The IDF’s masquerade in Hebron
By Alon Idan, 01:57 10.03.11
A walk through Hebron sends you into deep despair. Near the Cave of the Patriarchs, at the end of the plaza surrounded by a low fence, you see destruction and ruin, and especially the inconceivable segregation of the populations.
Four children, maybe eight or nine years old, curse you in Arabic as if by conditioned reflex. You smile at them, try to remove the wall between you, and all of a sudden they change their stance. Now they come closer to the fence and ask you for money. A shekel, sir, a shekel.
Further on, your depression deepens. The main street looks like something out of the closing scene of an apocalyptic film. Stores are closed, the windows of houses are shuttered with screens and bars, and on the walls, nationalist Jewish graffiti fights for space with nationalist Muslim graffiti. A Star of David is erased and replaced by a swastika, which is supplanted in turn by a “Kahane lives” slogan. To make this anomaly possible, there is an armored Israel Defense Forces guard post every few meters, manned by a soldier with his gun cocked and his gaze moving along an axis from bored to on edge.
Hebron is a living example, or perhaps it is better to say a dying example, of how a place in despair looks, and of how despair can easily be translated into death. For the visitor, it mainly hurts the eyes: a series of scenes, each of which brings up associations that you have to fight against, not always successfully.
Now, it turns out that the IDF also feels suffocated by the aesthetic experience of the city. So it has decided to change the city’s “look.” Over the next six months, several military positions will be stripped of their military character, including the metal camouflage screens. They will be renovated to fit in with the aesthetic of the local buildings.
“The intent is to renovate the positions so that they will look more natural in the city,” a military official said. “For example, instead of metal, they will be faced with stone that integrates into the local scenery. People don’t have to feel like they are living inside an army base. This move will bring normalization and reduce the military imprint.”
The IDF’s decision is quintessentially Israeli. It conceals several classic assumptions and conclusions about time and space. The first assumption: Reality cannot be essentially changed. The second assumption: Reality is damaging to public relations. The third assumption: The damage has to do with the aesthetics of the place. Conclusion: The way people see reality has to be changed. In short, renovations must be done.
Now that the military-public relations calculus has been done, all the energy and resources can be channeled into plastic surgery, although the patient is suffering from cancer. When the operation is over, people will be able to walk around the city without getting their eyes burned too much. When Israeli schoolchildren come for a heritage tour of the city of the Patriarchs, they will see the small, strange positions along the main street, but the stone facing will give them a local look, and the kids will continue along their way without pausing too long over the injustice.
This is good way to teach the concept of “defense” in that holy trinity of words, “Israel Defense Forces.” Defense, according to the Israeli lexicon, is mainly a matter of concealing reality. The ruling power pushes the problem into a place where it cannot be seen. And to enable it to be pushed aside in this way, the ruling power paints itself in the local colors and disappears under cover of darkness.
The reality remains as it was: crazy and threatening to shatter. But a passing stranger will be able to go on looking at himself in the mirror after he gets home.