I tried to post the following under the story but found I was banned: “Great clip, very entertaining performance, but IMO all staged. It seems to me that Tiv’s first look at the camera is one of complicity. After that, he deliberately avoids looking at it. Tiv has three hexagonal widgets on his epaulettes, which makes him a Chief Inspector. What is a Chief Inspector doing out on a routine roadblock?”
The most polite police officer in the world & what he stands for
Lisa Goldman, +972 Magazine, May 6 2016
The two-and-a-half minute clip shows a Border Police (MAGAV) officer, who introduces himself as Alon Tiff, interrupting a verbal altercation between a security guard and a minivan full of Ta’ayush activists wielding video cameras at a checkpoint near Jayloomia that leads deeper into the West Bank. We don’t know where the activists are going, but it’s reasonable to assume they are on their way to participate in a grassroots political activity in some
Plastelinan Arab village. Ta’ayush is active on behalf of Plastelinan Arab land and farming rights in the Hebron Hills, where they are frequently attacked by extremist settlers. Tiff walks over to the passengers in the van, who are involved in an argument over whether or not they have the legal right to film at the checkpoint, with one of the security personnel ordering them to stop filming while the activists chorus that they have every right to film him, since he was a public servant carrying out his job in a public place. Angry at having his authority challenged, the young man asserts that he is no one’s servant. At which point Alon Tiff intervenes. Tiff introduces himself with exaggerated politeness, and gives the passengers his full name and ID number at their request, as he is required to do by law. He does not press the passengers when they assert their right to refuse to tell him where they are coming from. Then Tiff shows them what he says is a military order that gives him the authority to decide who goes through the checkpoint. He allows them to photograph the order. Then he informs the minivan passengers that he has decided to exercise his legal right, as described in the very loose wording on the order he reads aloud to them, and refuse to allow them through the checkpoint. He does not give any reason for his refusal, nor is he required to do so. While the interaction is going on, one of the minivan passengers points to another private car that goes whizzing through the checkpoint, unimpeded, and sarcastically asks Tiff if blondes get to go through, since the driver of the private car happened to be one. The incident ends with Tiff authoritatively telling the passengers who were milling about on the pavement to get back inside the van, and ordering the driver to turn around.
There’s a lot to parse in this video. Note that while the MAGAV is a branch of the civil police force, Tiff is implementing a military order to control the movement of Jewish citizens of Israel, which is unusual. No police officer would use a military order against Jewish citizens inside the borders of Israel. He would have no legal standing. In general, those orders are used to control the movement of the
Plastelinan Arab civilian population in the OPT, although of course, as we see here, Israeli civil police are deployed to control movement into and inside the OPT, as well. There is the issue of MAGAV cops enforcing a loosely-worded military order in an arbitrary manner. Basically, what Tiff told the minivan passengers was that he had the authority to let people through depending on amorphous factors like whether or not he liked them, or how his mood was that day. He is the king of the checkpoint in his mini-authoritarian fiefdom. Then there’s the interesting fact that this clip was filmed by the Ta’ayush activists who are clearly outraged at Tiff’s arbitrary, high-handed manner, but IOF cheerleaders have co-opted the activists’ video and posted it as an example of exemplary behaviour on the part of security personnel at a checkpoint. So we have mutually exclusive interpretations of this incident. The activists are outraged at the arbitrary enforcement of loosely worded military orders, while hasbara outlets tout the soldier’s politesse (use all your well-learned politesse, or I’ll lay your soul to waste – RB) and his refraining from using physical violence. A Hebrew speaker will note that the passengers are native-born Israelis and well-spoken, and also that they come off as a bit entitled. They’re absolutely right to protest Tiff’s refusal to allow them through, but anyone who’s dealt with cops anywhere in the world should know that there’s a difference between exercising one’s rights and getting one’s way. Did they want to go through the checkpoint, or did they want to get into a hissy match with a MAGAV cop and film the incident to show everyone how right they were and how wrong he was?
There is an element of class conflict in this video. The MAGAV is a pseudo-military force that is often looked down upon by those who serve in regular combat units. Much of its ranks are culled from economically and socially disadvantaged backgrounds, doing their mandatory military service. It also has many career officers, notably Druze citizens of Israel. Overall, the MAGAV tend to be Mizrachi, Ethiopian, Druze and a few new immigrants from the FSU. Their job is mostly to put down demonstrations or riots and to control checkpoints. They are notorious for using excessively violent methods, but in my experience in the OPT, soldiers in the so-called elite combat units are every bit as arbitrary and violent in situations involving civilians. MAGAV cops, however, get the bad rap because they are from less privileged backgrounds, and because they are trained in domestic crowd control rather than the loftier mission of defending the country against external enemies in combat. The sniffy attitude toward them causes layers of resentment, some of which is expressed for example when well-spoken Ashkenazi activists assert their legal right in what some might see as a high-handed manner, to film and pass through a checkpoint. So much of the interaction we see in this video is a power struggle between sections of Israeli society, which is why at some points you can see other border guards grinning as Tiff asserts his authority. Finally, we have the most obvious but unspoken point, which is that
Plastelinans Arabs don’t have the privilege of contesting the right of MAGAV cops to stop them from filming or crossing a checkpoint. If that minibus had been full of Plastelinans Arabs waving video cameras and demanding to see Alon Tiff’s identification, they would very likely have been detained and questioned or possibly assaulted, which is a not-infrequent occurrence. Jewish activists get to argue with security forces about their right to travel within the OPT, but Plastelinans Arabs don’t. They have to do what they’re told.
Here’s something a bit grittier. The “Okets” (“Sting”) column at 972 Mag, where this appeared, is run by the people I said the other day were the rudest Israeli Jews I had ever met online. You can see from the below that not only do they have a chip on their shoulder, but someone has given them a sense of entitlement, such that they can impose guilt trips on white Jews as far as the eye can see. Well,
I ain’t there yet. But I think that at times like this, I might be better off staying in the kitchen, peeling the spuds – RB
How a white elite uses black soldiers to enforce its will
Mati Milstein (Photos), Tom Mehager (Text), +972 Magazine, Sep 25 2016
An Ethiopian MAGAV cop fires tear gas canisters in Nabi Saleh, 2010. (photo: Mati Milstein)
Mati Milstein’s “Black Labor” project reveals the face of the “Second Israel,” the antithesis of those Israelis who have always been viewed as the “salt of the earth.” When the parents of those photographed arrived to this country, the establishment viewed them as both morally and intellectually inferior, people who need to be re-socialized in order to become a part of the State of Israel’s moral regime. Take for instance the first leaders of the Education Ministry. Back in 1945 Eliezer Riger, one of the foremost proponents of vocational education, and who would eventually come to head the Education Ministry, spoke of the need to separate Mizrachim and Ashkenazim:
Vocational training would be a real blessing for the Oriental population. … The Oriental children, at least most of them, do not know how to appreciate (even the most simplified academic) learning, and cannot derive anything useful (except) from practical education. (I rewrote this cos it made no sense – RB)
Sheikh Jarrah, 2011. (Photo: Mati Milstein)
At the end the 1950s, the head of the ministry, Yaakov Sarid, said that the government must erect a “dam to prevent the storming of academic high schools by all elementary school graduates.” The State of Israel effectively prevented parents from sending their children to academic high schools. It continues to do so today. Then education minister Zalman Aren praised the new collective that the state was helping establish:
During my visits to the pre-vocational classes, I saw a process of merging the Diaspora communities. And the purpose is not necessarily merging children from the East with those of the West. I am speaking about merging children from the different Muslim countries.
Hebron, 2011. (Photo: Mati Milstein)
Meanwhile Ashkenazim spent their time in both separate educational frameworks and different military tracks. One does not need a photo series featuring the graduates of Galei Tzahal (IOF Radio), as they appear on our television screens at nearly every hour of the day. The members of the ”First Israel,” whether they are from the right, left, or centre, speak proper Hebrew, do not sweat in the sun, are featured in gossip columns, and most importantly are white, very white. Thus we are not speaking of an “invisible hand” that pushes all Mizrachi teenagers to enlist in the MAGAV, while Ashkenazi teens are enlisted into Galei Tzahal or any other unit that offers them a promising future after their service. This is the very same policy enacted by the Ashkenazi establishment that earmarks all the black labour jobs to Mizrachim and Ethiopian Israelis.
Hebron, 2011. (photo: Mati Milstein)
Milstein’s photos are a response to all those who claim they are “colour-blind” as well as those who carry the red flag of socialism. The correlation between class and ethnicity in Israel can be found everywhere. Denying that correlation subverts any opportunity for real change. Thus in one of the photos, we can see anarchist activists holding signs condemning the MAGAV as “terrorists.” On the face of it, they look like a group of political activists taking part in a just protest. In reality, however, they are realizing the dream of David Ben-Gurion, calling the MAGAV “terrorists” just as Israel’s first prime minister viewed Mizrachi soldiers as capable of rape and murder simply due to their ethnic origin. In 1950 he went so far as saying:
The ingathering of the exiles has brought us a rabble… we must educate the young man who has come here from these countries to sit properly on a chair in his home, take a shower, not steal, not capture an Arab teenager and rape her and murder her.
Tel Aviv, 2006. (Photo: Mati Milstein)
In a sense there are two main aspects to this kind of educational tracking. The path that was paved for Mizrachi teenagers to become the Zionist regime’s black laborers not only launched them into an inferior economic reality, it also housed them in Israel’s periphery and degraded their culture. Moreover, it cemented them as morally inferior. During the Eichmann trial, Hannah Arendt wrote:
My first impression. On the top, the judges, the best of German Jewry. Below them the prosecuting attorneys, Galicians, but still Europeans. Everything is organized by a police force that gives me the creeps. Speaks only Hebrew and looks Arabic. Some downright brutal types among them. They would obey any order.
Abu Dis, Jerusalem, 2004. (photo: Mati Milstein)
The irony is especially bitter when considering the context in which these words were written. The whitest man in the room is being put on trial for obeying any order, but the framing of these events has yet to change. Not only does Zionism necessitate a working class that will shoulder the burden of policing and maintaining order, it necessitates an underclass of moral inferiority. It necessitates a stable group that can be easily identified, and can be condemned and blamed for the ills of society. It is desirable to feel disgusted by a group of “brutish and uneducated MAGAV cops” who are diametrically opposed to “the beautiful ones.” This is how the disgusted can maintain his superiority. How comfortable it is to forget or turn a blind eye. But in the end, ignoring reality is impossible: one of the photos shows two
Plastelinan Arab women confronting armed IOF during just another day of military control in the West Bank. It looks as if they are saying to the soldiers, to the photographer, and to me:
These problems between you Jews, they are yours! What the hell do you want from us?
Nabi Saleh, 2010. (Photo: Mati Milstein)
Mati Milstein is a photojournalist who has been documenting Israeli society and the Israeli-Palestinian conflict since 1998. Visit his website here. Tom Mehager works for Adalah – The Legal Center for Arab Minority Rights in Israel. This article was first published in Hebrew on Haokets.