Eyeless in Israel

Is it too much to ask Israelis to take a look, even a glimpse, at what’s going on in their backyard? Are we even capable of dropping our relentless preoccupation with primaries and the battle between Tnuva and Strauss over cottage cheese, to pay attention to what is happening in the territories under our occupation?

A foreigner who happened to find himself here wouldn’t believe his eyes: A few weeks before the general elections – a period that is supposed to be marked by an airing and sharpening of views – Israel continues to close its eyes, not to see, not to hear and not to know what it is doing to three million people who live less than an hour from our homes. If this crass disregard is hard to accept in normal times – the approach being that what doesn’t interest me doesn’t exist – on the eve of elections that are considered (as always) critical, it is nothing short of criminal.

Here are a few updates from the past few days: Five unarmed Palestinians, probably desperate workers who were using a ladder to enter Israel from the Gaza Strip to find work, were shelled by a tank and killed on Thursday. On Monday, soldiers killed a Palestinian who was mentally handicapped. On Sunday, soldiers shot two women and three children in Rafah, on the border with Egypt. One of the women, a mother, was killed along with her two children, aged four and 15, and the other woman suffered serious injuries. The soldiers said they thought the women and children were terrorists.

A week ago Friday, 10 people were killed, including one woman and two employees of UNRWA, the United Nations Relief and Works Agency, in a failed liquidation operation in Al-Bureij refugee camp in the Gaza Strip. Earlier that week, a 95-year-old woman who was traveling in a taxicab near Ramallah was shot to death by a soldier. And a couple of days before that, soldiers demolished a building, burying under the rubble a 70-year-man who was inside. All told, more than 30 Palestinians were killed in the first 10 days of December, at least half of them innocent civilians. What was once an “anomaly” has become a daily event, and what the army used to investigate, it no longer even reviews.

Does anyone care? Innocent victims – women, children, the aged – exist only on our side. Most Israeli media outlets report these events cursorily, if at all, and no politician makes any reference to them. To this bloody harvest we need to add the mass arrests. According to data of the IDF Spokesman’s Office, 3,094 Palestinians are currently incarcerated in military facilities alone; 932 of them have been placed in administrative detention (arrest without trial). In other words, there are nearly a thousand individuals detained for a six-month period without any prospect of trial, many of them in two makeshift detention facilities, Ketziot and Ofer, in which the conditions are apparently particularly difficult. Otherwise, it is hard to explain why the IDF has prevented reporters from visiting these sites for months.

These are facts and statistics that should be of great concern to public opinion, even if the public in question is constantly threatened by terrorism. Daily killing of innocent people and mass arrests without trial are issues that should at least be the subject of public discussion, but here no one takes an interest, as though the matter doesn’t have a decisive influence not only on the victims themselves, of course, but also on security and on the character of the regime and society in Israel.

But that is not enough. If the acts of killing and the arrests are marginally reported by the media, the imprisonment of the entire Palestinian people is continuing uninterrupted and unreported. Whole cities, parts of which lie in ruins, are under almost unceasing curfew; an entire population is unable to move from one village to the next or from city to city without the authorization of the occupation army – but within the Israeli public there is not even an echo of this. No one asks why, or for how long, or whether this state of affairs does not induce terrorism rather than prevent it. The security experts say in an appallingly uniform voice that this is the only way, and hardly anyone protests. It is more than likely that the majority of the public doesn’t know (and couldn’t care less) whether the Palestinians are now under curfew or just closure or maybe encirclement.

The focus is exclusively on our own difficulties and pain, which are certainly grave enough. Are Israelis afraid to sit in cafes? It’s been a long time since Palestinians could even dream of that. Is it scary to travel on a bus in Israel? There is no longer any such travel in the territories. Afraid to fly? Most Palestinians have never flown. Unemployment is rising? That is nothing compared to the malnutrition and near hunger in the territories, where the great majority of the residents are not terrorists.

A few weeks remain before the elections. No one is mentioning the responsibility of Ariel Sharon, Shaul Mofaz and Benjamin Ben-Eliezer for the killing and destruction. The Labor Party leader, Amram Mitzna, talks a lot about separation and about what’s good for Israel’s security – but not a word about morality or justice. Perhaps Meretz will take a more cogent stand on these issues now that Yossi Beilin and Yael Dayan, former Labor stalwarts, have joined the party. As for Hadash and the Arab parties, which try to talk about what is actually going on in the territories – no one listens to them.

This is a very serious state of affairs. No terrorist threat, however murderous, is grounds for a wholesale annulment of values; no suicide bombing can justify the daily killing of innocent people or the large-scale incarceration of others without trial; and nothing, but nothing, can justify the absence of a public discussion and the total disregard of what’s going on in our backyard, especially on the eve of general elections.

Courtesy Raja Mattar at togethernet