Friday, April 09, 2010

In Israel, reality hides under a 'top secret' stamp

Akiva Eldar - Ha'aretz

It was spring 1983, the height of the first Lebanon War. A young officer appeared at my door and placed two documents in my hand that had been stamped "Highly Classified."

One was an intelligence evaluation that found, unequivocally, that no diplomatic or security purpose was being served by Israeli troops' continued bloodletting on the mountains around Beirut. The second was a plan for the approaching 35th Independence Day parade in Jerusalem. In a bid to raise the nation's flagging morale, prime minister Menachem Begin and outgoing defense minister Ariel Sharon were considering spending tens of millions of shekels from state coffers to bring tanks into "unified" Jerusalem.

The young officer said his conscience had brought him to my home, as he hoped to publicize the files' contents and save precious blood and money.

The label "highly classified" does not automatically turn a document into a security concern, the leaking of which constitutes espionage or treason. In most cases, the designation is intended simply to ensure that the file's contents do not reach the public's view. The more highly classified a document, the smaller the list of readers and the higher the penalty for leaking it.

Some of the same prominent politicians and security figures who are today expressing shock at Kam's alleged misdeeds have, during my decades of journalism, in fact given me material for countless articles related to strategic issues. The difference between the journalist who thrives off of access to classified material and the kind who earns his livelihood printing the statements of spokespeople is akin to the difference between a democratic state and a totalitarian regime. A democratic government does not, as a rule, stem leaks. Nor does it interrogate journalists.

In the summer of 1967, Yeshayahu Leibowitz prophesied that Israel's occupation would corrupt the country and turn it into "a Shin Bet state." As early as the first intifada, we understood there is no such thing as an enlightened occupation. One nation cannot rule over another for 43 years without behaving cruelly toward the helpless, without executing people without trial, without embittering the lives of women and children, the sick and elderly.

To manage an occupation, a nation must raise obedient soldiers and officers - the kind who sit quietly while ideas are floated on how to circumvent the rulings of the supposedly leftist High Court, how to keep prying journalists at bay and how to deceive the meddlesome state comptroller. Without collaborators within the establishment, dozens of "legal" settlements wouldn't be built on "state lands," nor "unauthorized outposts" on private Palestinian territory.

Right now, hundreds of clerks and officers are sitting in the Defense Ministry, the Foreign Ministry and the army lacking the courage to contact a journalist and divulge that the ministers or commanders in charge are endangering their children's future.

Some are keeping to themselves the real story behind the big lie peddled by Ehud Barak, Shaul Mofaz and Moshe Ya'alon - the falsehood that "Yasser Arafat planned the intifada," which gave rise to the disastrous "there is no partner" ideology. The real story, of course, is contained in documents stamped with the words "Top Secret".


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