Regards from the Gulag

What? Haven’t you heard? Israel has turned into a police state. Censorship all over the place and people are afraid of talking about “the affair” lest they get thrown in jail. “The authorities” were considering renting out a Gulag in Siberia for offenders, but it’s almost summer here and spending July in a cooler place may be considered a reward by some.

Oh wait, it’s not everyone. The regular people don’t really know about it. It’s a conspiracy after all. So it’s only journalists, torn by their inner need to tell the truth and their fear of the Shin Bet’s infamous dungeons.

Give me a break.

Look, the court order to prevent publishing anything about this affair is probably not very smart. You can’t prevent anything from leaking out this time and age. We have the Internet and all that, ya know. More importantly, this is Israel. Everyone talks and everyone knows everyone else. Can anyone really think it’s possible to hide anything here for more than a few days at most?

And note I didn’t use the term “gag order”. I don’t know what the official term for it is in English, but here it’s simply about not publishing content. Nobody is being physically gagged, ball stuffed into their mouth as their bulging eyes try to convey the horrible truth.

As for our poor frightened journalists. Journalists who write about defense issues are usually very well connected. I don’t know about Mr Blau himself, but I can assure you the ones writing about the topic and grunting about the “gag order” are not afraid of the IDF or Shin Bet. After all, they are probably well acquainted with top officials in both organizations.

This isn’t to say they will not be interrogated if they defy the order, but it will probably be a routine police investigation. No Gulags or even jail cells. I suspect the only thing they may potentially stand to lose is personal connections (and I’m doubtful about that even).

As for the “journalist-in-exile” Mr Blau. It’s not like the poor guy has been turned into a fugitive for reporting something. As far as I can see, he’s chosen to avoid showing up for a perfectly legitimate investigation concerning the alleged leakage of classified documents from the IDF GHQ.

As it happens, I was once personally involved in a similar investigation concerning the “Shtauber document”. Yes, I had to go through a lie detector test and it wasn’t exactly fun per se. It wasn’t torture either and as far as I recall – the investigators were polite and professional. Unless Mr Blau actually did knowingly break the law by being involved in stealing classified documents, I really don’t know what he’s running away from.

And I won’t even mention the female journalist involved by name. Not because of any court order, but because the lady in question has been sending out messages to bloggers and journalists in Israel to stay off her case. I’ll respect that – just wanted to clarify that AFAIK  this is the reason why posts about the topic have been disappearing (I know Shin Bet hackers would have been a more fun explanation).

So, with all due respect. One so-called “gag order” is not a reason to paint Israel as this fanatic police state where brave journalists fear for their life or freedom. It’s great to point out just how misguided and essentially ineffective the order is this day and age, but no need to turn what is a smelly little molehill into this a huge mountain.

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13 Responses to Regards from the Gulag

  1. Lisa Goldman says:

    Anne, you are taking things a bit too literally. No-one has spoken about dungeons or torture. We have talked about the undeniable fact that a young woman was held under *secret* arrest for one month, without access to legal representation. In a democratic state! Doesn’t that worry you?

    As for the fears of journalists, I have been interrogated by the Yachbal and it was not fun, but mostly because it was long and boring and because the supposedly “elite” police officers that questioned me were unbelievably stupid. On the other hand, I have seen how the Shin Bet work and you better believe that I would be scared if a couple of those humourless, violent bullies had me alone for hours of questioning.

    You happen to be a woman who had a career in the army and you are still well-connected in that field. Don’t you think that has a little something to do with your feeling less afraid than a civilian who has no such connections, who is in her early 20s and who has been under house arrest, threatened with 14 years in jail, for *three months*? And, by the way, Anat Kam is not the only civilian who has been held for weeks or months under house arrest, without charge. She just happens to be the first Jew in a long time. Ever heard of Samih Jabareen?

  2. IsraeliMom says:

    As I said, this whole affair does stink. I am just saying the comparison to Iran etc are a bit too far fetched.

    I don’t know the details here. Not sure how anyone can be detained in house arrest without access to a lawyer in Israel? Seems inconceivable to me. And I don’t see her as a frightened young girl with no connections.

    I believe she served in the GHQ in the Kirya, so she knows the system probably as well as I do. She was also a journalist before her military service and after. She probably knows a thing or two about journalism and the law.

    To clarify –
    1. I don’t know the details – not sure if you do or not. Right now, I think there are more conspiracy rumors going around than actual fact.

    2. I think the house arrest stinks. I think the gag order stinks. I think the whole thing is concerning and should be dealt with.

    What I am opposed to is it being turned into an overall anti-Israeli propaganda campaign making Israel look like it’s the same as China or Iran.

  3. Aviva says:

    thank you for writing this. You expressed my thoughts perfectly. Any decision limiting the freedom of press needs to be weighted carefully against the right of the public to be allowed free access to all kind of information. This does not imply that a limitation of freedom of press is never possible in a democracy. But you have to prove an overwhelming need to do so because either another basic freedom is harmed by the exercise of the freedom of press or because the national security is immediately at stack. It might be questionalbe if any of the reasons for a rightful limitation existed or exist and so the order can be and should be and is challenged at the court. That the evaluation process takes so long is a problem and might harm Israel’s image in the world again. But it is not the end of democracy.
    And on the other hand you have to clearly seperate the original case from the gag order. There was a leak in the GHQ and classified documents were copied and handed on to the press, most probably by a soldier. This has to be investigated and all persons involved need to be questioned. It’s a normal procedure. And if a suspect comes in the focus of the investigating bodies s/he might be put under house arrest or in prison depending on the evidence that can be hold against him. This as well does not bear any mark of an undemocratic procedure.
    So, just as you said an not so smart move, slow procedures are built up to an affair that just not exists. And the foreign press has a feast on it as everything Israel does is under even closer surveillance than the doings of any other state.
    OK, sorry for the long reply, couldn’t help myself…

  4. Akiva says:

    Lisa and IsraeliMom, if you believe the Israeli security establishment isn’t aggressive, very serious about what they do, and not limited by common police laws or due process, then you are not paying serious attention.

    Normally this works to the security benefit of the state and it’s citizens, preventing many negative events. Occasionally, and perhaps not so occasionally, innocent people are suspected (Arab and Jews, citizens, residents and occasionally visitors), investigated, have their lives turned upside down and worse. WITHOUT RECOURSE.

    The security establishment has a very very difficult job to do. Whether the amount of flexibility relative to due process is necessary or not is debatable, and law changes could be made to require it. But as things are, they have the power to do what they’re doing – and they do it. Since they usually use such abilities sparingly, we don’t see it very often.

    But it’s there.
    .-= Akiva´s last blog ..We Will Do =-.

  5. IsraeliMom says:

    Akiva, I agree with everything you’ve said. In every country there’s a spectrum stretching between civil rights on the one hand and security issues on the other. Different countries opt for different points of balance between the two.

    I think I would have liked my country to resemble western-european democracies in that respect. I’m afraid we’re much close to the US, probably to Bush’s US. That’s bad enough. I just don’t think Israel should be compared to China or Iran in that respect – totally different ballgame, is that the expression?

    • Akiva says:

      Right expression. However, the belief that Bush’s US was like what goes on in Israel is a major error.

      Bush’s policies allowed the internal security agencies to perform internal spying against US citizens (and others in the US), limiting the need for reasonable cause to just ‘slight concern or lightly viable intel’. They then could perform certain forms of spying without a warrant for a limited amount of time (certain forms they could not perform). If this spying produced more viable information or concerns, they could go for a secret warrant to a special intelligence court to spy further and perform the types of spying (like phone tapping of a land line) that require a warrant.

      Bush’s policies also allowed certain types of federal cross-database data mining and wide range filtering, such as watching for any email crossing US cyberspace with certain key terms or checking IRS records against travel records (a poor person suddenly taking multiple trips to Pakistan, interesting.)

      A US citizen or resident could, in theory, be declared an enemy combatant and taken to military detention facilities. In practice this occurred exactly twice (one a Saudi residing in the US, one a US citizen), and previously during World War II and the Korean War a few times.

      In Israel they don’t need any cause to initiate spying, just a slight concern of any type. There are no limits to the spying. They already have cross-database tracking. They don’t need a warrant. They can pick you up and interrogate you for extended periods for any suspicion. You don’t have the right to remain silent. And if they have a ‘significant’ suspicion they can use forceful interrogation or life disruption techniques to obtain whatever information they believe you may have.

      They can issue sealed “concern” detention or restriction orders without trial or judge involvement – which you can challenge but can’t look at to know what you’re challenging. You may be restricted to home, another location, part of the country, or to a prison facility for a limited amount of time (generally with a maximum of a year, subject to renewal, often issued for 3 months or 6 months for a tight restriction like home). You can also be restricted from a location or part of the country. I’ve only heard of 1 occasion with such an order being challenged in court and overturned.

      In other words, Israel has a regular police process with due process, and a security process with very limited rights, no real due process, and secret restriction or imprisonment – rather similar to China or Iran. The US does not.

      The only reason we don’t FEEL that it’s an Iran / China type of situation is the security services do report to a politically elected official. So when they start to over-exercise they’re power they’re (usually) reigned back in and kept within a range of norms that we accept. Further, their normal targets are not mainstream citizens but people on the edge with limited ability to make a stink about it.

      That said I’m not on their case. It’s a terribly tough job to try to balance a democratic society that’s under attack every single day by barbarians.
      .-= Akiva´s last blog ..We Will Do =-.

      • IsraeliMom says:

        Not being a lawyer, I won’t argue your every point. I suspect at least some of them are at least inaccurate. You hear about people practicing the right to remain silent all the time. Remember Der’i?

        Just an example. Not sure where you get the rest of it. AFAIK, it does take a court order to authorize phone line tapping. I don’t know about your crossed databases either – which databases crossed with what? and how does that differ from the homeland security people having access to data from US gov authorities?

        Reading through your comments, I think you’re confusing what’s going on in the West Bank – technically an area under military jurisdiction – with what’s going on in Israel itself. Granted, the military jurisdiction does not constitute a democratic system. It’s part of why the occupation is a BAD thing. It doesn’t apply to Israel proper.

      • IsraeliMom says:

        Just to make sure, I checked Amnesty’s report about Israel, as well as ACRI’s (Association for Civil Rights in Israel). Couldn’t find anything about what you mentioned when it comes to Israel. Issues are almost exclusively with the Occupied Territories, plus references to politicians attempting to change the legal state of various things within Israel.

  6. Juan Ml. Valenzuela says:

    My country, the Dominican Republic, lived under a fierce dictatorship of Rafael Trujillo for 31 years, until 1961. Despite the fact that it is very sad to remember all the bad things that happened, one must recognize the State lived under progress and order. This country and the State represented by Rafael Trujillo, was the same that: 1) only country to invite Jews to the Dom. Rep. during the Evian Conference; 2) Sold arms to help during the 1948 Liberation War and 3) Dominican Republic’s vote helped passed the U.N. Resolution creating the State of Israel.

    All this comes into saying, because if I wish a country resembled another, I would want mine to resemble yours. The need to keep secure borders (we need that too w/Haiti to our west) is something not all people understand and realize. To be able to manage complex situations that could escalate to a “nightmare” would mean that some liberties and actions cannot be explained ” a prima voce.”

    Israel has existed for 3,148 years (that number I just made it up, but it’s close…) and in order to continue its existence, do not, I repeat, do not let politics mess up your great example and leadership to the world.

    Anne, saludos desde Santo Domingo.

    Johnny 2004

  7. Steve says:

    Human rights and individual freedom can coexist with the State. Occasionally – rarely, we hope – the State can overrule one’s rights, briefly, in order to either pursue a lead or to protect others from their best-guess estimate of their notion of protection for a larger group. What bothers everyone, is any universal acceptance of this “State’s Right”. The occasionally-maligned US Constitution has – up til now, sigh – always landed on the rights of the individual – the paramount right of all, by design. Supreme Court decisions were historically always weighted to advance the cause of The Individual in the face of any State’s claim. The deterioration of this theory is vexing many Americans these days, I can tell you.

    In this light is how I view issues of detention. I do not for a moment believe there is a better system, as imperfect as it has proven recently to be. Israel has its security issues of a sort Yanks can only guess at – and these may even be paramount over there. But the very idea of restricting freedom anywhere is repulsive to the modern mind. Anything else is a step backwards. The very best we can do is to pay attention, in the end. making enough noise about unlawful or unwilling incarceration is a duty, not a past time.
    .-= Steve´s last blog ..Louisville Spring – My New Neighborhood =-.