What if the state is counting on our brain damage?

This week, the state announced that hunger striker Mohammad Allan would be released only if he has suffered irreversible brain damage. But what if this is only part of a greater state system that criminalizes and punishes those who oppose it?

By Idan Gillo

File photo of Prime Minister Netanyahu holding a security briefing with IDF generals, July 18, 2014. (Photo by Haim Zach/GPO)
File photo of Prime Minister Netanyahu holding a security briefing with IDF generals, July 18, 2014. (Photo by Haim Zach/GPO)

It sounds like bad satire, or at least a provocative play: a man is arrested under “administration detention,” thrown into prison without any reasonable legal processing, without trial, without a hearing of the evidence against him, and without a proper debate. He started a hunger strike, his situation deteriorated, and at some point the state declared that if it was proven that he had suffered irreversible brain damage, he would be freed. His cognitive capacities, and not the determination of his guilt or innocence, is what stands between him and his freedom. Woefully, this is reality in the state of Israel in the summer of 2015: the state defines irreversible brain damage as a condition for release of Mohammad Allan.

The issue raises a number of fundamental questions. First, what kind of regime publicly declares irreversible brain damage as a condition for release of a man assumed to be innocent? The state shows its sadism, without batting an eyelash, in declaring irreversible brain damage as a legitimate adverse effect of administrative detention.

On the question of “what kind of government is this?” I would like to go beyond the debate within the field of “security,” and the security forces’ influence on the legal system, to the point that they are almost indiscernible.

The case of Mohammad Allan shows that release on the condition of irreversible brain damage, rather than his innocence, crosses a red line. Of course, the reader will be quick to calm himself on the fact that this standard does not apply to his family, his friends or his acquaintances.

But, really? We then arrive at a second question: On what basis does the state decide to arrest or not arrest a citizen or resident?

There’s good reason to believe that the case of Mohammad Allan is not extraordinary, but, rather, paradigmatic. It is reasonable to assume that the states’ limits of tolerance for its citizens are revealed here.  What if it only tolerates those who have already – excuse the coarseness – already suffered some form of brain damage?  Would it be an exaggeration to say that only those who have passed through the state’s problematic education system don’t pose a threat? That only those who have been influenced by its media, by its promotions and thus to the ways it controls the consciousness of the public, are considered neutral? Would it be a leap to say that only those who are not interested in politics are considered to also be, just, neutral?

What if we are all Mohammad Allan in some sense? That we are all held in the state’s clutch until it sees us as unthreatening because it has neutralized us, or at least made us passive or apathetic. What if we are all “free” just because the damage has already been done and already inscribed into our consciousness?

It seems that the implications of the Allan case is more than just what has been done to the man himself. It symbolizes the different ways that the state controls our cognitive situations, which success rate is exemplified here as brain damage. How many people doubt the decisions made by the Shin Bet? The ways of the press or the parliamentary system? How many have outgrown the sanctity of the state, as was taught in school? How many have stopped completely identifying with the state and the army (“us”)?

More than that, the case of Mohammad Allan exposes a worrying standard for pointing out those who are an enemy of the state: not through action or intent, but, rather, free thought. The modern state marks citizens as threats according to their degree of straying from the norms which it creates: work in order to fulfill man’s basic needs of shelter, food, clothing and health – under the condition that they not doubt or criticize that system.

In the case of Allan there is an admission of this.  Actually, the way that the state allowed itself to so vocally declare the conditons for release should set off a warning.

But if the court, the press, and the public opinion is able to accept such a draconian condition, it seems that the brain damage is already done. In any case, we should pray and hope that it’s not irreversible.

Idan Gillo is a doctoral student in German literature at Stanford University. This article was first published in Hebrew on Haokets.

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