There is nothing new about racism, racial segregation or apartheid in Israel. But the country’s grim reality has been kept under wraps for so long, thanks to a well-financed and cleverly crafted Israeli hasbara (public relations) propaganda machine that has portrayed Israel as an oasis of democracy in an arid Arab desert of authoritarianism.
Nothing could be further from the truth, although, ironically, these days it is Israel’s own action that is actively exposing the protracted charade, and no amount of hasbara seems capable of rectifying the country’s image problem.
While racism exists everywhere in the world, and no democracy — even the positively-depicted Scandinavian socialist democracies — are without a fault, Israel’s racism and ‘democracy’ are unique among nations: Racism in Israel is institutionalised: military occupation marginalises the voices of millions of Palestinians and violence is meted out against Palestinians as a matter of course.
If examined with real objectivity — US mainstream media whitewashing aside — Israel cannot possibility live up to the minimal standards required of a functional democracy. Take this recent example.
Bezalel Smotrich, from the Jewish Home Party, which is a member of Israeli Prime Minister, Benjamin Netanyahu’s, ruling coalition, protested via twitter that his wife was expected to give birth in the same hospital room where Arab babies are born.
“It’s natural that my wife wouldn’t want to lie next to someone whose baby son might want to murder my son,” he wrote. Not only was Smotrich not sacked, but his views garner massive support among the Israel’s Jewish public.
According to a recent Pew survey, nearly half of Israelis want to expel Palestinians — Muslims and Christians — from their ancestral homeland. Thus, the support for hospital apartheid should come as no surprise.
In fact, the member of Knesset, Smotrich, was merely responding to an Israeli Radio report “backing Jewish women who reportedly requested to be separated from Arab women in the maternity ward of some hospitals,” the Jerusalem Post reported.
It turned out that it is a common practice in “various hospitals around the country” to separate “Jewish and Arab women in the maternity ward.”
Despite its endemic problem with racism and race conflict, a similar practice in the US — say involving black and white children — would have resulted in serious, legal consequences. Not in Israel, though.
“When a midwife delivers an Arab baby she is asked, ‘Did you bring us another terrorist?”, Orit A. Brown and Arik Bender reported in Israel’s widely circulated Maariv. It is a ‘shocking quote’, an article published in Mondoweiss commented.
But knowing the well-documented ingrained racism within Israeli society, which involves the government and the army as well, one is hardly shocked. Still, one wonders if Israeli society has a red line that cannot be crossed in its perception and treatment of Palestinians.
“Whether he made a mistake or not, is a trivial question,” said an Israeli Jewish man who joined large protests throughout Israel in support of a soldier who calmly, and with precision, killed a wounded Palestinian man in Al Khalil (Hebron). The protesting Jewish man described Palestinians as ‘barbaric’, ‘bestial’, who should not be perceived as people.
In fact, this is hardly a fringe view in Israel. The vast majority of Israelis, 68 per cent, support the killing of Abdul Fattah Yusri Al Sharif, 21, by the solider who had reportedly announced before firing at the wounded Palestinian that the “terrorist had to die.”
(Note the similar perception of the Palestinian as a ‘terrorist’; whether he is a wounded man who allegedly attempted to attack an Occupation soldier or a newborn baby.)
The killing scene would have been relegated to the annals of the many ‘contested’ killings by Israeli soldiers, were it not for a Palestinian field worker with Israel’s human rights group, B’Tselem, who filmed the bloody event.
The incident, once more, highlights a culture of impunity that exists in the Israeli army, which is not a new phenomenon.
Not only is Israeli society supportive of the soldier behind this particular bloody incident, the majority is in support of field murders as well.
Moreover, the culture of impunity in Israel is linked both to political leanings and religious beliefs. According to the latest Peace Index released by Tel Aviv University’s Israel Democracy Institute, nearly 67 per cent of the country’s Jewish population believes that “it is a commandment to kill a terrorist who comes at you with a knife”.
Killing Palestinians as a form of religious duty goes back to the early days of the Jewish state, and such beliefs are constantly corroborated by the country’s high spiritual institutions, similar to the recent decree issued by the country’s Chief Sephardic Rabbi, Yitzhak Yosef. While 94 per cent of ultra-Orthodox agree with the murder edict of Yosef, 52 per cent of the country’s secularists do, too.
In fact, dehumanising Palestinians — describing them as ‘beasts’, ‘cockroaches’, or treating them as dispensable inferiors — has historically been a common denominator in Israeli society, uniting Jews from various political, ideological and religious backgrounds.
Rabbi Yosef’s decree, for example, is not much different from statements made by Israeli Defence Minister, Moshe Ya’alon, and other army and government official, who made similar calls, albeit without utilising a strongly worded religious discourse.
Using the same logic, the quote above describing Palestinians as beasts is not divergent from a recent statement made by Netanyahu himself. “At the end, in the State of Israel, as I see it, there will be a fence that spans it all,” Netanyahu said in February. “In the area that we live, we must defend ourselves against the wild beasts,” he added.
His statement is particularly odd if placed within context. Netanyahu’s last war on Gaza in the summer of 2014 killed a total of 2,251 Palestinians — including 1,462 civilians, among them 551 children, according to a report prepared by the UN Human Rights Council. During that war, only six Israeli civilians were killed, and 60 soldiers. Who, then, is truly the ‘wild beast’?
However, Palestinians are not made into beasts because of their supposedly murderous intent for, not once, statistically, in the history of the Palestinian-Israeli conflict did Palestinians ever kill more Israelis, as opposed to the other way round. The ailment is not the number, but a common Israeli cultural perception that is utterly racist and dehumanising.
The danger of impunity which is championed by the government/army, society and religious institutions, is not merely the lack of legal accountability, but the fact that it is the very foundation of most violent crimes against humanity, including genocide. This impunity began seven decades ago and it will not end without international intervention, with concerted efforts to hold Israel accountable in order to bring the agony of Palestinians to a halt.
Dr Ramzy Baroud has been writing about the Middle East for over 20 years. He is an internationally-syndicated columnist, a media consultant, an author of several books and the founder of PalestineChronicle.com. His books include “Searching Jenin”, “The Second Palestinian Intifada” and his latest “My Father Was a Freedom Fighter: Gaza’s Untold Story”. His website is www.ramzybaroud.net.