“Incremental tyranny ...means you live in a democracy and suddenly you understand it is not a democracy any more,” Ami Ayalon explained “This is what we are seeing in Israel. The tragedy of this process is that you only know it when it is too late.”
Carmi Gillon was equally bleak in his analysis of Israel’s trajectory, saying that the country was being “driven by this occupation towards disaster”. He said, “This country was established on the values of liberal democracy, values written in the only kind of constitution we have – which is our declaration of independence – values we don’t fulfil any more. You can analyse what happened to us in the last 50 years, but everything is under the shade of occupation. It has changed us a society. It has made us an unpleasant society.”
The two former Shin Bet, Israel’s powerful intelligence service, commanders criticised the unwillingness of the Israeli media and senior opposition politicians to speak up for freedom of speech, in particular concerning the moves against groups like Breaking the Silence.
“They do what they do because they understand it is their moral duty. They are soldiers who serve and like every gatekeeper they hold up a mirror image of the Israeli reality in the occupied territories. What they see is very ugly. So we hate the mirror and blame the mirror and don’t hear what they say,” said Ayalon.
They added that they were also deeply concerned about a growing apathy in Israeli society where, after so many years, an occupation justified by the Israeli courts and legal system as temporary had come to defy the meaning of the word.
Ayalon suggested an Orwellian dynamic that supported Israelis in a state of fear for political ends. “What is necessary to pave the way for this concept of incremental tyranny is an ongoing war. It is like 1984. There is always an enemy.”
Issues of freedom of speech and expression have become one of the key fault lines in Israeli society – in everything from the arts to journalism – under the most rightwing government in the country’s history.