In many ways Israel is ten, some would say twenty years behind the rest of the western world in its understanding and application of progressive social reform. When I was a teenager in the late eighties in Sydney, the cops were corrupt, as was the judicial system. You could pay off any number of judges with a brown paper envelope and corruption trickled down through all government systems. The police force neither received nor deserved much respect, for it was largely made up of poorly educated badly paid criminals who crossed over unchecked from this side of the law to that. Police were brutal and fearless in their behavior and largely left to chase small time criminals because the big ones were protected, paying off cops and judges.
Last week my friend''s son celebrated his eighteenth birthday. He had a small party at his parent''s house with friends and relatives. At midnight the neighbors stopped by to wish the family mazal tov and to ask if the music could be turned down. The young DJ disconnected one of the speakers and took it up to his car to start to pack away for the night. He was jumped on by two ''out of uniform'' police officers and he started to run. The cops now with the excuse that he was ''hiding something'' chased him, tackled him to the ground and dragged him down the stairs and back into the party, where they were not well received by the crowd of somewhat drunken teens.
The long night ended with sixty police being called to the party in search of ''drugs'' which of course they never found. They did however find a plastic orange juice bottle outside on the street with a hole in its side, the implication being that it had been used as a ''bong'' at some stage of its sad and sorry plastic life. During the two hours of fighting that continued between drunken teenage boys and badly behaved police, the boy''s mother was shoved up against the wall by her neck when she tried to stop the police from entering her house without a search warrant and his father was arrested when he stepped in to stop his wife from being hurt.
What interests me mostly, apart from the despicable and unprofessional behavior of the Israeli Police force, is their motivation for looking for ''drugs'' at the furthest end of the drug chain. These kids are neither cultivating, processing nor selling drugs, and from what I have seen, the peers of these parents, namely my generation are bigger consumers and better connected. Doesnt the Isareli Police Force have bigger fish to catch? When sixty police officers can be called out from the Hadera police station on a thursday night at twelve pm to a fruitless raid at a local party to find an empty orange juice bottle with a hole in its side, I say: apparently not.
But we cannot blame the stupidity of the Israeli police force alone: as the old saying goes, ''the fish rots from the head''. I argue that the judicial system is equally backwards in its approach to social reform. Three months ago, a new law was introduced by the Hotzeah la''poel - the Department of State Debt Recovery.
The law states that if the State or an individual is owed money, the Department of State Debt Recovery can lock your bank account and take away your driver''s license. Given that so many of us depend on our cars to find and get to and from work, in my opinion, this law is one of the most stupid and regressive I have ever come across. Of course one would assume that you can appeal in a court of law but when it comes to the down and out, the economically disenfranchised, the unemployed, the socially disadvantaged, namely: the ever growing majority of people in this country, hiring and paying for legal representation or even getting yourself to the court can be an incumbent, lengthy and expensive process and appeals are often dismissed.
I met a young man in his mid thirties who struck hard times. He lost his family, his business and his house within a two year span. After catching his wife in bed with his best friend, a major debtor in his business declared insolvency and he was forced to sell his house at a great loss because it was during the second intifada and a bomb had recently exploded in Hadera''s central mall. Unable to pay his business and personal debts, he has struggled for the past six years just to get himself to a poorly paid job at a local grocery store every day. Now he has started the arduous journey back to re-claiming his life only to have the opportunity of earning a real living denied because he is a tradesman who can not operate a business without a license to drive.
Now keep in mind that the cops on the street who are pulling up kids for harboring aiding and abetting plastic juice bottles, are also periodically checking ID''s and reporting vagrant debtor''s to the state. Every few months, he gets arrested, taken to court where he agrees to pay a nominal amount of his debt back, which he does, begging and borrowing, and then he goes back into hiding. His original debt was thirty five thousand sheckels, now it sits at one hundred and fifty thousand because of the interest it has accumulated over the years, another de-motivating regressive and particularly anti-Jewish law.
This kind of backward thinking that trickles down from the highest government departments to the cops on the street does nothing to attract new blood, money or energy to this country. In Australia, systems are in place through the Department of Social Security and the courts to encourage the disenfranchised to get back into the workforce and back on their feet. It simply makes economic sense to do this, and Israel would be well advised to move towards progressive rather than punitive and regressive social and legal reform.