Unequal worth in life and death

2014-07-04 00:00

YESTERDAY morning, I woke up to the sounds of helicopters, police cars and ambulances, as clashes erupted in our previously peaceful neighbourhood of Shufat, East Jerusalem, with Israeli security forces shooting at Palestinian youths who were protesting the killing of 16-year-old Mohammed Abu Khudair. Mohammed was snatched from our neighbourhood while on his way to Ramadan prayers at dawn. Witnesses who saw him forced into a vehicle informed the police and a few hours later, Israeli police discovered his body in the forests of Jerusalem.

Inciting revenge

Immediately following the kidnapping of the three settlers on June 12, Israel’s prime minister announced: “Hamas is responsible and Hamas will pay.” The Israeli army launched violent raids, imposed curfews and effected closures throughout the occupied West Bank, killing a dozen youthes, rearresting members of the Palestinian Parliament and prisoners who had been freed, and demolishing the homes of suspects without any evidence against them.

The military escalation that took place following June 12 was not just about finding the missing Israeli youths; the Israeli government seized the advantage to gather international sympathy to reverse global criticism of Israel’s role in paralysing negotiations.

It has been a moment of collective punishment of the Palestinian people, through imposing restrictions on movement across the West Bank, banning international travel from Hebron and implementing brutal incursions and armed searches in Palestinian camps, towns and homes.

These actions have succeeded in disempowering the recently formed Palestinian unity government and repolarising Palestinians, especially following President Mahmoud Abbas’s speech describing the sacred quality of co-operation between Israel and the Palestinian authorities.

Double standards

The Israeli leadership and propaganda have stirred up an anti-Palestinian climate and dehumanising image of Palestinians in both official and social media. For example, Netanyahu stated when the bodies of the settlers were discovered: “They were abducted and murdered in cold blood by human animals.” Slogans such as “Death to the Arabs”, and “No Arabs, no terror attacks”, have come from the Israeli public.

At the same time that international diplomats and leaders deplore, in the strongest terms, the killing of the settlers, identifying them by name, the deaths of numerous young Palestinians have never earned international visibility equal to the killing of the settlers. This demonstrates the inconsistency of the preaching by Israel and its supporters regarding the value of human life.

The killing of Palestinians is not seen as horrific as the killing of Israelis. Our pain is not perceived as acute as theirs. The violence that Israel continues to inflict on the Palestinian people, from its unlawful occupation of our land to the settlers’ presence at our doorsteps, aims at total oblivion.

The equation of all Palestinians being responsibility for the alleged acts of a few individuals, with the formal responsibility of a democratically elected Israeli government for the actions of its army is illogical and unjust. But this equation is often made by Israel’s supporters. The administration at Haifa’s Technion University is considering taking disciplinary action against an Arab student who posted on Facebook after the bodies of the three settlers were found: “Three goals for Palestine without taking part in the World Cup”. But what about the myriad Israelis who have endorsed the Facebook page: “Until the boys are back, every hour we shoot a terrorist!”

Price Tag is the name of a group of settlers committing anti-Palestinian vandalism whose graffiti urges “Price tag blood vengeance”. The Israeli government’s response to this has been minimal. Israeli intelligence, so effective in hunting down a Palestinian child who throws a stone, remains inept in setting any limits on such actions by Israelis.

Throughout its history, Israel has never imposed meaningful consequences on anyone for killing a Palestinian. After the death of Mohammed Abu Khudair, the police are invading Shufat, not the neighbourhood of his killers. His killers will remain anonymous, their homes will not be demolished, there will be no closure of Israeli neighbourhoods, no settlers will be prevented from going to work or from travelling abroad, and there will be impunity for the rabbis and the leaders of the settlers who incited this crime.

Israel has kidnapped our freedom since it took occupation of our land. Israel has established a discrepancy in human worth, since the killing of a non-Jew seems far from equivalent to the killing of a Jew. There is also discrepancy in the validation of human experience, since Israel remains the sole author of the narrative of this land and the sole power determining its political reality. But in reaction to these violations, there will always be individuals who rise up to oppose them. In this way, Israel will kidnap all of our opportunities in life and bring nothing but death and nihilism to Israelis and Palestinians alike.

• Samah Jabr is a Jerusalemite psychiatrist and psychotherapist

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