The Roman Republic allowed that in times of crisis, like wars of natural disasters, a dictator with absolute powers would temporarily take charge over the republican institutions, on the assumption that the critical situation required decisions to be taken faster than how the normal dialectic could afford. Until nowadays modern Constitutions allow cases for the suspension of the democratic processes in favor of a faster, though risky, omnipotent magistrate.
The post-fascist Italian Constitution went cautious with this prerogative, by allowing only the institution of governmental acts as legitimate overlook of the parliamentary supremacy: they are short-termed, immediate regulations promulged by the government, with the President of the Republic as only guarantor of the constitutionality of the act, the only one with the power of veto. In order to be confirmed as ordinary law of the State the act must be voted by the majority of the Parliament within 60 days. Among the many good and moderate uses that have been done of the governmental prerogative, I want to point out two cases in which the emergency was used for political rather than national needs.
The first case are the so called save-Berlusconi governmental acts, proposed by the Prime Minister Bettino Craxi in 1984 and not confirmed by the Parliament because considered unconstitutional, so that it was renewed in 1985 with only little differences. The act “froze” the state of affairs of telecommunications imposing the tribunal of Turin to reopen Berlusconi’s networks which, after all the other private networks, had just been shut down because illegal. The act declared de facto the monopoly of Berlusconi on the Italian private television, with the tremendous consequences that this brought to the Italian democracy. The act, transformed in ordinary law by the Parliament the 4th of February, was later on declared unconstitutional too. But it was too late: Berlusconi’s television was already and institution.
The second one is the emergency act promulged the day after the earthquake which hit Abruzzo in 2009, this time signed by Berlusconi that meanwhile became Prime Minister (by the way, achieving direct control to the national television too, a very liberal 99% of the national audience). The act suspended the activity of the municipalities touched by the natural disaster. A special commission of the Civil Protection, headed by Bertolaso, took charge of the administrative functions and, more interestingly, of the reconstruction projects. Facing no opposition, the temporary dictator decided not to restore the damaged buildings but rather to rebuild entire cities. Interestingly, the projects for the reconstructions where already on the Commission’s table only few weeks after the disaster: record time for Italian standards! The emergency state required an immediate intervention, so that no contest between contractors were held: the contractors were directly chosen by the Commission, skipping the democratic iter. Interestingly, the G8 planned in Sardinia was moved to L’Aquila, main municipality of Abruzzo, so transferring its administration and infrastructural planning to the omnipotent Commission. The media represented the operation as the most successful of all times. In 2010 prosecutors started a trial on Bertolaso and his collaborators, accused of concussion with contractors, some of them belonging to mafia families. In 2014 the first contractors were arrested for mafia and corruption to public officers, but the trial is still on course with hundreds of accused. L’Aquila is still a ghost city. More than 60% of the ruins has to be removed yet. The great reconstruction plans were never terminated. Many people are still waiting for a definitive relocation, meanwhile receiving subsidiary income by the State.
Israel is declared in state of emergency since its birth in 1948. Of course Israel has also being facing a “tense” atmosphere since 1948. The emergency regulation has many consequences on the democratic life of the country, allowing a high prerogative of the State on detention and deportation, private propriety, transportation restrictions and freedom of opinion and expression. In the occupied territories the emergency regulation is supplemented by the military law in the areas A,B,C accordingly. Some of the regulations come from the Ottoman and British juridical systems, some other are Israeli introductions. If you put together the juridical emergency state and the historical emergency state that we are facing right now, with Israeli citizens threatened by Hamas’ rockets, the result is that the life of thousands of Palestinians and hundreds of Israelis is directly in the hands of the Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu. Legally speaking, one person with few collaborators can eventually declare the terms of a ground invasion of one of the most densely populated places on Earth by one of the most effective armies on Earth. The democratic dialectic is restricted to the minimum. Like at the time of the Roman Republic, Israel is facing an emergency so there’s no time to discuss and convince each other. It’s time to operate, not to think.
The first thing that shocked me is that this is possible, it happens. It is possible to live in a place where one person has the power of life or death on thousands. If you are a front line soldier at border with Gaza, Bibi’s opinion has a consistent influence on whether you’ll get married, whether you will ever travel to Venezia or you will have children. Or if you’ll ever have dinner with your mum again. If you’re an Israeli soldier, at least you voted at the elections where Bibi won. If you’re a Gazan, no. Your level of security is roughly the same of a inhabitant of Sparta or a middle age city: the enemy is outside the walls and can run the attack whenever he wants. You have no diplomacy, no contractual power toto influence his choice. In spite of this tremendous importance of the Prime Minister in you’re future vacation to Venice, in the last elections only about 65% of the voters actually voted. Roughly speaking, almost half of the Israelis now waiting for the verdict on their future at the border of Gaza let someone else choose who will decide if they’ll have dinner with their mum again. Can you really get used to that influence of the world geopolitics in your individual life? So it seems.
The second thing that shocked me in the last month is the psychological emergency which owns Israelis. Israel is an incredibly liberal country, with a wide range of extremes and all the middle ways in between: hippies, orthodox religious, backpackers, hipsters, homosexuals, bisexuals, trisexuals (I’m sure in Tel Aviv exists such a thing), conservatives, progressives; one of the highest level of education and technology, which they export in all the world; a rich, though (casually?) tough, artistic production in cinema, poetry, music, theater, dance. There is a complex political geography ranging from the integral Jewish party to the Arab one, all represented in the Parlament. With the Israelis I know (and I know thousands) everything is always on the table, no truth is taken for granted and it’s always the right moment to disagree. Israelis know it and proudly defend this Jewish heritage: “Two Jews, three opinions”. This is all true until the security emergency arrives: then what the government and the army decides is a priori “the only possible way”.
As soon as the three kids were kidnapped, no political argument could be brought, no suspect could be moved. Suddenly it was the time to operate, and don’t you dare to think! Think that maybe is not a great idea to enter in an already hot territory with thousands of soldiers under the slogan “We’ll bring back our boys”, with the reasonable suspect that they’re already dead (given the shooting you hear in the phone recordings and the blood you find in the car of the kidnapping) and the rationally very low chance to find them. Think that inflicting a collective punishment to thousands of people which are already not actually satisfied with their life conditions will provoke a reaction. Think that the same angry people just made a political alliance with the angry but armed people in Gaza, so that if a reaction has to come it will come from Gaza too. Think that Hamas needs international support more than Israel needs, and that by traumatizing two millions Palestinians in the West Bank you give Hamas an excellent pretext to start the rocket rainfall. In light of all this elementary reasoning, think that in order to save three probably dead kids you’re putting your entire nation in danger. Why none around me dare to think so far, and not even to hear so far? They stop you when you say that to operate might not be the best action: “So what? You let them kidnap your kids without responding?”. If responding means to bring a greater danger on three, one hundred, ten thousands kids in Ashkelon and Ashdod, then yes, it’s better not to operate. Cause the kids in Ashkelon are not less important and Jewish than the ones kidnapped in Hebron. If tomorrow a rocket will kill three Israelis, the entire operation “We’ll bring back our boys” will by a total failure. It’s better to think. Think that a legitimate right to answer the fire is not a sufficient reason to do it. Thinking a long term strategy without launching an impulsive offensive would have been the best reaction of the securist party, the party which first of all is interested in the security of Israelis. Now you can add accessory considerations, for example about the Palestinian casualties that is highly probable to cause by entering the West Bank with thousands of angry and vulnerable 18 years old soldiers; about their property you will destroy, the generalized arrests you will make. Though all this is legal according to the emergency state by which the West Bank is administrated, it might though be considered at least “rude”. But this is too a left wing thought, so it could be politically refused: “we only care about Jew’s security, even when Palestinians’ security is its price”. So let’s point the attention of this right wing thinker to the Jews in France, Germany, Poland, and any other state where no IDF soldiers defend Jews. Given the great pretext you gave to worldwide victimism towards Palestinians (distracting from what the leadership of Palestinians actually is), and given the dubious equation Jews=Israelis, don’t you expect a revenge on these overseas Jews? Let’s also make count of the wave of racist hatred that the kidnapping provoked. While I was shocked of how police and politics didn’t intervene to condamn and shut up public instigation to revenge and killing, by simply standing by and observing hundreds of teenagers screaming nazi slogans instead, all my friends told me I was exaggerating, that it was a normal, though eccentric, expression of sorrow of an extremist minority: “that’s how you do in democracy”. You might consider that if you send the message that is fine to scream “death to Arabs” in the street of the center, this will cause some people to get a misleading idea of what is democracy.
Let’s make the balance of the “forced alternative” launched by the government in response of the kidnapping: the kids were found dead, killed few minutes after the kidnapping; few Palestinians got accidentally killed, hundreds incarcerated with no accuse nor trial, many beaten and injured; thousands of dollars of Palestinian property were destroyed; Hamas immediately started an escalation of threats, and finally started launching rockets; Israel had to respond spending an immense amount of money in bombs; thousands of Israelis live in bunkers, frightened by sirens and explosions, their houses destroyed; hundreds of Gazans were killed, their property destroyed; thousands of Israeli workers and students were called to the arms, now they’re boiling of heat in the desert, ready to start ground operations; in Europe there were street protests against the Occupation and violence against Jews. PS: all this mess adds another generation of hatred and resentment to the account of the peace process. And yet for most of my smartest friends this strategy, never democratically discussed because of the emergency state of the emergency State, was “the only possibility”.
In my elitist view of the world, I accept that the majority of the people will follow instead of pulling back, alarming, denouncing. I take conformism in account. It was so at the save-Berlusconi act, “a necessary measure to regulate the telecommunication system”, and in the save-Abruzzo act, “a necessary measure to take care of the victims of the earthquake”. But in both cases there were a discrete amount of critics warning about the danger that the dictator intrinsically brings. These voices were in universities, street protests, newspapers (interestingly, not on television…). They were the voices of the theorist of the conspiracy, the masters of suspects, the irreducible unbelievers, the ones always screaming from the desks of the opposition. I’m shocked and afraid of not finding them among my Israeli friends. In a way, Israelis like the rest of the world are put in the condition of either to trust or not to trust their leadership. The emergency of war, unlike the others, requires secret: you cannot ask the IDF to tell you by which criterions they bomb houses in Gaza; you cannot ask them to tell you how many bombs they actually dropped. If they revealed their strategy to the public, they would make it predictable and ineffective. So in warfare the same citizens involved must not know what’s going on in order to protect them: they cannot judge their representatives. The IDF spokesman says five kids were killed while bombing a storage of rockets, and you have absolutely no way to verify it. Probably not even the pilot who threw the bomb can. They could have been the family of a Hamas general, killed in order to scare him. An Israeli cannot even hear this hypothesis without screaming in shame that this is absolutely out of discussion, impossible. Half of the world, the ones cheering for Palestine, keep saying this is exactly what the IDF do all the time. Two opposite narrative, and neither of them have any proof to bring. Because of this, emergency, and war in particular, is intrinsically contrary to democracy: it rules out the possibility of proving hypotheses. In war you obey, whether you are the soldier executing the order or you’re the citizen asked to believe that they’re doing their best to protect you. And you need to believe it, you want to believe it. The same spokesman asks you this, every evening in television: “We ask our citizens to trust the IDF and the government, and everything is going to be ok.”. That when put in this condition of uncertainty you believe your side, is quite obvious. And yet, a democracy must always leave open the possibility of a mistrust, of an irreducible suspect, specially when this suspect can stop or at least rise questions about the necessity of a bloodbath. Today in television a blond anchorwoman shut up a “pacifist” by yelling him “it’s not the time to manifest against the war, it’s time to be unite!”, paraphrasing what they continuously yell at me when I try to point out that each one of us has the right and even the duty, given what’s at stake, not to trust authority. Fortunately I don’t have a television.
I think Israel has deep scars, still bleeding. In the national narrative security comes together with anti-semitism, with the fear of the genocide and extinction. Whenever the label “security” is successfully applied to a policy, that policy immediately becomes off-limits, untouchable, no matter if Israel is indeed the bad guy of the situation and the non-Jew is the victim, the one needing a security policy. The collective trauma of this nation leads straight to the identification of the political class of the Jewish State with the undiscussed protector of the Jews, no matter what it does. For an Israeli it is unconceivable that the army might work for an interest diverging from the public interest: each Israeli feels part of the army he served for years, he feels like he knows it deeply and can blindly trust it. Israelis love the Israeli army, and they will always be a priori on his side, because the army is the incarnation of the emergency State, the emergency Nation. As my roommate wisely said once, “Israel is a ghetto with guns”. But still a ghetto, constantly under attack. I wait for the day the Israelis will be free from this phobia.
By keeping in mind the history of the people of Israel I make sense of the democratic black-out I see around me, first of all in the minds of the people, and somehow I justify it. In the end, is still the most similar thing to a Western democracy that you can find in the Middle East.
For an Italian it’s hard. History taught Italians that whenever the magistrate has a prerogative, he will use it to his interest. Whenever you are in the position of either to trust the dictator or not to trust the dictator , you don’t trust him. Whenever there is a clash between private and public interest, the Italian must assume that the private interest will be chosen. So when an Italian sees a suicidal military campaign launched by an enclave of politicians, he first thinks how convenient is for the politician that the people will stay scared, united, confused. When he sees milliards of dollars being burnt bomb by bomb, jet by jet, he first thinks that war is too convenient to make peace. Only then, the Italian takes a long breath and sees the possibility of the genuine error or blind emotions. In the absence of definitive proofs, he starts hoping for the latter: better a stupid ideology than a dirty interest.