli society” more than a full time member– for the last decade and a half, her addresses alternated mainly between the Gaza Strip and Ramallah in the West Bank.
“The Israeli society lives insides two normalcies that contradict, but also complement each other,” explained Hass, the latest guest of the AIC Café. First, the civil normalcy: “If you live [in Tel Aviv or West Jerusalem] or if you come to visit [them] you can really feel that Israel is a normal country like in Europe.”
“As for the military, the Israelis consider a militarized society [to be normal], with soldiers all around you. Very few people questions this, because the possibility of war has a normal presence in life,” she continued. The journalist mentioned the social pressure that drives most young people to serve in the IDF, even those who don’t fully agree with the 1967 occupation, and the consequences this has on the rest of their lives.
“Serving in the Army not only is a fundamental tool for everyone who wants to find a job, but the military career has also become a lucrative one, especially in these times of crisis, and it can also be a bridge to higher politics or even the big companies.”
The Israeli army is one of the main forces in the Israel society and its politics, maybe even the main force: “They are a very visible group and they are considered as objective when analyzing the security situation in the country. This gives them incredible power because while they warn about the dangers of peace, they become more and more necessary.”
According to Hass, these two “abnormal normalcies” explain the cognitive dissonance many Israeli Jews experience: “Inside Israel they feel normal, but as soon as they go abroad they are considered criminals.”
The best example of this is the occupation: “It has become such a normal situation to most of the Israelis that they don’t see it anymore”. The same way that they don’t see how they are profiting from it.
Hass not only mentioned the appropriation of West Bank’s natural resources, such as water, but also the feeling of consensus that occupation and conflict bring to an otherwise divided society, where gaps and differences continue to grow due to neoliberal policies.
“The settlements, for example, have become a substitute for the welfare state that is disappearing in Israel,” the journalist explained. Subsidies, focus on education, and state-financed housing construction that used to exist in the 50s and the 60s inside the Israeli cities, moved to the West Bank settlements, especially after the 1990s with the Oslo peace process.
This might have illuminated the gaps amongst Israeli Jews, the author argued, but the Second Intifada had a unifying effect on the society: “The threat brought by the Second Intifada actually created a change in favor of the abnormal normalcy. It united the Israelis, despite their inner contradictions.”
After the lecture, Hass took some questions from the public. She was asked about the bills discussed nowadays in the Knesset that could restrain the freedom of the Israeli press and the general state of the country’s media.
“In most papers what exists today is internal censorship. The editor thinks he or she knows what the public wants or is interested in. They become a buffer between the information and the readers. But today there is also an atmosphere that says that the media should be careful. As always it is difficult to publish facts, but I think we will still be able to write opinions,” she explained.
Hass didn’t dismiss the debate on freedom of expression, but tried to put it into the bigger context of the occupation. “At the end, it is not our writings that will change the opinion of the Israeli society, we need much more than that, especially if we recognized how much the country profits from the occupation,” she concluded.