Israel: 1984 Everlasting
Empty Declarations of Democracy… Vacant Boasts of humanity
For decades, Israel has held itself out as being the lone “democracy” in the Middle East; a state where the rights of individuals could not and would not be held hostage to the autocratic whims of royalty, but rather a full partner to a free and robust electoral process that guarantees not just meaningful input from the governed but the ability to challenge state policies as the winds of change blow from “the river to the sea.”
Once again, recent events have proven this to be just so much a perverse myth… empty rhetoric… second only to the brazen unfounded Israeli boast of having the “most humane army in the world,” even as the body count of Palestinian children grows in cemeteries and prisons that have become very much its own unique brand of 21st century youth hostel.
Recently, Hagai El-Ad, an Israeli and Jew, who serves as executive director of B’Tselem (The Israel Information Center for Human Rights in the Occupied Territories), spoke before the UN Security Council urging it to take immediate action against Israel’s illegal settlements.
Demagoguery and Inhumanity Exposed
Not quite 1400 words in its entirety, one paragraph in particular of El-Ad’s testimony sums up life for millions of those captured by a democracy that sees day as night … pain as pleasure. Crushing, despite its brevity, the power and pain of these words could easily be part of an opening statement by a war crimes prosecutor at a tribunal called to hold Israel accountable for crimes unseen since the Nuremburg tribunals some 70 years ago.
“What does it mean, in practical terms, to spend 49 years, a lifetime, under military rule? When violence breaks out, or when particular incidents attract global attention, you get a glimpse into certain aspects of life under occupation. But what about the rest of the time? What about the many “ordinary” days of a 17,898-day-long occupation, which is still going strong? Living under military rule mostly means invisible, bureaucratic, daily, violence. It means living under an endless permit regime, which controls Palestinian life from cradle to grave: Israel controls the population registry; Israel controls work permits; Israel controls who can travel abroad – and who cannot; Israel controls who can visit from abroad – and who cannot; in some villages, Israel maintains lists of who can visit the village, or who is allowed to farm which fields. Permits can sometimes be denied; permits must always be renewed. Thus with every breath they take, Palestinians breathe in occupation. Make a wrong move, and you can lose your freedom of movement, your livelihood, or even the opportunity to marry and build a family with your beloved.”
In a free democratic society these comments, while perhaps controversial, would certainly not constitute sedition. In an open, healthy State these words would surely give reason to pause and reflect… but never serve as a rational trip-wire to strip their speaker of his birthright as an unbound citizen empowered to support his government for policies he finds just but condemn it for those that bear the star of tyranny. It is a distinction that Israel has failed to adopt or learn over the course of its 50 year subjugation of millions whose only crime is to be born Palestinian in occupied land with sign-posts everywhere that simply say “Jews only.”
Beating of Chests
Not long after El-Ad’s powerful speech before a world body entrusted with securing fundamental rights and liberty for all of its citizenry, the hue and cry could be heard among Israeli political elite to silence such subversive talk. Thus, Coalition Chairman MK David Bitan of the Likud Party undertook the first steps of reprisal by announcing he was considering submitting a bill to the Knesset that could remove the citizenship of Israelis who act against their country in international organizations. According to Bitan, “El-Ad’s actions at the Security Council are a blatant violation of the trust citizens must have for their country, so he should go find another country where he could be a citizen.”
Alarming, one might ask; no, not at all… merely another in an endless daily stream of steps by a government second to none when it comes to autocratic, indeed dictatorial, control of every fiber of its citizens freedoms, particularly their ability to access and exchange information without fear of retribution.
Much is known and largely ignored about the thousands of Palestinian civilians that have been targeted and slaughtered by the Israeli military machine in occupied Palestine, whether in Gaza or the West Bank. Indeed, the killing fields of Gaza or execution alleys of back street Jerusalem no longer acquire more than a passing fancy or footnote in the evening news spread across a world now busy with outrages of more recent vintage. After 70 years of slaughter, it’s just so much business as usual.
So, too, we have seemingly become numbed to the reality that thousands of Palestinian political prisoners languish in isolation, many sitting year after year, some for decades, in administrative detention cells of political prisons… uncharged, undefended and untried, tortured in ways that leave the spirits of those still roaming the now empty cellblocks of South Africa’s notorious Robben Island relieved their misery was ended quickly through state sanctioned executions by “suicide.”
The Mighty Censor’s Sword
Closures of Palestinian news rooms and television stations are commonplace… yet no more remarkable than assaults by Israel upon Palestinian journalists that long ago moved into triple digits and show no sign of abating. The Palestinian Centre for Development and Media Freedoms (MADA) has documented a pattern of such attacks by Israel running, for some time now, at almost 400 per year. Although the exact number of Palestinian journalists killed or injured by Israel over just the last decade may never be known, it has been documented that seventeen lost their lives in Gaza, alone, during the months of bombings which it endured in 2014.
Dozens of Palestinian journalists and private bloggers have been arrested by Israel and held for violating vague administrative codes that typically come down to the application of entirely undefined prohibitions such as “incitement.” Dareen Tatour, a 35-year-old poet and Arab-Palestinian citizen of Israel, was arrested and placed under administrative detention on charges of inciting violence via her poetry which she posted on Facebook and which merely praises those who fight against Israeli domination. Also arrested and charged with criminal incitement was 19-year-old Anas Khateeb, on the basis of her Facebook posts which included such alarming statements as “Jerusalem is Arab,” and “Long live the Intifada.”
Recently, Palestinian journalist, Samah Dweik, was released from prison having served almost six months for an alleged incitement charge which resulted from comments about the occupation she posted on her private Facebook account. For most of her sentence, her family was banned from visiting or having any contact with her. She was but one of over 20 Palestinian journalists recently imprisoned by Israel for allegations of incitement, along with hundreds of other Palestinian activists or bloggers who have been targeted for arrest and prosecution for nothing more than postings of political opinions about the Israeli occupation and Palestinian resistance on social media. Dweik’s release came not long after Israel and Facebook entered into an agreement to “work together” to monitor Palestinian posts.
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About the author
Stanley Cohen is a lawyer and activist in New York City
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