The Unseen and Unpunished Violence Against Palestinians
Published Monday, August 27, 2012
Over the course of the last four decades, Western media, in both its corporate and state forms, have sculpted an image of the Arab and Muslim worlds largely founded on xenophobic, indeed Orientalist, notions. As a consequence of this media campaign, few can claim to have experienced such an extensive, grueling, and ongoing period of suffering as the Palestinians.
Millions of exiled refugees continue to toil in wretched camps throughout the Arab world; farmers and herders continue to have their land stolen every day by both military forces and state-sponsored settlers in the West Bank; and the Gaza Strip has been turned into an open-air prison, subjected to regular military raids and saturation bombing campaigns that often last weeks at a time.
But in the news these people are almost unconditionally portrayed as the sole aggressors, as ragtag gangs of terrorists who prefer death to life (a bizarrely inaccurate tagline for people who have survived so much).
For years, the corporate media establishment has carefully cultivated an image of Israel as an embattled society engaged in a life or death struggle to preserve its democratic character in the face of an ever-present band of keffiyeh-wearing rock throwers, plane-hijackers, and suicide bombers. But when terrorism is directed against Palestinians, rarely is it allotted the same amount of publicity as a homemade rocket fired from the Gaza Strip.
In this way, the Israeli government has been able to successfully outsource much of its violence to individual actors, who are rarely prosecuted and do not face the same consequences as their Palestinian counterparts.
Last week, a throng of over a dozen Jewish youth attacked three Palestinian teenagers in Jerusalem’s Zion Square. As the angry rabble approached, they chanted “Death to Arabs!” and beat one of the Palestinians unconscious. Medics arrived and resuscitated the victim, who had no pulse and was not breathing. The attackers ran away and shouted back to the crowd of onlookers, “A Jew is a soul, and an Arab is a son of a bitch.”
Eight suspects have been arrested thus far. One of the young men told police officers that the victim, presently in critical condition in Ein Karen Hospital in Jerusalem, should die because “he is an Arab. I would have stabbed him if I could. A Jew can’t move around Damascus Gate without being stabbed. If I manage to grab hold of him, I’ll punch him; he cursed my mother, and he should die.”
This suspect, whose identity is being withheld because he is a minor, is being represented by Honenu legal aid organization, whose past clients have included numerous Jewish Israelis and settlers accused of right-wing terrorism against Palestinian civilians. According to the website, the organization’s mission is to assist defendants “who find themselves in legal entanglements due to defending themselves against Arab aggression.”
The defendant’s lawyer claimed that the attack was simply an act of “bullying.” Many media outlets have followed suit, if not outright denying the xenophobic motivations behind the lynching, absurdly portraying it as an entirely isolated act of violence and drawing no connections to the serious uptick in vigilante violence that is sweeping across Israel.
This emerging trend is not without historical parallel. In 1994, one of the most notorious acts of right-wing terrorism took place in Hebron, when Baruch Goldstein, a New York-born Israeli from the neighboring Kiryat Arba settlement, robed himself in military insignia and entered the al-Ibrahimi Mosque. The mosque is home to the Tomb of the Patriarchs, an ancient relic holy to Christians, Muslims and Jews. During the middle of Friday prayers, Goldstein opened fire on the worshipers, killing 29 and injuring 125. He fired until he ran out of ammunition, then was beaten to death by the surviving worshipers.
Since 1994, an estimated 10,000 militant right-wing Israelis have made “pilgrimages” to Goldstein’s gravesite to celebrate the anniversary of the massacre.
In March, some 300 notoriously racist soccer fans, supporters of Beitar Jerusalem, rushed the Malha Mall and attacked the Arab cleaning staff. According to shopkeepers, the attackers begged for sticks and knives to use against the defenseless women. When the police were asked why no one was arrested, the response was simple: no formal complaints had been filed. Only after immense media pressure was an investigation launched.
When Palestinians violate martial law in the West Bank, their punishment can range anywhere from administrative detention to exile. Despite the sharp rise in settler violence, this colonial establishment is generally treated with legal immunity.
In one instance in May, a security guard from a West Bank settlement shot a Palestinian citizen without cause. A week later, settlers attacked Urif, a small Palestinian village, and set fire to olive groves, one of the sole sources of the village’s income. When several Palestinian men came to protect their land, the settlers opened fire on them. One man was shot, tied up, and beaten severely by the band of ideology-intoxicated settlers. In neither case was a single arrest made.
And mere hours after last week’s lynching in Jerusalem, a taxicab carrying a family of Palestinians from the al-Aruba refugee camp was struck by a firebomb tossed by a settler from the Bet Ayin settlement. Two children received first degree burns, and their parents received second and third degree burns. Israeli Prime Minister Benyamin Netanyahu promised that the perpetrator would be brought to justice. Most Palestinians are understandably doubtful.
By no means does this exhaust the list of gross violations against Palestinian rights. Every day, new reports emerge of settlers, living completely outside the borders of the legal system, trying to run over Palestinian children with their cars. Rabbles of messianic yeshiva students used to – perhaps still do – prowl the streets of East Jerusalem to prevent romantic encounters between Jewish women and Arab men. And the villagers of Susiya, a small village nestled in the rugged terrain of the South Hebron Hills, have on a regular basis seen their water wells poisoned, their sheep slaughtered, and their homes destroyed.
Of course, on both sides of this conflict there are those who, despite their shallow attempts to paint themselves as patriots, employ the outlaw tactics of brute thugs. Yet, the lynching that took place last week in Jerusalem was by no means an isolated event: it is the natural component of a pattern of vigilante violence that the media has chosen to neglect.
“Today my body was a TV’d massacre, made to fit into sound bites and word limits,” poet Rafeef Ziadah said of journalistic bias against Palestinians. Whether by design or not, by presenting an asymmetrical understanding of violence in Israel and Palestine, corporate media outlets submissively place themselves at the service of both the Israeli government and the most chauvinistic elements of right-wing Israeli society.
Patrick O. Strickland is a freelance journalist and a weekly Israel-Palestine correspondent for BikyaMasr. His work has been published by Palestine Chronicle, Counterpunch, Socialistworker.org, and the Alternative Information Center.
The views expressed by the author do not necessarily reflect Al-Akhbar's editorial policy.